Shop our Big Takeover store for back issues, t-shirts & CDs
Follow The Big Takeover
Portland-based singer/songwriter Mo Troper is back with his fifth solo album, MTV (Lame-O Records). This impressive 15-song collection clocks in at only 31 minutes, but Troper maximizes that time by deftly combining killer pop hooks, lo-fi production values, and pitch-shifted freak outs. The genre-blurring album opens with the GBV-esque palate cleanser “Between You And Me” before careening wildly from guitar pop gems like “I’m The King of Rock N Roll” and “I Fall Into Her Arms” to manic head trips like “Power Pop Chat” and “Final Lap.” Throughout these stylistic contortions, MTV delivers a sense of immediacy that connects the tracks into a satisfying, emotionally vulnerable whole.
I caught up with Mo Troper by email at the end of his east coast tour with Lame-O label mates, Golden Apples. He will be on tour with Young Guv this November.
Congrats on the great new album. MTV strikes me as an epic album title. What inspired you to use it for this collection?
Mo Troper: It’s an abbreviation for Mo Troper Five as this is my fifth official solo album. There were some other album titles in the running and we always called it Mo Troper V “internally,” but it was my manager who suggested we go with that title for real.
I hear a lot of ’90s influences in your music (everybody from Elliot Smith to Beck, Guided By Voices to Ween). Do you think your music/songwriting is partially grounded in certain 90s influences?
Mo Troper: I love all of those artists you mentioned. It’s funny because while I didn’t grow up with cable I was a really attentive radio listener as a kid and I think I absorbed a lot of alternative music from that era for that reason. In elementary school I would carpool with my friend Corey and his dad who in hindsight was maybe the most archetypal Gen X Guy in the world. He would put Dep in our hair before school sometimes.
We would listen to 101.1 KUFO which was the big FM alternative rock station in Portland for pretty much my entire childhood, so over the course of a single drive I could hear “Where It’s At” by Beck into “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” into “Buddy Holly,” and I was absorbing all of that well before I heard any of those bands’ actual records. And I think there was a part of me that just assumed it was one really cool, eclectic band.
And then I had foster parents in middle school who were into cool ’90s stuff like Material Issue, Smoking Popes, and Teenage Fanclub and also contemporary indie bands like Grandaddy and The Shins. So subconsciously I think all of this stuff yoked with my childhood love of The Beatles.
Who are some of your other major influences?
Mo Troper: “Shakespeare, Chopin, and McCartney” is the RIYL we’ve been using in press releases for years and it hasn’t let us down yet!
Mo Troper: The cassette approach was Tony Molina’s recommendation and he’s someone I’ve admired for years. His encouragement played a big part in my decision to make the record this way. I am always listening to his solo stuff, and that Ovens record he did in 2009, which is finally being reissued this year, I think, was a fucking massive influence on both Dilettante and MTV. My friend happened to be selling a couple of Portastudio 488 Mk. IIs, so I bought one and after a couple of false starts committed to making the record that way. I’d fiddled with tape a little bit before but had never ping-ponged or done live automation or any of that stuff until this record, so it made me a better and more competent engineer even if the final product ostensibly sounds “worse” than some of my other records.
And obviously I went crazy with varispeeding the master, which sounds a lot different on tape than it does on a DAW. I’ve seen some reviews mention all the “effects” I supposedly have on my vocals, but in most cases there are literally none. It’s an SM57 going straight into the Tascam using on-board preamps. It’s just that adjusting the speed of the tape changes the timbre of literally every instrument and makes it sound like the whole master is running through a tremolo, and not to sound like a cassette purist or anything, because god knows I’m not one, but I think people can’t really place that because they’re so accustomed to hearing digital effects.
The first single for MTV is a fuzzy slice of Beatles-y power pop called “I Fall Into Her Arms.” You said in a recent interview that you wrote that song in 10 minutes. Is that normal for your songwriting process?
Mo Troper: I wish it was normal but it rarely happens. I think the best songs I’ve written come out that way though. It’s so cliched but I think most songwriters feel similarly.
“I Fall Into Her Arms” starts a fantastic three song run on MTV, including “Across The USA” and “Play Dumb.” Do you think in terms of “albums” or “a series of singles” when you’re putting a new collection together?
Mo Troper: Yes, I definitely take sequencing really seriously. It’s like a fun little puzzle. I don’t care about aesthetic cohesion but I am a sucker for thematic cohesion. Excluding the bathtub song, the first part of MTV is about an eating disorder, and then the second part—which kicks off with “The Only Living Goy in New York” and ends with “Coke Zero“—is about me kind of losing it, and then the final part is just very weary I think, and sort of bad. It’s not like I was trying to make The Wall or something but I think the sequence was pretty obvious to me from the jump.
You just finished a tour with Golden Apples and you’ll be doing some east coast dates with Young Guv soon. Who are some other artists you’d like to tour with?
Mo Troper: Golden Apples are another Lame-O band and they’re terrific. I played solo for those shows and honestly I’d love to tour with them again with a band because it was so much fun. The Young Guv tour will rule too. I’m so stoked they asked me to do that. I’d love to tour with 2nd Grade or Tony Molina!
We were submitted for an Eels tour a while back, but I don’t think that’s gonna happen. I would love to tour with some elder statesmen like that, though! I think it would be a really cool and very different experience.
More in interviews