There was a great article in The Spectator Magazine a few months back about what it means to be a success today in music, (We debated the point in our birthday article, here) it’s thought provoking stuff if you have a look at it, link here, and I will borrow a line from it by “David Hepworth, about Ian Stewart – who helped found the Rolling Stones, and was then dumped by them for not looking the part. ‘He could never have been a rock star for the same simple reason that the rest of us aren’t rock stars. Because we can imagine not being one.”
Now Jen Razavi looks like a rock star (or punk star, to be more accurate). Here is a side fact before we progress: When we first started up just over a year ago (although both Benny and I had previously worked for other music magazines) by ourselves, we both wrote a short piece on a favourite band. My contribution (which could have been Queen, The Beatles, or Kiss) was The Bombpops, as I loved their infectious punk melodies and look. I had reviewed the album “Death in Venice Beach” for another magazine and I was hooked in. It was just a little introduction to us, putting something up as a test of the site, but that little article (a one-minute read, really) still gets over a thousand reads a month! The Bombpops were also special for me, as I was to have such a bad time in 2021 (losing my dear father, dealing with a nutcase, and so on) that their music really helped me through. For me, success was walking through all that rubbish and getting to the other side, but I began by asking Jen (who is currently touring some solo material in the UK and Europe) how she equates success in the music business today.
Picture by Ben Farren
Jen- We didn’t start The Bombpops to make money, that’s for sure. That hasn’t been a measurement of success for me when it comes to music. We have always just done it because we love playing in a band. I have a job that I love and that supports me going on tour. My job supports my music habit. That’s not to say that we don’t make money on tours and such, but it’s not a full-time job. Well, it FEELS like a full-time job, but it doesn’t pay like a full-time job. Success means doing things that bring me joy, I wanna be rich in life experiences.
As we noted, Bombpop’s music concerns biting lyrics and rhythmic melodic pop. Jen, as a solo artist, has put out one track, “Saw in Half” (produced by Will Yip). It is this stylish jazz age piece:
“It’s written in the stars and planets
Your center stage and I’m on call
It’s always been our power dynamic
You get it all” (lyrics, Jen Razavi)
So we wondered what the teenage Jen would have thought of the music she was making now as a solo artist. Would she have been impressed, or surprised?
Jen-I have spent the majority of my life listening to only punk. Of course, growing up I listened to classic rock because of my dad, or stuff like Ella Fitzgerald and Cat Stevens because of my mom. The only thing I picked up on my own at a really early age was Frank Sinatra. I was a huge Frank Sinatra fan when I was in Elementary School. My mom could not figure out why I wanted to do that; it wasn’t pushed on me, and no-one told me to do Sinatra. I’ve always just picked up on things I liked. Pop punk and punk came into my life shortly after Sinatra, and for most of my life, I leaned hard into it. I remember as a kid, maybe in the fourth grade, I identified songs I liked; I didn’t really know it was “The Offspring” or whatever. I remember someone at school explaining to me that the songs I liked on the radio (The Offspring, Green Day, Blink-182) was punk. Once I knew what it was, I told everyone, “I like punk!”. Then one day some other kid told me, “That’s not punk, that’s pop punk” and I was like, “whatever…okay, I like Pop Punk!” But yeah, that’s the genre that’s always been close to my heart. But I’ve always been drawn to other stuff too, if I like a song, I’m drawn to it. I don’t need a label for it. I think when I was a teenager and a young adult, I definitely needed that label. However, in the last decade or so, I’ve been heavily influenced by a lot of stuff outside of punk and pop punk. A lot of different stuff influenced my songs on “Death In Venice Beach.” It’s just that punk and pop punk is how I know how to write songs, and how I know how to play guitar, and it’s the band that I’m in, so that’s how it comes out.
Picture by Ben Farren
It is great to be able to do your own thing in life. One of my favourite bands, The Beatles, I wish somehow in 1970 they could have done their solo work, but returned every now and then to The Beatles and worked as a band unit. We asked whether Jen was looking for a different audience for her solo material, or if she was wanting to pull the Bombpops fans along with her and introduce them to wider music?
Jen- It’s probably a bit of both. I love playing in my band, and I love playing punk/pop punk. I will always do that. The Bombpops aren’t going anywhere. I’ll always want to play music with my band. For my new solo stuff, I welcome any fans of The Bombpops! But I realize for a lot of those fans, it might not be their cup of tea, it doesn’t sound like The Bombpops at all. So yeah, I’m definitely hoping to gain a new audience with this new stuff, in addition to bringing along my existing audience from The Bombpops. It’s possible to exist in more than one space with music, at the same time. I wanna write for The Bombpops and play shows with The Bombpops, but I also wanna write stuff that pushes me to change in different directions that aren’t possible with punk. That’s why I had to release this new stuff under my own name, and not try to do it with The Bombpops. Whatever weird stuff I wanna do next, I can just release it under my name.
Very few bands can do that. Queen could perhaps move from hard rock to dance to ragtime in one album, but they are an exception. Most bands have to cater to the expectations of their fans.
Jen- If you are going to go there, do it gradually. The fans of The Bombpops would not want to hear what I just released as Jen Razavi, I’m not gonna do that to them! But I can do that for myself, and still do The Bombpops. I was shedding a lot of things in my life, I’m in an intense season of change in my life right now. Some of which has been really challenging but I’m working through it. I’m looking at all things in my life through new lenses, music included. I think we all change every few years, these last few years have just been the most drastic ones for me in a long time. It’s a shift, it’s difficult but I’ve found so much peace and understanding through having to change. In regard to my audience, I definitely wanted to try to make my new music more accessible to different audiences. When I look at the insights on my social media, on The Bombpops or Spotify, on The Bombpops socials, etc, the demographic is something like 85% men ages 25-55. I wish more women and girls, and more younger people, listened to The Bombpops but they’re not. I don’t know why that is. I hope as a band we can tap into that audience more, and I hope my new music does as well. Nothing against men 25-55 who like our band though!
One of the things I loved about the Bombpops was their sense of humour. I loved the video for “Zero Remorse” with the Bond girl coming out of the sea, the book left by the victim, and so forth. I think that humour remains a bit with the whole girl sawn in half idea?
Jen- For me, music videos start with a morsel of an idea from the lyrics of the song, but it’s hard to make a music video a literal representation of a song. So I search for other concepts that can serve as metaphors for the lyrics in the song. The more you search, the more they start to present themselves to you and you just roll with it. I love the process. All three music videos from our “Death In Venice Beach” singles were directed by my good friend, Chris Graue. For my new single, “Saw In Half,” I wanted to use someone new that I hadn’t worked with before. It was directed by Ben Farren and co-produced by myself and Darren Vorel.
You are being sawn in half, which has a sort of funny aspect.
Jen- Yes, but I never saw it funny! Historically, the magic trick of sawing a girl in half is performed by a male magician sawing his lovely female assistant in half. The magician is perceived as a grand showman, he wows the audience with his sleight of hand. But the trick is actually made possible and performed by the assistant. The male magician receives all the credit and adoration of the female assistant’s work. However, it’s what she signed up for. She does it night after night, she shows up to be sawed in half and the lyric is a metaphor for being in a toxic relationship. Similar to the illusion of the trick, there is often excitement in these relationships, and we sometimes choose to stay in them. There is a lot I want to tie in there. I specifically wanted to go with a different team because I wanted the look of the video to be different. But I tied a few references to videos from The Bombpops, if you can find them.
Touching on old news to finish, the Bombpops were identified by so many (me included) as the founder duo of Jen and her co-founder Poli Van Dam, a connection that went back to school days. Then suddenly, Poli announced she was leaving after the release of “Death in Venice,” and that meant Jen must have had to make so many decisions. We wondered if Jen saw it coming?
Jen- I didn’t see it coming, but at the same time it makes total sense to me and the rest of the band why she didn’t want to continue, there’s a ton of reasons for her why this wasn’t conducive to how she wants to live her life. And in that same regard, there’s a bunch of reasons why, for me and the rest of the band, it was conducive to us, reasons why it makes sense for us to continue. She was ready to stop, and we weren’t, and there’s no wrong or right way that was chosen for any of us.
It is what it is.
Jen- I want to go back to your original question about defining success
. Success is living a life where doing what you want to do makes you happy and keeps you healthy and fulfilled. You should never feel like you’re doing something you don’t want to do, and you should never feel like you’re NOT doing something you DO want to do. It’s your life, make the choices that are best for you and respect those that others feel are best for them. There’s so much peace that comes along with that.
So Jen is in England at the moment, and then Europe. We finished with a bit of chat about preserving history, which (perhaps) we do better than Stateside. We will see some more from Jen as a solo artist, but The Bombpops are still very much alive, and there will be new material and tours ahead.
You can download her new single here
By Mark C. Chambers
A note from Lorraine to finish on!
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