Regardless of what the Billboard charts might insinuate, Pop Punk – AKA Punk Pop – was not born in the mid- ‘90s. The roots of the genre first came to prominence in the late ‘70s thanks to bands like Ramones, Buzzcocks, The Dickies, and The Undertones. The blending of the raw power of Punk Rock and soaring, sing-a-long melodies reignited the Indie scene and made Punk more -for lack of a better term – consumer-friendly. The term ‘Pop Punk’ wasn’t widely used until bands like The Offspring, Green Day, Rancid, and Blink-182 brought the genre to the mainstream, selling millions of albums in the process. MTV and radio embraced this new movement that was as hook-filled as it was loud and aggressive. It is hard to tell whether Pop Punk was a reaction against the slick Pop and smooth R&B that filled the charts at the time or a full-on musical revolution but whatever happened, happened.
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: VINYL TAP has just been released. How are you feeling about the album and the reaction to it so far?
JAY BECKENSTEIN: I have felt great about this record since the days when we first started rehearsing it. The band responded to the challenge of doing alternative covers, really, I think quite brilliantly, and I’m really proud of this record. Reactions have been excellent. I think that people really responded to us doing some material other than ours. I also think that they responded to how much we changed the material and how the material was inspiration for more creativity.
Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the U.S. charts very rarely embraced blatantly retro bands like the U.K. did. Sometimes, a band like The Stray Cats would defy the odds and connect with a large commercial audience in the States but that was a rarity. Bands like Sha Na Na were considered a novelty act by the critics and would generally be ignored. At that time in America, the ‘oldies’ were so in the past…
Nearly 40 years after the release of their debut album, Liverpudlian quartet A Flock Of Seagulls is still best remembered for Mike Score’s aviation-approved hairstyle. While it earned the band plenty of attention back in the heady days of MTV, it ended up hurting their musical legacy in the long run. And THAT is a shame because for a few years there, AFOS was one of the finest Pop bands of the era. Mixing mood-inducing synth work with delay-laden guitar licks, A Flock Of Seagulls straddled the line between the cool coldness of early OMD and the bold bravado of U2, bringing both worlds together while adding a bit of sci-fi imagery and immediate commercial pop hooks. When the single “I Ran” was released (before Score’s hair grew wings), the timing was perfect and AFOS’ career began to soar. But apart from that big hit, did the band have much else to offer? Oh, yeah. Much, much more. With their self-titled album, Mike, his brother Ali Score (drums), Frank Maudsley (bass) and Paul Reynolds (guitar) set the bar extremely high, both for themselves and for their contemporaries. The band may have been lumped into the ‘Synth Pop’ category, but Reynolds’ guitar work was just as important to their sound as the keyboards and Score’s voice and futuristic lyrics. Take a listen to the glorious “Space Age Love Song”, for example. It’s a guitar and synth instrumental that just happens to have vocals. These four musicians created their own musical world and for a few years, they were untouchable. Oh, and did I mention that they won a Best Rock Instrumental Performance Grammy for “DNA” from their debut album?
When Punk Rock raised its mischievous head in 1976, the Rock ‘n’ Roll landscape was forever changed. Just as important as the birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll in the ‘50s (Elvis, Buddy, Chuck, Jerry, etc.) and the rise of The Beatles, the Punk Rock movement deconstructed the myth of Rock music and built something new and raw from its foundation. While the movement had a definite ‘look,’ it was really a movement driven by emotion. It was rebellion with feeling. Fueled by frustration and anger, the music came with a message. From overtly political to painfully personal, the Punk Rock classes of 1976 and ’77 – Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Ramones, etc. – inspired a new generation of musicians to form bands and make their passions and presence known. One of those bands was San Francisco’s Dead Kennedys.
Why isn’t Fischer-Z one of the most popular bands in the universe? Since their debut album, WORD SALAD, was released in 1979, band leader/singer/songwriter John Watts has continued to grow as a songwriter, often switching gears during his musical journey while still maintaining artistic integrity. Perhaps even more importantly, his lyrics are always honest and relevant, which is often reflected by the musical arrangements that surround them. Watts is not a man who continues to recycle the same musical ideas that initially brought the band to the public’s attention four decades ago. F-Z’s catalog is not filled with carbon copies of “So Long,” the band’s most recognizable hit from 1980. Instead, Watts has continued to move forward, adding new layers to songwriting while thoughtfully stripping other layers away. In some ways, he’s constantly reinventing himself without abandoning what drew people to his talent in the first place.
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Now that HANDFULS OF NIGHT is released, how are you feeling about the project and the reaction to it so far?
ARTHUR JEFFES: I’m really happy with how its turned out. there are a few quite out-there ideas going in to the album and I’m a bit relieved that it seems to make sense to people if I’m honest. There’s a bunch of personal history here for me so it’s great that the idea is coming through – which doesn’t always happen especially with instrumental records…
Artists and their art evolve. The youngster that strummed their first chord into a four-track recorder decades ago has matured in so many ways since then – physically, emotionally, and artistically. However, without realizing it, their audience refuses to let the artist grow – they want them to stay the same as when they first connected with them. While we all know better now, there was a time when teens all over the world were dismayed when The Beatles grew facial hair and served up “Strawberry Fields Forever” to the masses in 1967. The kids wanted the same band that Ed Sullivan introduced them to three years earlier. Thankfully, audiences quickly adapted to the Fabs’ growth as a band. The same can’t be said for so many other artists over the years. Audiences can be so fickle sometimes…
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Your long-awaited album PLAYING FAVORITES is now released. How are you feeling about the way the album turned out and the reaction so far?
LOUISE MANDRELL: I’m very proud of PLAYING FAVORITES. I recorded songs that were special to me. My biggest surprise is how many people have reached out with their stories and memories relating to these songs.
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: DESERT DOVE is just about to be released. How are you feeling about the album and the reaction to it so far?
MICHAELA ANNE: I’m feeling really grateful and excited! The response so far has been really positive. I’ve also been seeing a lot of feedback that makes me feel like people are already “getting” what I’m trying to put out there. This record feels different for me and the closest thing I’ve made to feeling like “me” internally so it’s exciting but vulnerable and nerve-wracking to share.