introduction by tom johnson
words by matthew seferian & alejandro skalany
Songwriting duos within one band often make for a fascinating balance – two sets of ideas streamlined, hopefully, into one refined and coherent set of songs – and few bands perform such a feat with as much gritty gusto as Houston trio Pope; most notably on their previous, brilliant, Fiction LP, released back in 2015 via Community Records.
Air-punching news, then, that today we’re very pleased to welcome back Matthew Seferian, Alejandro Skalany, and Atticus Lopez with the news that Pope will release their brand new album ‘True Talent Champion‘ at the beginning of November. More so, and to make such news even more celebratory, we’re extremely pleased to unveil not one, but two new tracks from the album today, one written by Matt and the other by Alejandro, as well as an sharing an in-depth discussion between the two chief songwriters which shines a light on many aspects of the band as a whole and the forthcoming new record.
Rugged, gnarly, bursting full of life, the two new tracks (streaming now right below) are indicative of the band’s prowess, suitably similar but also defined by the unique skills that both songwriters bring to the table. You can dig in to both tracks right now, and scroll a little further down to read the whole conversation.
Which leaves us with little else to say other than welcome back; we’re all ready and waiting.
Format: Alex and Matt sat down and talked about various topics relatded to the band and their new record. This is that conversation, unfiltered and in full.
Matt and Alex: Its been two years and six months since the release of “Fiction” and a lot of life has happened in that time. We graduated from college, entered the real world work force, stressed (still stressing) about the future, and many bands in the New Orleans DIY scene were born, lived, and died. What followed our graduation was the busiest year of touring we’d ever had. Our other band, Donovan Wolfington, was on the road nearly 6 months off and on, traveling all over the country including a European tour. In the off time there was a Pope tour with Young Jesus and a month long solo tour for Alex’s solo project, New Holland. When we were all finally home after all that touring, we were broke, in debt, not really having any idea what was going to happen next and when you’re like us, the self doubt starts to pile up heavy. Was music even a viable option for our lives? How were we going to continue this dream of being on the road so much and sustain ourselves at the same time? All the while, we had become much more independently minded, driven, and interested in continuing our own personal projects and creating our own lanes for our futures. We still had Pope in addition to our solo efforts, Matt Surfin’ and New Holland. Long story short, Donovan Wolfington stopped for a while and we decided that pursuing our other projects was a better plan for the moment.
As a result of all the touring, there was hardly a moment to sit down and write, let alone take the time to record an album during that time. It came together in a very scattered way because we’d record/write in the short periods of time we were home between tour legs. We would try our best to catch up and finish the follow up to “Fiction”, but when we finally had time to finish the album, it was hard to feel as excited as we should have about it because we had moved on and grown up from the songs before they had even seen the light of day. It becomes a game of “no these songs that haven’t even come out are so old, just wait until you hear what we are doing now its so much better” and its a cycle that goes on and on and on. However, after all of it, after experiencing some of the harsh realities of being a part of the music industry and really questioning whether pursuing this dream was even a possibility, whether it was even worth it, we realized that it really is all about the gratification you get from making music. The three of us in Pope stuck together like we have for the past 8 years, making music we love to play, that we love to share with you, and after pushing through all this mud, the album is finally coming out on Community Records, but just wait till you hear what we are working on now.
Matt and Alex: We both have pretty similar writing processes and its not something we talk about a lot, but the unspoken similarities make a lot of sense. Most of the songwriting for Pope happens independently and is then brought to the group to complete the final vision which usually happens with an unspoken seamlessness which stems from our deep understanding of each other. We all know who likes and doesn’t like what. Matt’s writing process is very stream of consciousness. “I’ll sit down to write a song, maybe. Key word “maybe”. I will sit down with my guitar and just play until an idea shows itself so that things come from a genuine, unique voice. My goal is to deliver the feeling I get when I listen to my favorite songs, through the filter of Matt. However, not every session is successful and an idea doesn’t always show up. Its important to have patience and trust yourself and your ability while not forcing things to happen. The pressure of people judging your music can be extremely negative and counter productive, but in the end we just make music because we love to make music.” Alex is similar, “My songwriting happens very much the same way. I play and I play and I play until an idea shows itself to me. Forcing things causes an attack on your confidence and traps you in boxes of self doubt. My vocal ideas come along with my guitar parts. I’m a big fan of following your vocal melodies in your guitar playing. Its an easy way to create more movement in your song, the range of the guitar also blends well with your voice, and it makes your guitar and voice parts more fun and more interesting.
As far as words go: I’m way into the sounds of words and creating movement through that. I’ll start the process of finding my lyrics with nonsense sounds to influence the kinds of words I’ll choose for a particular passage. It helps narrow the staggeringly huge english vocabulary. Jason Lytle (Grandaddy) is a master of this, in my opinion. I’m also not much of a reviser. My first draft is usually what gets recorded. Its hard for me to bring myself back to the mental place I was in when ideas first develop. Adding third verses is my personal hell when a song has sat half done for a long time. We both feel that there’s no better feeling than the first time you get an idea down that you are excited about and there’s a lot of joy in the search for it as well. The feeling doesn’t even happen for us when we record the song. Its all in the initial feeling of realizing your self worth and that sense of accomplishment. The rest is packaging and organizing that mess of initial feelings and emotions into something presentable that anyone could connect with.”
Matt and Alex: The process of writing and recording the songs that would become “True Talent Champion” took place over a long period of time where a lot of learning and development happened. The first set of songs we recorded were done in Michael Saladis’ (engineer) house, that he hasn’t lived in for over a year now. The next set of songs we recorded were done at a music studio space Mike started using as his personal recording studio. The next set of songs were done in that same studio after we renovated it with new sound treatment and flooring. In that two years Mike recorded and finished several albums for local bands and developed his own skills as a recording engineer. We wouldn’t have been able to do this without Mike Saladis. He is the unofficial fourth member of Pope. Its crazy to think that there are three versions of ourselves with different skill levels on one album, but we didn’t have much of a choice besides recording in the small gaps of time we could. By the end of it, we had about 18 songs recorded which we had to cut down for the album. In a way this album is transitional, but more like many living, breathing transitions in our lives captured onto tape. Some of the songs are 2 years old while some of the songs are only a couple months old.
Matt and Alex: The three of us have been playing together since we were ripe 16 years old (now 24) boys in Houston, TX. Atticus and Matt have been neighbors since they were like a year old. Our first band in high school (which will remain nameless but I’m sure you could find it if you’re a smarty pants) was a folky indie rock band in the vain of Delta Spirit, Dr. Dog, with a little Pavement thrown in. The songs were way too long and our lyrics were about cringe high school love, but at least we were doing it. We’d practice in Atticus’ older brother’s room when he was away at college, and eventually moved to Atticus’ grandmother’s garage because of some Atticus drama (first of many Atticus drama moments) and we just made it happen.
We’d throw shows in Alex’s backyard on a stage we built out of stolen shipping pallets before we even knew what DIY meant. We just wanted a platform to share our music and for our friends to share theirs. Eventually Matt moved to New Orleans to attend Loyola while Alex moved to Boston to attend Berklee. Alex wasn’t really enjoying Boston so he moved to New Orleans to play in bands with Matt. Eventually we convinced Atticus to move to New Orleans too and we all lived together. Naturally, a new band (Pope) started and here we are still. If it works, don’t change it. Some of best teenage dream checklist moments were playing at the Free Press Summer Festival in Houston, TX the same year Willie Nelson played and playing on the coveted Cactus Records stage.
Matt: David Caspian was written as a response to “Fiction”. In a lot of ways it was me trying to continue what I thought Pope was supposed to sound like according to what “Fiction” sounded like. This comes from the time period in which it was written where there was a lot of song delegating happening between Donovan Wolfington and Pope. In a way its a reimagining and development of what a song on “Fiction” might have sounded like. This time its longer, more thought out, and communicates the vision better.
Alex: Pope has always been where I’ve felt safest being more dramatic, bleak, and graphic with portraying my thoughts and emotions as imagery. It could be because I’m playing with the two people that know me better than anyone, or the more intense sound environment. I’m not really sure where the exact comfort lies, but True Talent Champion is a perfect example of that, as a lot of the songs on the new record are as well. Its a song about dreaming, its a song about navigating through your life with your head down ignoring problems and things that are important that you should be paying attention to (both positive and negative), its a song about making excuses, its a song about confidence, its a song about love, and its a song about just giving up and turning the lights off.
Atticus: Arthur Russell, The Cleaners from Venus, the db’s
Matt: Jen Cloher, SZA, Frank Ocean, Prince, Neil Young
Alex: The new Ariel Pink album, Roy Orbison, Andy Shauf, Yo La Tengo, The Cure, and Elliott Smith every gosh dang day. Listen to New Orleans bands: Fishplate, Maddy Kirgo, Julie Odell, Buncho, Treadles, Casual Burn, Sharks’ Teeth, Lawn.
‘True Talent Champion’ is released on LP/cassette on November 3rd, via Community Records
You can pre-order it here
($1 from the sale of every record will be donated to T.E.J.A.S. Harvey Fund)
(all dates w/ Young Jesus)
10/1 Athens, GA – TBA
10/2 Raleigh, NC – Slim’s
10/3 Washington, DC – 453 Florida
10/4 Baltimore, MD – Haebler Chapel
10/5 NYC – The Gate Way
10/6 Middletown, CT – Wesleyan University
10/7 Philadelphia, PA – TBA
10/8 Boston, MA – The Middle East
10/9 New Brunswick, NJ – House show
10/10 Colombus, OH – Middle Earth
10/11 Kalamazoo, MI – TBA
10/12 Chicago, IL – Quenchers
10/15 Yorkville, IL – The Law Office
10/16 Davenport, IA – Raccoon Motel
10/17 St, Louis, MI – Dugan
10/18 Nashville, TN – Drkmttr Collective
10/20 Austin, TX – TBA