The moment of truth for any band comes when it decides to leave the confines of its back catalog and the comforts that come with a readymade, genre-specific audience that comes with any strict adherence to an underground style. To learn to fly, you have to leave the nest -- a risk many bands don't want to take, ever.
The HorrorPops aren't one of them, that's for sure. Although the band, which splits time between Denmark and Los Angeles' sophomore effort, Bring It On (2005, Hellcat) is rooted in the same pscyhobilly foundations that drove its debut, 2003's Hell Yeah! (Hellcat), the new set isn't so concerned with maintaining the psycho status quo as just getting down and rocking. Everything from classic punk licks to a swinging energy pop up to rattle the traditions usually held sacrosanct by most of the band's peers.
"We are not a psychobilly band," guitarist Geoff Kresge succinctly explains. "We just consider ourselves a rock band. There are so many influences that to try to categorize it as anything more specific as rock'n'roll would be misleading to anyone who isn't familiar with the band and looking to check us out or come to a show or buy a record or whatever. We just look at it as a rock'n'roll band."
Kresge and his band mates (singer/bassist Patricia Day, guitarist Kim Nekroman and drummer Henrik Niedermeier are joined onstage by go-go dancers No-No and Kamilla) haven't moved quite as far from the world of psychobilly as they'd like to think, but Bring it On!'s a major step away from the psycho rank and file. Day's delivery, which sits somewhere between Gwen Stefani's cotton-candy charms and the howling power of punk wailing women from Exene Cervenka to Tilt's Cinder Block, giving the act a kick of personality the undead legions of psychobilly singers can't match. Nekroman and Kresge, who play in by-the-formula psychobilly bands The Nekromantix and Tiger Army, respectively, hurdle across riffs that check punk, classic rockabilly, surf and straightforward rock. Although The HorrorPops' most obvious precedents are still The Meteors and Cramps, it's clear the act yearns for more than the psycho rank and file.
Of course, old habits are hard to break, and the 'Pops still struggle to escape from the long shadows of the sub-genre. The band formed in 1996, when Day's punk outfit, Peanut Pump Gun, opened for The Nekromantix. After hanging backstage with Nekroman and finding a mutual love for B-movie horror flicks, punk rock and pop culture, the two formulated a plan to concoct a side project to build on those interests. Most of all, however, the quickly christened HorrorPops would be a vehicle for horror-rock imagery and classic rockabilly to escape from the psychobilly dungeons in which they'd been held captive for far too long. Despite the lofty goals, the band's Hellcat debut was little more than Day sitting at the helm of the Nekromantix. Nods were made toward punk and pop, but the outfit still didn't break free of Nekroman and the scene's clutches no matter how hard it tried.
After success in the States made picking up and relocating to Los Angeles (Kresge refers to the City of Angels as their "base of operations"), a lineup shuffle ensued. Founding guitarist Caz the Clash stepped out. The act tapped Los Angeles native Kresge to fill his shoes. The new lineup gelled, and immediately began working on songs. Within a week of becoming a card-carrying member of the 'Pops, Kresge was significantly helping out in the songwriting department, and the HorrorPops settled into their quest to revamp psychobilly forms with something new.
A listen to Bring it On! ought to be enough to make anyone schooled in the ABC's of the psycho underground see that The HorrorPops aren't going to toe the line, as it bounces between the band's sprawling influences (well, sprawling for a band whose primary influence is The Cramps, at least) with a zest for life the psycho zombies don't possess. Still, the band continues to be painted into a pure psychobilly corner. Everywhere from a highly improbable Vanity Fair piece on the style to the lowliest of bad-grammar webzines still focus more on the act's psychobilly roots than the way it reinterprets them. Sometimes, it's born from a lack of understanding about psycho roots. Other times, it's a matter of getting confused by the band members' history or the act's appearance.
"Myself coming out of a psychobilly band and Nekroman coming out of a psychobilly band and Patricia playing upright bass, those are just the immediate things that people kind of see. They just pigeonhole us," Kresge says. "I think it's just a matter of it needs to be put into people's face and their ears for them to check out for themselves. It's not just an image and it's not what they might think it might be.
"It's not like myself or Nekroman are trying to detach ourselves from the psychobilly scene because we are both in psychobilly bands ourselves," he continues. "It would seem a little bit weird if when we were playing in those bands we had our hair ups and we were screaming our heads off and all of a sudden we're 'Okay, it's time to do Horror Pops,' and we'd have a different hairstyle or would change the way we dress. I think we would get more shit for that."
While Hell Yeah! made the first steps away from the style, it wasn't until this year's vintage that everything came together for the band. Part of that's certainly due to the increased role the band plays in songwriting. Bringing Kresge aboard was a major step forward in helping Day and Nekroman accentuate their rock'n'roll side, and the team songwriting helped further refine the act's tunes.
"The first album was written only by Patricia and Nekroman. The writing process for this record, everyone was involved in some way or another," Kresge explains. "I contributed quite a bit of songwriting to this record. That in itself it is going to change it quite a bit. We also have our drummer, Neidermeier work on arrangements this time. It's a lot more of a full band album this time around."
With Bring it On! the band's finally starting to appreciate the freedom its commitment to breaking from psychobilly formulas gives it. While Kresge and Nekroman are no strangers to psycho songwriting, thanks to their history in other bands, they're just starting to understand how much room The HorrorPops have to explore. With no commitment to psychobilly kids hell-bent on keeping the scene alive, the 'Pops are now able to shoot off on whatever direction catches their fancy.
"It is liberating from a songwriter's point of view because we can just do whatever we want," Kresge gushes. "I've read interviews with people where they say 'I have to make a solo record because I have all these songs that don't fit with the band that I play in normally.' There isn't really any of that with Horror Pops. If it's a song that everybody feels is good enough to flesh out and record, then it goes on the record. There are no issues of that song's too heavy, that song's too slow or too fast or whatever. If it turns out to be a good song, we'll put it out. It is really liberating in that way."
That freedom comes at a price, however. Were The HorrorPops to pick up the psychobilly banner and produce a predictable album, they'd immediately have access to a legion of psychobilly fans. As it stands with Bring It On!, the band's forced to assemble its own fan base independent of the psychobilly scene -- even while so many places still refer to the 'Pops as plain-and-simple psychobilly. Oddly enough, the act relishes the chance to build a fan base all of its own, and isn't stymied by the ease in which less imaginative bands find ears.
"It's more frustrating when it comes to reading three out of five reviews that call it a psychobilly record or a psychobilly band," Kresge grumbles. "That's where the frustration comes in, with that."
The psychobilly comparisons aren't going to go away any time soon. Despite its adventuresome spirit, Bring it On! still fits neatly within the punk sub-genre, for the most part. If The HorrorPops keep it up, however, their dream should come true. Fans are in for an interesting ride wherever the band's varied influences take it.