Rock and roll stars can be awfully crass… And at times they carry a certain arrogance.. sometimes perceived.. sometimes invented and at times genuine. As the L.A. music scene evolved from the kaleidoscope sounds of the late 60’s there was the burgeoning echo reminiscent of British pop along with the social consciousness of Los Angeles. In the mid 70’s radio was blaring the sun-kissed “Soft Hits”. In spite of its popularity, it soon was preempted by a strident punk rock scene. The So. CA. suburbs of Orange County and the San Fernando Valley became the fertile grounds for upstart bands like The Zeros, The Weirdos, Agent Orange, The Dickies, the Circle Jerks, X and The Germs (and yes, I’m missing a slew of punk bands) who were appealing to anyone who wanted to aberrate from the norm and yearned of being included by the un-included.…
The line between work and leisure is easily blurred here in Los Angeles. The only criteria to be part of the punk scene was you had to be anti-social and unable to play instruments with any form of semblance. The great unwashed and un-laid males made up the L.A. punk landscape. Their cacophonous sounds came with a noisy daft clamber written by a bunch of hooligans with slovenly attire and poor hygiene; believing that their political agenda needed to be heard.
As a result of all this insanity there was a music equilibrium established of sorts here in Los Angeles. The equipoise of the all this was a more aggressive form of standard pop music that was based on catchy, melodic hooks with understandable lyrics. Its etymology was simply referred to as “Power Pop”. The music’s expression of the ‘60s saw many of our nation’s teenagers heading back to their garages emulating The Beatles by jangly guitars, psyche chord progressions and sharing lyrics about the California experience… Power Pop knocked the world sideways and Los Angeles was once again was the musical epicenter!
Defining power pop is the ultimate argument-starter. Explaining the genre without inciting fisticuffs and eternal grudges is a mountainous socio-cultural accomplishment. It was fun, inclusive and if done right the flame underneath transcended human desire. Power Pop was not gender restrictive; even girl bands were welcomed… The Bangles and The Go Go’s were drawing fans and having hit records as well as their male counter parts. The well-written hook is the world’s most underrated aphrodisiac, right? If it’s to be broken down by its analytics—it was oh so very cool. The makers and lovers tended to dress well with their skinny ties and bouffant hair styles; while the fan base featured real live attractive women! The music was sexy and more times than not the tunes were all about trials and tribulations of relationships.
Power Pop took off in L.A. right from the start… Probably its first band were The Nerves… After some missteps, bands like The Knack, 20/20, The Plimsouls and The Quick packed out every club in town.. The Troubadour, The Whisky . There was even a club in L.A.’s Chinatown, Madam Wongs (Owner,Ester Wong claimed she escaped from Communist China with just the clothes on her back).. then there was the almost forgotten, Starwood (owned my L.A. organized crime figure, Eddie Nash).. found this audience so appealing that a weekend wouldn’t be complete without one of these bands performing…
Local band, The Quick (produced by the late Kim Fowley) were somewhere in between British glam and art rock …The Sparks meets.. Marc Bolan meets.. Roxy Music.. but after one album they disbanded and their leader singer/guitarist Danny Wilde and bassist, Ian Ainsworth joined with Duluth, Minnesota transplant, Phil Solem. Together they started Power Pop’s quintessential dream team.. Great Buildings!
In 1981 Columbia Records wanted in on this budding “jangly” sound from Los Angeles; and had high hopes for Great Buildings premiere album, “Apart From The Crowd” .. It was like a shark feeding frenzy… (The Knack were signed by Capitol Records for a ridiculous amount of money and refused to do any publicity..thinking they were the next Beatles!). Great Buildings’debut received brilliant reviews.. Rodney Bingenheimer of “The World Famous KROQ” supported them on his weekly radio show… but if you traveled east of San Bernardino it was like “crickets”.The album’s lead track (and single) “Hold On To Something”, should have made these guys super-stars. It twas’ catchy as sin and the arrangement is flawless. Great Buildings got “dropped” and released another album but broke up shortly thereafter.
Solem would remain pals with fellow band mate, Danny Wilde. Over the years, Phil & Danny would get together and write songs. But in 1990, Phil and Danny recorded some demos in Danny’s make shift studio in his garage. The demo was released ‘as is’.. and The Rembrandts were born!
The album landed in the Billboard Hot 100, thanks in part to the Top 20 hit “Just The Way It Is,Baby” and their follow-up single “Someone”, with Phil on lead vocals, also ended up on the Billboard Top 100. In 1992, The Rembrandts received more critical acclaim for their follow up album, Untitled. In 1995 they became most famous for a song that was never meant to be on an album. The duo had recorded the 42 second theme “I’ll Be There For You” for the television show “Friends”. Some D.J. from a small market did a “loop- edit” and it went through the roof with phone requests. It was never intended to be a full-length song but the label insisted the duo record a complete version and include it at the end of the already finished album, “LP”. The song topped the pop charts for 11 straight weeks!
To me The Rembrandts seem like happy… positive dudes whose lyrics are filled with irony… and whose music always seems fresh. They offer fans an escape from misery. This is the power of great songs! Rock is well known for lyrics that catalog angst, anger, frustration, and loneliness. The Rembrandts are a bit different. Their albums are a series of vignettes about the tenor and frustrations (mostly romantic) within the rife of anywhere U.S.A.. They’re mostly known for the catchy songs that would define their career. Rather than dwelling on oppressive emotions, The Rembrandts’ new album, “Via Satellite” continues to expand their version of the “California Dream” with its celestial metaphors.
In a previous interview Danny Wilde sets the record straight, “When I first heard that it’s our first effort in 18 years, I was like, ‘That can’t be right,’ because we’ve been working ever since.” Wilde adds that Via Satellite “has been done in about five different configurations” over the years, leading up to the 10-song set that’s coming out Aug. 23 on Blue Elan Records.”
Their album advocates the liberation of emotions that can no longer be confined to the pop music terrain. I love every moment of “Via Satellite” which is set to “blast off” on August 23rd. The Rembrandts have stayed the course during their decades-long career; yet the songs are always evolving. It’s a difficult to write an anthem, unlike a hook, it captures a broadly compelling theme and conveys it in a simple but powerful way. “Via Satellite” possesses a healthy dose of reliability and a “pinch” of self-effacing humor of relationships, good and bad. What we love most about The Rembrandts is that they represent all the things you yearn for in rock’n’roll. . The duet has a new set of toys to play with… new tools to work with and a new palette to paint from. There’s an intentional “understated -ness” to the sound that makes it them feel very very real – like you’re there in the room with Phil and Danny. No matter how long their sabbatical lasted they’ve returned even better! The Rembrandts have had a brilliant career and their tunes are always breaking through. “Via Satellite” has a Paul McCartney sense of melody.. a John Lennon wit…the tenderness of the Everly Brothers harmonies and lastly there’s a cynical side that boasts of the mystic psychedelia of Tom Petty. With its twang..honk.. and Southern CA. drawl there’s plenty of hooks and grooves in this album. If you assume that “Via Satellite” will be overly poppy you are in for a big surprise! The album caroms from rekindling a relationship with an old girlfriend, “How Far Would You Go” and goes through the twists and turns you’d expect from these rock and roll journeymen…The album ends with the haunting song, “On My Own” which could very well define The Rembrandts career . I can’t stop listening to it…. Without remorse.. let the truth be told, this is the best song Petty never recorded! This album is so fuckin’ amazing!!…The Rembrandts have rediscovered their “mojo”…. and as the title implies… “Via Satellite” is out of this world!
I had the opportunity to interview Phil Solem….
Rock Bands of L.A.com: You came to L.A. from Duluth to become a rock star? Was it your dream to live in CA.? How did you meet Danny Wilde who moved to L.A. from Maine?.. And it led into the band, Great Buildings… They had only one album…By the way… there’s a page in Facebook devoted to Power Pop… and Great Buildings is always mentioned..
Phil Solem: I really wanted to move to England…but my situation changed and L.A. was just a lot closer… Boom.. I loved The Quick… their whole sound resonated for me… In my opinion they were greatly overlooked! Danny was amazing! From the start we had such great chemeistry! .. I had no idea there was a Facebook page devoted to Power Pop… I must check out that page! If you look online… Great Buildings had two albums.. Then the whole thing fell apart… Things just began to dissolve…This was not because of in-fighting between the band… My girlfriend … who became my wife who then became my ex-wife.. and when she got pregnant insisted that we move back to Minneapolis… where we both were from. At the end of the day things worked out ok… Danny was trying to keep the band together, but he started getting offers to do some solo stuff… which was better for him. So I’m back in Minneapolis… raising a family… floundering with “pick-up” bands like Thrush but none had any traction.
Rock Bands of L.A.com: You were part of the renaissance of L.A. music .. mind you this was even before Tom Petty broke.… The press called it “Power Pop”..The Great Buildings album, “Apart from the Crowd” is considered the pristine classic of the genre. How do you see your part in the history of L.A. music? Other than the internet and social media how do you see how the local music scene has changed?
Phil Solem:…. I loved The Quick.. They were my favorite band. I had been courted by other bands to join, It was an easy decision for me to be part of Great Buildings… Its funny you mention Tom Petty… they came from nowhere. They already had a record deal.. His drummer, Stan Lynch showed a lot of interest in producing our record… As far as our “role” in music history I think the Internet makes that all possible.
Rock Bands of L.A.com: There’s discussion to resurrect “Friends”.. If that happens.. I bet “I’ll Be There For You” would become a hit again to a whole new audience…Imagine how viral it would be in the streaming world? You can buy that new Ferrari you’ve always wanted!
Phil Solem: If that happens I guess I’ll have to get a driver’s license? I don’t drive anymore since I moved to Nashville.
Rock Bands of L.A.com: You are now living in Nashville…how would you like your legacy be seen by your peers and fans?
Phil Solem: Its great to be seen favorably by everyone… The success of “Friends” opened the flood gates for us… To be seen by millions of people each week was obvious. Television wasn’t the way rock bands wanted to have been broken..It wasn’t cool! Our peers looked down at us… We wanted to be seen as a rock and roll band… We wanted to be anonymous… which didn’t happen… the craze just took over! Just the other day I ran into Steve Allen of 20/20, who also lives in Nashville. Sometime we jam together and its just like back in the day when we would share a bill with them.. We’re still great friends.. I and would hope we can remain buds
Rock Bands of L.A.com:How did the song writing process change over the years apart? And what wisdom did you get during the recording of “Via Satillite”?.
Phil Solem: We have a sort a’ “Beatlesque” way about us…We’re always sharing… Danny would have an idea and then I would work out the chorus.. Or I had a idea for an ending of a song…it would go back and forth… Plus, we had Jesse Valenzuela from the Gin Blossoms assist in some of the song writing… There was a massive amount of wisdom I gained from making this album… I really didn’t know what to do with it! For some reason, nobody really wants to listen.. you get to a point and then everybody shuts you down… I’m probably being too hard on myself…
Rock Bands of L.A.com:One of the stand out tracks.. it the rocker, “Traveling From Home”……
Phil Solem: Its funny you mention that song… it started as a folk song… and when I wrote it I was thinking it was a “Woody Gutherie” inspired tune.. traveling across America seeing how much things have changed… You can see everything through your Ipad on your lap….
I wanted to give a big thanks to Phil Solem for his time and of course Ms. Melissa Dragich-Cordero of Blue E’lan Records for being so patient….