Bob Burger – The Domino Effect (Q&A)

Bob Burger, who is also a member of The Weeklings as a solo artist, has made a great Power Pop record.

Power Pop like Tom Petty, Willie Nile, Elvis Costello, and Marshall Crenshaw make Power Pop.

Again, Burger proves not only to be a great songsmith but also a great singer, a GREAT singer.

I’ll still be playing The Domino Effect three years from now. I know. It’s that good.

How did this record come together?

I wrote some of the songs, and started rudimentary recording soon after I completed my previous album, “The Day After”,  in 2012.  But then I joined The Weeklings and shifted my priorities totally toward that project.  In 2020, the pandemic slowed everything down and I found that I had time to reboot and complete “The Domino Effect.”  With an aim toward keeping my solo work separate from The Weeklings, I enlisted the help of Jimmy Leahey on lead guitars, Jerry Gaskill on drums, Lisa Sherman on background vocals, and Arne Wendt on keyboards. 

The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for the new record?

I think I achieved my goal of coming up with something distinct from The Weeklings, but still very much in the pop/R&R vein.  With that and a lot of positive reviews, I feel the album is artistically successful.  Commercial success these days is more elusive than ever!  Even if you create something that is very popular, the monetary rewards are minimal.  But having lots of people hear and like your music, is great for boosting live performances.  So success for me will simply be measured by how many sets of ears I can reach.

How great is the urge to stay creative? To keep writing songs and lyrics?

I never stop writing songs and have never experienced writer’s block.  So I guess the urge is pretty strong.  I have a number of songs in the backlog for both The Weeklings and for my next solo project.

As an artist, you choose to show your emotions to the world. Is it always comfortable to do so?

Yes, because I only expose what I choose to!  There are some songs I will never release for that reason.  The other trick as a writer is to make minor changes to mask personal thoughts.  I have read that Elvis Costello does that by changing gender, timeframes and other techniques.  Makes a lot of sense to me.

What’s the gig you will always remember? And why?

The party I played for Jon Bonjovi at his house in the Hamptons, where I got to meet and play with Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Roger Waters and Jimmy Buffet (and of course Jon).  Other standout gigs include a number of private events I played with Bruce Springsteen, and the Max Weinberg show at City Field (Shea Stadium) in 15-degree weather!

Playing music in front of a crowd. What’s all the fun about?

There is nothing like it.  It is a form of communication that is unique and totally rewarding.  Assuming of course that the crowd is with you!  Playing in front of a dead crowd is not all that great, right?

You can’t control the way people ‘hear’ your music. But if you could make them aware of certain aspects, you think, set your songs apart. What would they be?

I hope my songs bear repeated listening.  I think people will find some deeper layers if they listen a few times.  I hope the musical production and lyrics both hold up to set the songs apart.

Those magical moments when you’re working in the studio. Which moment was the most magical?

For this record, some of the sessions with Jimmy Leahey were magical.  Jimmy is a fountain of ideas and we work together pretty effortlessly.  His guitar parts are a huge part of the sound of the album.  I also love the mixing process in general and it’s always magical for me.  Plink Giglio is fantastic at helping me to achieve the sounds I hear in my head.

The record is done, the music is out. Is the best fun done now or is it just beginning?

I love making records.  The promotion and business aspects after the record is done are less fun.  I think most artists feel that way.  Of course, it will be great fun to play the songs live.  But the real fun that is just beginning, is the work on the next record!

Night Court – Nervous Birds Too (Q&A)

‘… there’s a strong current of 90’s Halifax scene pop running through this album, the combination of Sonic-Youth-ey noise guitar and Beatlesque pop reminding me keenly of Peppermint EP era Sloan, but there’s also a vibe reminiscent of old-school 70’s East Coast bands, particularly the Mass Ave power pop of Boston groups such as The Neighborhoods (“Shitty Confidential”), as well as some of the low-fi sensibilities of early Guided By Voices (“Titanic” especially feels like it could have been pulled from Vampire on Titus) and shades of the early 2000’s garage rock revival. So, basically all kinds of good shit for people that like no frills, catchy tunes full of great guitar hooks wrapped in a scrappy, lo-fi aesthetic.’, writes Cups & Cakes.

I don’t have much to add to that but DAVE, Jiffy and Emily have.

What was the moment you knew you were on to something?

DAVE: The very first song I sent to Jiffy was the music for Shitty Confidential – and as soon as I heard him sing, “I wanted to be a poet…”, I knew something very cool was going on.

Jiffy: Ya, I’m not sure why this one is different from the other five bands Dave and I have been in together but it is for some reason. Maybe maturity mixed with a kick-ass drummer?

The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for the new record?

DAVE: Success is a difficult thing to define – not only is it subjective, but we work in an industry where a major form of payment comes in the form of cultural capital. That said, we’ve been fortunate enough to have had some great reviews – and, truly, there are few better feelings than hearing someone tell you that they sincerely love the songs you poured yourself into – so, continuing in that direction would suit me fine. But I don’t think any of us would complain if ‘success’ included a little bit of regular capital, as well 😉

How great is the urge to stay creative?  To keep writing songs and lyrics?

Jiffy: Definitely an uncontrollable urge!

DAVE: Since starting the band, it’s not so much an urge as trying to control the beast! I hadn’t really written any songs for years and once the floodgates opened, I couldn’t stop them from coming out – they were waking me up in the middle of the night! Now we have almost too many songs and not enough time to refine and record them…not a bad problem to have, really, but sometimes you have to get IN creativity’s way in order to clear the backlog of previous creativity!

As an artist, you choose to show your emotions to the world. Is it always comfortable to do so?

Emily: One of the biggest compliments for me is when someone tells me I’m believable on stage. On two different occasions I have found out a friend passed away within an hour or two before a gig and have had no choice but to mourn publically. I am comfortable with the spectacle of emotion, I find it compelling and one of the things that enriches the human experience. 

Jiffy: Too old to give a fuck! We’re emo, deal with it.

You can pick 3 co-writers to write new songs with. Who? … and Why?

Jiffy: Three is too many, let’s just go with John Reis. Why? Because he’s Speedo, nuff said, but we did just recently learn/realize he produced Superchunk’s On the Mouth which seems like a sign? Like if we were to ever work with an outside producer that puts him at the top of the list, maybe the only person on the list!?

What’s the gig you will always remember? And why?

DAVE: Our first gig at Leeside skate park last summer was amazing. It was the first time any of us had been at a show since the OG covid lockdowns, and Emily had only been in the band for like a month, and she fucking destroyed it! At that moment it was clear that we were meant to make beautiful rock together.

Lyrics are too often taken for granted.  What is the line of text or are the lines of text that you hope listeners will remember?  And why?

DAVE: I’m more a student of the Mutt Lange/Max Martin school of thought that is more concerned with the way the words sound over a melody than the words themselves, so you won’t hear me gushing over anything I wrote. But Jiffy’s a different story – writing clever lyrics for Fractions, about his wife being too clever, was very clever, indeed! I would also highlight Johnnny Rocket – it’s a true stroy about a coworker Jiffy and I had at a (locally) famous car wash in Calgary and Jiffy’s lyrics capture the scene perfectly.

Jiffy: Only a deep Night Court fan will get this reference but we laughed pretty long and hard about “megalomanic narcissistic doctors”!

When was the last time you thought ‘I just wrote a hit!’?

DAVE: What’s the last song we wrote? Just kidding/good joke!!! Sometimes people (generously) tell us ‘Song X is a hit!’ but Song X is always different…so maybe we’re doing a good job of covering the spread? I remember thinking Brighten the Corner might sound TOO radio hit-y but then we recorded it and now it sounds nicely shitty!

Playing music in front of a crowd. What’s all the fun about?

Emily: Sweat. It’s about embracing sweat.   

You can’t control the way people ‘hear’ your music. But if you could make them aware of certain aspects, you think, set your songs apart. What would they be?

DAVE: One of our axioms for writing and recording is to not be “too precious” with the songs – we try to get out of their way and let them speak for themselves in as few takes as possible. That said, we do sometimes spend a lot of time on specific details that we believe are important to the song’s final form…it could be a single snare hit or the repetition (or non-repetition) of a hook.

Obviously, all bands do this in some way or another, but Night Court, in my experience, has the weirdest (in a cool way) disparity between “good enough” and “let’s get it right” of any bands I’ve been in. 

What compliment you once received will you never forget?

Emily: Gibby Haynes after a few too many screwdrivers telling me I rocked after a show in Victoria years ago. 

What place do you occupy in the music industry?

Emily: A waiting area by the elevators. 

Jiffy: Oh, that’s pretty good! I was gonna say we’re the people who collect other people’s empties.

If you could pick three singers to sing harmony vocals on your next record, who would you ask?

Emily: Neko Case  

The record is done, the music is out.  Is the best fun done now or is it just beginning? 

DAVE: Fun is both the fuel and the finished product for this band so plenty more to come!

Emily: I’m a total road dog. I love being on tour. Playing live has always been my motivator. Needless to say, I’m hungry after the last few years! 

The 31 best Power Pop records of 2022’s first half!

What an excellent Power Pop year 2022 is already.

This is the story so far.

01 Dave Scarbrough – Happy Ever After

There are 12 songs on Happy Ever After, which are all equally amazing. Dave sounds like Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe back when those two wrote their best songs. You won’t believe that, yet it’s true.

02 Young Guv – Guv III

You wanted the best; you got the best, the hottest band in the world!
They really should have Young Guv tour with Weezer. Who would sell the most t-shirts then?

03 Extra Arms – What is Even Happening Right Now?

And with every record Ryan Allen and his friends make, we write that it’s their best, and it’s true every time. What is Even Happening Right Now? is chock full of pointed, flawless, sharp Power Pop of the finest kind.

04 Tom Curless – Person of Interest

Almost Ready for the Future was one of my favorite records of 2020. Its follow-up, Person of Interest, released early 2022, is even better. The songs Tom Curless writes gain in strength, power, and expressiveness with every release. Take “Something for Nothing”, Bob Mould or Rick Springfield would be king if such a melody came to them. But it didn’t. It blew to Tom Curless and, trust me, that’s no coincidence.

05 The Summer Holiday – Acqua

The Summer Holiday is a great band, and Acqua is a masterpiece. If fun. (the band) would have been a Power Pop band; their records would have been half as good as the ones Michael Collins releases.

06 Cheap Star – Wish I Could See

Rémi Vaissiere and his star cast. Wish I Could See offers a master class in writing sophisticated Power Pop songs but is perhaps even more of a master class in how to perform those sophisticated songs. Impeccable!

07 Freezing Hands – It Was A Good Run

Fourteen of the greatest (Garage/Power) pop songs!

08 Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard – Backhand Deals

If this is what Britpop sounds like these days, then I like contemporary Britpop.

09 Seth Swirsky – Songs from the Green Couch

Seth Swirsky writes sophisticated pop songs, and he sings them in a soft, pleasant voice. Delicate but very strong.

10 Trevor Blendour – Falling In Love

On Falling In Love, Trevor Treiber sounds like Buddy Holly backed by a surf-punk band. How catchy do you want pop music to be?

11 Ex Norwegian – Spook de Jour

With every Ex Norwegian release, and Spook du Jour is already the 13th, there are two certainties, namely that (1) you as a listener will hear something different than you expect and (2) that all songs are rock (or: pop) solid. What a gem!

12 Jeremy & The Harlequins – ABRA CaDaBRA

Buddy Holly is often credited as the origin of the Power Pop. Jeremy & The Harlequins have a direct line with this origin. Cool as freak.

13 Nick Piunti – Heart Inside Your Head

Don’t take the fact that Nick Piunti always delivers quality for granted. It’s an incredible achievement to make so many classy songs. There are ten more on Heart Inside Your Head. Incredibly good.

14 Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Endless Rooms

I am a fan of Albert Hammond Jr.’s solo records. And that’s why I’m also a fan of Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever because they have the same sound. At least it kinda looks like it.

15 Lannie Flowers – Flavor of the Month

FLAVOR OF THE MONTH is both a completely new collection and the long-awaited physical media debut for the songs that made up Lannie Flowers’ celebrated March To Home Singles Series in 2019 all newly remixed by Lannie, the King of Southern Spiced Quality Pop, himself.

16 Lund Bros – Across State Lines

Chris and Sean Lund have released another excellent record with Across State Lines. Immaculate Heavy Power Pop.

17 Goodman – How Close Are You to the Ground

He should be the talk of Power Pop Town but he isn’t and I don’t get that. Like all his others, this record showcases what our beloved genre sounds like when a new generation takes a spin on it. Beautiful, challenging, critical and with both feet in the present tense.

18 Afterpartees – Familiy Names

No-Nonsense Power Pop from the lowlands.

19 The Toms – Stereo

Tommy Marolda sounds like a young god on Stereo. He continues to surprise with a fresh sound and a cartload of good songs. You Move Like Sex should be banned, by the way; Bon Jovi-esque kitsch, but the other eleven songs are great.

20 Tamar Berk – Start at the End

Tamar Berk delivered a very personal record on which she sings about how she copes with the loss of her father. ‘Honor’ your father by writing thirteen overwhelmingly beautiful songs. That is beautiful.

21 Chris Church – Darling Please

Darling Please didn’t seem good enough when Chris Church recorded the songs over a decade ago. Fortunately, last year he took the time to polish and refine the ten songs, and the new result, released early 2022 by Big Stir records, is great. GREAT!

22 Speedfossil – No Anesthesia

Sit down and listen attentively. This record gets better if you pay attention. Thoughtful, delicate, but also joyful and fun.

23 The Bye Bye Blackbirds – August Lightning Complex

Bradley Skaught, frontman of The Bye Bye Blackbirds, wrote the songs for August Lightning Complex during some of the darkest and most anxious times of the past couple of years. Gloomy lyrics and rich, full, beautifully developed pop melodies.

24 Deadlights – Eleven Step Intervention

Deadlights is Jeff Shelton’s non-Power Pop band. Eleven Step Intervention is an excellent Power Pop record. BAM!

25 Emperor Penguin – Sunday Carvery

EMPEROR PENGUIN comes out of the lockdown with their best record. SUNDAY CARVERY is British through and through, like The Kinks, Elvis Costello, or XTC, but don’t expect a retro sound; the band is firmly rooted in the present tense.

26 SPINN – Outside of the Blue

Sweet Sweet Jangle Pop from Liverpool.
Sweet Sweet Jangle Pop from Liverpool.
That’s all you can ask for, can’t you?

27 Hoodoo Gurus – Chariot of the Gods

And that in the ‘end’ you suddenly come up with an outstanding record again. How is that possible? And why don’t more old heroes do that?

28 Anton Barbeau – Power Pop!!!

Power Pop songs are often made with the same template; deviating from it hurts many enthusiasts. Anton is not such a fan of such a straitjacket. He fights against it in the only possible way, namely by making beautiful songs that have nothing to do with Power Pop but are very popular with the fans who don’t always feel like listening to the same song.

29 Eytan Mirsky – Lord, Have Mirsky!

Eytan Mirsky chooses on Lord, Have Mirsky! deliberately for a richer, more extensive sound palette. As a result, his music starts to show more and more similarities with the songs of Nick Lowe.

30 Romero – Turn It On!

Gosh, I’d like to see Romero opening for Blondie. I wonder who will sell the most t-shirts afterwards.

31 Night Court – Nervous Birds! Too

What a lovely energy. Night Courts consists of three musicians, and you can hear them having fun. If you want to call it Punk, you call it Punk, and if you want to call it Power Pop, you call it Power Pop. Do not confuse the pleasure you hear with superficiality. It’s not Punk Pop.

And there is much more.

Check the Sweet Sweet Music Blog Best Power Pop Songs of 2022 Spotify Playlist!

Image by Sabeth Elberse Studio

Power on Pilot

Mike Kinane and his band, Power on Pilot, have released some outstanding singles over the past few months. Time for a closer acquaintance.

What was the moment you knew you were on to something?

I had been writing songs for years and recording them first on GarageBand, then on Logic Pro, just little demos that were full of mistakes.  I’d send some to family and friends to get feedback; everyone was super supportive and encouraging. In late 2021, I finally decided to start putting out some of these songs under the Power on Pilot banner, beginning with Rocketship. I was blown away by the response.

The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for the new record?

I find it amazing that I can record a little song in my bedroom, and one week later, someone in France, Spain, or Japan is listening to it.  

It’s truly incredible and my definition of success.

Lyrics are too often taken for granted.  What is the line of text, or are the lines that you hope listeners will remember?  And why?

I’m not a great lyricist, but on ‘Spinning On’, I tried to write a love song to my wife, Lisa, using as many power pop references as I could stuff into the tune. I kind of dig this verse, calling out the Buzzcocks, Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, and Squeeze:

You’re number one with a bullet baby

Racing up my charts

You got my singles going steady now

A long-player in my heart

Will you be my critic’s darling?

My little Labour of Lust?

Another East Side Story? This Year’s Model or Trust?

When was the last time you thought, ‘I just wrote a hit!’?

I never think my songs are good enough to be a ‘hit’!  The last song we released – Look to the Sky – was something that was just a Beatle-y piano chord progression I’d been monkeying with for over a year.  

I never write on piano, so this was a bit out of my comfort zone.  I finally decided to finish it with a melody in April. The lyrics are very non-sensical because I was trying to channel Noel Gallagher.  You know – ‘slowly walking down the hall, faster than a cannonball’ type lyrics that make zero sense but sound pretty damn good.  So I didn’t so much write as steal from the professionals. John Giard came in with a great bass line, and Kevin Killen nailed the drums/guitars/production/mixing/mastering.

Playing music in front of a crowd. What’s all the fun about?

It isn’t for me. I don’t like playing live. It’s terrifying.  Power on Pilot is taking the XTC approach – just record, don’t tour.

What compliment you once received will you never forget?

I’m not sure if it’s a compliment, but I received a message from someone to whom I was pitching a Power on Pilot release, and the response was ‘we’ve heard of you’. I guess that can be construed as a compliment?  

What place do you occupy in the music industry?

Is there something lower than the bottom rung?  If not, then the bottom rung.

If you could pick three singers to sing harmony vocals on your next record, who would you ask?

Kate/Cindy from the B-52s – I mean, come on, they are phenomenal.

All the guys from the Lickerish Quartet/Jellyfish – soooo good.

I guess that’s 5 singers – sorry.

The record is done, the music is out.  Is the best fun done now or is it just beginning?

It’s all fun or we wouldn’t be doing it, right?

Ex Norwegian – Spook Du Jour (Q&A)

With every Ex Norwegian release, and Spook du Jour is already the 13th, there are two certainties, namely that (1) you as a listener will hear something different than you expect and (2) that all songs are rock (or: pop) solid.

The person responsible for all this, Roger Houdaille, explains how this is possible.

It seems like you manage to reinvent Ex Norwegian on every record. Or do you think that’s a bit exaggerated?

This is a fair assessment, but it has never been planned that way. Inspirations and musicians come and go. That’s just part of keeping things running despite whatever happens. It was the unprecedented lockdown that led to the collaborative tribute album for unsung Liverpool singer-songwriter Jimmy Campbell. The record we did with singer Lucia Perez called “Wasted Lines” really altered our sound, but it was also unintentional. Ultimately, there is something that makes an Ex Norwegian record an Ex Norwegian record. In one case, I was unable to release a finished album under the name because it just didn’t pass the test. 

Did you have to record Spook du Jour differently due to the lockdown situation?

Not 100%. Sure, I would have liked more people to be on Spook Du Jour, but lockdown did make that complicated. But all the recent albums were recorded at home, even before lockdown. It’s mostly a budget issue. Additionally, here in Florida, things were pretty open when the work on this one began. Then there is Fernando Perdomo who helps me out with drumming on it and he’s out in Cali. We’ve been working remotely like that for a long time actually.

The visual aspect also seems important with Ex Norwegian. The cover art is quite different from previous records. What’s the story behind that?

Yes, I agree, it’s very different approach to our other covers. On the previous few albums, illustrators worked on them, and I thought they came out pretty well, but I didn’t see it happening for Spook Du Jour. At the same time, I didn’t have an exact idea, except that I wanted something abstract. I ended up creating the composite cover myself, layering a couple of personal vacation photos. Among them is a spliced up picture of me riding a camel!

There are quite a few style differences between, for example, the opening track Teen Bakery and the album’s closing track Center Mario. Was making an album with an evolving sound a goal in itself or did it just happen?

Originally, the goal was to make an album that was cohesive and accessible, but Spook Du Jour failed to meet this objective! The album took a long time to come together, at least by Ex Norwegian standards. Working on several different ideas at once, I eventually ran out of time, money and patience. The odd songs recorded were originally intended for a deluxe edition or maybe even a totally different project. But soon they outnumbered the poppier material. Then I had a bunch of covers, some intended for a collaborative record. Putting the breaks on, I created a tracklisting from the music that was mixed and ready for use. This resulted in that evolving sound, with one side being more accessible and the other side being more of the tracks I considered the “odd tunes”. 

You’ve released quite a few records in the meantime. Is it still important for you to know what people think about it?

Of course. But I’m still very shy about it. When I find out that people are listening to my records it makes me happy. But I don’t really make records with the idea in my head that they’ll actually be listened to. And while I realize it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, I still think the band should have a wider audience. But so far, Ex Norwegian has remained an underground thing. Not a lot of people know about it. When it comes to reading reviews and comments, it’s helpful because, most of the time, it lets me understand the music. I usually work too fast to realize what I’m doing. Until the album is out there in the world, I haven’t listened to it properly. Generally, I am pleased with the results. However, you can imagine how nerve wracking it is putting on the final retail ready record. I usually don’t remember half of what I did!