Synth-spiked pop with darker aesthetics
Born in Great Britain and now based in Los Angeles, Pop Noir is the musical creation of twin brothers Joe and Luke McGarry.
Formed in 2004, while the brothers attended Orange County High School of the Arts, Pop Noir played the hottest indie clubs in So-Cal, followed by touring Europe, including performances in Manchester, London, and Paris. Pop Noir has shared the stage with the Doves, Sebastien Tellier, The Wombats, The Pinker Tones, Fitz and The Tantrums, and others.
They recently released the music video for "White Jazz," a concoction of dreamlike visuals and opaque synth-infused tones, shot in Shibuya, Tokyo. Popdust sat down with the twins to discover more about their artistic muses.
How would you describe yourself?
Joe: Well, if we're describing the band, I'd say we're an Indie-electronic duo from Manchester, England, currently based in Los Angeles. We combine guitars with drum machines and synths to take indie rock out onto the dance floor.
And if I'm describing myself… hold on, let me check my Tinder bio.
What is the most trouble you've ever gotten into?
Luke: We're visual artists as well as musicians, and I get called up a lot to do posters for various concerts and music festivals, et cetera. I once got a cease-and-desist letter from the city of Santa Monica for the contents of a campaign I illustrated for Tenacious D. It might be the most trouble I've ever been in, but also one of my proudest accomplishments!
What's your favorite song to belt out in the car or the shower?
Joe: As twin brothers, we're always singing The Proclaimers' "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" wherever we go. All the time. It's up to you to decide whether that's true or not, but I think there's a law somewhere that states we have to do it.
Who is your favorite music artist?
Luke: Currently, we're really loving Young Fathers. And Joe's a big fan of Wild Beasts, although they just disbanded earlier this year. If we're talking "all time," though, that's a tough one. It would probably have to be New Order.
How did you get started in music? What's the backstory there?
Joe: We've always been interested in it since we were kids. Our dad played music, so growing up, we had plenty of guitars and keyboards lying around the house. We were in high school when we first started messing about with bands. Then, when we were 19, we'd just begun taking Pop Noir seriously and we got the opportunity to go play some shows in Manchester, London and Paris. That was it for us - addicted!
What musicians influenced you the most?
Luke: We went to high school in Orange County, California, and there was a local band around that time called Dance Disaster Movement. You wouldn't really think it to hear them, but they were a huge influence on us when we started. They were a good few years older, but they were a duo using synths and loop pedals in a way that we hadn't really seen before and it just blew us away. Nice guys, too. We wrote them an email and they told us exactly what gear they were using.
Joe: I don't know if we'd be a band today if they hadn't pointed us towards the Line6 DL4 stompbox!
How, if at all, do your musical influences shape and impact your music?
Joe: Influences are influences, aren't they? I mean, we're not actively trying to sound like anyone, but you take inspiration from all sorts of places. Whether you're conscious of it or not, the music you listen to — or certainly the music you listened to growing up — creeps in.
Your music is billed as synth-spiked indie-pop. How would you describe your sound?
Luke: That sounds good; we'll just use that, please!
What's the story behind your name, Pop Noir?
Luke: We've always been interested in a slightly darker aesthetic…not "goth," necessarily, but not the sunny, surfy vibe you'd typically expect from Southern California. We'd played a couple of shows, high school house parties, without a real name, and then one day it just clicked. Plus, we were spotty teenagers at the time, so all the photos looked better in black and white.
What inspired your new song "White Jazz?"
Joe: We're never really fans of bands detailing exactly what the songs are about; we prefer to leave it open to interpretation, to a certain extent. I think it's much more fun, as a listener, to try and figure out what the lyrics mean. And it always strikes me as silly when you're at a show and the singer goes "this song's about when my girlfriend left me," and the opening line of the song is "my girlfriend left me." We could have figured that out! "White Jazz" is the title of a James Ellroy novel, though. That's all we're going to say.
The music video for "White Jazz" evokes a surrealistic musical travelogue. Who came up with video's concept? Who directed it?
Luke: The song's lyrics are quite surreal, and Tokyo has always struck us as the most out-there, futuristic city in the world — quite a surreal place in itself — so we just thought it would be a great fit. We conceived, directed and shot the video ourselves, which has always our M.O. We had a brilliant time just wandering around with a camera, exploring the various neighborhoods.
What's it like working and performing with your twin? Do you finish each other's sentences and thoughts?
Joe: We're not quite on the finishing-each-other's-sentences wavelength, but having grown up together, especially with all the moving between England and the States we did as kids, we have the same frame of reference and mostly the same influences. So, there is a sort of shorthand we've developed when it comes to creating, which comes in handy. Plus, the beauty of working with a sibling is, you can have these huge blow-up arguments and then be best friends five minutes later. Although who knows, maybe it'll be an Oasis/Gallagher brothers situation and we'll end up never speaking to each other again!
You're also award-winning visual artists, pairing graphics with music for other artists. Does this involve a different creative approach than writing a song?
Luke: It's kind of a different approach, but not as dissimilar as you might think. We've always viewed music and visual art as going hand-in-hand. Both are effective forms of self-expression, and it's just the way our creativity has always manifested. They're two sides of the same coin, really.
What's next for Pop Noir? An album, an EP?
Joe: We're putting out a string of singles which will take us into next year, and then we'll be releasing an EP. Really looking forward to getting more tracks out into the world!
Will you be doing any touring?
Luke: We're in the process of lining up some dates. We've been quite selective about the shows we play, but we'll be doing an LA residency in January and, if everything goes according to plan, heading further afield in the new year.
Randy Radic is a Left Coast author and writer. Author of numerous true crime books written under the pen-name of John Lee Brook. Former music contributor at Huff Post.
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