In the past couple months‚ I've previewed it at my record store work place‚ utilized it as the soundtrack for weekend road trips‚ cranked it at social gatherings and played it on runs while sweating off winter hibernation weight. Foreign Born's new album Person To Person is finally being released [on Secretly Canadian]‚ yet after countless listens‚ it's still hard for me to pinpoint all of the band's many influences and styles. With the average song on Person To Person clocking in at around four minutes‚ the tracks feel more full than the average radio hit but too concise to be considered an improvisational jam. It's like the native LA quartet took the tightest minute and a half of a sprawling jam session‚ spliced it with a traditional pop song‚ did it nine more times and recorded it all. It seems like such a simple formula‚ and yet it produced an album that not only possessed the instant familiarity of its catchy hooks‚ but also felt fresh to me after months of listening.
That freshness stems from the mingling of guitarist Lewis Pesacov's classical composition roots and the irresistibly spontaneous vocals of front man Matt Popieluch. Popieluch's lyrics flow with a sunny effortlessness that showcase the relaxed side of Foreign Born. But my conversations with Matt showed me just how much work it can be making laid back music‚ and that a band with many sounds needs a front man with many experiences.
After listening to the album and getting the chance to speak with Matt on two occasions‚ it's apparent that Foreign Born survives and thrives with one key trait: balance. Just as the group has found a successful balance between multiple styles‚ Matt has had to find a balance between bettering his musical career and staying sane. Apart from Foreign Born‚ he works a full time day job for the LA based non-profit TreePeople‚ he manages a friend's career‚ he helps out with his girlfriend's group Glasser‚ and he participates in Lewis's international side project Fool's Gold. He also writes solo stuff when his other five jobs aren't keeping him busy enough.
The first time I caught up with Matt‚ he was in between a music video shoot filled with local crip walkers and a Norwegian feast with a Norwegian friend. With a day planner full of such events‚ I counted myself lucky that he found time to talk with me. After a digital recorder incident‚ the audio to our first conversation was lost‚ and so‚ I figured‚ was my chance at the interview. But despite his non-stop schedule‚ Matt made the time to talk with me again in between West Coast dates opening for Grizzly Bear‚ a record release show with Glasser‚ and a well deserved evening off‚ watching his hometown Lakers win the NBA championship.
"I feel like an administrator‚" he told me in regards to his lifestyle. "I feel like I'm always dealing with logistics‚ and press stuff‚ rehearsals‚ loading and unloading and lifting and all the crap involved with music that's not creative." While media are quick to glorify the fun side of being a musician‚ the amount of discipline it takes to function as both a working class musician and a normal dude is often overlooked. But for Matt‚ working hard at what he loves seems to have become second nature. "Grunt work is all part of it‚ you know? I mean I don't have slaves. I'm my own slave." Matt admits that he's unsure if he'll be able to keep this pace up forever‚ but given his drive to succeed‚ I don't see him slowing down anytime soon. "I just have this insatiable appetite to make jams and help them be heard‚" he said. "It's really hard for me to say no to musical opportunities."
And there are always plenty of opportunities for him‚ as the members of Foreign Born are participants in a musical collective of artists East of Hollywood who are creating their own soundtrack for LA. "There's obviously billions of bands in LA‚ but the Echo Park/ Silver Lake area definitely has a nexus of musicians and bands that I feel are the heart and soul of what's going on here." From the "12-piece combo music" of Fool's Gold to John Webster Johns' sub-minute mixes of saxophones‚ synthesizers and guitars‚ to the "awesome Band of Gypsies three piece" The Entrance Band‚ Popieluch is proud and passionate about his entire scene of music that many folks outside of LA haven't yet discovered. "There are so many different offshoots of every offshoot‚ and we all play in each other's bands‚ it's really great. And it's really a crime that people don't know what's going on over here because it's super cool‚ and I think it's just getting better and better."
As Matt continued to describe the scene‚ he mentioned its challenges of trying to overcome local stereotypes. "LA gets frowned upon by the country in many ways‚ and many are deserved‚ but I think they're looking at Hollywood and places I never go to for a reason… I feel like people visit here and they don't know anyone‚ so they just don't know what to do. You've really got to know someone and know how to be in LA. Know how to chill." Apart from knowing how to chill‚ he definitely knows the right people to thrive in an area of the city that defies the stereotypes. "At this point I've become friends with a lot of the bookers here‚ so I try and book shows for my friends' bands if I can. It's just a really community oriented thing happening."
And at the heart of that community is Foreign Born‚ a band that Matt refers to less as his main project‚ and more as "the umbrella under which a lot of things happen." Despite the countless "offshoots‚" the band is able to keep progressing due to Matt's equally disciplined band mates. Bassist Ariel Rechtshaid has his own studio where he records with Foreign Born and helps his friends create music for cheap. But Ariel isn't just a workhorse in the recording process; he's also been reliable on the road‚ playing gigs with the band despite a broken ankle. "He's doing well‚ he's definitely pushing it‚" Matt said. "He's walking on it like everything is normal‚ which is probably a bad idea… I thought at the Grizzly Bear shows he might have to be in a chair or something."
And then there's Lewis‚ the composition guru who puts his music education at San Francisco State to good use by meticulously structuring Foreign Born songs so that every note has purpose. Matt and Lewis‚ the main songwriters of the group‚ met at San Francisco State where Matt took courses in music theory. Their differing backgrounds lead to a shared songwriting process that combines the unique talents of each musician. "Sometimes for the songs he'll come up with the complete structure and give it to me finished in that respect‚ and I'll put a melody over it and words." Matt explained. "Or you know‚ he'll have the song half done and I'll write the chorus or vice versa‚ or I'll have the song written completely… so it's mainly a combination of all of those things."
One of the major traits that set Foreign Born apart from the slew of indie-rock groups today is their international influence. As exemplified by Fool's Gold‚ Lewis has a vast knowledge for foreign music‚ studying for a year in Germany and frequently incorporating African sounds into the group's repertoire. Matt also spent several years living in Hong Kong where his father still lives‚ which indirectly lead to the use of a kin‚ a traditional Asian instrument‚ in the hook to album highlight "That Old Sun."
While their sound is very worldly‚ Foreign Born haven't scored a worldwide distribution deal just yet‚ but they have found unique fans all over the globe by using the internet to establish contact and personally mailing their music to listeners overseas. Matt had fond recollections of fans in Norway‚ Chile‚ and a particular fan named Rodrigo who lives on the Azores Islands off the coast of Portugal. "I sent him a whole package of my music and my friend's music‚ and then he dedicated a whole radio show to us… just dedicated to the music that was going on in my neighborhood." Foreign Born's personal approach to working hard‚ helping their scene mates‚ and taking time to create relationships with fans is assuring in that those who do discover the group will be a part of something special.