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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Interview about the term Pop Punk conducted by Jonas Cannon

The following is from an interview I did conducted by Jonas Cannon for his zine Live Punk. I enjoyed how it came out, so I am posting it here. Somehow in a short article his questions and my responses did a good job of expressing my mixed feelings about the label "Pop Punk." In this same zine there is an interview with Henry Rollins, and you can tell he REALLY didn't want to be talking about the philosophy of pop punk. I on the other hand love melodic music so it only seems fitting that my feelings about it may be a bit more sympathetic to the label of "pop."


Interview With Jughead By Jonas 
 John “Jughead” Pierson is a really cool, really chill guy. We met a few years ago through mutual friends. He was one of the founding members of Screeching Weasel, but he’s also been in several other bands, like The Mopes. Now, he sometimes does theater, sometimes travels around the world to perform with old pals. He’s written a novel. He makes a podcast called ‘Jughead’s Basement,” where he’s interviewed The Queers, Operation Ivy, The Lillingtons and Aaron Cometbus—just to name a few. Occasionally, he’ll throw together a show in his basement; he’ll invite over several people, barbecue up hotdogs in his backyard, buy a keg, maybe sell a few T-shirts along the way. I think he’s punk as fuck, but if you asked him, he would say no, he’s not punk & hasn’t been for quite some time. To him, it’s a label; one that might be necessary within the industry, but ultimately too restrictive to hold as an identity. 

 Jonas: So I guess I'd ask, starting out, what does the term "pop punk" mean to you? 

Jughead: whoa Well... there was a time when there was a Chicago magazine called Illinois Entertainer. They had a section about new bands, requesting all local bands to send in a detailed description. One category asked you to choose what type of band it was, they had things like: Rock. Country. Alternative. Soft Rock.... Anyway. I didn't think they had a good one to describe us so I wrote: 50's Punk.
 This was before the label Pop Punk came to be. I actually have no idea when it surfaced, but I don't think we were considered that until we reformed for Bark Like A Dog. Earlier than that, we were trying to emulate The Circle Jerks and Angry Samoans... Goof Core. The Ramones came in later. So to try to shorten the answer: Pop Punk to me is basically taking the energetic power chord driven music of earlier punk, simplifying it, and making it more infectiously melodic. The Ramones just call it Rock N Roll. I don't really consider Screeching Weasel a Pop Punk Band. Riverdales, yes, but SW was much more.

 Jonas: Yes. That's part of what fascinates me about the term. When I got into punk, I never heard the term pop punk. But then later on, it seemed like a lot of those bands that served as my introduction to punk were considered pop punk. 


Jughead: Pop Punk doesn't usually go beyond 3 basic two finger chords; any more intricacy and it just becomes power pop.

 Jonas: Ah. But people used the term later on? Back then, no one was really saying "We are a pop punk band!" Is that accurate? Because I'm pretty sure I didn't hear the term in the 90s at all.

 Jughead: Yeah, that's what I was saying. Ramones were just a bare bones Rock N Roll band. I keep bringing up the Ramones because they are obviously the forefathers of pop punk. But to answer your question, No, I don't remember ever being called a pop punk band until around 96 or 97 And then a lot of bands were being Grandfather-claused in, like Mr. T and SW

 Jonas: What was the response like? Was it more "whatever, we're just doing our thing..." or kind of "What the hell? We're PUNK--where is this 'pop' word coming from." ?

 Jughead: It never really bothered me. It's a label, like any other. It bothered me more that after The Riverdales, when SW got back together, to the public we lost all our other influences and we were just being considered a derivative of The Ramones. I love the Ramones, but I never wanted a band that was doing what the Ramones was doing. So the label Pop punk didn't bother me, but the limited view and vision of what that meant to the average listener... did bother me.

 Jonas: That's really interesting, because I would've never lumped you guys with The Ramones. Ever. A lot of the stuff from Fat Wreck--Screeching Weasel, Propaghandi, Tilt, Anti-Flag--that was my introduction to punk. To my ears, all of that stuff was world's away from the Ramones.

 Jughead: Yeah, [but] I'm pretty sure it's two affiliations. The Ramones and being on the same label as Green Day. But I must state, I don't have a problem with a label of Pop Punk, I have more of a problem with the audience and derivative bands who think that means they have to wear leather jackets, jeans, and only listen to The Ramones influenced bands. Punk and Pop has always been the other side of the spectrum from Prog Rock or Metal and to me, as a style that is what they are doing, but as a philosophy for life, it gets a little restrictive.

 Jonas: How so?

 Jughead: When you start infusing a single musical styling with Philosophy you begin to shrink the scope of what music and life can be. I constantly think the pop punk scene is one step away from stoning other musical styles. If they had the balls.

 Jonas: YES. That's exactly what I'd been thinking. Which totally bleeds into another question I had, which was what your thoughts are on pop punk as it is now...

 Jughead: Jonas, I really don't have much of an opinion. I don't really come in contact with it much. I still run into people that I am surprised by being so cut off from other music, but then I'll meet someone that loves Cat Stevens, Bach, System Of A Down, and The Lillingtons, as much as I do. SW had a song called Slogans, And I think that song hit a chord. It was in a response to the skinheads and their limited musical likings and violent tendencies. But I think it stretches much farther. Even Outcasts want to fit in--and they can be the most dangerous.

 Jonas: Definitely. That's something that it took me a while to come to terms with. I think I felt a little alienated for a while, because the range was wide in terms of the music I liked, but I felt like in some punk scenes it felt very, well, restrictive. like it wasn't punk to like certain stuff...

 Jughead: The world wants to think in black and white... 0's and 1's, but it's really just a spectrum of grays. I'll end with one more thing. Years and years ago, I saw an interview with Bob Mould from Husker Du, where he had said that his musical tastes had changed, and whether he sounded negative about his punk influences or if that is what I wanted to feel back then... I have made an effort to be critical of my punk scene and to be honest with myself and others that it is just another one of my musical passions out of many others, but it is hard to get that openness of styles across without sounding like you have forsaken the movement that has helped to make you what you are. That is often my dilemma.