As far as obscure sub-genres of punk are concerned, “noise rock” is one of the
easiest to fake. Just turn the distortion up, slow it down, forgo any pleasant
qualities in the name of “bumming people out”, and leave your Whitehouse records
out on the coffee table so people know you’re the real deal. As a fan, I find
these thoughtless imitators to be particularly annoying, which makes a band
like New York’s Pop. 1280 that much more refreshing. Their songs are as sturdy
and lurching as re-assembled IKEA furniture, with vivid lyrical descriptions
of lust, pain, desperation and city-living barked out over top. They’ve got some
insanely catchy tunes (“Step Into The Grid” and “Burn The Worm” for starters),
yet never stray far from ear-piercing guitar hiss and PA-busting synths. I
talked to band members Ivan Lip and Chris Bug with the intent to learn more about
them, and I think I succeeded.
You guys all moved to New York at some point, right? What are your
earliest memories of living in New York like?
Ivan Lip (guitar): My earliest memories of living in New York were when I lived here
for short stints in 2002 and 2003. I was in college and my girlfriend at the
time would get a dorm room at NYU over the summers when she took classes. I’d
grown up in a town with 6,000 people so New York was like an alien world to me.
I was usually around the East Village and we spent a lot of time in museums
because we had no money. I remember a coffee shop on Avenue A that sold Pussy Galore
tapes and other cool bands. We spent a lot of time there. I remember buying a
pornographic magazine from some guy in a beach chair on some street.
I went to North Six in Williamsburg to see some bands and I remember thinking
that Williamsburg was really ugly and boring. There wasn’t much there. Then I
went back to Massachusetts from about 2003 through 2006 to do other stuff and finish
school and I moved back here in 2006 and was surprised by how in three or four
years so much had changed.
How did it change? For the better, or worse?
Ivan: It’s a mixed bag. I think that there are some positives that come with most change.
I think the fact that over the last couple decades New York is safer is a good
thing. While I’ve gotten mugged and some of my friends have gotten hurt, it’s
not really dangerous. We’ve given up a lot to a police/surveillance
state in the city. Rents have gone up in a huge way, however, and more and more
people who make lower wages are being forced further out in the outer boroughs.
I don’t think that’s good. I also think that you have to search harder to
find the cool things that make New York the city it is, or was. There are a lot
more high-end restaurants and yuppie/tourist traps, but if you want to find it
there’s really great stuff all over.
Were the two of you friends before Pop 1280 existed? How did you meet?
Ivan: We met in high school. There was just a crowd of various freaks at our high school.
Some drugged out kids, honor class nerds, theatre kids, punks, a lot of long-
distance runners for some reason. We eventually just met through that group. I
went to see his band play at this venue in Worcester called the Espresso Bar that
no longer exists. Ten years later we decided to start a band.
What prompted that decision?
Ivan: We had been talking about starting a band and I had been getting frustrated
trying to play with people whose musicianship I liked but whose taste in music
or whatever I didn’t. After trying and failing to force my vision on these
people, I decided to start a band with people who I agreed with a lot of their
taste in art, and worry about musical proficiency later. Chris and I liked a
lot of the same stuff and had a similar attitude or something like that.
I really enjoy the variety of characters that are developed in the lyrics
of your songs… where do they come from? How much is fiction versus
people you actually know?
Chris Bug (vocals): It’s hard to say how much is fiction and how much is reality.
I think our sense of reality seeps into all of the songs we write. A lot of times
the people we know or people we have observed will find their way into an idea that
was originally inspired by fiction, or inspired by reading the news or something.
We get character ideas from novels, films, history and current events. Although
aside from lifting film titles for some of our song titles, no one ever seems to
call us out on any of the other stuff.
Ivan: I think for my lyrics the characters are an amalgamation of people I knew,
imagined stuff, and always a fair dose of myself. Creating a character can be a
good way to mock yourself or critique yourself without always saying “I did this or
I did that.” It’s also useful because I write some lyrics but don’t sing, and I
think it would be weird to have Chris sing lyrics in the first person that
weren’t about himself.
All your characters seem pretty bleak… could there ever be an
uplifting Pop. 1280 song?
Chris: I think that writing about dark subjects doesn’t have to just be depressing.
Sure, we all live in a world of shit, but that doesn’t mean you can’t jump into
the shit and splash around a little bit. I think learning to live in this world
is a torturous process but it’s not all bad.
Ivan: I don’t think of us as bleak as other people seem to. I think a bunch of the
songs are funny.
Your cover art has a pretty consistent look, like a crazy VHS tape on pause…
is that what they are, or was the art created in some other way?
Chris: I make most of our artwork, which is inspired by our love of the VHS aesthetic.
Most of the effects are done by looping photos or video stills through an
old TV set. I like the claustrophobia and the other-worldliness of video
distortion, like a surveillance camera in hell. But the cover for The Horror was shot
by our talented friend Nikki Sneakers; she’s the best.
Are there any TV shows that have influenced the aesthetic of Pop. 1280?
Chris: I really hope not. I guess maybe something like Twin Peaks or The Prisoner
has had some impact on my writing in a way. But I think in general there isn’t
much art in TV. The only thing I would say is that it serves as a good litmus test
for how stupid the general populace is at any given moment in history.
Is there any influence in your music that no one has really picked up on yet?
Chris: I don’t know. People always call us out on the obvious ones. Maybe one day we’ll
do an acoustic set and show everyone that half our songs are just Rolling Stones
nods. We do listen to a lot of industrial and electronic music, like Nitzer
Ebb, DAF and Cabaret Voltaire. Punk electronics. I think our next record is gonna
be even more synthed out.
Ivan: I think there are lots of influences that people haven’t picked up on. We’re really
into music, and there’s a lot of stuff that I rip off that nobody calls us out on.
I think the electronic thing gets overlooked. I also think that a lot of our
ideas are related to early punk stuff, like Richard Hell or Patti Smith or Nikki
Sudden but nobody mentions that.
How much room is there for synths/electronics in Pop. 1280? Will there always be
guitar and live drums?
Ivan: I think that there is room for more. I really want to try to have drum machines or
sequenced synth sounds going through our music. We’re limited a bit though. We’re
not the most technically adept people in the world, and also most of our existing
electronics are cheap deals we found somewhere or half-broken things we scavenged.
I do almost always see us having some form of live drums and guitar though, even
if we start having a drum machine or synth riff going through the entire song.
Chris: We are very much interested in synths and electronics, and I think we will
continue to experiment with them more and more, though I think there will
probably always be guitar and live percussion in some form. I think electronic
percussion is cool on record, but on stage it never really has the same power
and intensity as a live drummer.
Do you have plans to tour the country? Does that sound like fun to you?
Chris: Yeah, that sounds like fun! We’re doing a big US tour in May/June out to the West
Coast, which should be mental.
Anyone you’re hoping or looking forward to playing with out there?
Ivan: Not really. I’m mostly just looking forward to getting out there. I think we’re
playing with The Frustrations in Detroit which I’m excited about. Running in Chicago.