Pop Art, a pop-folk quintet from Granada Hills, is about as un-trendy as you can get. And according to its members, that suits them just fine.
"We're too wimpy for a scene," says vocalist/lyricist Dave Steinhart, 24. "Our music is not scene-ster music."
"If you look at scenes, it gives fans a way to dress and behave," adds his brother, guitarist/song-writer Jeff Steinhart, 26. "But you see the way we dress. . . . There's nothing to identify with. And in the long run, that's a major advantage because when a scene dies out, a lot of the bands go with it. I don't think that many bands that are really successful are part of a scene."
Still, he admits, Pop Art--Dave, Jeff and Rich Steinhart, bassist Tony Ortega and drummer Steve Weisburd--probably could have received more exposure in its nearly three years of existence if it had been part of some musical clique. On its own, of course, the band hasn't done too badly with its blend of acoustic sensibilities and pop affectations. The group's latest record, the 14-song "A Perfect Mental Picture" (on its own label, Stonegarden Records) hit No. 20 on Boston Rock magazine's December college radio playlist--an impressive achievement, considering that the band's music is not typical college radio material.
"It's pop folk," Dave Steinhart says. "Usually on college radio the folk you hear is like Phranc, something that is definitely bent or has an angle to it. (Our folk) is not weird. It's just good. College radio plays things that are bent or weird or aggressive."
Certainly no one would label Pop Art's music as weird or aggressive. If anything, the record is too tame at times. The band comes through stronger in person, where the melodies exhibit more punch and independence from the sometimes cloying vocals. And "A Perfect Mental Picture" definitely has its high points--particularly "One," a Top 40 pop tune if ever there was one. The band's next LP--which they're at work on now with producer Ethan James--is going to be meatier, Dave says.
"We just evolved that way. We were playing live and people were there and listening to it and it was intense, but it would be nice if they could just tap their feet and didn't have to think about every word."
Pop Art is about to depart on its first major tour outside California, a trip through the Southwest. Ironically, notes Jeff, leaving Los Angeles may actually improve the band's stature at home.
"Just because we're from L.A. doesn't mean that this is where we're going to have a strong base," he notes. "Look at the Long Ryders. They'd still be playing the Roxy on a Thursday night if they hadn't gone to England, where they really took off. That's why I want to travel, because we may find our pot at the end of the rainbow in New York or Georgia or Holland."
"You're a bigger deal when you travel," Dave adds. "In Texas, people already want to do articles and talk to us. We've been here for five years (in various bands) and nobody really cares. It's time for us to go. L.A.'s not a real great market for pop. It's big for heavy metal or whatever happens to be trendy at the time."
Even though it may be the right time, it's not easy for the band to tour. All the members of Pop Art either work or are in school. In addition, there is Stonegarden Records, the record label run by the group. While hardly on a par with other band-run labels such as Black Flag's SST, Stonegarden is slowly building a following and has released records by Waves of Grain, the Stingrays (from Santa Barbara) and Fields Laughing (from San Francisco).
And although it may sound as if the the Steinharts have carved out a solid niche in the music industry, that's not enough.
"You've got to keep one foot in real life," says Rich, a 20-year-old math student at UCLA. "I don't want to wait and realize in 10 years that the only thing I can do is be a checker in a grocery store during the day to support the band at night."
Adds Dave: "The music business is not real life and anybody who says it is doesn't know what he's talking about. Reality is the jobs we all have. Reality is my dad working 9 to 5."
"We have all the time in the world," Jeff says. "I know other bands that have given it up after a year or two. We don't have to worry about that. Some people see it as a sellout, working and all. But I couldn't be creative if I didn't have some money in the bank."