POP MUSIC IS ALIVE AND WELL AND COMING BACK TO NEW YORK
You know, whenever I hear people, in the music biz, outside of the industry, or shamefully enough even within rock Ďní roll combos themselves complaining about there being no worthwhile new sounds anywhere to be found anymore, my immediate reaction is, ďwell, I know of a festival which routinely attracts literally hundreds of vital bands and thousands of equally loud supporters from all around the world. Where have YOU been?Ē
Yep, I speak of the International Pop Overthrow, which for four years now has taken on the mantle of savior of everything which is good, noble, and melodic throughout this whole globe. And the man behind it all, utterly guileless Californian-by-default David Bash, has tirelessly lifted his love and immense knowledge of all things note-worthy up to the next level, as opposed to simply spinning his dial and bemoaning idly by.
Now, come December, and just when we truly need it most, IPO goes on the road for its first-ever festival outside of the L.A. basins, heading straight to the heart of the matter: New York, New York. And not a minute too soon, I can safely exclaim.
So for those not already familiar with the man and his mission, I asked David a few questions by way of explaining how one makes the leap from True Fan to Successful Promoter without sacrificing one iota of innocence or even integrity within the process. His story should serve as not only an inspiration, but as one healthy dose of cold wake-up water upon all nattering nabobs of pop negativism still rumbling and grumbling away out there.
The first thing I always like to do upon getting to know someone is to root through their music collection. So can I then ask you what the first record you ever bought was, and also the most recent?
The first record I bought was actually a couple of cassettes: The Beatlesí ď1962-1966Ē and ď1967-1970.Ē The ďred and blueĒ albums. I bought them in 1974 when I was fifteen, so I guess I was pretty late in that game! However, before this I used to record songs from AM radio with my little tape recorder. As a youth in New York, I was a voracious listener of WABC and couldn't wait to hear their music countdowns, particularly the Top 100ís at the end of the year. I remember in 1970, my favorite year for Top 40 radio, they called it the "Heavy Hundred." I thought that was so cool!
The last record I actually bought was "The Philly Sound" box set on Sony Legacy: It's a few years old, but I finally got around to getting it. Great stuff, mostly compiling the Philadelphia International artists. The last contemporary CD I received (as a music journalist, I get a lot of stuff in the mail to review) was by a great band from Winnipeg called The Telepathic Butterflies. Think Guided By Voices crossed with Cotton Mather, but better than both of them, and youíve got the idea!
Did you ever take your musical explorations one step further, out onto the stage yourself? In other words, have you ever been in a band, or thought about joining (or even starting) one?
I am not a musician, so I guess that answers your question about whether or not Iíve ever been in a band! In fourth grade I took clarinet lessons and hated the regimented approach the teacher took, so I quit the class. Though that experience sort of soured me on learning an instrument, in high school I briefly thought about learning guitar. However, that thought flit in and out of my brain, and as of today I canít play a single note on anything. Well, maybe if I picked up a clarinet something would come back to me.
I kind of regret not having learned an instrument, because I often have really great pop melodies I create in my head, but canít do anything about getting down on paper. I do know enough qualified people who could teach me how to play any number of instruments, so who knows?
How, then, did your obvious fandom, and love for music, eventually lead you to organizing your very own festivals?
I guess it was a natural extension of why I became a pop music journalist. For years so many artists gave me so much joy through listening to their music, I started feeling guilty for not giving anything back in return.
With the advent of pop music magazines like ďYellow PillsĒ and ďAuditiesĒ in the early 90ís, it became clear to me that there was a community of like-minded people out there, and that many of these were musicians themselves, trying to make it in this business. With that came the beginning of the indie pop scene; it was starting to become possible for bands to record CDís at home or in local studios, so a lot of artists who heretofore werenít able to get their music heard were now having an avenue to do so. Thatís when I decided to become a pop music journalist, when I saw that I could help young bands get the kind of exposure that could help them. I also had the opportunity to review current CDís and reissues by the artists I grew up with, and that was extremely gratifying as well.
Through my writing, and through doing IPO, I have made lifelong friendships with many musicians, even those I grew up revering. Itís something Iíll always treasure.
What was the inspiration, or template upon which the International Pop Overthrow is built?
The aforementioned desire to help musicians get exposure was the inspiration, but the guide and template was the Poptopia festival, which had been happening in Los Angeles for a couple of years.
Poptopia was formed in 1995 by Tony Perkins and Larry Mann, and was a pop music festival devoted mostly to showcasing bands from the L.A. area. I wanted to offer my help to Tony in bringing bands from outside of L.A. to Poptopia, and it was a request he was happy to grant. Over the next couple of years I brought several international bands to his attention, but unfortunately Poptopia only had room for some of them. Many bands had to be turned down, and they would commiserate with me over this. Thatís when I decided to do a festival of my own, where the worldwide pop scene would be showcased.
So, it was at a lunch meeting in December of 1997 with an attorney friend of mine, Ben McLane, where the decision to do IPO was made, and the seeds for IPO were planted. In formulating our approach to IPO, we modeled greatly after Poptopia, using their 20-minute set format, as well as many of the Los Angeles clubs they used, like Jack's Sugar Shack, The El Rey Theater, Spaceland, and The Gig. Poptopia had been successful for three years, so I figured ďwhy mess with what works?Ē
Do you alone decide what bands will appear at IPO, and what criteria do you employ when choosing artists?
It is essentially my decision as to who plays IPO, but I do welcome input from others on the IPO staff, particularly fellow journalist John Borack, whose opinion I respect immensely. Of course, I love getting tips from colleagues about bands whom Iíve not heard: Thatís a very rich source for bands who end up playing IPO.
The criteria I use are: 1. Does the bandís style of pop music fit within the framework and ideals of IPO, 2. Do I like the bandís music, and 3. Is there available space? Iíve had to turn down a lot of good bands simply because there isnít enough room for them. As it is, the Los Angeles IPO features more than 140 bands each year. Iíve also had to tell several bands that their music isnít my cup of tea, and it tears me up to have to say it. Most of them understand, and Iím thankful for that.
The International Pop Overthrow is known as much for what goes on between and around the concerts as for the shows themselves. Was it intentional to create such a strong spirit of camaraderie and "family" amongst the bands and their IPO audiences, and what can you do to ensure this remains the case as the festival undoubtedly grows larger and more frequent in years to come?
Thank you for your kind words about the camaraderie! It would have been my intention to create that had I had enough foresight to envision it, so I guess you could call it serendipitous that it happened! Iím certainly very grateful for its existence. In retrospect, I guess you could say itís a natural by-product of having good bands who are made up of good people. Both pop fans and artists are among the humblest, most selfless people I know, and when you put a bunch of people like this together itís natural that a family-type environment will occur.
I guess the main thing I can do to ensure that this continues is to remain true to my heart and vision. I will always do my best to put a quality product out there, without ever compromising my ideals. I will not bring any band in who doesnít fall within the parameters of pop, just for the sake of drawing people. I will never let the festival lose its grassroots feel for the sake of bringing in corporate funding. Itís wrong, and in the long run it will not do the scene any good.
In December, you will bring IPO to New York City for the very first time. What unique challenges will this undertaking present, and do you foresee anything different -- not to mention special -- happening in NYC that you wouldnít necessarily expect at the L.A. Overthrows?
Well, New York is inherently a tough crowd, so I would imagine New Yorkers will be tough to please. Obviously, the events of September 11 have brought with them a unique scenario for any entertainment-oriented event, and itís something IPO is going to have to overcome. My hope is that by December, the perspective patrons will be most looking forward to an event which will not only entertain and enliven them, but will bring an air of positivity that has been lacking in New York lately. Of course, New Yorkers are known for being resilient, and this has been quite evident over the past month. I think resilience and positiveness go hand in hand, so a good situation for IPO should be in the offing. Other than that, itís not really different from L.A.: several clubs being used over several nights, and lots and lots of good bands!
What other cities will you someday be bringing IPO to, and what artists would you love to have appear in the future which havenít already?
Iím planning on taking IPO to Chicago next spring. After that Iíve been thinking about Baltimore, Austin, Vancouver, and ultimately the UK, Barcelona, and maybe Melbourne or Sydney.
There are so many bands who I would love to have play at IPO, but havenít yet. Wondermints, The Merrymakers, Ben Folds, They Might Be Giants, The Smithereens, Matthew SweetÖ I could go on and on! Iím sure in many cases the artists Iíd love to have play would love to do it. Now, their managers: thatís another matter (wink).
Why do you think IPO music and artists have yet to break through to the entertainment mainstream as a whole, or do you predict -- or would you even like to see -- the industry stepping in to help bring your labors of love to a much larger audience?
Thatís a very good question, and one thatís been asked often lately. In my opinion, the main reason IPO artists havenít broken into the mainstream is that the major labels still adhere to the stigma that pop music is too retro, and that there isnít a large enough audience for it. Their concern about the size of the audience may be founded, but that could easily be changed if labels would sign these bands and promote them, as they do the acts on their present roster. The majors are also concerned that pop artists are too old, and therefore the youth market will not respond to them. I think the labels are giving the youth of the world short shrift: People of all ages will respond to music done by people of any age, as long as itís good. Besides, pop musicians arenít all that old!
I would love to see the industry help IPO along in achieving its goal, which is to bring quality pop music back into the hearts and minds of the mainstream. In fact, I have been making efforts towards that end. However, I will not allow this to happen if it means compromising the integrity of the festival. I am looking for a meeting of the minds, where both the industry and IPO can be sympatico, and I believe that can happen.
Finally, when you sometimes drag yourself home, late, late at night from an absolutely horrific day spent dealing with the world, and all around you seems as bleak and unmelodic as can ever be imagined, what single IPO moment from over the past four years can, to coin a phrase, take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?
There really isnít any single moment that does this, but rather an amalgamation of moments and snapshots, where musicians and fans come up to me and thank me for doing IPO, telling me that their lives have somehow been made richer by the experience. For me, that is the ultimate high.
Now, for complete, up-to-the-second information regarding IPO New York, not to mention the entire International Pop Overthrow movement, the place to start is right at www.internationalpopoverthrow.com There youíll be able to find out more about the festival and the artists themselves, plus of course talk about, hear, and even buy their music. Take it from me: Your ears will be eternally grateful.