The hills are alive with the sound of music. Which hills, you ask? The steep rolling hills of San Francisco will be hosting the San Francisco Popfest 2009 starting tonight and running until Sunday. What kind of music? Nothing but good, clean indie pop. Busy with last minute preparations, I interrupted Andrew Lison, member of the organizing committee, to ask him about the festival, the genre, and imaginary indie pop supergroups. If you’re in the Bay Area sometime during the next few days, make sure to grab a burrito and then head down to one of the venues and enjoy a show.
Daniel: What is the San Francisco Popfest 2009? Tell me why it’s going to be better than Woodstock, or at very least The Rolling Stones at Altamont.
Andrew Lison: The San Francisco Popfest is the West Coast home to the most exciting bands in the international indie pop scene. In comparison to Altamont we can promise virtually no stabbings; in terms of Woodstock, significantly fewer flowers in your hair (despite being in San Francisco instead of upstate New York). We also feature bands not from the ’60s, unlike those two places and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. I am talking about bands like Northern Portrait, Cheap Red, Birds of California, and Suburban Kids with Biblical Names.
Daniel: You’ve gathered indie pop artists from near and far. Are there any other highlights for you at this year’s festival?
Andrew: I’m also excited about a band from Sacramento called English Singles, who we are trying to get as a last minute addition. They sound like Buzzcocks crossed with the Razorcuts. And Gregory Webster, who was in the Razorcuts, who were named after a line in a Buzzcocks song. I like my indie pop mixed with punk rock.
Daniel: What’s your personal connection to the genre and who is the elusive DJ in the Manner of a Leprechaun?
Andrew: My personal connection to indie pop started when I was in high school here in San Francisco and we got a transfer student from Maryland who was always wearing a Velocity Girl t-shirt. I was working at an anarchist/punk rock collective record store which for some reason carried a lot of Slumberland stuff, so I started checking VG and the other Slumberland bands out. I was a little too young to get into most of the Bay Area Slumberland bands’ shows, bands like Henry’s Dress and Rocketship (though I did get to see them both a couple of times and they were amazing), but a few years later when the Aislers Set were starting to play around town, I started going to pretty much every one of their shows and doing their website. Eventually I met Mike Slumberland. We bonded over our love of Boyracer, old skool jungle records, and Oakland and eventually started our own band, The Crabapples, who put out a single on Slumberland and played at the Popfest in 2003.
I have never been in the same room as DJ In the Manner of a Leprechaun. Hmmmmm.
Daniel: Why organize an indie pop festival?
Andrew: There’s kind of a tradition of popfests in the USA dating back to the Boston/Providence/NYC scene of the early ’90s, and we’ve been doing them here roughly every other year since 1999. I was sort of tangentially involved in the inaugural one, and was one of the core group of organizers in 2001 and 2003; we passed the torch in 2005 and it kind of stopped there until some new folks moved to town and we all decided to give it another try. Indie pop is great because there’s always going to be people interested in no-attitude catchy tunes, and I think it has a lot of staying power as a genre because it’s got a very strong community. People are willing to travel and plan their holidays around festivals and it’s a great excuse to meet other fans and artists who usually tend to be distributed all around the globe. Of course, the downside to that is that there are probably only a few hundred people worldwide who are involved at any given time, but with the way the music industry is going these days, I think we are, and always have been, on the cutting edge of the niche trend.
Daniel: What does it take to organize an event like the SF Popfest? Tell us about the ups and downs of the organizing team.
Andrew: Organizing a festival of any kind is hard work, and it takes a lot of discipline to negotiate between bands, venues, and the various people who will inevitably try to blag their way into the shows for free, all without running over budget! We don’t make any money on the festival and as I said, the indie pop community is very tight-knit so lots of us know the bands personally, which makes dealings relatively easy, but it really helps if you know people on the local music scene, bookers, local bands, alternative weekly press, etc. because a lot of places aren’t familiar with the genre and are kind of reluctant to book bands they’ve never heard of. I would say that the best way to organize any kind of grassroots indie festival is to have a mini-version of that scene already going in your town so that you can tap into that crowd to come see the bands that you’re booking from out of town.
Daniel: If you could put together the perfect indie pop band from members of any bands of your choosing, how would it look? There has to be vocals, guitar, bass, and drums, but everything else is up to you.
Andrew: Wow, like an indie pop supergroup? I never considered that. First off, I think I would get Linton from the Aislers and Stuart Murdoch from Belle & Sebastian to sing together, which would be beautiful. I’d get Jim Reid from the 1984-era Mary Chain (or better yet, Joe Foster) and Gregory Webster playing guitar. Bass is tough, being a bass player in an indie pop band is a real journeyman’s job, but I’m going to go with Michael Hiscock from the Field Mice, he always had kind of nice indie-pop-meets-New-Order thing going on there. And then Stewart Anderson from Boyracer on drums; have you ever seen his Keith Moon impression? Full on. This would be an amazing band. Second choice: Still Flyin’.
Daniel: Last thing, I “overheard” the NYC popfest 2009 crew saying that San Francisco’s time was 1967 and their time is now. Any comment?
Andrew: Oh snap! It is impossible to get a decent burrito in New York, which pretty much negates any claim to relevance it has in the 21st century, I would think.
Lineup & Links (with locations outside of California)
Thursday, May 21 @ The Rickshaw Stop
Friday, May 22 @ Annie’s Social Club
Saturday, May 23 @ House of Shields (Afternoon Show)
Saturday, May 23 @ The Rickshaw Stop
Sunday, May 24 @ Dolores Park (Afternoon Picnic)
Sunday, May 24 @ Cafe Du Nord