Pomplamoose, the duo from California that became an online sensation, thanks to their creatively effective videos on their YouTube channel (and for me the Hyundai Christmas ads that got me through an otherwise miserable holiday season comprised of annoying Christmas ads), have agreed to do a Glass interview, and somehow I really wish I were doing video interviews so that I could match what Pomplamoose does. I’ll have to invite them to do the podcast!
Jack Conte of the duo spoke to me via Skype about Pomplamoose’s efforts (Sadly, the duo’s other half, Nataly Dawn, wasn’t available to do the Skype chat, and she was greatly missed. Maybe next time we’ll get both, but for now, I’m happy that Jack represented them).
CM: How did the duo get together?
JC: I was working on my solo stuff, and Nataly was graduating from school and working on her stuff, and we actually decided that I should produce one of her songs as just a fun thing. So, I produced one of her songs, and we put it up on my YouTube channel, we didn’t even have a band name, we sort of considered it like a production/artist kind of thing. We put it on the channel, it got a better response than anything I’d ever posted either from my fans or anything ever posted of hers from her fans. We sort of thought, “Hey, maybe there’s something to this”, and I put a lot of time and energy into the song, and it really became something different than what it was originally intended to be, and so we figured that it felt more like a collaboration than it did me producing her. Then we came out with another song, “Hail Mary”, which was featured on the front page of YouTube, and then it just kind of became a band.
Pas Encore (First song and video made by Jack and Nataly)
CM: Where does the name come from?
JC: Nataly picked out the word “pamplemousse”–she thought it was the funniest French word (It means “grapefruit”), not as we spell it, but with a different spelling. Nataly bought that domain name, and then we put out a few more videos, and that was it. We decided that it would be our “side project”! [laughs]
CM: The videos are just awesome, and so beautifully shot and edited! Who does the editing on them?
JC: Nataly does all the editing on the Pomplamoose videos. She’s a wonderful editor, and I also have a lot of filmmaking experience. I actually was going to go to film school after college, and then I declined at the last minute to be in a pop band that I was in, which had nothing to do with Pomplamoose, but I was ready to pack up and head down to LA to be in a film program, so, I’d been working on film and stories, and shooting home movies since I was in high school.
JC: What happened was, Nataly and I had written a song that we wanted to have a full orchestra on, and we couldn’t really afford to hire a full orchestra, so we decided to do it sort of piece by piece, one string at a time, one horn at a time, and we didn’t know how to find all those players, so we just sent out a tweet, to our fans saying “Hey, how do we find string players?”, and all of our fans started tweeting us “You have to call Zoe Keating! Call Zoe Keating!”, and then all of her followers started tweeting at her! “You have to call Pomplamoose!”.
The song is called “Always In The Season”, and it’s on YouTube.
Always In The Season (Featuring Zoe Keating, cello)
CM: The kind of covers that Pomplamoose does are very polarizing. It goes from current pop songs like “Single Ladies” to B’way classics like ‘My Favorite Things”, and you even did the “Angry Birds Theme”! How did that come about, are you fans of the game? I’ve played it, and it is addictive!
JC: We got a request from Samsung to do a product placement for one of their phones, to have one of their phones basically be in one of our videos, and we started thinking “Well, Samsung is going to want a lot of hits, so, what’s going to get them a lot of hits?”, and Angry Birds was super hot at the time, so we figured we’d go with the “Angry Birds Theme”, and it got a lot of hits! That’s why we chose that, and it also happens that Nataly is a huge fan of Angry Birds, or was at least for a long time and was playing it on her phone all the time.
Angry Birds Theme (EDITOR’S NOTE: This is much more enjoyable than “Pac-Man Fever”)
To tell you the truth the covers were really a means to an end for us. I come from a jazz background, where interpreting a song is really important and putting your own spin on the song, that’s a significant percentage…
CM: I have to say, the Lady Gaga cover is so good, I forgot it was a Lady Gaga song! [laughs]
JC: Thanks! So, while we do enjoy covering songs, and enjoy interpreting other melodies and putting new harmony underneath them, it was really a way for us to gain some notoriety and attention online, and I think it worked, it did its job. And now that we got a little bit of our foot in the door, I think it’s really about whether we can continue to write and record our own material that’s going to make us not just sort of another YouTube cover band. Because ultimately we don’t want to be a cover band, and we don’t want to just release covers of pop songs to get more hits, we’re not really interested in getting hits. What we’d really like to do is start developing our voices as songwriters and as producers, and come out with our own material, and eventually get a catalog of songs that we’re proud of as songwriters. We’re not really thinking too much about covers. If we find a song that we really like, we’ll just cover it for the fun of it, but we’d like to start concentrating more on original material at this point.
CM: You have a CD as well–Has Pomplamoose made any other albums?
JC: We have a couple of albums, but we only have one CD, and we sell it at our shows, and we sell the surplus online, but it’s called The CD You Bought At Our Show. [both laugh] We have 2 albums and one EP and a couple of singles.
CM: You guys have the Christmas EP too?
JC: Right, yeah, there’s a EP of the Christmas stuff, forgot about that!
CM: Those are the same versions of “Up On the Housetop” and “Jingle Bells” from the Toyota ads?
JC: The Hyundai ads.
CM: You guys did both?
JC: We did do a Toyota ad about a year before that, we weren’t in the commercial, but they used our version of Mr. Sandman.
Hyundai Christmas commercial w/”Up On The Housetop”
CM: When MTV started, the music unfortunately sort of took a backseat, and the videos were all people could talk about–The music was almost like an excuse for it. Would you say that what you’re doing now has completely reversed that, or perhaps the videos are in tandem with the music, but they don’t completely overshadow it?
JC: I have a lot of thoughts about video and music, and what works and what doesn’t. I could sort of philosophize for hours about that, but I think it comes down to a couple of key ideas for me. The first is that the music is really what we care about and what we focus on. That’s ultimately the product of our efforts, the fruits of our labor are these tracks that we write. To me, the video is a way to package the music, so that it’s interesting to the current generation of music listeners, and I don’t think that’s anything particularly innovative or different. When the music video came out, and MTV started airing music videos, they got really, really popular–Everybody was talking about music videos, and then sometime later, short-form content kind of disappeared. There were still music videos being made, but they weren’t widely watched or enjoyed by any means in the early 2000’s. If I asked you what the music video was for “I Want It That Way”, people know the song, but they don’t necessarily know the video around that time. When YouTube started, suddenly short-form video content became important again, and it came back to being an effective way to package songs.
If You Think You Need Some Lovin’
Music videos are so expensive to make, but the video song, which is what we do, is a lot simpler and quicker, and takes less creative energy and costs less money. It kind of was an effective and easy way to package music, so that was interesting to a current generation. A lot of people ask us “Do you really think you’d be that popular if you didn’t have those videos?”, and of course the answer is “No. No way!”. The videos are the reason people discovered us. If we had just put the tunes on MySpace, I don’t think we would have gotten nearly the following. When a label puts out a record–I don’t know if a lot of people know this, but the label will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions of dollars, on buying banner ads, making music videos, websites–All this packaging, none of that stuff is the music, it’s all superfluous and extraneous to the actual product. So perhaps the question should be to the labels “If the music’s really that good, how come you need to spend two million dollars on marketing it?”. The same question applies to Pomplamoose–If the music’s that good, why come you need to make those videos to make people watch it?”, and the truth is, packaging–whether you’re Lady Gaga, Fleet Foxes or Pomplamoose, packaging and branding is always an important part of selling a product. Some people package things one way, and Pomplamoose found a way to package it for free.
CM: Are there any interesting collaborations/projects coming up in the future?
JC: We’ve been recording sort of sporadically on and off with Brad Mehldau for about a year now, and he’s a hero of mine. We don’t have any finished stuff yet, but we have little tidbits, and bits and pieces–it’s been really amazing hanging out with him and recording with him. Another collaboration is Allee Willis–we did that song “Jungle Animal” with her, which went up about a year ago. And I recently worked with the San Francisco Jazz Collective, they came over to the studio and we produced 4 tracks and 4 videos with them, and those are up online (3 of them are now, at least), and that was incredible. Those guys are world-class musicians, they’re great guys. But we have a lot to focus on just within our own situation, we don’t want to do too many collaborations right now, because we want to try to come out with our own music.