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It Goes to Eleven (No. 8): Popular Kid

Kiki Shakti meets up with local band, Popular Kid, (consisting of Jasey Davis (Jason); Tim Younkman; Finn Runyon; Carlin Spung; Barnaby Hazen), in their man-cave/rehearsal space to discuss their music, their upcoming show at the Taos Mesa Brewery on November 29 (@8pm), the continued resonant validity of the film Point Break, and a mysterious affection for George Michael.

 

1. I haven’t heard any of your music, could you play me something?

Jason: Sure. What do you think? Should we play her “Stormy?”

[“Stormy Latelies” is a haunting song of love and loss and the hardship of making resolutions for the better – or, at least, that’s what I got from it — guided by eerily beautiful guitar.]

Can you play another, maybe something a little different? 

Jason: Yeah, hell, let’s play “Tattoo.”

[Danceable and funky rock and roll music starts. Vocals begin “Niiiiiiiiiiice…”]

Thanks for playing that for me. 

Carlin: Those are two very different songs, huh?

I liked them! You’ve got this rock n’ roll bluesy action and I can tell that you guys have put a lot of energy into it. I like it. I mean, it rocks out. I’m a rock and roll girl at heart. This is a sweet little man-cave, too. [There is literally a welcome mat that reads, “Man Cave”]

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2. So, can we start out with just each of you telling me your names and your part in the band? 

Barnaby: I’m Barnaby and I play bass.

Carlin: I’m Carlin. I play guitar.

Finn: Finn. Guitar.

Tim: Tim. Drums.

Jason: I’m Jason. Vocals and guitar.

 

3. ‘Popular Kid’ is an awesome name for a band. Where does that come from?

Carlin: From a song.

Jason: Yeah that’s right. It’s one of the songs that we do. It came from the name of a song, but it’s kind of just about the ridiculousness of popularity.

 

4. Groovy. How long have y’all been playing together?

Carlin: About a year and a few months?

Jason: I guess, yeah, about a year.

Finn: I got in a little later.

Jason: Yeah, Finn, otherwise known as The Kid — I’m sure you can tell why.

[The Kid is a senior in high school].

Carlin: He’s actually 53.

 Jason: Finn was on an exchange program in Germany. So, we had already talked with him about jumping in on the band when he got back and that was about four months ago.

Barnaby: I never said this, but I was skeptical when you [Jason] kept talking about bringing in a third guitar, but this guy’s [Jason’s] guitar arrangements are just killer.

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5. How would you describe your music?

Carlin: We’ve been trying to figure that out.

Jason: You know it’s so damn hard to be objective about describing our own music. We had tried the whole describe your band in 10 words or less thing. So, we had said, but we’ve kind of reneged on it since then, that we are like Ray Lamontagne cohabitating with Frank Zappa and Wilco. Then, we got rid of Ray Lamontagne and changed it to James Bond.  For no apparent reason. It just sounded better.

Carlin: Yeah, no apparent reason whatsoever. It just sounded better. Sean Connery.

Tim: We haven’t decided if it’s going to be Sean Connery or just James Bond.

Jason: I’m pretty sure we decided that Roger Moore was out.

Carlin: He didn’t represent me.

 

6. So, you guys are playing a show at the Brewery on the 29th? Is this your first show playing out together as a band?

All: Yep, yep…

Sweet. What do you think?

Carlin: It’s my first time ever playing in a band, so… All these guys have played in bands.

Finn: I have little experience, though.

Carlin: We’re excited for it.

 

7. So, what are your goals for the future of popular kid? are you just going to play around Taos for fun, or…?

Jason: No, we’re going to take it out on the road. We’re going to finish a record this winter. We’ve been doing a lot of recording down in the basement there. We’re going to do the record this winter and put it out. Just be a working band, get out there all over, not just Taos. Taos is great. I totally understand why so many people play here all the time, because who wants to leave? I mean, it’s wonderful, but we want to play here and play everywhere. Start regionally at first, then get out to Austin and all those other areas, and just be a full-on working band.

Yeah, you guys would be totally hot there [in Austin] — you have kind of an “Austin” sound.

Carlin: How would you describe it? Hearing it?

I would call it, like uh, I don’t know…  It’s a really bluesy, straight-up rock and roll.

Carlin: Yeah, that’s what we came around to, as well: rock n’ roll or singer-songwriter rock.

Jason: We have some elements that are a little jazzy, too. That’s where we get confused as far as describing our sound.

Barnaby: Actually, when I’m away from the band and I’m describing it to other people I call it “corruptible rock.“ It seems like we’re open to influences from basically anywhere and if it starts to catch a spark, then we’ll go with it.

Jason: We should have played “Out of My Head.” Just to show her a little more jazz.

Barnaby: Yeah, more of the outside stuff. But, you’ll hear it at the show.

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8. So, Carlin, this is your first time in a band. And Finn, you have very little experience, but all the rest of you guys have played with other people? What’s your history?

Jason: I’m a sideman for Jessie James. She’s a country artist out of Nashville, so I play with her, but she’s off the road, because she had a baby. So, I had been doing the country thing for a while. Also, I was in a band for a while on Lava/Atlantic called Tony C & the Truth that had some songs on the radio and all that. And, before I moved here in ’05, I was in New York playing with a lot of different people. So, that’s what I was doing.

Tim: I kind of quit for a while, because, I was in bands when I was in college. Then, I quit drums for a while — just life getting in the way. Then, I started playing again. I started playing a bit with Chipper [Thompson] and Kim [Treiber]. And then Jason talked me into joining the band.

Jason: We just started jamming.

Tim: Jamming just for fun.

Jason: Yes, just for fun. We like to say, lovingly, next to some Mormons (because the Mormon church is right over there). Jamming in the basement near the Mormons.

And, then you [Carlin] just came along? Were you the next person to join the band?

Carlin: Yep, Jason coaxed me out of playing alone.

Jason: Carlin was playing at his house, for years, by himself.

Carlin: Yeah, in the closet… facing the wall…  Finn played in a school band.

Finn: Yeah, I was in a school band, but we did like one performance at Old Martina’s Hall, but it wasn’t…

Carlin: It rocked.

Jason: It rocked hard.

Finn: Well, they say so. I met Jason, because, I was a student of his. He taught me guitar since I moved here almost four years ago. So, I started getting lessons from him in 9th grade, and then he invited me to be in his band and that was like a dream come true, so I couldn’t pass that up.

Barnaby: Jason saw me leading a winter program at Arroyos del Norte, because his little girl was in the show, and for some reason he decided to get in touch with me…

Jason: He sang this great version of “Beginning to See the Light” by Duke Ellington and he had a major winter cold. So, he sounded all scratchy and I thought, “I like that guy.” I kept thinking, “I’ve got to reach out to Barnaby and get him a demo.“ And, then I drove by him one day right when I was thinking about that. So, I walked up to him at Arroyos and he was probably dealing with something crazy, so he looked at me like I had three heads. I was like, “Hey man, I just want to give you this.” And he was like, “Who are you?”

Barnaby: Yeah, at school is not always the best time to try to talk to me.

Jason: You looked like you were mildly perturbed that I was bothering you with a CD. “Do I have to hold it? No, I have nowhere to put it. I have children who rely on me.“

Carlin: Then he found out he lives about five hundred feet away.

Jason: Yeah, he lives right down the road.

Barnaby: Yeah, and I’m the one who’s usually five minutes late.

Jason: That’s because he brings the donuts.

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9. What are your songs generally about?

Carlin: Jason writes them.

Jason: I guess just any experience I connect to emotionally. Just the same stuff everybody else writes about: loss, love, resentment, all the beautiful touchy-feely stuff, all the roses and daisies, and all the miserable “Stormy Latelies,” too.  All of that stuff. Also, I’m trying to have fun. “Tattoo,” I think has…

Barnaby: Is that LA influenced?  Is that from experiences you had in LA?

Jason: Um, no, not really.

Barnaby: I always think of LA when we’re playing it.

Yeah, it does kind of have that LA rock vibe. [Like X or Concrete Blonde.]

Jason: I think it’s more about the difference between working from the outside in or the inside out on yourself.

Barnaby: There’s a quote [from an LA movie] that song.

Jason: Yeah, from Point Break. It’s kind of a bastardized quote: “See you in the next life, Johnny.”

I just watched that movie again. It was randomly on TV recently, and it is still pretty good…

Jason: That movie still holds.

Carlin: Johnny Utah

Johnny Utah

Jason: Johnny Utah.

[There is a moment of silence]

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10. I think it’s the emotional catharsis we experience with music that is part of the reason we all like it, and are moved by it. How do you see that manifest in your lives?

Barnaby: There is no question at all that this guy [Jason] is going through a songwriting Renaissance. He just keeps busting out one song after another.

Carlin: Yeah, they keep coming, three a day, all equally good.

Jason: As far as the catharsis, I think they are, for lack of a better word, kind of like prayers. These songs are about trying to figure it all out.

Carlin: We’ve asked each other what we think each certain song means to each of us individually.  It just depends on how it speaks to each of us.

Jason: We’re working on a lot of it together. It really depends, because everyone is different. Sometimes I’ll bring one in that’s really only a verse and a chorus and we’ll start playing around with it. And, then it changes and shifts because everybody’s got their piece to add to it. That’s how I like it the most. Sometimes a song will be introduced as a fully formed idea, but lately we’ve been really fleshing out songs together as a band and that’s how I prefer to do it.

Finn: Yeah, that’s a fun way to do it, because it’s kind of more alive.

Barnaby: It’s fun when it’s working well. Usually somebody just kicks in and says, “I’m hearing this,” or “I’m hearing that.” And that can sometimes shape the arrangement considerably. Or, it’s just right there and everybody agrees that it’s all happening and ready to go. It’s happened both ways.

Tim: Jason definitely brings in the foundation of the song.

Carlin: Tim, you’ve had some awesome moments, bringing in parts to songs. Real talented guy.

Jason: Tim always has the rhythmic idea that shifts the song.  So, everybody really brings it. You know, five heads are always better than one.

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11. How many shows do you think you’ll be doing in Taos before you hit the road?

Jason: I think we’re going to at least take until through the winter and the spring, playing around here and maybe Santa Fe, and then start getting out and playing.  And also, do some private parties and things like that. Just to get used to being in front of people, to figure out who we are as a live band. Right now, we’re just going to present the music.  You have to develop a performance ethic — what your showmanship is. We’re just not there yet. We’re just going to present the music and be ourselves and we’ll see where it goes.

Taos seems like a good place, a really safe venue, to practice your craft, or fine tune your sound in that way.

Jason: As far as playing out, I haven’t booked any other gigs. We just wanted to get this one under our belt to see where we’re at and what we need to work on. And then we just start booking.

Carlin: Yeah, see where it goes.

Do like a Summer Tour, maybe?

All: Yeah.

Because you’re a teacher, [Barnaby]?

Barnaby: Yes.

So you all have day jobs?

All: Yes.

Finn: School.

Jason: What was it your teacher said? Finn took a poster [for the show] to his high school and…

Finn: And, one of my teachers said, “Oh, it’s really nice to see all the old guys you hang out with.”

Do you have anything you’d like to add?

Barnaby: Just as long as the date makes it in. [Saturday! Saturday! Saturday, November! November! November! 29! 29! 29! 2014 @Taos Mesa Brewing, 8PM! Saturday November 29!]

Jason: I would like to play her a cover, though.

Sure, I like covers. Let’s hear it.

Jason: We don’t play covers to sound like the original. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

[The first cover song they play for me is a funky reggae-stylie rendition of The Cars’ “My Best Friend’s Girl” After this, it’s a version of “Crazy Train” that’s like Ben Harper and Dean Martin had a baby and named it Ozzy.]

I like that you have memorabilia from Van Halen, Kiss, and Wham! all in a row on your shelf over there.

Jason: Oh, you said Wham!, did you?

Really, you have no idea how much I love George Michael.

Jason: Then you came to the right place.

[They play a beautiful, soulful rendition of “Careless Whisper” that sounds like Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen decided to party with Sir George (he is a “Sir,” right? Don’t care, he should be). Popular Kid’s version of this amazing, beautiful, and ridiculously cheesy Wham! song, sung with a devotion and admiration that few but Sir George are deserving of, this song, covered in a completely original style, got my heart. You had me at Wham! You had me at George Michael. Actually, I thought they are a good band before they busted out the “Careless Whisper.” So, that’s just an added bonus, really.Go see this band! And in the meantime, check this out:]