Foreign Born's Matt Popieluch talks surfing, growing up in China, and playing in multiple projects
Photo by Emily Ulmer
Person to Person, the recently released sophomore album from Los Angelino quartet Foreign Born, is as dazzling and diverse as the city that birthed it. Its 10 tracks encompass gospel-tinged anthems ("Blood Oranges"), sprightly Afro-pop tinged explorations ("Early Warnings"), and good old-fashioned Laurel Canyon balladry ("See Us Home"). In the wrong hands the whole affair could come off as unfocused and garish -- in Foreign Born's, it's stunning. Foreign Born's lead singer Matt Popieluch took time out from the road to dish with Gimme Noise about his childhood in Hong Kong, why he's trying to learn how to surf, and the challenge of bringing his band's massive sound to small stages.
As someone whose knowledge of life in Los Angeles is limited to episodes of Entourage, I'm guessing my perception of the city is somewhat warped. What's the biggest misconception about the city you guys tend to encounter, being an L.A.-based band out there touring the world?
Well, there's the classic misconception that many of us surf. The fact is I've actually been trying to learn so I can live up to the stereotype and save everybody a lot if time and trouble -- I can just say "yes." Our drummer Garrett actually does surf and is a walking embodiment of Californian identity. He's also pretty good at pool.
In addition to holding down the fort in Foreign Born you're an active member of globe-trotting pop group Fool's Gold and play in Cass McCombs' band. Have those experiences playing very different music as a sideman informed your work Foreign Born? If so, how?
Although I have been a member of Fools Gold for the last few years, I'm not really a touring member anymore. It's hard to keep up with those fools! Also, I haven't played with Cass in quite sometime either. Lately I've been trying to pare down my projects a little bit, making a solo record. But everything I do informs my music somehow, hopefully in a positive way. All my side adventures have been that way. Playing in different projects allows me to stretch my legs and challenge myself in new ways. It's refreshing to be a part of someone else's vision, and it shines new light on my own visions.
Person to Person features a rather epic sound, and a wide array of atypical rock instrumentation. How do you go about translating that big sound to tiny rock clubs on tour? Are you packing up khims and exotic woodwinds every night?
Every tour since our last record came out, we've been touring as a six-piece, adding a keyboardist and percussionist (and a saxophone player whenever possible, but they are hard to keep happy). And that's when things start to heat up! We also trigger samples and drink consistently.
How did growing up in China shape your perspective on pop music? Has your unconventional childhood had any lasting effects on your musical path?
Growing up in Hong Kong made me confront a world very few people get to see. I think it was good for my mind to see the other side of the planet and to understand how differently human beings can approach things around the world. Noodle soup for breakfast!! I mean, get outta here!!
Musically, I spent my adolescence there trying to embrace American ideals in the form of Nirvana and Mudhoney. At that age, I wasn't interested in absorbing Asian music. On subsequent trips back to Asia to visit my parents during college and after, I definitely paid more attention to the music. I carried around a little tape recorder to document amazing music in Thailand and Cambodia.
I remember finding a group of musicians in the forest near a temple in Cambodia who had all been maimed by landmines left over from the '70s (which are still going off today). They were all sitting in a semi-circle on the ground, playing for nobody, the music just drifting to edge of the forest vegetation where I happened to hear it. I've still got that tape around somewhere, I hope.
Download mp3: Foreign Born, "Vacationing People"
FOREIGN BORN play with Free Energy and Clovers on WEDNESDAY, MARCH 3, at the 7th ST. ENTRY; 612.332.1775
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