Under their new name, Pop Etc, they are about to release their second album, Souvenir as well as embark on a short tour supporting Oh Wonder, so we thought this was the perfect time to sit down with lead man Chris Chu and have a chat…
The first time I saw you live was when you opened for The Kooks years ago. Your music was what I would describe as beachy, surf, 60 vibes. When you changed the band’s name from Morning Benders, is this when the new sound came also?
It kind of did, but we already had the album completely written and it was going to be released as The Morning Benders. We were already planning on going in that direction, it just happened that we learned about the meaning of ” Benders ” in other parts of the world, so we decided to change the name. It happened just coincidently. But the first Morning Benders album and the second are pretty different in style as well, so we were interested in changing as we were making new music. I think the new album is different from all three of the others so it is something we are always trying to do. Explore something new each time.
Your new music is more electronic than previous music . How receptive to this change were your fans?
It depends. There are people that..its kind of something we go through. I feel like a lot of artists and bands can relate to this. You just make music and you put it out and sometimes it is what your fans are looking for and sometimes it isn’t. But there is always a range of what people think you should do based on their tastes. There are a lot of people since our first album Talking Through Tin Cans, that is what we were touring when you saw us with The Kooks, when Big Echo came out, they missed the sound, they just wanted to hear more of Tin Cans. Thats with Pop Etc, the third album. Everyone was listening to Big Echo right before that so they wanted to hear more of that. I think it’s a natural trend. I feel like people want to hear more of the last thing they heard.
Because you grow to like that sound from a band…
Yeah. Totally. I have that same thing happen when I am listening to music with bands I like. It’s natural to change, I think, as technology changes and the way people are actually engineering and recording music. As that changes, its natural for the sounds of bands to change. Our newest album, we recorded almost completely at home and that is something that wouldn’t have been possible. It is a lot more feasible now economically and it just makes sence with the way people are making music these days. We write a lot of music on our computers, like we will be able to make a demo or flush out an idea in a much more arranged way than we use to be able to. I think there are parts of that, that are good and parts that are bad. We are always trying to figure out the most inspiring and engaging way for us to make music , so we are always trying to mix and match by doing certain things digitally and then making sure we add real drums or add piano or make sure the voice is very natural and raw. There is always a way to balance that, but I think that if you keep your tools so limited, like if we started recording on a four track tape machine and we just never wanted to try anything but that, we would get stagnant.
Your new album comes out at the end of January. How long did the process, start from finish, take? It didn’t seem like it had been long since Pop Etc. was released.
I think it feels shorter because Pop Etc was a new name and a new change, even though it was the same members. It took a while for it to kind of unfold and there are a lot of fans now who didn’t even know the Morning Benders, so it does feel like this is a fresh phase for us, but we have been working on it a long time. The last album came out in 2012 and I write music every day so I have been working on Souvenir for at least two years, more like three.
What does your writing process look like. Do you start with music or lyrics?
It really varies. I mean, I wrote like hundreds of songs for this album, so I think I probably have a tendency to write music first just because I hear melodies very often and that is what comes naturally for me. But I can also think of a few songs on the record that I remember just like, walking around and a lyric popped into my head and I went and wrote with that lyric being the idea.
Where is the strangest place you have ever gotten an idea for a song?
That is a good question. I mean I feel like I am just always thinking about it so like with this album in particular I remember getting an idea for a song when I was jet lagged out of my mind in Tokyo . Up in my motel, in the middle of the night, like 4 in the morning. I just had been trying to sleep for like two hours and I gave up and got up. I started messing around with this idea that later turned into….there are so many songs on there I wrote I can’t even remember which, I think it was Im Only Dreaming. My brother had sent me an instrumental and I had it in Japan and started working on it there. It is the last song on the record.
So you write everyday. How do you come to the decision and say ” This song belongs on the album and this one needs to be trashed” ?
That is part of the reason it took so long to do. That is really difficult. It is easier for me to just start new ideas, than to finish them. I am more excited to write something new I have thought of, than to go back to an old idea, but I think that is part of where the rest of the band comes in, in a really impactful way. They are not in the room writing songs with me often, although we do that every now and then, but they impact the song writing process in such a huge way. They are the only people who hear anything, so I finish a rough idea and send it to them, then they basically help curate and arrange this while this, so they are the ones that are like ” You know that first melody really hit me but the chorus felt weak” or like the lyrics and the vibe of the song don’t really match up. They will be giving me feedback that will be constantly shifting based on their ideas and their personalities. Eventually it gets to this place where all three of us feel the song has a piece of each of us in it and I think that is what makes it and album tracker. It is something we all feel excited about.
We know you split your time between the US and Japan. How does the music scene differ between the two countries?
They are very different. I could talk about it for a long time. One of the things that is really interesting is that Japan is so influenced by Western music. The power of Michael Jackson and The Beatles is as far-reaching as it is here, but because it is imported from somewhere else, it gets in some way disconnected from the context. Everyone knows Thriller there and they know Michael Jackson, but they don’t really know The Jackson Five and stuff that led up to it, and they don’t know other music that was happening in the late 70’s and 80’s. So they pick out different parts that we did in America when we were around that music. You hear these really interesting hybrids of songs, things you wouldn’t expect to mash together. That definitely continued into the modern eras like pop music. You hear stuff there that starts out sounding like a pop punk EDM song and then all of a sudden its a 90’s hip hop kinda break in the middle . You hear these weird Frankenstein creations of a song that work and are put together, but it’s just like a certain combination of sounds and genres that feel very different.
You recorded most of Souvenir at your home in Brooklyn. Discipline wise, is it harder to record at home than in a studio?
I can get distracted for sure, but I think I am actually…my problem is more on the other end of the spectrum. I am just so obsessed about working on music everyday. I’ll go straight into our home studio and start working on music and that is all I want to do, so for me, I actually need the distraction. I welcome when something comes and pulls me out of that. I also think that with having to record in a studio, there is such a pressure , so it is nice to be in an environment that is so different and your isolated, so there is nothing else to do but to work on music. Besides that it is often sterile, your around all these different people, you have engineers and assistants there and they are impacting the process in a way I guess I am leery of. I like the intimacy of recording at home and I like that I can record vocals alone. For me singing, I still get nervous having to sing in front of people, so I like being able to do that at home. Just doing lyrics are personal. I am really thankful for the freedom that recording at home affords.
So do you get stage fright when you go on stage?
It is weird. It is like I’ve been doing it long enough where I don’t get stage fright, but I never feel completely relaxed. I feel some kind of anxiousness . It is not until a few songs in that I start to feel more comfortable. I love playing music for people and the trade-off that happens from it, but I am naturally suited to just waking up and going into the studio. I just love-making music. Playing live is a different experience. You are playing old songs, you are not creating something completely different each time.
Lastly, a question we ask every band, what are the three most essential songs for a road trip?
That is a tough question, but a song I always come back to is Everyone Wants To Rule The World by Tears for Fears. It is always hard to pick so few songs. We have been listening a lot to Sublime. It is something I grew up with and then I’ve come back to it and realized how special I think it is, so Garden Grove, which is the opener on their third album, then Hall and Oates , You Make My Dreams Come True. You have to have some that make you feel good.
Pop Etc’s Souvenir will be released on January 29th. You can pre-order the album
You can catch them on tour in these cities:
01.25 – U Street Music Hall – Washington, DC *
01.26 – Union Transfer – Philadelphia, PA *
01.28 – Music Hall of Williamsburg – Brooklyn, NY *
01.29 – Bowery Ballroom – New York, NY *
01.30 – Paradise Rock Club – Boston, MA *
* w/ Oh Wonder