By Zach Schepis
Photo courtesy of Mope Grooves.
Remember those endless summers growing up, making punk rock mixes that blared on into the night? Those songs of rebellion and carelessness, chock full of spirit and attitude, that somehow turned the trivial strife of unbearable jobs and first girlfriends into something profound?
What if you went back in time to give one of those mixes to a friend, except all of the songs were written by you?
Then you would be the time-travelling Stevie “Sensitive” Pohlman, the whimsical mastermind behind the garage rock splendor that is Mope Grooves. It’s music that turns the sour into a sense of humor, and rings honest with its stripped down songs. Enthusiasm abounds, and the charm lingers.
Pohlman takes a moment to chat with BTR about what makes the Portland rock band so damn fun.
BreakThru Radio (BTR): So your music videos are pretty eccentric and hilarious–water filled Sriracha bottles, masturbation, and some dude in a yeti mask chasing you around. How do you get the ideas for this stuff, and do you imagine some of these oddities during your songwriting?
Stevie Pohlman (SP): Most of it was improvised with my friends. The day we filmed the Mope Grooves video, my friend Brian Echon called me up and told me he had access to Washington High School, which is abandoned. So we woke up my then-housemate Chris Funkle, and did a bunch of goofy shit.
Being in an empty high school is already like a living nightmare so it was really natural. The last video was similar; it was shot by Dan Stump and just featured everyone I lived with in costumes in our terrible, disgusting house. I was lucky to have all those talented friends under one shitty roof.
Songwriting is a little more deliberate, but just as weird.
BTR: Speaking of songwriting process, what’s yours like? Is it collaborative or more individual?
SP: Songwriting is my favorite. It happens everywhere and in lots of different ways. So far I’ve written by myself. We only had our first show as a real live band about a year ago, and now that we’ve done some serious touring I’d like to write with the band.
BTR: How did you guys first come together?
SP: Jon is in this really weird and fucked up punk band called Therapists which has been a great Portland secret for like seven or eight years. I found out he had a solo project called Lamebrain that he recorded on a four-track that was mostly quiet and pop oriented. I wanted to do something different so I asked him to record my weird pop songs, and then we started building a studio together and recording our side material.
Our live band for Mope Grooves basically rotates out of our friends in Honey Bucket and Joe Benassi from Therapists. Basically it’s six or seven people in Portland who really like the Dead Milkmen, Television Personalities, and Brian Eno. Also They Might Be Giants but that’s mostly me and Jon.
BTR: What are some things in your life that inspire you most creatively, musical or otherwise?
SP: Friend bands, documentaries, marijuana and coffee, failure, recording equipment, van window, weather, and seasons.
Image courtesy of Mope Grooves.
BTR: How would you describe your newest record, Weird Girls, for someone who has never heard it?
SP: It’s like a mix that you would give to a friend when you were 13 except you wrote it. From the future I guess. When I was 13, all my friends were girls and they showed me punk rock so I made them this record.
BTR: What was the recording process like for the album?
SP: Lots of learning. Lots of first takes–and not because they were perfect, but because I wanted to keep going. The songs are short and the pace is quick and it was also recorded in haste, even though nobody was waiting for us to finish. I wanted it to sound rough, like a mixture, and it definitely does.
BTR: The lyrics–which deal with shitty jobs, hangovers, and first girlfriends–seem to center on the idea of somehow making good times out of bad ones. Do you feel like this kind of funky optimism finds its way into the band’s overall energy?
SP: I’m not sure. I noticed on this tour that fucked up teenagers really like the lyrics, which is for some reason important to me. I met this really young Native American dude named Ardell in Tempe, Arizona who was really upset because he was homeless and his mom was dying of cancer and his brother was at war. Also his girlfriend was maybe pregnant but he was kind of stoked about that. He liked the set and wanted me to sing more songs for him in the parking lot so I did, and I remember thinking, “Isn’t this why I started the band?” Things like that are career highlights for bands with names like Mope Grooves.
BTR: What do you like most about making music in Portland, and what’s your favorite part about playing in Mope Grooves?
SP: I have a lot of friends here that are great songwriters and we’re all down to help out. Portland is changing a lot, in some ways really drastically. People love to bitch about it. Those people are in bad bands. There are a lot of good new bands and it’s still pretty cheap.
My favorite things about playing in Mope Grooves are the double guitar solos and the four-story bunk bed we all sleep in.
BTR: What’s in store for 2015?
SP: We just finished a US tour. Weird Girls was only available as a release for a couple months so it might get reissued. More touring and a couple more full lengths before the year is over if nobody burns out.
Maybe a guitar tuner?
To hear more from Mope Grooves, check out their official Bandcamp or BTR’s very own In the Den.