Issue 21, Magazine

Foreign Born “Lights, Camera, Action”

DJ Pangburn :: Thursday, September 10th, 2009 4:32 pm

“I was a hotel spy for a week filling in for my friend,” Matt Popieluch tells me during my interview with the band he fronts, nascent pop rockers Foreign Born. “I would go around to these hotels in the morning, for three hours every day of the week, and I’d walk around and look at the kiosk where they were showing who was meeting there that day, like Verizon Wireless in the Veranda Room. I would say it into the tape recorder, and these messages would be mailed to some company in Nebraska.” 

He’s filled with stories like this, from the days he later refers to as “Dark Craigslist-surfing” period. For his sake, the band’s, and indie music in general, we’re glad those days are gone, as Foreign Born has just released the year’s most infectious record, the guitar-driven Person to Person.

Lyrically, are there certain themes or ideas you pursued on your new record Person to Person?

Matt Popieluch: Instead of saying the emotion, I describe where it happens. Like, in “Early Warnings,” the line, “You woke up in a graveyard.” I don’t say the obvious thing, I say, “Was it me, did I make you that tired? Did I drive you to sleep in a graveyard?” It’s a very visual way to think. I’d say “Winter Games” is a song where I really tried to strive to be topical.  [Laughs] But, it’s pretty vague and interpretative most of the time.

Lewis Pesacov: Do you think you succeeded?

MP: I think so. I mean, others may argue that I didn’t, including the present company. [Laughs]

 Tell me about the music video you guys are shooting?

Ariel Rechtshaid: Our situation is so low budget that we’re all flying by the seat of our pants. We just finished a music video where initially we weren’t going to be in it at all, and it was two guys just crip-walking the whole time.

What is crip-walking?

AR: Crip-walking was a dance developed by the Crips.

LP: You’ve probably seen Snoop Dogg do it. Xhibit does it, too.

AR: It kinda looks like—it’s just a foot thing. To be fair, our video isn’t one hundred per cent crip-walking. There’s a tinge of clown-walking involved, which is a little fancier footwork than straight crip-walking.

 [WARNING: One should not confront a Crip with this opinion.]

AR: It’s West Coast. It’s actually kind of an L.A. gangster dance.

LP: It’s an L.A. phenomenon started in Compton.

Would this be on the Internet?

AR: Oh yeah. You can find a shit-ton of YouTube videos of people crip-walking. And, if you look on our MySpace page under influences, there’s a video of people crip-walking. At the very end of this elaborate two-hour shoot, which wasn’t very elaborate, we decided we should maybe shoot Matt singing the song, just in case. It gets a little intense just watching crip-walking throughout the whole entire video. [Laughs]

AR: The only person who’s in it is Matt, and he’s barely in it.

MP: My girlfriend says I look very dirty.

LP: She said you looked dirty?

MP: She’s like, Why didn’t you take a shower? [Laughs] It’s realism.

It’s method acting.

AR: For the new video we had an idea what we were going to do. We just decided we’d go to Catalina and just see what happens.

MP: There’s buffalo out there.

It seems the Santa Catalina buffalo Popieluch referred to were transported from the American plains in 1924 for Zane Grey’s The Vanishing American. Lore has it the buffalo were not to be contained, however, and escaped confinement before Grey was able to roll camera. The population of Bison has swelled ever since, and an elegant solution was hit upon: Over a hundred descendants of Grey’s restless herd were shipped to the Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Sioux Reservations. At long last they’ve gone home.

AR: There will be buffalo, golf carts…

So, you might chase the buffalo whilst on golf cart?

MP: Yeah, exactly.

AR: I don’t think anything quite that interesting will happen.

MP: Get arrested; shot by Rangers.

AR: I have a feeling that it will be a series of really slow, confused events cut together. We were going to try and blow up a car that was junk, but apparently that costs too much money to get permits.

And you were going to do this all on Catalina, amongst the buffalo?

MP: This is all underdeveloped, really. The brainstorming that’s been involved in this music video is to be admired. 

In the digital age, how are you navigating the delivery of music to the listener?Radiohead can give their music away, but that’s not really a model for anybody.

MP: This kind of ties in with Person to Person, the digital aspect of distribution of music. Not until now have we had any mass distribution of our music. We haven’t had a proper release in the UK or Europe. People have contacted us from all over the world asking for music or for permission to use our music for their little radio show somewhere, or video. I mail them packages of music. I send them Foreign Born stuff, and also our friends’ bands. It kind of allows you to interact person-to-person. 

Somehow, over the course of the ensuing minutes of discussion, we arrive at the music of Hall & Oates. It is an inexplicable but nonetheless enlightening musical detour.

I was in my car the other day and listening to Hall & Oates’s “Maneater” and I thought, This is actually a really good song.

LP: Yeah. It’s incredible.

I knew a little about them because I was going through this phase of listening to Todd Rundgren and they were his protégés. But there’s this picture in the public consciousness that they were horrible.

AR: There’s a stigma attached to a lot of really good music out there. I have a really weird Hall & Oates story. I think it was Christmas two years ago. I was really tired, really busy, right in the middle of something. I think I went to [L.A. shopping district] the Grove. I was getting gifts, or going to the Apple Store—something annoying. I was just walking and all of a sudden, it might have been “Maneater”—I heard it and I was like, What the hell is going on? And I turned around and Hall & Oates were sound checking for the unveiling of the Christmas tree at the Grove. It’s the middle of the day, it’s L.A., there are people there but it was pretty empty, and they were just there, playing their hits.

L.A.’s musical reputation, aside from the sixties bands like the Beach Boys and Love, is usually unfairly aligned with punk, metal and then hair metal. I always wondered if more recent bands encountered a certain amount of prejudice in just being from L.A.

LP: Oh. So much! I read a review about our album the other day, and it said, “This album is so good. They’re from L.A. but they sound like a New York band.”  [Laughs]

AR: I watched The Doors the other day, and that’s a big part of the movie—no one believes they’re a good band because they’re from L.A. I thought, Whoa, they thought that back then, too? In the sixties it wasn’t cool to be from L.A. either?

LP: People always hate L.A.

AR: It’s just jealousy, let’s be honest. [Laughs] Life is just harder everywhere else. 

I read a book a while ago about Brian Wilson and some magazine wrote the Beach Boys off. Not because of their earlier work, but because they thought L.A. is synonymous with hype. They would just dismiss things out of hand because it was from L.A. 

AR: Yeah, like in The Doors. [Laughs]

LP: [Val Kilmer] did such a fuckin’ good job in that movie.

He sang the songs.

AR: It’s good. It’s a really good movie. 

MP: I was an extra in one of his new movies—Columbus Day.

How did that happen?

MP: Well, one day I decided to be an extra because that was during my odd-jobs phase. My dark Craigslist-surfing days. But, this one is just like, Okay …Extra on Columbus Day, just go to Echo Park Lake and hang out all day. And I’m thinking, I’ll just go and hang out at the park all day, and be in this weird movie. So it’s called Columbus Day. I show up and I’m like, There’s no way it’s about Columbus Day… there’s no fuckin’ way that Columbus Day is involved in this movie. And the whole scene is the Columbus Day parade. It was the worst fuckin’ lookin’ parade I’ve ever seen in my life. The cheesiest, cheapest—floats about to fall apart at any minute. I’m in the crowd at this parade, right, and we’re cheering and shit. And then Val Kilmer runs through the parade. He’s this overweight, over-the-hill, about-to-retire cop on his last run and he’s searching for a bomb, and he’s running through the parade. He looks under the float. And then he runs off. It was so weird. I had to throw confetti and my shoes maybe got in [frame] or something. He’s joking around, This is the worst parade ever, this is the worst parade ever! 

LP: He had two of the best roles of the eighties—Jim Morrison and Ice Man in Top Gun. How good was he in both of those movies?

You’re dangerous, Maverick.

AR: That’s it. You’re done, you’re fine. Forever.

MP: What about Real Genius?

AR: You don’t like Top Gun?

MP: I like Top Gun, I’m just saying Real Genius is good, too.

LP: He’s almost the star of Top Gun. He’s practically the star.

AR:  Iceman—he’s one of the three.

LP: The only time I’ve ever wanted bleached tips my whole life was after I saw that movie.