Gimpleg had the pleasure of speaking with The Pomp’s Alex Stern ahead of their upcoming release “Bottom of The Pomps” on Bad Time Records. Together they discussed their name, the ska scene, favorite food, and so much more!
1. Hello, It’s a pleasure to be here with you on Music Shelf. How are you all doing today?
Hi Mustard- It’s just me, Alex, and I’m doing quite well.
2. Where did the name ‘The Pomps’ come from?
Every band names themselves out of impending necessity. We had our first show coming up, and I was listening to Toots’ “Pomps and Pride”. Also, my hair often fashions itself into a quasi-Pompadour. Luckily, it’s a pretty good name!
3. You’ve been in the ska scene for nearly 30 years now, although the Pomps have only been around for a dozen years. How did the ska scene change from when you first started playing ska music to when The Pomps first formed, and how has it changed between when the Pomps formed and today?
Well, I’m not quite THAT old. But, I did start going to shows when I was a literal child. All of those early shows and moments were viewed through a very innocent lens so it is hard to compare directly. But, I can say that being 15 in the late 90’s was magical. I saw pretty much every band at an afternoon matinee. It worked for everybody; My parents got me out of the house, but didn’t have to worry about me in the middle of the night. I got to pretend I was cool.
I think the most interesting era was the 2002-2005ish time when there were very few bands carrying the torch. Sometimes I get lumped in with people who got their shot in the 90’s, but,I got into playing in real touring bands at pretty much the worst time. A byproduct of that is that the friendships I formed are seemingly lifelong.
The Pomps formed at a time that was still pretty bad but had a glimmer of hope. Obviously, the biggest difference between now and our early days is that an entirely new scene formed around US ska-punk. (Actually several scenes, as the Spanish-speaking scene around Southern California deserves a lot of credit for bringing that genre back.).
4. When you are in more than one band that play within the same genre of music, and you begin writing a song, how do you know which band you are writing the song for?
I have a busy family and music life, so, writing has to be pretty regimented. As such, I try to write with a specific band in mind. But, not everything works for every project, and I’ll shuffle stuff around as I see fit.
5. What is your songwriting process like?
Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Everything all at once in a manic purge that I can’t remember. If I can’t squeeze anything out, I’ll just write a few chord progressions and shred guitar solos over it until words appear. But, for me, songwriting and demoing is absolutely a drug. If I have a day by myself and I start in the morning, I will often look at the clock for the first time and realize I need to make dinner.
6. What bands most influence you when writing music?
It’s hard to explain. I don’t have influences in the traditional sense. I really just write and pick out influences after the fact. Everybody likes to think of themselves as a sponge for all types of music, but, I really do think I’m getting there. I just don’t really hate anything anymore. I even like music that is objectively bad, just because it’s music. Maybe this a good chance to just say “The Shods”. The Shods are a band from Lowell, Mass that never got their due, but, kinda ALMOST did. Their story isn’t mine to tell, but, listen to “Eddie Cross” and you can hear their expertise
7. What bands are you most likely to listen to that are outside of your influences and are not ska music?
So, ska is our basis, but, it is not our influence. As such, most of our listening is out of the genre. I think we’re all pretty big British music guys: Blur, Kinks, The La’s, Stone Roses, Depeche Mode, Pulp, Oasis and on and on. Casey understands Hip Hop, Afrobeat, Dancehall and electronica in a way that I don’t, but, I do think he’s helped me learn more. I think we’re just trying to learn as much as possible in the short time that we have, but, also not sweating the fact that we’ll never get to it all.
8. What was the first album you remember buying?
I want to say it’s Dr. Dre “The Chronic”, but, I bet my memory is tricking me, as my parents letting me buy it doesn’t really scan as a possibility. It was probably Def Leppard “Hysteria” or GNR “Use Your Illusion” (I know those are years apart, but, there was a time when MTV played back catalogue). It COULD be Vanilla Ice? If there is ever a Stern biography, just say it was Vanilla Ice. I do remember buying a cassette of “Never Mind the Bollocks” on my 8th grade trip to Washington, DC and being changed by it.
9. I know you’ve answered this before, but your first album was Top of the Pomps. This new album is Bottom of the Pomps. Is this a companion album? What made you choose this as the title of your album?
I don’t think they are companions, in the sense that “Top of the Pomps” is lyrically a journey of little observational vignettes. Whereas “Bottom of The Pomps” is really a cohesive celebration of getting old and being totally fine with it. The band that made “TOTP” was ambitious and kinda wanted to make people laugh; The band that made “BOTP” is content and would ideally spark joyful sobbing. But, “BOTP” is still an important title as it is about finding comfort in long odds.
10. I love the artwork for the new album. Who did the album artwork for the new album and what other ideas did you have?
It is my friend, Marc Beaudette. The drummer of Flying Vipers, Destroy Babylon, and also The Pomps for about a year. Definitely honorary Pomp. He had one other idea that I originally chose, but, the purple became irresistible. We may use that other design for a future record, so, I won’t describe it now!
11. You’ve existed as a band for over a decade now. What made you decide to join Bad Time Records? What is the biggest advantage of a record label?
Tim from Catbite did the digital equivalent of locking us in a room together and not letting us out. But, we both wanted to do it, so, it was a pretty easy sell. The biggest advantage is that there is finally some planning and respect for the finished product. I’ve always been good (or good enough) at coordinating all of the steps (writing, recording, mixing, mastering, artwork) and paying people on time, but, the long road of a release schedule, especially with the enticement of just getting on stage with Big D and getting to shred really fun songs on guitar every night, was always hard for me to travel. Mike has cleared that road for us, and it has been the best thing to ever happen to this band.
12. What is your favorite food to eat while on tour?
I’ve been on a Tofu Bahn Mi kick lately, but, the best tour meal I’ve ever had was at Callaloo Trinidadian Kitchen in Lancaster, PA. I’ll think about those Doubles (a fried bread with curry topping) for the rest of my life. It was one of those meals that everybody who went left as better friends than when they walked in. The power of food!
13. When was the last time you spilled mustard on your outfit and it left a stain? Did you consider that an improvement to the aesthetic of the outfit?
No mustard misadventures, But, in Jena, Germany, I got curry ketchup on my hands and it smelled for about a week. It was a downgrade all around, though I am a fan of the condiment.
14. What is one question that you have never been asked in an interview that you wish someone would ask? How would you answer that question?
I can’t think of the specific question and answer. But, my areas of expertise besides ska are basically Riding bikes, Boston, and riding bikes in Boston? So, I guess I would use the opportunity to say: If you’re driving, and you end up behind somebody on a bicycle, please don’t scare them? They’re in front of you as a function of insufficient city planning, and they have a family too.
15. When does your album come out and how can we get our own copy? Is there anything else that you’d like to tell us about?
It will be released in full on February 17, 2023 and can be purchased at Bad Time Records website! In terms of other stuff, anybody should just feel free to keep in touch with us via DM or email thepompsband at gmail dot com. We’ve always had a small community of people who knew about us and kept in contact, and I’d like to keep that vibe.
16. Where can readers listen to The Pomps?
thepomps.bandcamp.com, all major streaming platforms, and every 15 minutes on most radio stations (the last one is aspirational!).