Ah yes, NYC Popfest, the annual pilgrimage of international indiepop fans to venues across New York City. This was the first year I've been able to attend the four-day festival, and although I'm still bitter about missing the Pooh Sticks back in 2012, I had a blast. After years not having many people with whom to discuss the best Tiger Trap song (“Words & Smiles”, duh), coming to NYC Popfest was a bit overwhelming, and this was even before being in the same room as Pam Berry! Never before have I seen so many Softies t-shirts in one room; these are the people who I could have a serious indiepop debate with!
I asked current Popfest organizer Maz what his vision for the festival was, and he replied, “My intention is to bring some of the best indiepop bands from around the world to New York City and celebrate the music that means so much to me and many others.” In my opinion, he has succeeded. NYC Popfest 2014 included a mix of old and new favorites: The Flatmates, My Favorite, Gold-Bears, Color Me Wednesday, The Spook School, and countless others. I interviewed several bands throughout the weekend, but I wish I could have spoken with everyone. I met many amazing people and learned many fun facts, such as seemingly every indiepop band is vegan, that everyone loves Martha, and that The Punks Are (indeed) Writing Love Songs. I will for sure be attending future Popfests.
You're from Charleston, South Carolina. What is the music scene like there?
Jarod Weldin: It's up-and-coming, I think. There used to not be a lot going on, but now there's usually indie rock shows every weekend, if not every other weekend.
Kim Weldin: Yeah, we have some friends that are putting tapes and things like that out themselves in the area, and small labels are coming together.
Do you have any local band recommendations?
Jarod: We like Southern Femisphere a lot.
Kim: Stefanie Bannister is an up-and-coming local artist.
Kim, I saw on Facebook that today is your birthday. How have you been spending the day?
Kim: We've eaten a lot of vegan food. I got an ice cream cone from the Van Leeuwen truck, and we walked down to the Brooklyn East River Park.
Jarod: We went to Vinny's and got some pizza.
Are you both vegan?
Who are you most excited to see this weekend?
Jarod: Whew, a lot of good bands. Franny & Zooey, we like those guys a lot. Gold-Bears, Rocketship, Gingerlys, Lost Tapes, everybody!
Are you guys coming out with an album anytime soon?
Jarod: We are! We just put out a 7″ and we have a full-length that just got sent off to be pressed yesterday, I believe. That will probably be coming out late this summer.
Are you all from Durham?
Naomi Griffin: Yeah, we're all from Durham.
Nathan Griffin: The three of us [Nathan, Daniel, and Naomi] are from a village called Pity Me.
Are you kidding?
Nathan: Let me show you my driver's license. Ignore the horrible picture.
What is the story behind that name?
Naomi: There are loads of different stories, but the main one is that there used to be a small lake there, called “Petite Mer”, little sea.
Nathan: There's one about a monk-
Naomi: Several monks.
Nathan: And they were carrying the remains of a saint-
Naomi: Saint Cuthbert, who is buried in Durham Cathedral.
Nathan: And one of them had a vision and he shouted “Miserere mei, Deus” which is Latin for like, “have mercy on me,” and over the years that developed into Pity Me. The jury is still out on what it is exactly.
Naomi: JC is from a town close by called Chester-le-Street. No fun story there.
JC: Yeah, there's no fun story there. but actually it's a fine place. I was about to say “The less said about Chester-le Street the better.” I've kind of developed my own weird mythology about Chester-le Street, a bunch of made-up characters, real characters.
So how did you guys meet?
Nathan: Well, we're brother and sister so there's that.
Daniel Ellis: Naomi and I went to school together all of our lives, since we were like three.
Nathan: So we've all known each other since we were in grade school.
Naomi: And also we're all from Pity Me, which is a very small place.
So then this kid crawled along.
JC: I was 16 and I was just looking for older kids to buy me booze, and I just kind of latched on to these three.
So you guys are going on a pretty big tour. Is it you first time touring through the US?
Naomi: Yeah, as Martha.
Nathan: Me and Daniel are in a called called ONSIND and we've toured a couple of times in the US. Actually, Martha played in the US two years ago at Planet X Festival, so Bloomington in 2012.
That must have been pretty crazy.
Naomi: Yeah, well, like tonight, it was the day after we landed and we were really jet lagged and confused, and the show was around three in the morning. We didn't know what was going on, but it was really fun.
Is there anything you are really excited to do on tour?
All: Play with Delay!
Naomi: We got really close with them when they toured with us last year in the UK and we've missed them.
So how would you describe your music to someone who has never heard you?
JC: Like, we've just had some pop, like we've had a glass of cola, and we need to exert that cola somehow with our guitars.
Naomi: More anxious.
The anxious nervous feeling of being too caffeinated!
Naomi: I guess genre-wise, we get pop-punk or power pop.
JC: When we started we were like, “Let's be a band that sounds just like The Exploding Hearts,” just like 70s power pop bands, but we couldn't do that because we aren't that talented or whatever. So we've done something different and it's probably worked out for us.
I think it has, here you are.
Daniel: People say we play indiepop but we before we started, I don't think I had ever knowingly listened to indiepop.
Naomi: We weren't very familiar with it as a scene or a genre.
Nathan: I mean, I've loved bands like Belle and Sebastian and Camera Obscura for a long time, but I'd never really put it to such a specific scene that we're in.
And then you realize there's this larger history of this huge scene.
Nathan: But it's nice because with our other bands we've played a lot of punk shows, and it's nice to not play punk shows sometimes.
Naomi: Yeah, different audiences.
Nathan: Different vibes.
Naomi: We get described very differently depending on what kid of scenes we're playing in.
Nathan: We're either the heaviest band on the bill or by far the poppiest.
Daniel: We have definitely come from a punk background though.
So what led to the reformation of the Flatmates?
Martin Whitehead: We were supposed to come to New York in 1989, and it was like a month after Debbie had left the band. When we recorded the new music, we were wondering what we should call ourselves. Well, we are The Flatmates, aren't we? So this has always been an ambition and hope that has been deferred for 25 years, and also, to come to New York and do it. But when the band was forming, we listened to The Modern Lovers, The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, The Ramones, all these New York bands have been so important as Flatmates influences, so to be able to come here and play here, I wouldn't say it's like coming home, but it's an important place to actually come to.
Like the peak of the mountain or something?
Martin: I had a Modern Lovers t-shirt for Boston and a Ramones shirt for New York!
You talked about all these bands that were very influential, but what would be your influences? Who were you looking to when you were starting The Flatmates?
Martin: Obviously The Ramones, girl groups from the 60s, the Shangri-Las, the Ronettes, but we also early on did a cover version of Buddy Holly's “Everyday.” I think there's something about quite authentic simple songs, very often three or four chords, telling a story, not tying to make anything more important than it really is, just sort of the actually beauty of simple rock n roll, we're not trying to be rock opera or anything grand. We're trying to be actually three chords of passionate power and energy and meaning in it's rawest simplest form.
In response to Amelia Fletcher you once said, “Before C86, women could only be eye-candy in a band. I think C86 changed that – there were women promoting gigs, writing fanzines, and running labels. How do you think we can continue to make a progression towards equality in music?
Martin: You've got to keep bashing away and doing business. There's lot of sexism in society involving music. Maybe we've got to stick together against the music business. the music business will market young boys as being fluff just like young girls. And that's almost as patronizing to the audience as it is to the artist.
So going off of that, the term C86 has changed a lot since it's origins, but how would you describe the sound that is most associated with it?
Rocker: The sound is most associated with C86 is the twee jangle guitar bands.
Martin: Were there any twee jangley bands originally associated with C86?
Rocker: Maybe not twee but jangley guitar bands, tuneful pop guitar bands compared to the noisey…
Martin: The kind of Captain Beefheart type bands. What you would call the jangley bands were the likes of The Shop Assistants and The Wedding Present, which were't twee and jangley, they were fuzz pedals turned up to 10 and thrashing away, so there wasn't a lot of jangle there. There's another reissue of C86 coming out. It's going to be a three or four cd boxed set, it's like C86+, but I've kind of really lost enthusiasm for it because it has bands like Happy Mondays on it, you sort of think, C86, Happy Mondays…?
Rocker: There are some bands that just won't be used on it, so there are big gaps where there should be bands.
Martin: C86 has become a brand. I remember when The Shop Assistants told me they'd been approached about a track going on a cassette, that was going to be the latest equivalent of the NME C81 cassette, which has a lot of Scottish stuff, they've got Orange Juice on there. But C81 was a real mixture of what was going on in the indie scene at the time. C86 is almost like two camps, the kind of difficult Captain Beefheart stuff or the kind of fuzzy, poppy, punky stuff.
Rocker: That probably reflected the people who worked at NME at the time more than the actual musicians at the time.
Martin: But C86 at the time was really good, and it was a very provincial type thing. The music business was very London-oriented, and A&R would just not come out of London unless they thought there was a good band at the other end of the train ride, or in other words, if they three or four other A&R men who were also going to see that band that night. So to actually have a cassette done by the NME where I think there's about one or two London bands in the whole thing and was more just bands from all over the country, very few were from the London area, it actually showed that there was exciting music coming from almost every major town across the UK. That for me was the really exciting part about C86.
So you guys have recorded several singles and 7″s, but do you have a full length album coming out?
Thom Lucero: We're recording it this summer.
Michael Francis: We're going to start in July. We have a loft in the warehouse district. We have another 7″ coming out in August, it's mixed and done, we just need to get it into production. And after that, album.
So if you guys were to be in a Smiths tribute band, what songs would you perform?
Thom: I would play “Ask” because that's the only Smiths song I like.
I hate The Smiths too!
Michael: I'm the only one in the band that likes The Smiths. Actually, Morrissey is my phone background. I also have a Smiths tattoo and I have a signet ring with his initials on it.
Thom: He makes up for the two of us.
What does the tattoo say?
Michael: It's the Old English letter “thorn,” so I'm the boy with the thorn in his side.
Michael: But what song would I pick? I would probably have to say “This Charming Man.”
Thom: Actually, no, I like that song too.
Michael: I did that at karaoke once and I had so much fun.
Did you fully embrace the Morrissey in you?
Michael: Oh yeah, I didn't even need to look at the lyrics, I was just dancing all over.
What's been your favorite moment of Popfest so far?
Thom: Just now, did you see that? [About Pam and Bart performing as The Cat's Miaow and The Shapiros]
I walked in as they were playing “Not Like I Was Doing Anything.”
Thom: So you didn't see them play “Cry For a Shadow”? That would be my number one moment.
Micahel: Watching Gingerlys was really great. Seeing My Favorite was just amazing. Especially when they played “Working Class Jacket” and Michael [Grace Jr.] came out in boxing gloves, that was really special. But besides from that, it's been hanging out with friends that you don't get to see very often and going out and getting drunk and having fun.
Niall, I saw your calendar, can you tell me about that.
Niall McCamley: I don't know how to explain this without it being weird. I don't remember why I was doing it…
Adam Todd: We were doing an interview and we were talking about how ridiculous you are, and I was like, “Well at least he hasn't released a calendar of himself yet.” And instead of, “Oh yeah, that's a good thing I have not done yet,” Niall was like, “That's an amazing idea, I need to do that now!”
Niall: But then it gets a little bit more awkward because I couldn't take the pictures myself, so Anna helped out and it was made a little bit awkward because we took some of the pictures in her garden without realizing that her sister was in, so her sister just saw a man covered in suntan lotion writhing about the garden. So I did that and I got it printed and made into a proper calendar.
Wait, how any copies did you make?
Niall: I think we went for 50 in the end.
Nye Todd: They sold out in a day.
Niall: My mum has a copy and I've been home since and she has a calendar up, not mine, and she keeps my calendar in a drawer and only takes it out when she's had a few bottles of wine and shows her friends.
Anna Cory: And Martha have it up in their kitchen!
Niall: Yeah, Martha have me in their kitchen. We played a show with them and we stayed at their house.
Nye: And Niall walked through the door of the house, went straight to the kitchen and goes, “I'm there!”
So you're not ashamed at all?
Niall: If there is anything about me, it's that I don't know if I have a sense of shame, I think that got destroyed awhile ago. People feel ashamed for me.
Anna: That's our purpose in the band.
So this is your first US tour and you are playing with Heathers for most of the shows. What are you excited to do in the US?
Nye: We were talking earlier about how we wanted to go to a drive-in movie, but I don't know if they exist.
Niall: Nye was more excited about a drive-through movie, where I think we would pull up in a car and ask for a dvd and then we just leave.
Nye: I thought you would just drive for a bit and see trailers and then come back through 5 minutes later.
Adam: It's like a course, where everyone is driving around.
Niall: I think food has been a big thing so far. Most of the gang are vegan
Nye: Except for Niall. So the plan is when we go to Philadelphia, we're going to get Niall to buy a massive Philly cheesesteak and then just watch him eat it.
Niall: I can't tell if they're going to look at me and make me feel guilty or…I don't even know if I want one!
Wait, Martha is vegan too, so what's with all these vegan indiepop type bands.
Adam: We just love Martha.
Anna: We want to be just like Martha. That's actually probably mostly true.
Niall: The last time we were at Martha's though, JC came in and said, “Guys, which one of you ISN'T vegan,” and I thought he was going to tell me off, but it turns out that he works at a cafe that had these cookies and no one could eat them and he wanted to give me some cookies. But I was really worried, like, “God, this is a really public shaming.” So I nodded my head like, “Don't tell anyone,” and he was like, “No it's okay, I have this big bag of cookies,” and I was like yeah, sometimes it's alright to say yes.
Do you know any funny ghost jokes?
Anna: Oh yeah, because we're The Spook School!
Niall: There's the old one, like why didn't the skeleton go to the disco? Because he had no body to dance with!
Adam: But that's a skeleton!
Niall: But it's quite scary.
Anna: Here's a spooky, maybe not ghost joke: Knock knock.
Niall: Who's there?
Niall: Boo who?
Anna: There's no need to cry!
Niall: Knock knock.
Anna: Who's there?
Niall: A ghost called boo.
Anna: A ghost called boo who?
Niall: That's my name!
Can you guys tell me a fake rumor about Martha?
Niall: A rumor about Martha that I have heard, that's completely fact, is that the way that they are able to eat such lovely tasting vegan food, is that they don't use meat substitutes, they just use meat, and pretend it's fake, and that's why they're so meaty to gaze upon. That's why, if anything, I'm so attracted to them because I'm a meat eater.
Nye: Aren't you and Daniel going to open up a restaurant?
Niall: Oh yeah, so me and Daniel from Martha are going to open up a restaurant. But we have a side project, we don't have any of the songs, but we have the stage setting perfect. It's called Jimmy the Meat. He's Jimmy, I'm the meat, and we're basically ventriloquists through sausage dogs, who have little pretend guitars in front of them, and we're backstage with microphones playing properly, and it looks like like they're talking, but the big joke is that at some point, one of the dogs is going to crap itself onstage but the big payoff is that when Daniel comes on to take the dogs away, he does a poo onstage, and the crowd goes wild.
Anna: I have a question. How are yo going to make the dog poo on cue?
Niall: The dog doesn't, Daniel does, and I've trained him really well.
But I thought you said the dog does!
Niall: No, that's the joke. Everyone thinks the dog is going to! Anytime I see an animal in a performance situation, I think, “I hope it doesn't poo.” Ask Daniel about when Jimmy the Meat is going to have their first show.