If bands like NOFX, Lagwagon and No Use for a Name pioneered the sound of ’90s skate punk, a slew of newer artists are ensuring the genre is here to stay. One of them, Los Angeles-based The Bombpops, has been making noise in the SoCal scene for a decade now, cementing their status as progenitors to a new age of young bucks discovering punk rock for the first time. I recently caught up with the four chaps that make up the group at the release show for their debut album, Fear of Missing Out (Fat Wreck Chords). We talked about all kinds of cool shit. See for yourself…
I’m hoping this interview delivers some new nuggets to your existing fans, but for people reading about The Bombpops for the first time, tell us your story going back to day one.
Jen (vox, guitar): Poli and I started the band back in 2007. We met each other at a studio where this guy was teaching guitar lessons. I was 19 at the time and Poli was 14 or 15 – like, really young.
Poli (vox, guitar): Yeah, I was taking guitar lessons there and started a band with the guitar teacher and Jen was playing in another band with some friends.
Jen: I remember seeing her and thinking she was so cute shredding the guitar. Later on, her band needed a bass player. I don’t really play bass but I played bass in that band. So that’s how I got to know her, kind of. That band was kind of “whatever.” It was a lot of hair metal. (laughs)
Poli: Yeah, it wasn’t that serious. It was more of a learning experience. Those guys were way older than me and obviously more talented. It was more about getting our chops up. [The instructor] would always say “You’re going to do your own thing too.” So Jen and I started writing songs together.
Jen: We kind of got tired of that band, so in getting to know Poli I was like “We should just start our own thing.” At the time, I remember coming across Poli and showing her some bands that I was really into that she hadn’t heard of like Millencolin and Saves the Day.
Jen: It was one of those things like “Let’s start a band like this.” We’d listen to [the Millencolin record] Pennybridge Pioneers all the time. It was just her and I back then. She was still in high school and I had graduated at that point, but we decided to start the band to play her Battle of the Bands her junior year. That was our first lineup. We weren’t called The Bombpops then. We had a couple of stupid names.
Jen: Reason to Speed was one. Then we were Wake the Kids for a brief moment.
Sounds like The Get Up Kids…
Jen: Yeah. A good friend of mine from high school was our original drummer and he was with The Bombpops. He was our only real drummer besides Josh. There was one point for a couple shows between Dylan and Josh where we had another drummer so that’s why we’ve technically had three drummers, but after [Battle of the Bands] we just wanted to keep playing shows. It became about finding other people that wanted to play in a band with us. People would say they wanted to play in a band but…
Poli: …We were just really serious from the start. We knew this is what we wanted to do and both of us had always wanted to do it.
Jen: Yeah, it took a long time to find people that were on the same page. Dylan was. He was our drummer for a very long time. But yeah, the first time we recorded was in 2009. Actually, no, we did some demos in 2008 and recorded a full length album in 2009 that was never released.
A while ago I chatted with Joe from Rise Against and asked him if after so many years of playing stages he still got nervous before a show. How would you respond to that question?
Poli: It’s more like – not nervous or scared – but excited. I’ll just get that adrenaline and feel it. When I woke up last Thursday for our show in San Diego I had butterflies just because I was stoked for the weekend and all the stuff going on.
Jen: Yeah, there’s always an excitement. I don’t know if it’s nervousness. But it’s good. It never gets old. It never becomes something where I feel like I’m just going through the motions.
Poli: You realize you kind of live for that feeling too. It’s so satisfying, that feeling when you’re done playing, when you first starting playing, the middle of the set.
Neil and Josh?
Neil: For sure, it’s the same. I always think of how even when we’re on the road and stuff, we’ll be dead-ass tired all day and struggling to get through, sitting at the bar for hours before the show, but then you get on stage and you play and you’re all of a sudden awake.
Jen: It kind of becomes a cure-all for things too. There have definitely been times on the road where we’re at each other’s throats and have said some mean shit to each other.
Neil: But then we’ll play a show and it’s like “Hey, want to grab a beer?” (laughs)
Let’s talk new record, Fear of Missing Out. Does the album title have any particular significance?
Neil: Dude, that’s pretty much our life (laughs). The title track on the record, like even when we were writing it, all the lyrics we were coming up with we were just like “Man, these are so real.” Any one of us will be out somewhere, and it can be something dumb, like a local show at a bar with friends, and Jen will be in Italy and it’ll be like “Aww…”
You could have just kept it short and called it FOMO, no?
Jen: Yeeah, the song on the album is called “FOMO” and it’s just that “Fear of Missing Out” sounds so much more dramatic. (laughs)
Poli, you started playing piano when you were five? And through piano you learned music theory?
Poli: Yeah, that was huge to everything I know now. You learn how to read music, treble, bass…
Does any of that still apply when you’re writing music now?
Poli: For sure. As far as just understanding rhythm and stuff, it just comes naturally now. I had strict piano teachers man! My sister and I were just talking about this. [The teacher] used to ring the doorbell and we’d go hide and my mom would be like “Go get that door!” And then I did clarinet in sixth, seventh and eighth grade.
Jen, I came across an interview where you used the word “obsessed” to describe your dive into music as a kid after seeing Bad Religion play. For each of you, is there someone – a musician or otherwise – that you can point to as that main influence, or someone that captures that “obsession” in the way Jen described?
Neil: Totally. My whole dad’s side of the family is all musicians and when they finally gave me a bass I was like “Oh, I see why this is such a big part of my family.” I’d say that part of my family was the beginning of all of it for me, just knowing that all my uncles played, they were studio guys and stuff. But then, you know, I found punk rock (laughs).
Jen: My dad played guitar and that’s definitely why I picked up guitar. I started with guitar before I found out what punk rock was. At that point I was kind of just dabbling, but it was around the time I start listening to punk. But just listening to bands and going to see shows…I mean, that show you mentioned, when I left there was nothing else on my mind. It was like “I’m going to do that one day.” I just dove headfirst into music and playing in bands and discovering new bands. And every time throughout high school, seeing bands on stage, it was like “That is what I have to do with my life.”
Neil: The first concert is always like “Oh damn…”
Poli: I swear, I remember being like 5 or 6 – something really young – and being like “I know I want to play music on a stage.”
Josh: Yeah, growing up as a kid my parents were huge music lovers and they would always have holiday parties and have a live band in the living room and every single time without fail, I would fall asleep in front of the PA speaker while the band was playing and get carried to my room and first thing in the morning I would wake up and run to the living room and wake everybody up just hitting shit. I was just 4 or 5 years old – I had no idea – but it was there already. And then I picked up a pair of drumsticks going into middle school and it was over. There was nothing else I wanted to do.
Neil: There were so many times in high school where people would be like “Dude, you want to go snowboarding this weekend?!” Everyone was always doing stuff and I’d be like “No. I’m going to sit at home and play bass.” (laughs)
If you could pick one song from your new record and have a band cover it, what song would it be and what band would cover it?
Neil: That’s a hard question. I’d like to see someone more metal take something like “Brake Lights” or “I Can’t” – one of the faster songs – and just shred it. Just full blown.
Poli: Or someone doing those songs slow too. That would be cool.
Jen: One of our contemporaries covering a song would be really cool. Like PEARS or someone that could take a spin on it. Someone that’s kind of coming up doing the same kind of stuff. Like same genre but different styles.
Josh: I want Metallica to cover “Forever Since.” (laughs)
Are there any songs that are particularly emotional for you to play on stage?
Josh: “Be Sweet”
Jen: Yeah, “Be Sweet.”
Josh: I almost cry every goddamn time.
Jen: It was very emotional the first time we heard it played back to us after it was all recorded.
If you could have covered a song for the Tony Sly tribute album that was released, which one would it have been?
Neil: We were actually working on one but it wasn’t quite ready. Stacey Dee from Bad Cop/Bad Cop was getting together with us and we were doing “Chasing Rainbows.” I worked all of it out to be as close to a Bombpops song as I could make it. The thing is, you either had to take a fast song and make it slow or take a slow one and make it faster. That was Mike’s thing. I didn’t really slow it down but I made it more jammy and poppy. We worked on it for a while but then it was like “Hey, can you guys get in the studio tomorrow because we need the song in two days?” And we all thought that was impossible. But yeah, “Chasing Rainbows” is the one that we were fit to do.
Tell me an artist in your current music rotation that a fan of your band would be surprised to know about.
Poli: “Side to Side.” Nicki Minaj.
Jen: Isn’t that Ariana Grande?
Poli: Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj.
Jen: Let’s see. Poli is the Top 40 hits lover. I pretty much stick to the punk rock rotation. But you know who I’ve been listening to a lot lately? I don’t think this is a surprise but I love Frank Sinatra. As a kid, I dressed up as Frank Sinatra for the talent show and sang and dressed up like a man and sang “South of the Border” and had my friends coordinate a dance behind me. So, I like to put on Frank Sinatra quite often. (laughs)
Neil: I always go through a bunch of weird music phases. I’ve been getting into all this electro-pop stuff right now.
Josh: I would probably have to say Taylor Swift.
Jen: That’s a good one. I think we’re all Taylor Swift and Miley lovers.
Josh: Neil’s a big Miley lover.
Does it ever dawn on you that you’re part of this fourth wave of punk bands that has an opportunity to significantly influence the kids who were your age when you first got into this type of music?
Poli: I think it is starting to hit a little now, especially reading the reviews that are coming out. Being compared to all our idols is really cool. But yeah, it’s interesting to think about all of that.
Jen: It is interesting to think of it in terms of waves too, because we kind of have been around for ten years and around ten years ago there was this huge wave of bands like Bottlerocket and Menzingers and Cobra Skulls, Flatliners, Banner Pilot, Dopamines – those bands. When we were coming up, while we were of course influenced very much by California skate punk, those bands, who are our peers in a way, were also huge influences on me. So now, ten years later, I still kind of consider them influences as well. I think you also see a lot more women and girls playing in bands now than ever before. I like to think that we would be an influence in that way. I don’t want this to come off the wrong way, but If I saw a girl’s band when I was 13…(pauses)
Poli: I mean, I get it, she doesn’t want to sound cocky right now but, for sure, if I saw us when I was kid…
Jen: Yeah, it probably would have changed my life. Finding punk rock did, but I was never really into a lot of female punk bands, not because I didn’t like them, but I don’t know. Distillers and Tilt and stuff never really did much for me. It was all cool but that’s not what I was into. But if I saw a band like Bad Cop, for example, that sounds more California skate punk, that would have changed my whole perspective on things a bit.
Neil: It’s funny. Josh and I have been playing in bands for a long time and I never really thought about girl bands. To me it was more like if I liked the singer, it didn’t matter who you were – I thought you were great. It wasn’t until I was in the Bombpops that I started to see how different it is. A lot of younger girls look up to what we do, whether that’s because there’s negativity toward being a woman in a band or a whatever. But yeah, that’s been my experience.
Vans or Chucks?
Poli: I can’t decide. I switch it up all the time.
Neil: Those are the only two shoes I wear. I go with Chucks more often even though I’m wearing Vans right now.
Poli: Chucks haven’t been as comfortable ever since Nike took them over or something. These [points to her vans] are more comfortable right now.
Jim Beam or Jack Daniels?
All except Josh: Jiiiiim.
Josh: Jack and I don’t get along. We got in a big fight.
Instagram or Snapchat?
Europe or Latin America?
John Lennon or Paul McCartney?
Poli: (winces) Mmmm. John Lennon.
Jen: Paul McCartney.
Neil: Interesting. John Lennon. Paul McCartney was the bubbly guy with lovey-dovey lyrics. John Lennon was deep. (laughs)
Josh: John Lennon.
Ski or snowboard?
Josh: Snowboard. I snowboard a lot. It scares the rest of them. They get nervous. (laughs)
Poli: Snowboard, even though I broke my wrist getting off a ski lift.
This is an LA question. East side or West side?
Jen: East. My whole time in LA I’ve been in Highland Park but I just moved to Hollywood and it’s sooooo different. Hollywood’s cool for a lot of reasons, but it’s crazy how drastically different those neighborhoods are.
Neil: East side. I’m the opposite. I moved to Hollywood when I first moved to LA and then I moved to Highland Park.
Poli: West siiiiiiiide! It’s so fucking hot on the east side.
Josh: (laughing at Poli) Yeah but you’re stuck there with traffic.
Josh: I’m actually planning on moving to the west side in a little while. Probably Redondo or Venice.
Festival or club show?
Neil: Festivals are fun but they’re a lot. It’s kind of overwhelming.
Poli: It’s more like waiting around outside somewhere where you’re probably hot.
Fender or Gibson?
Jen: I love my Fender. I modded it so it has a humbucker in the bridge. But when we recorded this album I fell in love with this Melody Maker. Our buddy from Switzerland who owns this wonderful guitar shop, I was like “I want this Melody Maker” and he found me one. You can’t really compare the sound. I should have been playing that guitar my whole life.
Neil: I’m Fender all the way. I play a P-bass. Three of them.
Minor Threat or Fugazi?
Jen: I would say Fugazi.
Neil: Fugazi was just way more advanced.
Josh: Yeah, I’d go Fugazi.
Blue Album or Pinkerton?
Neil: Blue album all the way.
Josh: Neither. I fucking hate Weezer (laughs). When I met my girlfriend she was like “I fucking hate Weezer too” and I was like “Oh my God, I fucking love you.” It’s rare dude. When they came out with that “Beverly Hills” song it killed it for me.
Neil: This is what I think. Pinkerton is a great record. So many people have been so influenced by it, but I feel like it’s the record that so many people want to say they like it because that’s like the “cool” record to like. It’s so not like everything else. After Pinkerton and before, everything is just so polished.
Jen: I’d say Blue. I’m more familiar with it. Blue has this fantastic flow. You can’t ever skip a song.
NOFX or Bad Religion?
Poli: (makes some kind of nauseated noise while grimacing in disbelief at the question) I’m going to say NOFX.
Jen: That’s super tough but NOFX.
Neil: As a bass player, Fat Mike influenced half my playing. I learned his music note for note when I was starting off.
Josh: That one’s tough. I never would have found Bad Religion if I didn’t find NOFX, so I’m going to have to go with NOFX.
Jen: NOFX has those poppy aspects and just the wittiness of Fat Mike…
Poli: The wittiness and slight shittiness…
Neil: I will say, Against the Grain [by Bad Religion] was a game changer for me when I first heard it.
Poli: Corey, why are you making us choose?!
I only have one more. Tim or Lars?
Josh: Lars. All day, every day.
Neil: Lars. Definitely.
Poli: I can’t really answer that. Never thought about it. (laughs)
Jen: Yeah, I don’t know. Tim?