In 1998, Los Angeles music writer David Bash decided approximately 120 pop-leaning acts playing in a handful of venues around the city over 10 days seemed like a good idea. He called this festival of his International Pop Overthrow, a name borrowed from the early-'90s full-length debut from beloved power-pop trio Material Issue.
Indeed, that inaugural IPO was heavy on power-pop: bands like Evelyn Forever, Blue Cartoon and Chewy Marble; solo artists like Matt Bruno and ex-Caulfield John Faye; secret code words like Yellow Pills, Amplifier and Not Lame. But it was never intended to be strictly a power-pop gathering or an event limited to Bash's backyard: In its 10th year, Bash's IPO will travel to 13 cities, starting in Atlanta and Chapel Hill this month, moving on through the Midwest and then to Liverpool, England; followed by West Coast stops in Los Angeles, San Franciso, Seattle and Vancouver; and wrapping with Boston, New York and Toronto. Every stop showcases a strong regional presence, balanced by national—and even international—acts, and the power-pop is balanced by pop hyphenates of a half-dozen orders.
For instance, each night of the Chapel Hill four-night stand will feature eight bands turning in 20-minute sets that are as compact and bursting as, well, a 3-minute pop song. In all, 21 North Carolina acts will be joined by state crashers ranging from South Carolina's hook-mad Fire Apes to South African modern rockers Stealing Love Jones.
"Every band that plays IPO, whether they're power-pop or folk-pop or punk-pop or indie-pop or whatever, their songs are very melodic. That's paramount for us. That's really our hallmark, trying to showcase melodic rock," says Bash by phone a couple hours before flying to Atlanta for the year's first IPO. "I also like to have songs that feature strong hooks. The kind of stuff that stays in your head long after the song is over."
Moments of the festival, like the melodies of the songs themselves, tend to stick with Bash, and he's got plenty of them after a decade of traveling the globe in the name of pop: "One moment that's always stuck with me is opening night of the festival in 1998. Actually realizing, not just intellectually but viscerally, that it was happening," he recalls. "Just like your first kiss, it's something you never forget."
Other fond memories involve reunion sets from some of his favorite bands, like Sweden's Beagle in 2001 and the Elvis Brothers in Chicago the next year. Then there was IPO's inaugural invasion of a dive of some renown in Liverpool in 2002. "The first time I walked down the steps of the Cavern Club, I couldn't believe that I was there, much less that we were actually going to have the festival there. It still feels a little surreal."
Bash will walk down those historic steps for the sixth time when the IPO returns to Liverpool later this year. Both for nostalgic and practical reasons, he says it's always a highlight. "Bands from Europe can afford to go there," explains Bash, adding with a laugh, "and the ones from the U.S. really want to go there because they're all Beatles freaks." With anywhere from 10 to 20 countries represented in a few nights of hooks and charms, it best exemplifies Bash's vision for the festival, anyway: to bring a worldwide pop scene together under one umbrella.
Hey, good idea.
International Pop Overthrow comes to Local 506 from Thursday, Feb. 21 through Sunday, Feb. 24. Tickets are $8 Thursday and Sunday, and $8-$10 Friday and Saturday. For a complete list of the bands and set times, see www.internationalpopoverthrow.com.
South Africa's STEALING LOVE JONES comes to the first night with perhaps the biggest buzz (and travel bill). "They're young, and they have a more commercial sound than we generally showcase, but their songs are good," offers Bash. He also singles out AIRSPACE—a youthful melodic rock outfit from North Carolina by way of Belfast, Northern Ireland—and Durham's BRETT HARRIS, who proves that singer/ songwriters can pop, too. Hometown smirk-poppers SNMNMNM—think Too Much Joy and late locals Soccer—close out the night.
Three power-pop scholars from Louisville, Ky., calling themselves BROADFIELD MARCHERS kick things off with many a nod toward Britain. Two hours later, Asheville's THE TREASURY ("Imagine if the Posies' Dear 23 album was more rocking," says Bash) commences a quadruple-shot of N.C. bands: Michael Slawter's exemplary SAVING GRACES, Sparklefest honcho Mike Nicholson's arena-rocking STRATOCRUISER and Terry Anderson's perennially crowd-pleasing OLYMPIC ASS-KICKIN TEAM follow. This is also WATERSTONE MUSICAL INSTRUMENT night, with a Waterstone guitar going home with a lucky IPOer.
It's old-home night for Chapel Hill legends, the word that Bash puts on the table. THE STARS EXPLODE marks the welcome return of ex-Gladhand Doug Edmunds; says Bash, "[Edmunds] still knows how to write those great chord changes, those real quirky ones." And ABSOLUTELY THE MAYBES sports Chris Stamey and Matt McMichaels, once of Stamey proteges The Mayflies USA. And Bash is especially excited about the garage/ psychedelic double whammy of Philly's MONDO TOPLESS, while kindred spirits/ Chapel Hill legends-in-the-making THE GONDOLIERS hit the stage at midnight.
According to Bash, LEISURE MCCORKLE, who holds down the 5 p.m. slot, is one of the most educated IPO performers: "He has a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology, and I guess he's a professor now in that field. But he's certainly a professor of rock, too." Veteran power-popper, hook-master and joke-cracker ED JAMES is always a treat, and Kernersville's TONY LOW (formerly of The Cheepskates) offers further veteran chops. Locals VELVET, who've played IPOs in other cities, get to bring down the curtain in their own backyard. Bash couldn't be happier: "I just thought they'd be the perfect band to cap off the festival." —Rick Cornell
David Bash and Rick Cornell look at their top five power-pop records
Here are 10 albums that reflect the International Pop Overthrow sound, with an emphasis on power-pop. But first some scene-setting from David Bash: "There are very few true power-pop albums; most albums that get labeled as power-pop contain only a few songs that can truly be called power-pop, and are often filled out by ballads and other melodic pop which doesn't quite fall into the genre. Power-pop is, first and foremost, a singles phenomenon. Many albums that are classified as power-pop really aren't; they are melodic pop to be sure, but often lack the power or the urgency that true power-pop requires. Essentially these albums fall into the category of discs power-pop fans would love, but aren't power-pop in the strictest sense of the word.'"
That's the case for the majority of the list below, featuring five from David Bash and five from Rick Cornell.
FIVE FROM DAVID BASH
Badfinger, Wish You Were Here (1974)
Shoes, Present Tense (1979)
The Smithereens, Green Thoughts (1988)
Beagle, Sound On Sound (1992)
Gladhands, La Di Da (1997)
FIVE FROM RICK CORNELL
Tommy Keene, Songs from the Film (1986)
Matthew Sweet, Girlfriend (1991)
The Figgs, Low-Fi at Society High (1994)
Velvet Crush, Teenage Symphonies to God (1994)
The Breakup Society, James at 35 (2005)