Hop on Pop are back with their second full length release, this time covering all manner of styles and having the various contributors hopping on and off the record. We caught up with Todd Leiter-Weintraub, the man behind the music, to ask him about his latest brainchild!
Where did the name “Chicken on a bicycle” come from?
The original album title was going to be “MIXTAPE”. Because, that is kind of the original concept: this sort of one-band mix tape, genre-hopping and all that.
But then, there is this little piece — a “tchotsky”, my mom calls it — that my wife and I bought, because we thought it was funny. It’s an 8-inch-high chicken on a bicycle. It just seemed like 2 things that didn’t really make sense together. And, since I was putting together this record of songs that jumped from style to style, that didn’t really necessarily go together, it seemed to me to be similar kind of concept.
And, since there are, like a billion records already called “MIXTAPE”, we thought that it might make for a better, more-original album title.
This time round the band seemed much more like the original concept of members hoping on and hoping off, was this intentional?
Yes. And no. You see, Before I even began the recording, the (majority of) the other members of Hop On Pop kinda hopped OFF of the project. So, in some ways, it was forced upon me. However, I do think that in the long run it played out really well.
I mean I HAD been wanting to do an album like this for a while. It was sad to loose my friends and cohorts, but I was happy to work with some other really great musicians and friends.For instance, I was able to reconnect with an old friend who I had not seen since middle school, a really great musician named John Swamy. (You can find his music at www.happyashtray.com
.) Going up and recording with him was tons of fun.
And, of course, there were tons of other folks that hopped on, with whom I would most-likely not have had the chance to work before.
And, then… there was Dave Kling, the lone holdout from the original lineup. He’s an incredible drummer, and, as he demonstrated on Chicken… has many other musical talents as well.
Is it hard to put together an album where you are the only constant member?
Yes. Quite. I had some of the guys get a bit annoyed with me a couple of times as I struggled with the logistics and scheduling of the thing. I’m just grateful that they stuck around!
For future releases do you think you’ll try have a permanent line up or continue with the hopping set up?
I think that I am done with the permanent lineup thing. This is the way it is. There are just too many styles that I like to touch on for it to be practical to do each song well. Not that a shifting lineup is practical…
You’ve said about the album “Each song has been treated as its own entity” does that mean you see it as a compilation of songs rather than a continuous album?
Yeah. It’s pretty much a one-band mixtape. So, a compilation. Of course, I’ve had friends tell me that the no-concept thing is a concept in itself, making Chicken a concept album. So, whatever you want to call it!
Was the track Shelia of the Worms actually recorded live?
With “Sheila”, I just felt that the chorus worked best as a singalong. And, what better way to have a singalong than with a live audience? I like the energy. So yeah, we recorded it “live”, insomuch that I played and sang at the same time. But it was all done in the studio. The big crowd noises are an overdub. And I overdubbed the guitar solo that is credited to “The Good Doctor”.
I got a group of friends together to do the singalong in the studio, and we multitracked our singalong while listening to the playback in the studio. John (Happy Ashtray) is a wizard behind the board.
How do you think your music has evolved since Drawn by Ethan?
I think that I’ve become better in the studio. I know more of what it can do; of how it can be used as another instrument. The first recordings (in ProTools) really opened my eyes to the possibilities. Also, I think that my compositional skills are evolving. Even though I really don’t know what I’m doing, I have friends who do know, tell me things that imply that my compositions are getting more complex. But in reality, I just puke out the songs.
Was it hard to pick which songs made it onto the album?
You know, I’m not really aware of any conscious decision as to what songs to include. I just sort of happened organically. There were a couple of songs that I knew that I was excited to get into the studio with. But then, it just felt like the rest just sorta flowed. I think that this album had been in the back of my mind for so long, there wasn’t a whole lot of conscious thought as to which would be on there.
Although, there was one song that I did really want on the album, at first. It was a sort of punk/bluegrass song that I just couldn’t find the right people for. And, then I just sort of ran out of cash.
You’ve covered a lot of different musical styles so far, is there anything you’ve wanted to try but haven’t yet?
For the life of me, I have not been able to write a good, solid soul/r&b song. I listen to a lot of R&B, but every time that I try to write a song in that particular style, it just comes out kinda forced and not very good.And, maybe if I could get a good collaborator to actually transcribe the notes for me, I would attempt some sort of orchestral piece. I think that I may actually have it in me. I just don’t know how to read or write music. So, you know, in my head and all that.
Is there any music style you would never touch?
Rap. Again, I listen to some rap, and like a lot of it. But, I know better than to try it.
Do you think the next release will be as varied as this one?
Hard to say. We’ll have to see what kind of songs I have written for it. So far, I’m looking at a jazz song, something vaguely island-like, and a sort of Hank Williams meets 60’s pop song. And, that’s not including the bluegrass thing that I didn’t get around to this time. So, I’d say that I’m off to a good start.
In your first album you used your 2 year old son’s drawing for the front cover, 6 years on is he aware of the attention his artwork has achieved?
Not a clue. Has he gotten attention from it? Hell, I’m not even sure that I am aware of any attention that his artwork has received!
You’ve also been working with the Red Plastic Buddha, will you continue to be involved in their music?
I’m afraid not. Tim and I sort of went our own separate ways after that first RPB recording. Still friends, but not gonna work together again, I don’t think.
Now that album number 2 is out what do you plan on doing next?
Probably just record songs as singles, here and there, release them piecemeal as “A” and “B” sides. So, the next album that you asked about will probably just wind up being the collected As and Bs. Heck, single songs are all that most people are really buying these days anyway (if they “buy” them at all).
To find out more about Hop on Pop check out their website.