Next Saturday, May 20th, local contemporary grunge heroes Superheaven will be playing a SOLD-OUT show at Union Transfer to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their debut LP, Jar. However (I probably shouldn’t say this…), we at PHILTHY are even more excited about self-proclaimed “glitter power pop” duo PONY, who will be opening the show (They go on at 8, so get your sufficiently-glittered asses there early!) The day before (May 19th), the Toronto duo of singer/guitarist Sam Bielanski (who also voices Jazz Hooves on the current generation of My Little Pony) and multi-instrumentalist Matty Morand, will release their sophomore LP, Velveteen, courtesy of Take This To Heart Records. I recently got a chance to chat with both Bielanski and Morand about “glitter power pop,” Velveteen, and the co-creator of Eraserhood.
Izzy Cihak: I know you characterize your sound as “glitter power pop,” which I fucking love! What would you say are the origins of the glitter power pop genre, even if you may be the first act to fully embody it?
Sam Bielanski: I think That Dog are definitely pioneers in the GPP genre, I also think the 2001 Josie and the Pussy Cats feature film was a/had a huge impact on the genre.
Matty Morand: Yeah, nothing really sparkles the way that Josie soundtrack does. I think Alvvays might be on that wave a little bit, too.
Izzy: You’re gearing up to release Velveteen on May 19th. How do you feel like this LP compares to TV Baby, both sonically and in terms of the writing and recording process? I understand that you wrote (and even recorded) a lot of things on your phone.
Sam: I really feel like this record is a massive step up from TV Baby. Matty and I spent almost a year writing a new song each and every week and I think we got really focused and distilled our processes. Every song on TV Baby was written on guitar first, and I would kind of just wait for lightning to strike. But with Velveteen I did a lot of experimenting, writing with different prompts and perimeters to challenge myself as a songwriter, and incorporating new instruments. Almost every song started out as a phone demo, which was a totally new way for me to write, but in many ways, it was incredibly freeing.
Matty: We were a lot more thoughtful about the songwriting on this record. TV Baby was a scrappy, write-it-in-the-practice-space type of record and we didn’t know much about recording or arrangement. A lot of making that record was kind of discovering what it actually sounds like in the studio. A lot of surprises. Over the past few years, we got really into home recording and production so we were able to really massage the songs and try things that we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to in the past, and the result I think is a lot more reflective of our taste. There were very few surprises this time!
Izzy: I know you worked on the album with Alex Gamble, who’s worked with a lot of our favorite artists, including The Rural Alberta Advantage, Fucked Up, and Alvvays. How was it working with him? What do you feel like he brought to your sound? I realize that’s kind of two questions…
Sam: We loved working with Alex Gamble. We were actually introduced to Alex through Mike from Fucked Up and I’m so grateful. It was hands down the single best experience I have ever had in the studio. Alex has incredible ideas; he is so efficient and works incredibly hard. He made the studio a safe space to experiment, and no idea was a bad idea. We literally tried everything we could think of and exhausted all our options and somehow the three of us would always agree on the same things. I have had a lot of bad experiences in the studio in the past, but working with Alex felt so easy and encouraging, I feel like in the end it really served the songs because we all really wanted to do our best.
Matty: It felt like Alex really understood and respected the songs and what we wanted to do with them. I also love how decisive he is. It’s easy to get in the weeds in the studio like, “Oh should we try this amp? What about that mic?” etc. We all had a pretty clear idea of how we wanted things to sound and when it was right, we didn’t do much second guessing. We actually ended up finishing a day early in the studio and just got to mess around with fun mix stuff.
Izzy: Have you had any favorite reactions to the new music so far, whether from critics, fans, or live audiences? You’ve already put out several singles from the album.
Sam: I love seeing people share the songs and seeing how different songs resonate differently with other people. But by far my favourite thing so far was on my birthday this year the kids I used to nanny sent me videos of them singing and dancing to the new PONY songs. It felt really special because they knew every word. And these kids have good taste, so it felt really special.
Matty: When we were on tour with Fucked Up last summer, our first single, “Did It Again,” had been out for a couple of weeks and it meant so much to me to see people singing along at the shows. There’s so much good music out there so when people are rocking with us like that it’s really not lost on me how special that is.
Izzy: You released a really cool music video for “French Class,” which I saw that you made yourselves. What is it that inspired this video, and what kinds of things inspire the visual elements of the band in general?
Sam: We are both very scrappy in our nature. We make all of the single art and the visuals ourselves. That video specifically we just shot in our house with a lot of things we already had. I was kind of inspired by the movie Practical Magic, with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. Just like a really witchy 90s vibe. I love to make mood boards and collages to get all my ideas and inspirations in once place. We are both pretty particular with what we wear on stage, and I make a lot my own clothes. But I think the things that inspire our aesthetic as a band are just things we are currently obsessed with. Right now, I am really into lace and ribbons and kind of a ballet fairy core vibe.
Matty: I don’t know if this influenced the video exactly but during the pandemic I got really into skateboarding again in a way I hadn’t been able to during the years we were touring, so I bought a Hi8 video camera to shoot some skate videos with my friend, Josh, who played drums on the record. That’s the camera we ended up using for the “French Class” video that gives it the lo-fi sort of vibe. I don’t think it would have hit the same if it were shot on an iPhone or something. Skateboarding is also very fashion obsessed and having come from that world definitely influenced my little aesthetics choices and DIY tendencies.
Izzy: I realize this is a super lame question, but since this is your sophomore LP, I’m curious if you have any favorite sophomore LPs of music history?
Sam: There was a year in my life where I only listened to Last Splash by The Breeders. Anytime I tried listening to anything else I just wanted to put on Last Splash again. Probably one of my favourite records of all time.
Matty: In trying to come up with an answer to this I learned that I might be a third LP person, but I think my favourite sophomore LP might have to be Dinosaur Jr. – You’re Living All Over Me or That Dog – Totally Crushed Out!
Izzy: You’ve been with Take This To Heart Records for a while now. How is it working with them and being a part of that family?
Sam: We love TTTH. We talk to Joe pretty much every day, which is a completely different experience from the last label we were on. Joe really cares about his bands and it’s obvious because we basically text him at all hours of the day to ask him questions and he always answers in 5 seconds or less.
Matty: It’s nice to genuinely like your label person.
Izzy: You’ve got a handful of upcoming shows with Superheaven, including a stop right here in Philadelphia at Union Transfer, which is pretty massive (1,300) and already sold-out. What can be expected of your live show?
Sam: Playing live is my favourite thing to do in the world! I think you can expect that we will all look really cute and we will put on a great show! I am so excited to finally play some of these songs live. And I hope everyone loves them as much as I do.
Matty: Please bring us vegan donuts!
Izzy: I’m not sure if you know this, but the venue is in a neighborhood (which is also where Underground Arts is) we call Eraserhood, because it’s where David Lynch lived when he went to Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the neighborhood that inspired Eraserhead. So, I have to ask if you’re a fan of David Lynch and, if so, if you have any particular favorite works of his?
Sam: I have seen all of Twin Peaks, and I liked it, but I wouldn’t say I am a super fan. I do, however, appreciate the man’s ability to curate a very unusual mood.
Matty: Years ago, I played in a hardcore band called Eraserhead, which is a terrible name for a band but, you know. I love David Lynch, he’s a genuinely interesting character whose style is so identifiable that it’s kind of impossible to imitate without everyone knowing you’re biting his style. I think my favorite Lynch movie is Wild At Heart. Nic Cage and Laura Dern are both impossibly hot in that one.
Izzy: Finally, how do you plan to spend this summer?
Sam: In theory I love the summer, but I also fear the sun. So, you will probably catch me either indoors or outside covered in SPF 50. Other than that, I hope to play more shows and meet new friends and just have the best summer of our lives.
Matty: Nothing hits like sitting in an air-conditioned movie theatre when it’s boiling hot outside. Other than that, I want to walk to the coffee shop and play some shows.