Potpourri of Pearls Discuss Beyonce, John Waters, Heaven’s Gate and Finding the Right Level of Freakiness
If Potpourri of Pearls get to be as big as Erasure or the Pet Shop Boys or one of the ’90s crossover dance acts they reference with their glowing ’80s-style synth-pop, they’ll do so on their own terms. In one press release, the Philadelphia trio refers to itself as a “highly educated band of gay homosexuals who were born on the Internet,” and in another, it cops to taking its name from a slang term for male seminal fluid. These are people that live outside of what you might call polite society, but they write songs catchy and heartfelt enough to appeal to tween girls, housewives, indie rock dudes and just about anyone else lucky enough to hear the stuff.
On Feb. 11, Potpourri of Pearls release their sophomore full-length, ‘We Went to Heaven,’ an album partially inspired by Heaven’s Gate, the religious cult whose members famously offed themselves en masse in 1997, just as the Hale-Bopp comet burned bright in the night sky, promising salvation via the alien space ship believed to be following close behind. In an email interview with Diffuser, Adam Chad Brody — the openly gay Jewish filmmaker and musician responsible for forming PoP — talked about why the tragedy has stuck with him for all these years. He also gave props to Beyonce, dished about how he and partner Sam Allingham (aka Sally) go about writing songs and explained the importance of achieving just the right level of freakiness.
There’s a wonderful timelessness about your music. It’s ’80s synth-pop meets weird ’90s crossover dance hits (‘What Is Love?’ etc.) meets bubblegum meets lots of other stuff. Was this sound there from the beginning?
Yes, that very blend has been our raison d’être since day one. Before Sally and I started working on PoP in 2011, we talked a lot about our shared love for ’70s and ’80s crossover dance music, as well as ’90s pop dance and R&B. But I think it’s the zeitgeist of the late-aughts and early teens that fuels us; contemporary Top 40 pop/R&B playing on the radio gives PoP the will to spread its wings.
You’ve got something of a risque name — at least for folks in the know — and in press releases, you refer to yourselves as “gay homosexuals.” Obviously, there’s a certain playful combativeness to what you do, but to what extent to you see yourself as outsiders? Do you want to freak out squares, in other words?
I don’t like to be too predictable, and freakiness can get b-o-r-i-n-g if it’s too rote or heavy-handed. That’s one of my biggest bugaboos, and I’m often guilty of it. John Water’s career has been an amazing example of shifting in and out of many permutations of freakiness, some of which squares eat right up (others not so much). I aspire to that sort of malleability.
At the same time, your music is heartfelt and serious — not novelty. Where does this mix come from?
That mix is the most important thing in the world for me to achieve creatively. It’s the emotional equivalent to a möbius strip that shifts from irony to complete earnesty, on and on, all at once.
Would you want mainstream success? Is there a successful pop artist you can point to whose career is something to aspire to?
Mainstream, yes. I want our music to make the mainstream world strange and to penetrate into the guts of an anonymous audience, not only play for a small audience of people who have all agreed to like the same thing. My dream is for our songs to be played in supermarkets and drugstores. Whenever ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’ comes on when I’m buying toothpaste, I feel like that’s the greatest victory in music history. The mainstream artist whose career I aspire to is Beyonce; not to her level of fame, but to her craft and dedication, to her ability to create, in addition to awesome music, a complex persona, a creative team, a stage show, billions of music videos: a culture!
How does the songwriting process work? Would you ever want to incorporate a third person in the writing?
Sally and I have a very nerdy and fun songwriting process. I write a song or a melodic fragment, and then Sally and I add additional bits and arrange it, normally in a cabin somewhere. He’s a real enforcer when it comes to our songs being poppy enough, which includes having real choruses and fleshed out chord progressions, stuff like that. Which I love. Before Sam and I started working together, I was writing nine minute songs with no big changes.
I would love to throw more people into our songwriting mix; I am a collaboration pig, working with people is the best.
What about the Hale-Bopp incident has stuck with you all these years? The ’90s weren’t the happy-go-lucky decade everyone remembers them as, were they?
The Heaven’s Gate suicides were so real; I’m in awe of the member’s ability to go all-in against the culture of their time. You are so right about the ’90s. I was shaped by cults, call-in sex shows, and a profound lack of Internet.
How does the new record differ from the first one? Was there anything you tried to do differently this time?
Our first album, ‘Why Does Coco Cry?’ grew out of jamming IRL with Sally on bass, me on an old RMI electrapiano and a drum machine. When it was time to record, we laid down those basic tracks and built up from there. ‘We Went to Heaven’ was more intentionally produced, more synthetic, but also more focused. We worked heavily with our friend/producer Calpin Hoffman-Williamson to shape the songs and we’ll have to do some serious backtracking when we play live this spring.
On a scale from 1 to 10, how psyched are you Hall & Oates are getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
10 & 10.
When you tell people you’re from West Philadelphia, do they immediately start rapping the ‘Fresh Prince’ theme?
Mostly the Swiss; that show was wildly popular there.