Houston Music

No Easy Answers With Children of Pop's 'What Does 69 Mean?'

Children of Pop's release party for new album What Does 69 Mean? tonight at Raven Tower — whose observation deck is temporarily closed because of permitting issues, by the way — might have been it for the band. Around last November, reflects COP auteur Chase DeMaster, he was frustrated enough that he was almost ready to throw his energies into his burgeoning label/DIY operation, known as #veryjazzed, or one of his other musical projects (of which he has several). Instead he finished, and sent out announcements like “Children of Pop is dead” in the press materials for 69. It was all a joke, DeMaster explains, that could have easily been taken seriously.

“I kind of did want to quit Children of Pop, or just not do it anymore, because it's hard, man,” he says. “I was kind of up against finishing this record, and then it was like, 'Man, if I want to put it out, it's going to take so much energy.' It's overwhelming, stress, a burden, and I don't want to do it half-assed.”

Both in his music and in conversation, DeMaster is a curious character whose frankness and sincerity can be disarming; his work has been acclaimed by the likes of Stereogum, which premiered 69's opening track, "Manic," back in March. Late in our conversation one morning last week at Natachee's, he pulls out his phone and orders a copy of the 1999 Fugazi documentary Instrument, insisting I need to see it. By the same token, the songs on What Does 69 Mean?, COP's second full-length release after 2013's Fiesta/Drift, couch heartfelt emotions in swirling acid-house rhythms; chipper '80s synth sounds; and the “Britney Spears melodies” DeMaster says he had in mind. Houston duo Wrestlers show up on “Don't Change For Love,” the simple piano ballad that closes the album with its most heart-on-sleeve track.

Much of 69 is also very Drake-esque (minus the rapping), which makes sense – “Manic” was in fact written for Drake, “right after I heard he was doing that ghostwriter shit,” DeMaster explains.

“I was like, 'Here's my in. I'm going to write a hit song just for Drake,'” he continues, adding that other songs on the record were intended for Beyoncé and Solange. “But then, I mean truth be told, I was just too busy to find out what his email was, and I just wanted to keep it because I liked it.”

The similarities between Children of Pop and the Toronto rapper/mogul don't end there, though.

“That kind of pop music, to me it's the emo of rap,” says DeMaster. “When I first started listening to Take Care, I was like, 'This is the Brand New of rap.' He's like going in about his crybaby feelings, but he's rapping. And he also makes himself sound cool. It's different.

“I don't know,” he continues. “I could care less about pop more than rock, or vice versa. I just like sounds. And I am intrigued by the organization of a brand, and the whole Drake aesthetic. Because he definitely has a thing, good and bad. Can't dance. He can sing, rap, and all of his branding is really cool. Like his hats and stuff. Like my hat.”

DeMaster, who was wearing a #veryjazzed cap when we spoke, says a conversation with Ryan Chavez, the longtime Houston musician and booking agent who helped book last December's Day For Night festival, helped him change his mind about finishing the album. Children of Pop – which live features DeMaster and his partner Gabriel Lopez, who essentially remixes each song as DeMaster is playing it – went on before Wrestlers and Com Truise, and had such a positive experience that DeMaster says it gave him the boost he needed to finish the new album.

“The festival, generally speaking, treated Children of Pop really well, which was super-cool,” he smiles. “It helped the brand. Whenever you're playing at 5 o'clock, the paradigm in people's mind about the product that they're getting is different.”

DeMaster estimates that, all told, What Does 69 Mean? took about two and a half years to complete. At least in part, it's an outgrowth of Children of Pop's appearance at one of Pegstar's benefit nights, which tasks local acts with playing a set of tunes by an act they admire. COP drew Madonna, which also led to 2014's Pre-Madonna EP, whose tracks include an earlier version of 69's "Jealous Lover."

“Having to produce all that Madonna music – not just listen to it, but produce it, so that we could use the computer [to] play it live, I mean, maybe it taught me a Madonna skill set or something, or my version of it or whatever,” DeMaster figures. “So I kind of digested that. [The new album] doesn't sound like Madonna, but the snares do sometimes. Or some of the phrasing, so there's that.”

DeMaster is not always a laptop musician – among his other projects, he's also a member of local indie-rockers Deep Cvts and Get a Life, his improvisational, Fugazi-like band with Shins bassist Yuuki Matthews. Get a Life had been going so well, says DeMaster (who also admires Pedro the Lion's David Bazan), that it was a big reason he had been thinking about folding up the Children of Pop tent. But producing and performing music as a self-contained unit has a strong allure, he admits.

“Power, man,” reasons DeMaster. “You can do things that the rich people can do. I mean, there's nothing cool about staring at the screen. I don't get a kick out of it. I kinda hate it, like that it's so a stagnant thing. I think my next goal in life is to play basketball more.”

While growing up in Humble, DeMaster says, he played in rock bands at local venues like the Fuel Cyber Cafe. He eventually graduated with honors with a degree in music theory from UH's Moores School of Music. The insurance-settlement check from his stolen laptop allowed him to buy an iMac, which he outfitted with a pair of speakers his dad had found at a garage sale a few years before that. He quickly came to appreciate what those tools could do for him as an artist – not just for the convenience of recording a song and immediately slapping it on the Internet (how COP's first single, 2011's “Charge,” came about), but aesthetically.

“There's a facade to it,” DeMaster explains. “It's not as deep. I don't know, it's like an analog sound is three-dimensional and sometimes electronic sounds are more two-dimensional. It's almost like a scrim or something. Really, like pop music is like that, but I try to make my music not so much, but I don't even know if I think of the difference.

“I'm a fan of sounds, man,” he says. “The more rare they are, the more beautiful. Or the more referential they are, the more powerful they can be.”

Children of Pop's release party for What Does 69 Mean? is 7 p.m. tonight at Raven Tower (310 North), with special guests Bang Bangz and Vas Deferens.
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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray