New Young Pony Club’s Tahita Bulmer talks to Music Feeds about the UK pop scene, why Australia is sooo cool, oh… and their brand new album ‘The Optimist’.
It’s been a hot minute between albums for London four-piece New Young Pony Club. A day after the release of album number two, The Optimist, vivacious front woman Tahita Bulmer is feeling, well, optimistic and pretty happy at the prospect of talking to an Australian about her music…
“We definitely felt a lot more welcomed in Australia and New Zealand” she tells me. Seeing as it was Modular, a label from our country who first picked up on the technicolor indie pop wonder that is NYPC, it’s right to assume that Tahita and band have a bit of an affinity with Australia and Australian music… “We’ve met everybody really, from Ladyhawke to Van She and Knuckles. Obviously Cut Copy were really good to us at the beginning of our career. We’re big fans of all of those guys” she gushes, her perfect English accent adding to her inherent foreign cuteness as she describes what its like to be part of an international label, “the Modular umbrella is a really good place for bands to be, especially in Australia and they are quite supportive and artist-friendly.”
It quickly becomes apparent that NYPC’s soft spot for Australia extends beyond the inner sanctums of their label, “I think people have a lot more time for alternative bands and artists of all genres over there. It’s part of the mainstream” reflects Tahita, or ‘Ty’ for those in the know. We chat on this topic for a while, pondering over various reasons behind this phenomenon. Is it the anti-commercial nature of much of our youth radio perhaps? A typically Australian penchant for the underdog? The forward thinking of indie labels such as Modular? “Maybe its just more of a pioneering spirit you guys have?” suggests my new compadre. “You’re more willing to accept it in a much bigger, more sort of national way whereas in the UK people are more skeptical, wary and anxious.” Interesting words coming from the woman who basically spearheaded the mass day-glo ‘nu-rave’ phenomenon back in 2007.
Some may suggest that for reasons previously stated, NYPC has had more success here in Australia than on home turf, but Ty assures me, “We’re definitely a big deal in London… I don’t know whether we are a massive deal in the (entire) UK, but the UK is such a bizarre place I mean a lot of the music people like here is really bad… it’s very commercial and does not have much longevity at all… Pop is massive here!”
Unfortunately, according to Ty, in the land of Girls Aloud and JLS, it’s a lot harder for bands that are alternative to be heard in terms of the mainstream. “It’s a hard industry over here” she laments, citing national radio as the main culprit behind the demise of the independent music scene and the omnibus of cookie cutter ‘Britpop’, or as Ty explains, “that four boys with guitar and drum kit sort of model… (which) took us back to the 60s in terms of how conservative radio is now.” With that said, how does an independent artist or those who fall outside of the ‘pop’ mould go about getting their music heard? “Its up to the artist how ingenious they are” she says. “I mean obviously there’s the Internet but you have a bit of a fight on your hands if you don’t sound like Leona Lewis.”
Making some comparisons, Ty assures me that the London scene is by no means indicative of the entirety of the UK’s music taste, or lack thereof, “ultimately the London scene is a bit of a free for all and it’s kind of every man for himself.” As far as live music goes, she believes that bands are quite supportive of each other but run the risk of being swept up in an unrealistic desire to be ‘super famous’, “because the British tabloids are so strong here and such taste makers I think there’s like a whole generation of people, our generation here, who do see fame as an entry into love and acceptance, and that doesn’t necessarily make for comradery when it comes to working with other bands… People are very fame hungry and they’ll do anything to get there really.”
So NYPC don’t want to be famous?
“I think that (getting famous) should be a by-product of your music being good, it shouldn’t be the reason why you make music and it shouldn’t be, like that the only thing that makes you happy about being a musician is occasionally getting to meet Lily Allen…” laughs our anti-pop protagonist, who claims that the world is full of starry-eyed music-making wannabes with underlying motives to “meet Brad Pitt”, develop “their own clothing line”, or take up “a career in acting”. “People see it as a way of getting to another place, and I really feel that if you’re a musician and you want to have your side project then fine, but do it as a way of expressing yourself, don’t do it because you’ve gotten into music with that in mind… it should NOT be the reason why you make music!”
After a long-winded tirade on the perils of pop culture and commercialism, we finally get back to the topic at hand; NYPC’s newest album, The Optimist, it’s inception and the contrast between their 2007 debut, Fantastic Playroom… “intrinsically it (the record) has the same sort of face because its coming from us but… it’s definitely a very different record in that we’ve really tried to address the more emotional side of us as well as the animal side” she cryptically articulates. So what exactly does that mean? “There’s light and dark on this record, songs to make you dance and songs that you can sit at home and be reflective with. We feel it’s much more rewarding for that.”
There is no doubt that this latest offering explores a more melancholy, perhaps even deeper side to the ‘Pony Club. According to Ty, who writes the majority of the band’s repertoire, it’s a classic case of experiencing a bad break-up and writing a kick ass album about it… “I was going through a bad reaction to a break-up” she corrects herself. “I talk about it in some of the songs on the album and making the album was definitely my way of getting through that.” It seems as though in contrast to a lot of other break-up inspired records, the inception of The Optimist was more therapeutic than aggressive, “To be more honest and talk about stuff that I’ve experienced was really good for me in terms of this record and what I was going through personally. It was a really cathartic experience and I feel that we made a stronger record because of it” she reflects. Despite its ‘optimistic’ beginnings, Ty reveals that there was a lot of pressure placed on the band to deliver a second album, from the critics as well as the public, to the point where the band limited their movements in the UK capital for fear of being hassled by fans and people hungry for more news of the impending release. “I definitely didn’t go to as many gigs as I’d have liked to in 2009… it’s good sometimes to get away from the scene… it’s flattering but its too much pressure for me.”
NYPC made a name for themselves by marrying together dance and pop under a distinguishably ‘indie’ banner. Now, three years on, it seems this stylistic move has exploded. Amongst hoards of other popular indie-dance bands, Ty believes it’s no task differentiating themselves from the pack. “We are fully formed people” she states rather matter of factly, “Without sounding horrific I think a lot of the people making music haven’t necessarily had the wealth of experience that the four of us can attest to. We make music that is very soulful and has a lot of emotional resonance. That’s definitely what I get from people when they come up to us at gigs, you know they say it touches them in a different way and they carry it with them. Its not just a weekend love affair, it’s possibly a ten year thing, there’s going to be wedding bells and children…” she laughs.
That’s certainly been the case with the band’s killer popular tracks such as ‘The Bomb’ and ‘Ice Cream’, which despite it’s dated release of a whole five years ago (lifetimes in the world of indie pop) is one that can still be heard in clubs pretty much every weekend. “The irony with music is that it often takes very little inspiration to make something that lasts for a very long time” she says of the smash hit, “Ice Cream was very much a response to music that we were being inspired by at that time.”
So… Tahita’s tips for making shit-hot indie dance tunes?
“The ability to revise your own work, not be too precious and also to respond instantaneously to things when you hear them… when you’re inspired, you have that creative thought, fire and energy in your body.”
New Young Pony Club have not announced any official Australian tour dates yet, but she does hint at the end of the conversation that she’ll be seeing me soon… (oooh ahhh!)
The Optimist is out NOW thought Modular. Psssst: They have the entire thing up on their Myspace page if you wanna listen to it first!