Behind the Vinyl: S.W. Lauden reveals the untold story of Popsicko’s Off to a Bad Start reissue.

Are you a fan of Power Pop/Punk Rock music and the iconic bands that dominated the airwaves in the ’90s? If so, you won’t want to miss out on the opportunity to discover and celebrate the legacy of POPSICKO. This much-missed Santa Barbara band possessed all the elements that made Power Pop/Punk Rock so popular in the ’90s: jagged guitars, rocket-fueled rhythms, and sweet hooks. And let’s not forget about Keith Brown, the electrifying frontman, who passed away far too young, crafted indelible and often heartbreakingly beautiful tunes.

POPSICKO shared stages with the likes of Weezer and Green Day, and were seemingly destined to join them on the charts. Now, Big Stir Records is reissuing the band’s lost classic, OFF TO A BAD START, for the first time on vinyl. This is a chance to experience the music of POPSICKO like never before, and to appreciate their enduring legacy in the world of Power Pop/Punk Rock.

Release date: April 28, 2023

Behind the Vinyl: S.W. Lauden reveals the untold story of Popsicko’s Off to a Bad start reissue.

What makes the Popsicko album so important to you?

Popsicko’s Off to a Bad Start is important to me for a lot of personal reasons, even though I wasn’t in the band. Their lead singer, Keith Brown, and I were close friends and played in some of our first bands together in high school and college. Meeting Keith really changed the trajectory of my life in many ways that are hard to articulate, but teaming up with him to play music was a big turning point for me in my teens and 20s. He introduced me to a lot of great music and we saw some incredible shows together (Ramones, Replacements, The Gun Club, Johnny Thunders, Alex Chilton, Hüsker Dü, etc.).

We’d obviously stopped playing together by the time he was in Popsicko, but watching their rise in Santa Barbara and around California was pretty awe-inspiring. Keith took music more seriously as a career than I did at that time (I was still mostly playing for fun and free beer), so watching Popsicko go for the brass ring with everything they had really opened my eyes.

It was actually Popsicko’s bassist, Marko DeSantis, who got me into the Hollywood band Ridel High. Keith produced some of our first demos in his Santa Barbara apartment. A couple of those songs ended up on a 7-inch that led to us making an album for My Records/A&M Records. A few years later (after Keith was sadly no longer with us), I joined the band Tsar which featured Dan Kern on lead guitar; Dan was the original bass player for the band Keith and I started in high school.

Full circle, twisted roots, tangled webs, etc.

The music will find a new audience now; what will they hear?

I am so close to this reissue project that it’s hard for me to say.

When I first started working with the surviving members of Popsicko and Big Stir Records to create the oral history book and vinyl re-release of Off to a Bad Start, my main goal was to keep Keith’s memory and the band’s music alive. So I didn’t put a lot of thought into how the album would be received by modern music fans, but the reaction has been amazing.

People are discovering this music for the first time and falling in love with it, which is a beautiful thing. That’s a real testament to the timeless songwriting and the talented musicians in the band—Keith Brown (guitar/vocals), Tim Cullen (guitar/vocals), Marko DeSantis (bass) and Mick Flowers (drums).

A lot of Power Pop music made around the same time Off to a Bad Start didn’t age. How about this one? The energy is still alive, isn’t it?

We’re in an interesting moment right now when ’90s alternative rock is a big influence on excellent modern power pop/power pop-adjacent musicians like Ryan Allen/Extra Arms, Dazy, Liquid Mike, among many others. When you listen to Off to a Bad Start in that context—like, if it just popped up on an algorithmic playlist—it would be hard to tell (see what I did there?) which song was released six months ago and which song was released in the early ’90s. At least to my ears.

It’s cliché to say that a band was “ahead of its time,” but I do think that Popsicko really anticipated where music was headed when they wrote and self-released Off to a Bad Start in 1994. People always said their sound was “The Replacements meets Cheap Trick,” which I think is accurate—but there are also elements of pop punk as well, and tons of hooks.

I think fans of ’90s alternative rock, pop punk and power pop will definitely find something to love about this album. If you’re new to Popsicko, start with “Nastassja” or “Same Old Me.”

Popsicko were part of the Santa Barbara music scene in the ’90s. With so many bands around back then, why did Popsicko stand out?

As I mentioned, they were a really talented band—but on top of that, I think they were also really focused. The early ’90s was the height of the alternative/grunge/pop punk/Brit pop explosion, so there were countless guitar bands starting up all around the world. At the same time, there was a punk rock hangover about “selling out,” so it wasn’t always cool to be ambitious (see Soul Asylum, Jawbreaker, etc.).

Popsicko was definitely ambitious, but they had an interesting mix of punk roots (Keith was the original lead singer in Pennywise), a pronounced indie/DIY approach (self-releasing their debut album, doing DIY tours around California), and a drive to succeed on their own terms. They were one of the hardest-working bands around back then which helped them grow an organic fanbase; that made the music press and the music industry pay attention.

I really think you can hear all of that on Off to a Bad Start. It’s an incredible album that really captures the band they were. I’m just really happy that more people are getting the chance to discover it 30 years later. Thanks so much for helping us spread the word.

What’s next for you?

I’m really close to announcing an exciting new writing project involving some cool, talented people. Just need to tie up a few loose ends before I share it with the world. I definitely think it’s something that fans of Sweet Sweet Music Blog will love. More info soon on my social handles (@swlauden).

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