Popperz has swiftly made a name for itself in Houston’s punk rock scene. The trio has mainly made its presence known by playing shows, lots of them wherever they can get booked. But recently, the band took all the big riffs, all the catchy hooks, all the thoughtful lyrics and 100 percent of the pulsating energy from those live shows and set them to record.
The group’s debut album, Slippin’ Through the Cracks, released the first day of September. Many of its dozen songs have already been heard by Houston’s punk rock faithful in live settings but, until now, there’s been little recorded representation of Popperz’s winning brand of punk. The band purposely withheld its songs until an entire recorded collection was ready for release.
“We just really wanted to put out a bunch of good songs. I think we’re a punk rock band and we want to write good, well-written songs but we want to play shows and surprise people, just like, ‘Bam! We’re here,’” said guitarist/vocalist Cody Stowers.
“We wrote a bunch of songs and a lot of people were telling us to release one or two songs, but we just kept writing all these songs and we were like, no, we want to record a whole album,” Stowers continued. “We felt like a lot of people were getting rid of the idea of an album. We were like, we’ve got more than 12 songs, let’s just record them.”
“It feels like people these days will just release a couple of songs and they’ll just be doing that every couple of weeks and you look at their artist page and it’s just a bunch of EPs,” said Michael Allison, the band’s bassist. “We like the idea of an album. Let’s kind of change up the way that people play with the algorithm and let’s just throw an album out there and promote it forever until the next album.”
“Just check it out and tell your friends,” said Nick Little, the band’s drummer, its Travis Barker-like man of few words, according to Allison.
In the end, Popperz had one true objective with Slippin’ Through the Cracks, according to Allison.
“We wanna do some rocking-ass riffs, whether that’s on guitar or on bass,” he said. “We just want to put that wow factor on people’s faces. That’s what we’re trying to do with that first album.”
Mission accomplished. The album’s 12 songs move at a punk rock pace – 34 minutes in all - but each song stands on its own thanks to all the playing its members have done in their brief time together as a band. Stowers started writing songs with Little in 2019. They were hoping to play those songs live in 2020 when COVID brought the live music business to a standstill. Allison was the final addition to the band. They’ve been Popperz for just a little over a year now.
“That’s when it kind of actually became a band instead of a couple of guys jamming. Back in 2017, Cody used to be in a band called Fat Mannequin and they needed a bassist and I tried out but their band ended up breaking up. I knew Nick from just playing with him previously and then I moved off to New York, came back last year and I was looking for a band,” Allison explained. “I literally kind of just invited myself and we started playing.”
Popperz is one of the city’s most exciting punk acts for a few reasons, but most prominently for its songwriting. Standouts include the title track, the busy earworm “Unintentional” and “Misfits Song (I'm Not Gay Anymore),” which Allison said is “about gay conversion therapy camps. Well, our band name’s Popperz which comes from the drug that is prominent in the gay community. Sometimes you gotta just write a political song.”
Popperz grew up on punk, so its music rings true and comes from a genuine place.
“I’ve been going to shows since I was like six years-old. My mom, she’s a photographer, so she dragged me out to old 30footFALL shows in the ‘90s,” Stowers said.
Allison’s punk rock ethos has grown steadily in recent years. Always a fan of bands like Rancid, Dead Kennedys and The Bronx, his devotion to the genre deepened by his proximity to the Girths, a Houston punk rock royal family.
“Ryan Girth is actually my stepdad. I think he married my mom in 2016. So, I actually didn’t go to shows until about then. I was always listening to punk rock, I just never was going to shows,” he said. “Once Ryan and my mom got together, that’s when I started going out and I just started meeting all these people. Ryan kind of knows everyone. Just sticking close to him kind of got me to meet everyone as well. I’m very thankful for that.”
To be clear, Popperz has made a solid name for itself on its own virtues. Aside from its studied, skilled songwriting, Stowers sings with a strong, clear voice. Allison is nimble and expressive on bass. Little drives the action home behind the kit. The live show is how we got familiar with Popperz in the first place and it’s where the band shines. If you’ve seen them at The End, Black Magic Social Club, House of J or their “home venue” Trip Six, you’ve seen them in their natural setting and one the band worked hard to commit to record.
“It keeps that energy so it’s not going to be locked in that metronome tempo, it’s just gonna be as true as we can be to the live show,” Allison said of the album, which the band recorded with live drums - no click tracks - to emulate the live set. “That’s why we don’t have like 20 different background vocals or 17 tracks of guitar. It’s just kind of true to what we do live.”
“I like to just sit down with an acoustic guitar and I like to write a verse, a chorus, maybe a bridge and if I vibe with it I’ll write a few lyrics and I’ll usually send that to Nick and Michael and they either like it or they’re like, ‘Ah, this could use some work,’ but then we come together and kind of flesh it out,” Stowers said of the songwriting process. “I’ll usually start on an acoustic guitar and I like to write it and listen to it a bunch of times. Sometimes songs are written within a few weeks, sometimes they take a month or two, but we really try to sit down and craft the song.”
“If you listen to our music it kind of does a lot of moving around,” Allison said. “Trying to fit those things together is the fun part and also the challenge. It involves a little music theory but it usually comes together over time.”
“We definitely take our time crafting the songs," Stowers reiterated.
“We don’t want to make something that we don’t like. We make sure that everyone in the band enjoys playing the song,” Allison added.
“We would like to do a music video for every song just because we live in a content era. Not that we’re trying to game the system but it’s also just fun making content, I’m not gonna lie,” Allison said of the band’s next big project. “It looks fun to shoot a music video. It looks daunting but it looks fun. We’re in the process of trying to get something like that together.”
In more familiar terrain, they plan to play more shows, in Houston and out of town. They recently got good feedback from Austin audiences at Kick Butt Coffee and are looking for more venues to play outside the city. Back home, Allison said they’ll keep playing to get even better at what they do.
“I would like to say that Trip Six is definitely our home venue,’ Allison noted. “We’ve played so many shows there, we got our first show ever there, like spur of the moment. That’s honesty probably my favorite venue to play just because of the people there and the overall vibe. I like it more than any other venue.”
Popperz’s main thrust at this time is making sure listeners everywhere hear the album.
“The album is out and we’re pretty gung-ho on that,” Stowers said. “We put a lot of work into the album and I’m super proud of it. I listen to the album almost every day.”
“Yeah, it’s not wrong to listen to your own album if you’re proud of it, right?” asked Allison.
Slippin’ Through the Cracks by Popperz is available on Spotify, Apple Music, Bandcamp, YouTube and other streaming platforms.
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.