POP ETC have found themselves. It took some typical band hurdles (line-up shifts, name changes) and some atypical (tiring global tours with acts like The Black Keys), but Chris Chu says the trio have found their sound and their stride. With recent tours with The Wombats and Oh Wonder, the trio is carving out a place in the highly competitive (and painfully broad) genre of “pop” music. Along with Jon Chu and Julian Harmon, Chris has worked tirelessly and with an impressive amount of gusto to get where they are today.
We hung out with Chris (front man of POP ETC) back when the band was on tour with The Wombats to talk about where the band has been and where they want to go. And judging from their sense of rediscovered energy and purpose, the guys of POP ETC will go pretty far. Their most recent LP, Souvenirs, is out now and definitely worth a listen.
Stereo Subversion: How has it been touring with The Wombats? They’re a pretty well known, global band.
Chris Chu: Oh it’s been great. Really awesome. They’re super sweet guys and the audiences are really big and welcoming. That’s not always the case. We’ve done a lot of tour where people are very standoff-ish. But this has just been really great, warm reception.
SSv: Have you noticed any pick up in the hype surrounding POP ETC? Do you think this tour will really be the catalyst that gets your name out there?
Chris: Well, that’s a good question. It’s kind of all over the place, ups and downs. Like when you put out an album there’s all this stuff happening and then in between there’s a it of a lull. So we have a new album coming out so this is kind of like a warm up tour for us. We’ll probably do our own tours and do more extensive stuff once the album comes out. Yeah, so in a way it feels like we’re getting our sea legs back.
SSv: Do you feel like there’s been any sort of major influences or changes between what you put out in the past and then this new album?
Chris: Yeah, i’s a pretty different thing. We always try to switch it up from album to album. We just toured so much on our last albums and got kinda burnt out on touring all the time for years. And they were great tours! We had four or five back-to-back tours with The Black Keys and Brooklyn Bells. We had our headline tour in Europe, then we went to Japan. It was all awesome and exciting, but then when it ended we were just, ‘Oh my God. This is so tiring.’ We had been playing those songs for so long.
We were happy to just be free for a while. We ended up not putting any deadlines on anything and just writing and making music for the last two years or so. So the album just kind of made itself. We wrote hundreds of songs and just tried lots of different things. It’s got a pretty different sound.
SSv: Do you guys go through a process of coming up with songs? Is there someone who provides the lyrics or is it a joint effort?
Chris: Um, I usually write stuff. I write with a lot of bands as well so I’ve seen lot’s of different processes. But for me I think I would feel weird if I wasn’t singing my own lyrics. So I generally have the skeleton of the song pretty much done and then the three of us work in this little studio thing we have in our house.
SSv: And your brother is part of the band as well, right?
SSv: That’s got to be cool. So how did you all start the band?
Chris: It’s actually changed a lot. I’m the only person who has been in it since the beginning. It started as just me, honestly, but I wanted it to be a band. So I started asking around and I had a line-up that was awesome, actually. I met some really cool guys that are still some of my best friends. But not all of them are playing music. Once my brother joined the band and Julian as well, they’ve been the longest running members by far. Once we kind of found that dynamic for the three of us, it’s kind of set into this very personal rhythm. We just know each other super well. And since we record at home, it’s got this very personal, intimate sound. And we like it that way. We don’t want to go into a studio with 10 people standing around watching you.
SSv: Oh yeah. Radical Face and The Oh Hellos both do in-home recordings and it sounds so different and natural.
Chris: Yeah! And we try to make things that we make demos of sometimes because we like the energy of that. So now, if we like how something sounds, we can just take it and build off it right there. It’s a lot more freeing.
SSv: That’s fantastic! I like hearing about this. It makes it more personal and better, I think. Now you guys were The Morning Benders for a while, why the change?
Chris: Um, basically, the short version is that “bender” is slang in the UK and other places for a homophobic slur. And people thought we were making light of the fact and we really feel strongly that we would never use that word knowing that connotation. So we just thought it was kind of backwards because we’re very accepting people. We just love everyone! We don’t want to exclude anyone.
SSv: Oh I’m sorry you guys had to go through that!
Chris: [Laughs] Yeah. I mean, we’re glad we did it. And it coincided with some band members changing a little bit. It gave a new ethos for how we wanted to make music. So it was kind of OK in the way it turned out. That’s the silver lining.
SSv: So you’ve got Souvenirs coming out in January. What’s after that? Just touring and promoting?
Chris: Yeah, we’re making a lot of stuff right now. We’ve got some videos and stuff. We were just in Japan for a couple of weeks where we played shows but we were also doing a bunch of promos. There’s a lot of that sort of stuff. And yeah, we plan to tour a bunch.
SSv: Are you excited for another tour or are you feeling more apprehensive?
Chris: No no! Now I am feeling excited. After taking that time off in the studio I’ve gotten kind of antsy so now I’m real excited. And playing these shows too has just been super fun. Especially when you’re working at home, I think playing in the studio has a downside. It becomes such an insular process. There’s moments when we are writing so many songs and throwing away so many songs that we have to think, ‘What are we doing?’ and then you go on tour and play for people and get a sense of how people react to it.
SSv: Are you at all nervous about putting out all these personal songs?
Chris: I’m kind of used to that at this point. I think when I first started writing I felt nervous a lot. But what happens really quickly is you put it out there and then people just put their own take on it. And I’m really happy that that’s the way art works. You have your intentions as a writer and people are going to take it however they want. They can pick out certain things and analyze them. People will tell me certain things about songs that I never even thought of and that’s awesome.
SSv: That has to be super gratifying for you guys. You’re impacting these people’s lives in ways that you couldn’t even imagine.
Chris: Yeah, it’s really gratifying and it makes it so that when you go on stage, you’re not just completely naked out there. Everyone is kind of building on the songs and experiences together and that’s what makes it awesome.