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Pop Has Freed Us, silly questions by Jeremy

Papas Fritas  I'd heard a few Papas Fritas songs on KTRU a while back, so I went and saw them when they played Emo's with That Gospel Sound and The Sugarplastic back in the summer of last year, and wow, were they cool. Pure, beautiful, catchy pop songs played with wild, goofy abandon -- it was truly cool to see a band just enjoying themselves onstage instead of being full of "angst," y'know? I liked the show so much I bought their 2nd album, Helioself (see the review elsewhere), and then sent some e-mail to bassist Keith Gendel, telling him how cool they were and asking him some questions about the band. He was kind enough to answer them, so we talked a little bit, about pop "scenes," singer/songwriters, and the Spice Girls, among other things.
 Anyway, this was all done via e-mail, with a good bit of cut-and-pasting and editing done afterwards by me, so I apologize if this sounds a bit weird or disjointed... It's also a little dated by now, from the fall of 1997, but hey, so what?

SCR: How did you guys get started? I have to admit that I hadn't heard of you until fairly recently, and I'd be willing to bet I'm not the only one...
Keith: We met at Tufts University in 1992, where we were all in the "indie-rock" clique. Papas Fritas was formed as a little joke to play at a party in the house I lived [in] at the time. The concept was to form a pop band, and none of us had sang before and Shiv had never played drums before...it was just an experiment. Somehow we stuck around, and elevated our goals as each new achievement was reached.

How's it gone since then? Can you give me an abbreviated history of the band?
Keith: Sorry... I guess that's just a history of the first two weeks. We recorded about three LPs of lo-fi 4-track pop of questionable merit in the first couple years. A friend of ours living in New Orleans, Matt Hanks, decided to put out three of these songs on a 7", and we distributed it to a dozen college radio stations around the country. Minty Fresh heard the 7" on WNUR in Chicago and wrote to us, and that's how our relationship with them began. They were about as young as us at the time, and Veruca Salt had only released a 7". We had no idea that Minty Fresh would end up becoming a label of such high caliber and respectability. Since signing to Minty Fresh, we've released a 7" single ("Passion Play"/"Lame to Be") and two LPs (self-titled and Helioself). We have always recorded ourselves -- the latest in our own 8-track analog studio in the woods of Gloucester, MA. Plus, we've toured our arses off -- we'll be going to Europe for the third time in the fall, and we've toured cross-country 4 times in the past two years. We work hard at it.

What music has influenced Papas Fritas, whether in songwriting, sound, general attitude, hairstyle, or whatever?
Keith: Songwriters with unique, singular visions have always been our obsession. Brian Wilson, Lindsay Buckingham, Prince...especially ones gifted in the area of vocal arrangements.


Papas Fritas -- theadjusters@theadjusters.com; http://www.theadjusters.com/

Mint Records -- http://www.moonska.com/

Democratic Socialists of America -- http://www.dsausa.org/

International Union of Socialist Youth -- http://www.iusy.org/

Working Families Party -- http://www.workingfamiliesparty.org/

Photos #1-3 by Andrea Sims.

The Adjusters Actually, that makes a lot of sense, after listening to the new album -- although for some reason (and I hope you're not offended) the singer/songwriter who comes to mind most often for me, at least, when I hear you guys' music is Harry Nilson... Anyway, with the "singular vision" thing in mind, who does most of the songwriting in the band? Is it a cooperative effort?
Keith: Tony and I like Nilson. Listen to "Lame to Be" on the first record for a little sonic proof! The first record was very much Tony's vision. The second was more of a band effort although Tony has always been the key songwriter and idea conjurer.

Okay -- I'd wondered, really, because it seemed to me like the whole solo singer/songwriter influence was kind of at odds with, well, you know, being a band-type band. Do you know what I mean? It just struck me as a little strange that you guys, who obviously work really well as a unit, would be so influenced by these single musical personalities.
Keith: Yes... I can see how that is strange, but we were also influenced by the different personalities that merge together in Sly songs ("Dance to the Music" is an obvious example) and songs by the Beatles and The Band. Sometimes Prince songs seem to be sung by different characters too.

Any particular bands you really like right now?
Keith: Sly and the Family Stone, The Band, Toots and the Maytals, The Hang Ups, The Sugarplastic, The Orange Peels, Olivia Tremor Control, The Apples, Neutral Milk Hotel.

Awww, yeah. Good taste, good taste...
Keith: Oh yeah... I mustn't forget Can and Brian Eno.

Wah? Wow...I can't hear much of that in the music on the album...
Keith: Yes...not too obvious (although I think "Kids Don't Mind" sounds Enorific). I'd go crazy if i only listened to pop songs.

What do you think of the recent "pop resurgence" MTV and other folks have been talking about recently, with people like Hanson and the like suddenly becoming popular again? Is this a good thing?
Keith: Hanson and the Spice Girls are not a part of any self-conscious "pop" movement that I'm aware of.. their success is due to good marketing and decent, catchy tunes.

Well, I saw a "special report" recently on MTV where they tried to point out some kind of trend where "pop" bands are once again rising to the top of the charts, over stuff like Tupac or Korn or whatever. They seemed to think that this signified that the American public was tired of that sort of thing, and was looking for more "fun" music. D'you think that's the case? Is Papas Fritas going to hit it big real soon, because of it? (heh...)
Keith: You know, we were just having a band discussion about the "pop scene", and after all of our touring and recording, we find that we still lack a direct audience for our kind of music. Only in LA and Minneapolis (and maybe Boston) do I sense an actual word-of-mouth, self-supporting pop scene. There are plenty of pop bands that we are aware of and some that we are friends with, but everybody seems to be doing their own thing regardless of the others. I think the pop scene is a pretty lonely world, compared to say, the ska, hardcore or jam/hippie rock scenes, where any band has an automatic audience of devout worshippers.

Now that I think about it, yeah, that does seem to be the case -- I know here in Houston there's not really a cohesive pop "scene," either; at least, not the way there's a punk scene, with this built-in audience and support network and everything. Odd to think of pop as the redheaded stepchild of the music world... Do you guys have a hard time booking shows, then, without the help of some kind of pop "underground"?
Keith: We've never had substantial problems getting shows, but we tend to have disappointing draws. College radio play and press can be pretty ineffectual in areas where no one cares about what you're doing. Sometimes I wonder if young people really care about rock music anymore.

And just out of curiosity...are you a Hanson/Spice Girls fan?
Keith: I'm interested, but I don't actually like to listen to them. Sporty Spice is my favorite. I think Hanson sounds like the Spin Doctors.

"Sporty Spice"? Jesus...please, tell me that's not her name... And yeah, I can kinda see the Spin Doctors/Hanson connection, especially with the new song. I dunno; I tend to avoid both of them as best I can, myself.
Keith: We were in England when the Spice Girls were peaking. We couldn't help but learn everything about them.

What've y'all got planned for the future, now that the new album's been getting some (well-deserved) praise?
Keith: Tours of Europe for Sept-Nov. and then I think we'll be done with Helioself, and groundwork will be done for the next LP.

I read someplace (AP, I think) that Papas Fritas songs have turned up recently in commercials; did that actually happen? Which ones, if it did?
Keith: "TV Movies" in a Luxottica eyeglasses commercial... We've got to pay rent, ya know.

Oh, absolutely -- I wasn't trying to denounce y'all as sellouts or anything, don't worry; in fact, I think it's really cool (and I'll be watching for the commercial). How did you get that set up, just out of curiosity? Luxottica came to you guys, I'm guessing?
Keith: A friend of ours who works at a video editing house in NYC hooked us up. It was basically a matter of connections.

Any interesting tour stories from the most recent tour?
Keith: Gosh... Swimming in natural hot springs in Idaho, driving across the Arizona desert without A/C...conquering the old punk rock club in my hometown [Ed. Note: Emo's, I think?]. Crazy ass lightning storms in Michigan.

I really like the fact that some of the songs on Helioself seem to tell little, self-contained stories -- stuff like "Rolling In The Sand," or even "Words To Sing." There's one that totally boggles me, tho'; what the heck is "Captain of the City" about?
Keith: A coming of age tale of sorts about a boy who is misled by his hero.

Also, kind of along the same lines, are a lot of the songs autobiographical, or are these stories all pretty much fiction (other than "Rolling In The Sand," that is; I remember Tony said at the show I saw that that song was written about a bizarre beach party you guys played...)?
Keith: All the songs are personal and autobiographical... "Captain of the City" is one of our first experiments with a song that has no basis in actual reality. END


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