Air Pop's name is a bit of a misnomer. Earlier this week, the LA-based musician released his first CD in four years, the Pretty Dumb EP -- a six-track effort not at all reliant on the effervescent synths or bubbly hooks his moniker suggests, only guitar and vocals. Though the record was crafted partly in New York, it's far more a product of Southern California's petri dish of sun-soaked ennui, the San Fernando Valley. The string of super-suburbs is home to 1.8 million people (one of them is Air Pop's mom). It's also the setting of his newest music video, "For the Boys," which makes its premiere on i-D.
"The Valley is pretty special, weird, and kind of depressing, but also really pretty at the same time," he tells us over the phone. "I moved back home with my mom and I also have a studio in Downtown LA, so I was going back and forth a lot." This transience plays an important role in Air Pop's songs, often honest and haunting portraits of alienation -- as if Elliott Smith had an iPhone. But the Valley more concretely shapes the "For the Boys" video, a lo-fi celebration of everyday suburban boredom.
"The director, Jessica Williams, also grew up in the Valley. She understood what I was getting at with the record and suggested we shoot in the Valley as well," explains Air Pop. "For the Boys" is practically the antithesis of Ferris Bueller's Day Off: no art museum tristes, parade floats, or even friends. Instead, we watch as Air Pop plays Terminator arcade games, snacks on Pink Berry, and partakes in California's past-time: driving. "We drove around the Valley to all these different cities -- Encino, Tarzana, Woodland Hills. It's so big and there are so many different places to go, but nothing really to do," he says.
"For the Boys" is, Air Pop concedes, "fiction and nonfiction at the same time." The video incorporates the suburban sites he actually frequents -- like T-Mart, a discount store home to $20 Dickies jackets and those heart-eyes emoji pillows -- as well as less-specific specters of youth enclaves, like mall parking lots. Williams balances these mundane moments with depictions of the region's natural beauty, equalizing the seemingly disparate settings by shooting the video entirely on an iPhone. "Jessica and I both noticed how important just being on a phone is to the album in general -- going through ups and downs and the phone is always around," explains Air Pop, who recorded many of Pretty Dumb's demos using an iPhone. "Shooting it with just a phone felt like a perfect choice. That's why the video is sort of raw."
I ask about any gender dynamics that might be at play in a song titled "For the Boys," and phones arise again as an important vehicle for honesty and immediacy. "If you read the lyrics and listen to it, because it's such a stripped down song, it almost feels like I'm a friend talking to you on the phone. I'm a straight, white, male musician and the record captures how I feel, but it could be for anybody," Air Pop explains. It's fitting that Pretty Dumb's album cover is a meme -- an image that captures a specific situation or emotion, but has the capacity to communicate and connect with many different people. "I think the biggest positive to come out of a lot of the gender stuff going on in general culture is learning how to be yourself -- whatever you are -- and speaking from your own perspective," says Air Pop.
Text Emily Manning