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Synth-pop Duo Pomplamoose Playing Stanford

In Music
Nataly Dawn and Jack Conte of Pomplamoose bring their synthy, indie-pop sounds to Stanford this weekend.

Nataly Dawn and Jack Conte of Pomplamoose bring their synthy, indie-pop sounds to Stanford this weekend.

Pomplamoose owe a great debt to Nymphomaniac director Lars von Trier, whose revolutionary mid-’90s filmmaking movement, Dogme 95—which called upon filmmakers to adhere to strict rules and limitations—inspired Jack Conte, one half of the indie-pop duo, to make music videos bound by his own rigid dogma.

When making his “videosongs,” as Conte called them, there were two rules: No lip-synching, and every instrument that’s played has to be shown at some point. He started by doing videosongs for his eponymous solo project, but it eventually found its way into Pomplamoose, a side project he founded in 2008 with his girlfriend, Nataly Dawn, and that’s when they went viral.

The pajama-wearing bedroom-studio atmosphere of the videos is ostensibly casual, but the quick cuts and multiple-frames-within-the-frame editing make for an energetic and engrossing viewing experience, while also underscoring the many hats both Conte and Dawn wear (in their cover of “Come Together” by the Beatles, Conte works two keyboards and a sequencer, and Dawn sings while triggering samples with one hand and playing a keyboard with the other).

The popularity of these videos and a knack for analytics eventually transformed Pomplamoose from a bedroom project into a full-time band. “We weren’t playing shows. We weren’t touring,” Conte says. “We built an audience almost entirely through those videos. It was supposed to be just for fun, then it grew into making a living.”

Originally Pomplamoose were posting all originals to their YouTube channel. However, they soon realized that videos of cover tunes were pulling in more views. In a savvy marketing move, the duo decided to record more covers, figuring that the traffic would ultimately funnel more people to their original songs. Their jazzy, lo-fi, indie-pop renditions of huge hits quickly generated views into the millions.

“Lady Gaga has a marketing budget of millions of dollars,” Conte observes. “Pomplamoose’s marketing budget is zero dollars. We can kind of optimize and mooch off of other brands’ traffic. So we started titling our videos to match other popular videos on YouTube.”

This isn’t to suggest that Pomplamoose doesn’t enjoy doing covers. It’s actually a great deal of fun for them, and with Conte’s background in jazz, a genre where covers are celebrated, it was quite natural. All of their covers feature highly innovative re-arrangements of the source material. In some cases, if it weren’t for the lyrics or the retainment of a melody, the songs are nearly unrecognizable from the original version.

“We find one thing that we like about a song, whether it’s a melody or a lyric or a harmonic progression, and we ditch everything else about the song, and we put our own stuff in,” Conte says.

The act of dissecting and reassembling songs into something new has generated polarizing opinions of Pomplamoose on YouTube. But Conte says he’s comfortable with the different opinions, understanding that some people are upset by seeing something they love and are familiar altered so dramatically.

“When we covered James Brown’s ‘I Feel Good,’ some people said, ‘James Brown is turning in his grave. This is the opposite of funk,’” Conte recalls. “Of course, our intention was not to make a funk song.”

While they have their detractors, they also have plenty of fans—many of whom show up at their live performances.

The group continues to write and record both originals and covers, and are working hard to keep creating innovative videos. Recently Pomplamoose released a batch of single-shot videos that feature images projected onto various three-dimensional foam and cardboard-cutout surfaces to create surreal miniature worlds. But they’ve already stopped making those, for fear of being redundant, and have moved on to new ideas.

“For us to stand out and to continue to be rock & roll, we have to do something that’s worthy of somebody’s focus,” Conte says. “That means challenging the status quo and coming up with something that nobody’s ever seen or thought of before.”

Pomplamoose, the live band, is quite different than Pomplamoose the YouTube sensation. The group has worked on creating an experience that’s fun and takes advantage of all the unique aspects that make their live shows so much different than their videos.

“We put on strobe lights and we get people shaking and looking weird and acting crazy, sweating and we crowd surf,” Conte says. “It’s a much more visceral, emotional experience than our videos. A lot of the intricacy of arrangement and detail is replaced by force and excitement and getting your ass shaking and grooving and just general craziness.”

 Pomplamoose play Bing Concert Hall at Stanford University on Nov. 1. More info.

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