by Donny Doane
It’s been a big year for Scott Peterson. Over the course of the last year, the primary songwriter/frontman for local hip shooters Popcycle has seen the birth of not only his daughter, Saida, but the delivery of a new album to boot. As if being a new father weren’t enough, Peterson still has a rock band he has to nurture and keep in line. And I still can’t decide which would require more baby-sitting.
Download an mp3 of Popcycle’s song Funny Looking World.
Last year on the night before Thanksgiving I saw Popcycle at the Turf Club, where
Peterson informed me of both upcoming deliveries. One year and lots of love later,
both are breathing the open air as Popcycle prepares to unveil their fourth LP,
Welcome to the World, to, umm ... the world. And as providence would have
it, the release party takes place on the exact same night, in the exact same bar
with (almost) the exact same headliner Ol’ Yeller. Sniff. Sniff. Do I smell
a new tradition being born?
anything’s possible. As far as the music goes, however, the tradition was
born decades ago. Gram Parsons may have sown the seed, but he was hardly around
long enough to see his redheaded stepchildren take their first bike ride. Rather,
the musicians of subsequent generations acted as midwives in rearing the brood
of the Grievous Angel, and by now have become the supreme executors of Burrito
Like many of their fellow bands of similar ilk (i.e. The Youngers, Spikedriver,
etc.) Popcycle records at Rich Mattson’s Flowerpot Studio. The choice is
apparent as the rates are reasonable, Mattson is easy to work with and the music
is the kind with which he has a particularly loving touch. But where some local
country-tinged rock acts are prone toward self-indulgent jamming, Popcycle zeroes
in on the song. And it’s the song at which Peterson excels. His gift for
easy storytelling and sugar pie melodies allow him to offer amusing, heartfelt
vignettes, and his knack for wordplay plucks and proffers chestnuts both general
If 2002’s Songs in the Key of D Minus was more of a rollicking ride,
Welcome assumes a more sobering stance and finds Peterson’s song
craft stronger than ever. His studies of real people in the real world are dead
on with playfully truthful lyrics. While Songs’ relationships often
exhibited a rocky transience, those in Welcome seem to intimate more security,
which is perhaps due to an increase in responsibility.
Testifying to this is “All Right”, where everything sounds as fine
as frog’s hair, and Scott discovers, not surprisingly, that “it’s
funny what a big difference little things make.”
Shit. If I were to insinuate we might have a new bard on our hands, it’d
probably be met with the scoff of tightlipped ears. But like Westerberg, Peterson
has found that preciously elusive precinct between the proletariat and the ultra-literate.
And like jolly old St. Paul, Peterson’s voice isn’t that of a preening
superstar, but that of someone we can trust. Even Dylan (I know, I’m going
to hell) can’t be credited with the utter lack of condescension with which
While it’s Peterson’s hands that grip the bars, the roomy banana-seat
comfortably accommodates bassist Bryan “Rosey” Rosenau, drummer/vocalist
Mike Kittel and guitarist Jeff Johnson as their added weight creates the steady
Fortunately, I live above a sleepy neighborhood bar, which offers the ideal setting
for an interview. And while some interviews can be like pulling teeth, this was
a typical boys’ night out united by cocktails and a common bond. For a good
two hours, we shared our most intimate hopes and dreams and discussed topics ranging
from music to “Happy Days” to the nightmare of naming a band.
One of the album’s more rocking tracks, “Led Star,” gets things
going with a sound that’s undeniably suggestive of that one band from Memphis
who were never huge during their ’70s heyday, but went on to enjoy a wider
fan base in later years, especially among musicians.
think it’s one of those Memphis soul riffs myself,” offers Johnson.
“Actually,” begins Rosenau, “when [Scott] first brought it out,
it sounded even more so like—”
“That band,” I interrupt.
“—I’ll say it—Big Star,” he finishes.
“I basically took one note out of the progression that made it sound not
exactly like that,” explains Peterson. “I mean I loved playing it,
but it totally bugged me because it was a cool riff, but it was an already written
riff. Obviously it sort of admits to the fact that that’s what it’s
based on or influenced by, but I don’t think of it so much as a rip-off.”
“Well, it’s also really different than anything else we’ve ever
done being all bombastic and out there,” joins Kittel.
Kittel’s dynamic drumming never quite hits a full-on groove on the track.
Instead, he keeps the tension wired tight with cool, odd-time syncopations that
constantly trick the listener into thinking he might bust out at any time, especially
during Johnson’s screaming guitar solo. But Kittel holds steady allowing
Johnson’s ax to act as the primary propellent while Rosey’s bass sticks
in the pocket like fingers looking for something nice with which to play. Tee-hee.
“We don’t really have any riff-oriented songs,” elaborates Johnson.
“All of our songs are melody based and that’s it right there. This
is a riff song for a change.”
The album’s title-track is Peterson’s unmistakable lyrical greeting
to his new daughter. Special guest Jake Wisti’s violin lends elegant accompaniment
to Peterson’s Wurlitzer to create the poignant, slightly plaintive tone.
Maybe I’m just a softy, but if this tune doesn’t elicit a saline sniffle
and moist eyes, you’re late for your date at the morgue. Due to its immense
emotional appeal, I’m not only declaring it the gem of the record, but also
casting my nomination for best song in some fallacious local music poll.
Johnson brought up a question regarding the line, “Never punch a gift horse
in the mouth,” which everyone seemed to be wondering about.
“I was trying to finish the song when Saida was just weeks old and we’d
have to rock her to sleep,” explains Peterson. “So that was a great
time for me to sit in the rocking chair and think about lyrics, especially that
song, which is pretty much about her. I was afraid it was a little too sweet and
just wanted to put some humor into it or throw it off a bit. And Jake, who played
violin and really made the song as good as it is told me afterward that he thought
it was a really pretty song but didn’t know what it was about until somebody
told him I had a new daughter. And I really like that he said that, so it doesn’t
hit you in the face that it’s about a little baby.”
“Well there’s nothing excessive or cloying about it,” I say.
“I think it massages all the right spots. Sure it’s about Saida, but
it hits the big picture as well.’
“They’re just good words to live by,” adds Kittel. “I
think Scott does that a lot where he takes either catch-phrases or cliches and
turns them on their ears without ever going there. There’s always a twist
Like its predecessor, Welcome is an extremely solid listen throughout,
devoid of any filler. It’s one of few records I’ve received recently
that doesn’t have me diving for the forward button. If anything, I’m
going back to listen to something over again. So instead of wasting your hard
earned cash at the Fall of America (something the last election contributed to
generously) do your holiday shopping at the Turf Club tonight. What could be easier
and more hassle-free than buying a copy of Popcycle’s new one for every
music lover you know? You’ll probably even have enough money left over for
that last beer you don’t need before driving home. ||
Popcycle plays the CD release show for Welcome to the World on Wed. Nov.
24 at the Turf Club with openers the Hillybilly Voodoo Dolls and headliners
Ol’ Yeller. 9 p.m. 21+. $5. The Corner of University and Snelling Ave.,
St. Paul. 651-647-0486.
Download an mp3 of Popcycle’s song Funny Looking World.
Find out more about Popcycle on their official