The VideoSift Pomplamoose Interview

This is our first Sift Interview. (Sifterview, InterSift?) Pomplamoose is a musical duo out of San Francisco made up of Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn. Their clips have been popular on VideoSift lately with several posts making it to the top 15. The interview was conducted over Skype and lasted around 30 minutes.

Dag
I'd like to know how Pomplamoose came about - how the band formed and how you got started?

Nataly
Well it was kind of an accidental beginning - Should we say - hmmm, what's a better word than accidental - "serendipitous?"

Jack
Yeah.

Nataly
We were doing this song of mine "Pas Encore". It was our first song together - Jack was producing the song that I had written and it sounded a million times better than it originally sounded and so I just thought, - maybe we should try this again - and instead of producing a song I've written, why don't we write a song together. So the song, which we wrote together, was "Hail Mary" and by then I had gone on to register the domain name "Pomplamoose".


Pomplamoose - Pas Encore


Jack
It was kind of just a way for us to spend time together. We were both musicians and we were dating [laughs] and um - you know - it started as a collaboration where I was producing one of Nataly's songs and then it was successful and we had a lot of fun with and we decided to do more. We started writing together - and I guess now - I suppose we're a band.

Nataly
Yeah. [laughs]

Dag
And "Pomplamoose" - I found out it was French for grapefruit, why did you pick that name?

Nataly
It's bastardized French for grapefruit. So, funny story- a friend of mine was studying French in Paris, and I grew up in Europe - she came back and told me that she thought the funniest word that she heard there was "pomplamoose" - which means grapefruit - and her boyfriend had gone all around Paris taking 400 photos of grapefruit in different areas of Paris - and, they're still together in Paris - but that's not really important to the story. The point is that we ended up using that name just because - it sounded funky.

Dag
Yeah, it's an amazing combination - in English, it doesn't even sound like it should be a real word.

Nataly
I know, right? [laughs] But it is!

Dag
So do either one of you have a French connection other than that?

Nataly
I grew up in France and Belgium. I spent 8 years, from age 10 to 18 there. I went to a French school and I mastered in French Literature, so I definitely have a lot of French in me.

Dag
Jack, I was reading on Wikipedia about the concept of "VideoSongs" and also downloaded the album off of iTunes - could you talk a little bit about the idea behind it?

Jack
I guess is started back when I was making my first EP, Nightmares and Daydreams - it was four songs. It took me about 5-6 months to make. And then I made something really quickly, and it was my favorite thing that I'd ever made. I was like "OK, something's wrong here" - because I'd just spent six months making an EP and in 2 days I'd made something that I thought was better, that felt more organic, real and sincere.

So the Videosong was a way for me to come out with something quickly, to not worry about it being polished or a studio final product. It was more like a glimpse of the process- and if you messed up a little guitar part here or something else there - that was fine, it was part of the organic fabric of the idea. It was a process that allowed me to feel a little more free in the studio and a little more accepting of mistakes. Since everything was videotaped it could be more raw. I wanted a way to release content on YouTube regularly and the Videosong seemed to follow naturally from the "guy in front of the webcam" paradigm.

Dag
And you're pretty strict about that aren't you - as far as the audio and video syncing up?

Jack
Yeah, I'm a rule dogma kind of guy. [laughs] I like following the rules and I do my absolute best to make sure that it's real. Because that's what's interesting about it. No fog, no mirrors and smoke machines - it's all just straight-up bedroom home studio kind of deal. I think actually seeing the instruments being played as opposed to lip-syncing is what makes it a different kind of medium.

Dag
It seems to be a shift to try and make a more organic kind of electronic product - if I can say something that silly - something that is homespun but still uses some of these commercial type electronic devices. Is that right?

Jack
Yeah, definitely. For a long time I was calling my music "electronic acoustica" because it's kind of like electronic music made with all acoustic instruments. Most of the stuff in this room is over 40 years old. The piano is from the 1890s - I play out of a 60s Fender twin reverb, I've got a Wurlitzer 200 which is a 1960s piano. I've got an organ from the early 80s, it's a Hammond. I'm playing on all old stuff but making a more modern sound. So I guess there is kind of a trend to use vintage gear to make modern sounding music.

Dag
You both play quite a few instruments - what's your "go to" instrument?

Nataly
I would have to say the bass. I started off with the piano, then I sort of self-taught guitar and then self-taught bass. The Bass is what I've really latched on to. It's how I write music. The first things that I generally hear are melodies, so it's easier to translate into a bass-line and then follow it with various different harmonies. Yeah, Bass and voice. The voice as an instrument is my #1 instrument, but after that the bass definitely.

Jack
For me it's gotta be piano, just because I feel more fluent on piano - I feel like I can more easily translate my ideas on to piano than on any other instrument - or anything keyboard based, the Wurlitzer, the organ piano.

Dag
One of our members Ornthoron wants to know if either of you play a wind instrument?

Nataly
I bought Jack this toy saxophone ... [Jack laughs]

Dag
I think I saw that in a video.

Jack
I took up trumpet and saxophone for a little while and I sucked at them both. I can't say though, that I'm not tempted to take up a wind instrument. I love instruments and lots of instruments.

Nataly
Did you have to play the recorder when you were in school?

Jack
I did, I played recorder.

Nataly
Did everyone have to? 'Cause in France they did too.

Dag
It's like that in Australia as well. I grew up in the US and it was actually auto-harp at my school.

Jack
Whoa, that's awesome! Those are cool. I don't have one of those, but I've been wanting one for a while.

Dag
So what's one of the weirdest instruments that you would use in one of your songs?

Jack
I can tell you the weirdest instrument that we have, that we haven't used yet - it's a theremin, and you play it without touching. I'm not sure if you - are you familiar with a theremin?

Dag
That's the one from the old horror movies, right? Those are fantastic.

Jack
Exactly. That's probably the strangest conventional instrument that we have. And then we're always making noise with random things in the room. For Pas encore, which is the first song we did together there was a glass of water - and as we were about to record something I accidentally hit it, and it went "ding" and it was in perfect key with the song, so we ended up hitting it a bunch and recording it.

Nataly
But the cool thing that I think you do really well, Jack is that you can take the classical sounds or just noise in general and add effects to it and make it sound like something completely different and strange. So it's not even necessary to have that weird instrument because you can use your abilities to make something conventional sound strange.

Jack
One of the things that we do a lot is take conventional instruments and we freak 'em out a little bit. On my piano, we put this piece of felt between the hammer and the strings. When you hit the piano keys it sounds really dark and damp and dull. It doesn't sound like a typical bright piano - sometimes it doesn't sound like a piano at all. I do the same thing on guitar too. I put a little bit of foam under the bridge - it makes it sound more like a banjo. So yeah, we do a lot where we take traditional instruments and we mess 'em up a little bit.

Dag
So can we look forward to hearing some music with theremin in it, coming down the pipe?

Jack
Oh yeah! It's gotta come out at some point.

Nataly
Wasn't it a Christmas present?

Jack
It was a Christmas present. It's going to be one year that I haven't used the thing.

Nataly
It's been just sitting here ...

Jack
Well, it's harder to play than a violin. It's so hard!

Nataly
Yeah ... well ...

Jack
It's a very hard instrument ...

Nataly
 Fortunately, it doesn't take up any room, so it just sits back in the corner there, looking strange.

Dag
What are you guys working on now?

Jack
Actually, just earlier we were finishing up some bass tracks. We have a new original coming out soon ...

Nataly
It's been a while. [laughs]

Jack
Yeah, it's been a while since we've done an original

Dag
Are you planning on releasing another EP or album anytime soon?

Jack
The way that we work is we release singles, and when we have 10 of them- we put them on an album, and call it a CD. [laughs] So yeah, I'm sure the next time we have 10 songs - we'll call it an album again.

Nataly
That said, as soon as the singles are out, they're available to be purchased and downloaded on our Myspace page. The album is for everyone who likes going through iTunes.

Dag
How does the economics of it work? Are you your own record label, do you do everything yourself?

Jack
Yeah, we do everything ourselves. Basically our income comes from MP3 sales. So we put them up on our Myspace page and our website, and they can be downloaded directly from us or through iTunes and yeah, we're making a living selling MP3s now which is great - it's a new thing for us - and really exciting for us as a band to be able to subsist off our music sales.

Dag
Which works best for you, Myspace or iTunes?

Jack
We get 90 cents on the dollar if you buy them directly from us - off of Myspace. It's not actually from Myspace - that's just the page where you download from - and then we get 64 cents on the dollar if you buy from iTunes, so directly from us is a better deal for us as artists.

Nataly
But, most people feel more comfortable with iTunes because they've set up this really safe system of buying - not that Myspace is unsafe it's just that people feel like ...

Jack
People trust iTunes with their account details - it's easy to buy - credit card info is already in, it's a one-click kind of thing.

Nataly
But we make more through iTunes than we do through Myspace.

Dag
Even though the percentage is lower?

Jack
Exactly, it's just a wider audience.

Dag
A couple of our members, dystopianfuturetoday and Throbbin wanted to ask about file sharing. What are your views on that - with regard to your music especially?

Jack
Umm. So ...

Nataly
So, we ... it's a weird question to answer, but a good one. We recently got asked by a file sharing website if they could feature us on the front page - and it was like - let's see, if we say no- people are still going to download through your page. I guess in terms of people finding out about us, it doesn't really matter - people can do whatever they want to share music.

Jack
My feeling are, there's a contingent online that won't pay for music and they want to download and they will download our stuff no matter what, and that's fine because there's nothing we can do to stop it. I'm totally anti-DRM I don't want to put anything on our MP3s that makes it difficult to deal with.

There's also a contingent who won't download songs from artists who are signed, as they know that 99% of the money is going to the record label. But when it comes to an independent act like Pomplamoose, they want to support us - and there's a lot of people like that. That's one thing I've seen over the last few years being in this new kind of music business. People like supporting independent artists- and they like knowing that when they buy a song, we get all the profits from that and it goes to helping us come out with new music.

There was an interesting study done a little while ago based on this independent artist named Joe Purdy. They sent out a little bot that tracked where people got his music and .1% of people had downloaded his music illegally, everybody else had gotten it from iTunes. And that's so different from some major act that's being fronted by ... you know ... well, I don't want to be derogatory or anything, but you know, some of these acts, like - come on, you're a puppet.

Dag
So do you think that's where music is heading in general, that it's going to a homespun affair? Is there a place for the labels?

Jack
I think there's always going to be a place for labels because there's always going to be some artists who are really great at making music but aren't very good at making a business. And as long as there are these people, there will be labels to help them.

Nataly
And as long as there are teeny-boppers who need a puppet or something like that ... they're going to need labels.

Jack
Labels are great for creating pop sensations. And I think there will always be a place for that. Sometimes pop sensations are a very positive thing - and sometimes not so much.

I think what we are going to see is a new generation of successful bedroom musicians. Instead of the power being in the hands of the U2s or the Coldplays it's going to be spread out over 10,000 really successful smaller bands, who are well known and well-respected in their respective niche communities. Maybe they don't have worldwide fame like U2, but they're making more than a living and they're happy doing what they love.

I think we're already seeing that spread and it's only going to get wider which I'm really excited about.

Dag
How much of the success of Pomplamoose do you attribute to Youtube?

Nataly
100%. Yeah.

Jack
Yeah.

Nataly
It's an incredible medium. I don't want to say it this way, but it's a free advertisement for our music in a way. Because we make a song, and we put it up on Youtube - people see us and then they go buy our song and that's how we make a living. If there wasn't the initial way to view our music, we wouldn't be making it- we'd have to be a touring band, and I don't even know how we'd get to be in a touring band ...

Jack
I don't think it would work. The incredible and valuable thing about Youtube is that there are millions and millions of people who want weekly content or daily content. People who want to see or hear new things. The song happens to be a perfect satisfaction of that hunger.

Nowhere else on the internet is there such a large community that is so interested in finding consistently new content. Nowhere else. It's the first time there's been such a concentrated chunk of people who want to see new things. Usually people want to stick with what they know. On YouTube it's just the opposite, people are looking for new cool things that they can subscribe to and listen to and watch.

Dag
Video seems to be such an integral part of your music - do you think the experience is really different without the video? I really enjoy the album, but I think I enjoy it a few percent more when I can watch you perform.

Nataly
There have been some people who have said - it's a good thing you have the video, because the songs aren't that good without the video. I think though that because our music is selling, it's showing that it can hold its own and we are a beginning band.

The 10 songs on that album are the first songs that we've done together. I think that the video is just a really interesting way of exploring the creative process, because it's not just enjoyable to watch the music, it's helpful for us when we're making the music, to imagine what the video is going to look like. If it needs another layer, if it's going to get boring at a certain point, if another instrument needs to come in.

I hope when people listen to our albums they can still visualize it as it was when we put it together.

Jack
On a theoretical note, the Videosong medium was intended to be a complete union between video and audio. It was intended as a final product to put on Youtube, and not an advertisement for the Mp3 files. And what happened was, we put the songs up and people would say "Hey, we love the video - where can we get an MP3?" And we'd rip an MP3 and send it over email or whatever - and this started to happen more and more - and we were like "Jeez, we should just put the Mp3s up for sale" and that led to our entire business model.
But the funny thing is that it was never intended to be that. The video and audio were intended to be together always and never one without the other. So the fact that there are these songs as Mp3s that stand without the video- I was interested that they worked without the video.

Dag
Are you touring, doing live performances?

Nataly
Right now we're in the studio- [laughs]

Jack
Always.

Nataly
We've gotten offers to move around some - do more shows, but um- we really like writing music. That's where we want to be right now. We also have families that we're interested in staying close to - so a big tour at this point does not seem to be in the cards.

More shows however, we definitely want to do ... because they're fun. We like staying in touch with our fans and we like meeting them in person and I think they like meeting us. So we're going to do more shows, but I don't see any tours coming up.

Jack
Maybe small ones. We're not going to be one of those 200 days on the road kind of bands. We just have no desire to do that.

Dag
There's a picture that we grabbed of you guys from somewhere where you're eating some kind of breakfast food. Is that muesli or cereal? There's a big debate going on about that.

Nataly
[laughs] Is that the one with the raspberry?

Jack
Yeah, that's cereal.

Nataly
It's cereal. Is it Kashi Crunch?

Jack
It's Kashi Crunch, which is a great cereal.

Dag
Thank you Nataly Dawn and Jack Conte.

Jack
Thanks Brian

Nataly
Thanks
Pomplamoose content can be downloaded from their Myspace page, or from iTunes - Pomplamoose - Pomplamoose VideoSongs here's some more Pomplamoose on VideoSift to whet your appetite:

Michael Jackson - Beat It covered by Pomplamoose

Single Ladies covered by Pomplamoose

Nature Boy - Pomplamoose Music

And even more Pomplamoose music on VideoSift, here.

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