New York-based Pop. 1280 takes its name from the 1964 crime novel by Jim Thompson. In Pop. 1280, singer Chris Bug and guitarist Ivan Lip – both hailing from Worcester, Massachusetts – created a music project of a beautiful ugliness, a sound that might repel you immediately, but then grow on you during repeat listenings. The sound is aggressive and twisted, and it made their albums Horror and Imps of Perversion, both on label Sacred Bones, a couple of my favorites. With a date set for tomorrow night at Chop Suey, Seattle will get to hear the band live and unashamed (they’ll have drummer Andy Chugg and bassist Allegra Sauvage on tour with them), and last week I talked with Bug and Lip about life in New York and band dynamics.
You’re both from Worcester. I was reading a bit about Worcester, and came across this sculpture, Turtle Boy. Have you seen it?
Ivan Lip: You know what, I’ve never seen the boy and turtle. [Lip calls over to Bug] Chris, have you ever seen it?
Chris Bug: Yeah.
IL: Doesn’t it look like the kid’s fucking the turtle? That’s what two of the guys [in Pop. 1280] thought it was supposed to be.
From these three eminent Worcesterites, Denis Leary, Abbie Hoffman and Cole Porter, which is your favorite?
IL: Abbie Hoffman, definitely. My childhood babysitter was this nice Jewish couple in Worcester. They gave me a pink yarmulke, and they were babysat by Abbie Hoffman. And we’re a revolutionary band.
There’s a lot of industrial sound in your music, are you fans of that genre?
IL: I’ve always liked that kind of music. I think Chris was into it before me. He was a Rivethead.
What’s a Rivethead?
IL: Those raver kids who wear trench coats and listen to Meat Beat Manifesto. [In school] I’m captain of the football team, and one day I was beating him up I heard this beat coming from his Walkman. It was Chemlab or something. He’s been my best friend since.
So have you had any memorably weird neighbors in New York?
CB: Oh god. You don’t know what’s it like living with all these fucking people. It’s a nightmare. The guy across the street from me – a Trayvon Martin scenario has happened a couple times – [he’s] a vigilante, and I’ve seen him call the cops on black kids walking down the street, doing nothing. The last time he did it, he’s explaining what this kid did, which was nothing – his mom was picking him up on the corner. I was listening through the window and I heard the cop tell the guy, don’t ever fucking waste my time with this shit again. It was awesome. It was the only justice I’ve seen in my fucking life.
I get the impression Pop. 1280 are people watchers.
CB: It’s hard not to in New York. They’re everywhere and they’re all crazy.
How did you select Martin Bisi to produce Imps of Perversion?
CB: A couple bands we’re friends with had recorded with him recently. We were looking for someone new to record with, try something new. He came to a couple shows and it seemed like it was a good fit.
Chris, what made you take up singing?
CB: I have no other innate skills. I like dry humping things in front of large groups of people, so it seemed like the best way to do that.
Do people get nervous around Pop. 1280?
CB: I think they just think we’re really stupid. Then they wonder why we’re wasting time. I don’t think anyone’s been scared of us. We think of ourselves as a serious band, but the whole thing is supposed to be a sick joke. We don’t take ourselves seriously all the time.
What kinds of things do you two argue about?
IL: What we’re having for breakfast. It’s more about a balance. We argue about whether the synth is “brutal” enough. I’ll say it’s fine . . . more guitar. He’ll say “No, we need the synth more brutal.” “Can you tell me what that means?” And he’s like, “I don’t know any terms.” Then he just says random music words: rhythm, melody, tone, tremolo . . . and then when he’s not looking I turn the synth down.
What can we expect from a Pop. 1280 show?
IL: Dry humping. Head banging. Not a lot of colours. We’re looking to add more colours to our wardrobe.
How was making the video for Do The Anglerfish?
IL: Scott’s (Kiernan, director) a cool guy. It was pretty painless. The other videos we did took lots of time. He put us in a room, put some lights on people’s heads, told people to take some of their clothes off and move around – he blasted everyone with lights and fog, and yelled at them.
What about the “Step into the Grid” video?
IL: That was by our friend Jacqueline (Castel), who does a lot of the Sacred Bones videos. We went down to the subway at 10 at night. At 4 in the morning we broke into the abandoned part – the Bowery stop.
Do you like horror and science fiction films?
IL: I like horror and science fiction. Chris is the art school movie guy. If wanna hear some Russian names I’m sure he could get into it.
That’s some deep stuff.
IL: That’s some heavy stuff. They don’t know how to have fun.
What do you think of the cyberpunk label placed on Pop. 1280?
IL: It makes me furious. The cyberpunk thing was just a joke we mentioned once, and then got put into a write-up by our label. And now it’s mentioned in every fucking thing we do. In one interview someone asked us why we’re cyberpunk, and defend why we’re cyberpunk.
What did Pop. 1280 band members want to be when they grew up?
Chugg: A fireman or Randy Johnson.
Sauvage: A ballerina.
Bug: A carpenter, like Jesus.
Lip: A transformer.
~ interview by Dagmar