photo: No Pop

photo: No Pop

Ethan Dempsey

On their website, Brooklyn trio No Pop sum themselves up satirically and sincerely in the same breath as “Out of tune...true zoo-music…against appropriation, TV Eyes and secondhand experience.” Living up to those kind of iconoclastic statements, No Pop traffics in a brand of No Wave (also known as “noise pop,” but noisy, punchy, take-no-prisoners Rock & Roll by any name) that is driven by the immediacy of modern guitar pop and filtered through the fascinating left-of-the-dial lens of noise pioneers and spiritual progenitors like The Pixies. Make no mistake, they take that line about secondhand experience to heart. With lots of influences they manage to craft a sound from such proud heritage that is all their own. Their May 2014 EP See Pretty is an engaging and wholly satisfying experience but, according to devotees and the band themselves, you need to see them live to truly understand what this band is doing. Lucky for you, New York reader, they’re playing this Friday,June 20th at 8:30 at Friends & Lovers in Brooklyn, sharing the bill with Whitewash in a show sponsored by this very website (not a bad shameless plug, huh?).

True to their preference for a connective experience over second-hand joy, the band surpassed my expectations for an interview via Gchat (a text-to-text conversation for the rare Luddite that doesn’t use Gmail) by suggesting a face-to-face video interview. It was all the better for this change, as I got to see an easy conversational chemistry between guitarist Louis Cohen and bassist/vocalist Oscar Rodriguez that clearly carries over to their effortless song craft. Unable to participate in the interview, but spiritually present as a backbeat, was drummer/vocalist Rachel Housle. In our brief time, we talked about the ethos of noise, pies to the face, Stevie Rae Vaughn, and some harsh truths concerning Beyoncé.

ThrdCoast: Because popular music is the great equalizer, one of the questions we like to start interviews off with is this: what is the band’s musical background, and how did music first present itself in your lives?

Oscar Rodriguez: We all met when we attended The New School’s Jazz and Contemporary Music program, and we weren’t friends but we knew what each other was doing while we were there.

TC: Was your background in Jazz? I would never have guessed that, but I can definitely see how such a pedigree would influence your sound.

OR: Everybody there liked Rock, Hip Hop or whatever, but Jazz is an easier language to learn academically.

TC: Okay, so you met at The New School, but how did the band itself get started? 

OR: We all left school knowing each other a bit. We had heard the other’s playing and were interested in what we each were doing. I was really interested in Louis as a guitarist because I was studying guitar there too, and what I saw from him was really cool. We formed the band with a friend named Adam on drums after we had been away from school for a little while. But eventually Adam had to leave for L.A. for personal reasons and when Rachel joined, it changed.

Louis Cohen: The current sound definitely came from the addition of Rachel after Adam left.

OR: The original dark and noisy shit fell by the wayside and the current sound emerged.

TC: So what inspires this current sound? If you had to pin it down, why does the band sound the way it does?

OR: As a band we all like the Breeders, DNA, Minutemen, Sonic Youth… bands that really used noise effectively.

TC: So Louis, because guitar typically has a much wider sonic framework, would you say it comes down to you to make these songs as weird and noisy as you can?

LC: I do a lot of noise work on my own. My compositions outside the band are definitely in the noise genre. Rachel brings a lot of the quirky noise on the drums and vocally. Oscar holds down the low end, but recently we’ve been experimenting with the bass carrying a lot of the noise as well.

TC: That’s an interesting idea, I can’t really think of a modern band that employs a bassist as its source of noise. I guess you’d have to go back to Primus for that, but it would definitely be cool to see a band with actual songwriting chops do that.

LC & OR: [Polite laughter].

TC: So besides your above mentioned influences, what have you been listening to lately?

LC: I’ve been listening to a lot of The Pixies and Modest Mouse

TC: Any albums in particular?

LC: Dinosaur Jr’s Green Mind, [Modest Mouse’s] This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About, [The Pixies’] Come On Pilgrim

TC: That’s interesting that you mention those albums, as from each of those artists, I think you could definitely characterize those as their noisiest albums. What is it about noise that resonates so profoundly with you?

LC: My favorite guitarist is Marc Ribot. I like the little fuck ups that happen in noise. Noise is genuine.

OR: It’s really fucking cool to play loud. I’m more into The Birthday Party sound, the “smash your amps and shit” sound.

TC: It’s curious you reference The Birthday Party because, like a lot of noise bands, much of their aggression and power seemed to come from a place of inner band turmoil, but based on this interview, you seem like great friends. So where does the noise come from for you?

OR: A lot of the anger in my songwriting comes from my anger at larger things.

LC: I’m not mad at these two. The aggression comes from self-expression for me.

OR: One of the best sets we played was a 20 minute set at Leftfield where the booking guy was a complete scumbag.

TC: Here’s hoping your ThrdCoast set is just as potent. Those guys usually aren’t too scummy.

OR: Well that’s good.

TC: Don’t quote me on that though, just in case. Changing directions, was there a moment you knew you wanted to make music?

OR: I wasn’t into music when I was a kid. I only really remember liking Eiffel 65. But I had a guitar in my room, and School of Rock came out and I thought it was awesome and I thought “I should learn to play guitar.”

LC: I was playing guitar, really not giving a shit about it, until I discovered Stevie Rae Vaughn. 

TC: Once again, I would never have guessed you had Texas Blues in your blood. Do you think that informs your current style of playing?

LC: Recently I discovered Robert Johnson and I’ve really been getting into that kind of blues playing. It’s his and other blues players’ missteps and sloppiness that I like. It’s a purposeful sloppiness that resonates with me.

TC: Because I love to find out these embarrassing details, what was the first song that you learned to play on the guitar?

LC: [The White Stripes’s] “Seven Nation Army.”

OR: [Black Sabbath’s] “Ironman.”

TC: Was there a song you first played as a band that really let you know this was something special?

OR: “O TV” was the first song we learned as this version of the band. It was the first day that Rachel joined the band and I brought that song into the group and with her vocals on the chorus, it felt different from what we’d been doing before. It made more sense.

TC: In your approach to songwriting are there any themes you find yourself returning to, any ideas that seem to recur throughout your work, whether consciously or subconsciously? You mentioned that aggression plays a part in your songwriting, but are there artists who inspire it as well?

OR: Frank Black and David Bowie were my principal influences as a songwriter on this EP.

LC: Lyrically I feel myself always coming back to upsetting things like False Flags, Henry Kissinger, Israel’s occupation of Palestine, Beyoncé when I’m looking for inspiration.

TC: I have to ask, what is about Beyoncé that upsets you?

OR: With Beyoncé, the same people that are selling this feminist icon are the same people that are selling Barbie dolls. She’s sort of just that, a manufactured Barbie.

TC: I can see it now, Beyoncé’s acolytes are always waiting in the wings to attack any and all of her detractors and if they ever read this article…I personally think a flame war between you two would be awesome.

OR: Yeah, that’d be fun.

LC: [Laughs].

TC: So we’ve talked about what lyrically inspires you and your major influences, but what is the songwriting process in the band like? Is there any insight you can offer to let us peek at the man behind the curtain?

OR: We’ve tried writing a lot of different ways. I’ve written a song completely at home and brought it into the band to flesh out, or we’ll bring a song in and work on it. Usually that ends up being taken home and then someone sort of finishes it up.

LC: Usually these days someone brings in a skeleton of an idea and we workshop it until it feels right.

TC: Are there any songs that just sort of seemed to be there, a song that came together so easily that it must have just been waiting in the ether, ready to become real?

OR: “Ping Pong” is cool in that way, and we just wrote that in rehearsal. Some songs just come out of everyone together. We usually close our set with “Talk Trauma” because of that. It’s our best version of that.

LC: We actually learned that song best after we recorded it.

TC: What do you mean?

OR: It took us a few tries to get it down on the record, and after that we sort of learned it from the record version so we could play it live.

TC: What’s next for the band? Are you working on a new album or another EP?

OR: We’re looking at an EP. I’m not really interested in an album right now. I want to record two Eps. We have enough for that right?

LC: Seven or eight songs now.

OR: I feel good about two EPs because today the amount of albums or EPs you put out seems to be more important than the amount of songs that are on your release. The amount of launches you have seems to be more important than the amount of songs on each launch. Nobody really listens to much more than the first few songs, especially with BandCamp. When I listen to a friend’s band, it’s a couple of songs if it doesn’t grab me. When I’m driving, that’s when I listen to something all the way through.

LC: I buy albums and that’s when I listen to them all the way through. But yeah, if it’s a friend’s BandCamp, it’s probably a few songs.

TC: Oscar, you touched on feminism in discussing Beyoncé earlier and, as the rare band that definitely has a multi-gendered perspective, do you think that influences the songs in a unique way, or does it ultimately just come down to people making music?

OR: Being in a band with Rachel is definitely different. I had only been in real bands with guys before. We have such different colors now than anything I’ve done before. We’re on the same page and heading in the same direction and we have a lot of the same beliefs, but it definitely opens up the songwriting process.

LC: It’s really just a very thoughtful group of people. We’re able to talk openly about a lot of stuff and that definitely influences our songwriting.

TC: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about that you haven’t had the chance to so far in this interview? This is your soapbox, preach away.

LC: We get a lot of comparisons to The Pixies, and it’s not insulting in any way. It seems easy to reduce someone’s work though.

OR: Obviously The Pixies were a big part of our band when we started, but now we’re hearing a lot of other stuff too and it’s influencing our songs. Also, we really like our EP and we’re happy about it, but we really want to see people come out and see what we’re adding to the show. I’m working on a projection thing that would play throughout the whole show. We recommend checking out the band live. People who see live and hear the album are surprised. It’s not just us up there playing, we’re interacting with the audience in a real way. It’s different all the time. Last night was Louis’s birthday and we threw a pie in his face.

LC: I was cleaning it out of my guitar the next day.

TC: Oh, that’s rough. What kind of pie was it?

OR: Whipped cream.