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By Jef With One F
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In Dawn's lyrics, many fans see, and sometimes imagine, subtle messages to Conte. After the band released "Expiration Date," which she had written about a friend's break-up, mistaken interpretations of the song quickly arrived. "I was getting messages on my personal YouTube page: 'Hey, I hope everything's okay with Nataly, I know you guys are having some trouble right now,'" Conte remembers with a chuckle. "It's a little weird, but we did it to ourselves."
Pomplamoose's music frequently gets labeled "indie-pop," but Conte and Dawn studiously avoid clinging to any single genre. Their vehicle to YouTube fame was covering "Single Ladies" and Lady Gaga's "Telephone" — videos which now have more than six million and seven million views, respectively. But Pomplamoose doesn't cover a song in the typical sense. Rather, the band reimagines it, surrounding the original melody with different harmonies, rhythms, instruments, lyrics — and, usually, gags. In Pomplamoose's decidedly chilled-out "Single Ladies," Dawn sings over a bridge of complex minor-key chords: "Don't make me sing this part of the song / The lyrics are so bad / So we're going to skip ahead / To the 'Single Ladies' part instead." Pray that Beyoncé ever attains such candor.
• See the videos that made Pomplamoose famous.
Mainstream pop covers were really just a way for Pomplamoose to gain fans. Dawn and Conte's focus is on their originals, which usually receive far fewer views on YouTube. (The most popular has about two million.) These songs drift among musical styles, threading a deep appreciation for vintage pop and jazz through organ-driven rock, funky R&B and delicate folk. Nearly every one, whether a cover or original, employs sophisticated arrangements and technical proficiency that reveal the pair to be talented musicians. But Pomplamoose songs rarely make compelling emotional statements, and few are what you'd call thrilling. While a certain chemistry often carries the music, the overall pleasantness can also make it feel tired and one-dimensional.
Conte's parents both performed jazz; he grew up playing piano, later picked up the drums, and studied music production at Stanford. He's a musical Swiss army knife, the kind of person who can write an arrangement for string ensemble, lay down a densely syncopated drum track and perform complex passages on the piano with aplomb. Conte has long worked as a record producer for friends' bands, and after meeting Dawn at a gig in college, he offered to produce her debut album, too. But their initial stab at a musical relationship was a disaster. While Conte is enthusiastic and outspoken — and was used to working with others who, like him, would voice an opinion on something the minute they heard it — Dawn rarely offers an emphatic view one way or another. "Later on, I just learned that Nataly doesn't get excited — about anything," he says, only half-jokingly. But after figuring out how to communicate, the two discovered they had extremely complementary musical abilities.
This skillfulness partially fuels Conte's distaste for the practices of the recording industry. Unlike many up-and-coming musicians, he can do everything — writing, performance and production — himself, and at a professional level. He's good enough that he was asked to try producing a song on the latest album from Cee-Lo, who recently had a major hit with "Fuck You." But like a lot of talented independent artists, Conte balked when Cee-Lo's label began telling him how the song should sound. "I wrote this beautiful string arrangement — it was 32 tracks of strings," he recalls. "Beautiful chords! I loved it! But we sent it back to the label, and they were like, 'We don't like this note — can you change that chord?' And I was like, 'No, I can't change that chord. It's the whole point of this arrangement.' So they didn't use the track."
Dawn, by contrast, had no formal training. But her father is a preacher, so she grew up singing in church choirs, and playing piano and guitar, before discovering a love for the bass in her late teens. Now, she develops Pomplamoose's bass lines and guitar parts, and writes and sings all the lyrics. Her delicate voice seems to snatch complex melodies out of the air as if they were hanging there, already fully formed. She sometimes sings in French — a legacy of the eight years she lived in France and Belgium between her early childhood in Southern California and going to college in the Bay Area. (The band's name, in fact, is a phonetic spelling of the French word for grapefruit.)
Dawn also handles the editing of raw footage taken in the studio (or bedroom, as used to be the case) into Pomplamoose's signature videosongs. While music videos are often excruciatingly self-serious affairs, these are casual and laced with witty humor. In "Telephone," she spliced in footage of herself and Conte mocking the original video's extended dance scenes, and inserts a shot of Conte drinking from a water bottle with a label that reads "shameless product placement" — a commentary on Lady Gaga's product-filled original. In their cover of Earth Wind & Fire's "September," the usual split-screens are interrupted with clips of an older woman dancing in high heels and a black dress. A second later, Conte's face is shown stretched into a smile, next to a comic book-style speech bubble that reads, "That's My Grandma!"
There's a million things hilariously wrong with this article, but lets begin with the numbers: 9 cents on an iTunes download might be true for some of the skeeziest major labels, but it's certainly not the case with independent labels, many of which offer a 50/50 artist label split once the record recoups. Since their project is low-overhead, it'd recoup quickly. They'd likely make closer to 35 cents per download, certainly less than a self-released project, but 4 times more than the "9 cents" you claim.
There's certainly nothing "revolutionary" about unsigned artists using cover songs to gain attention--every bar band ever has had to play covers to win audiences for their original material. Remember how the Beatles got started?
There's nothing revolutionary about using advertising income to subsidize one's creative endeavors either, as musicians have been paying their bills this way as long as there has been music used in advertising.
And there's certainly nothing revolutionary about self-releasing one's work, as people have been doing that in various formats since the technology became available and affordable.
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