Poppy promotes empowerment, explores developed sound on ‘I Disagree’
Whether she’s a mechanical masterpiece or a cult leader, she is Poppy, and she’s not allowing any person, music executive or otherwise program her to fit their criteria. With her third album, I Disagree, set to release via Sumerian Records Jan. 10, Poppy breaks down the perfectly crafted mechanisms of what feels like her first complete body of music.
When you were first creating music, it leaned toward dark pop, and now it’s leaning toward metal pop. How are you working to create this genre?
I’m not really considering any of the new music to be metal just because of the juxtaposition to pop music. I’m leaving it for the listener to decide what genre it is. [When] we went into the process of making the album, we just wanted ultimate freedom and no rules. I feel like we accomplished that.
You surrounded yourself with people who were aligned with your vision in the studio. Who did you work with, and how did they help bring your vision to life?
It was me, Titanic [Sinclair], our friend Chris Greatti and Zakk Cervini, and we are the only ones on the entire record. We didn’t let anybody else in the room when we were working on it, and I am really glad we took that approach. I’ve been friends with all of them for a number of years. [Especially with] Zakk, we always talked about working on stuff together, but it wasn’t until he worked on Am I A Girl and X [that] we really dove into it, and they were like, “Oh, this is fun. Let’s do more.” So we made the entire album, but [with] Zakk and Chris as producers. They’re two of my best friends and two of the most talented people I know. They’re really good at just sitting back and letting the vibe happen, and I love that.
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It’s evident that you collaborate with your team but also that you stand alone as an artist.
I’m glad that’s evident. It’s funny when I get questioned on that because it plays into the [attitude of], “Oh, girls are weak or they don’t know.” I never viewed myself as a weak person. When people go down that path, [they] think just because somebody is a girl, [they’re] weaker. I’ve never felt that way.
What was the inspiration behind the “I Disagree” music video?
[In] the “I Disagree” music video, you see me yelling at label executives and then setting them on fire, which was very therapeutic. And in another iteration of a previous team that I had, I just felt very stifled, and I don’t like having to explain myself. From the previous label, there were always conversations that were had where they were very dismissive to a lot of the ideas that I had. But that makes me fight harder. It makes me want it more when I need to prove myself. Though this is my third album that I’m releasing, it feels like my first because the previous two albums were more like a sound bed to [the] YouTube videos that we were creating. This is the first body of musical work that I think can stand on its own and doesn’t really require much of an explanation.
Were there any situations you were put in with your previous team where they were questioning you as an artist or your vision?
I think they didn’t understand [the art], but they pretended to understand it because they thought it was cool. But they actually didn’t understand that they were the exact things I was talking about. As far as the [music] industry as a whole goes, I don’t want to give it too much credit, but it definitely inspires a lot of what Titanic and I create. I think from past experiences with past teams that I have worked with, I found a lot of inspiration for this record. Specifically, my song “BLOODMONEY” was like an 11th hour song.
I want to do a little bit of a deep dive into the album. Let’s start with “Concrete.”
I would describe this one as “X”’s cousin. They were written around a similar time. “Concrete” was the first song we wrote for this record, so [it features] lots of harmonies and a very prominent breakdown. It’s about wanting to be buried underground, killing off an older version of yourself.
Online you have a very distinct persona. Do you think “Concrete” is related to the Poppy project in a way that reflects that?
I always bring up David Bowie when people talk about personas because I think he was a master and [a] huge inspiration to me. For every record that he released or era, David Bowie had a very distinct look, feel and vibe. Ziggy Stardust is a lot different from Diamond Dogs. Even [on] the last record, Blackstar, his death was art, so that’s very inspiring to me.
What is the significance of the track “Anything Like Me”?
It’s one of my favorites on the album. I can’t wait to play [it] on tour. The hook, “You’ll never be anything like me/You shouldn’t be anything like me,” the significance [is] it’s about a personal trial and what I went through. I think it’s one of the ones if you know, you know. I don’t really want to explain too much.
It seems like you’re the type of artist who isn’t afraid to stand up for yourself.
Yes, I’d say [so], which is funny because my voice is very soft, but I think my brain is my weapon.
How important is it for an artist to push their fans to be strong and to protect themselves against those negative interactions such as bullying?
I went through pretty crazy things when I attended school, and then I became homeschooled. [If] there’s a person that’s picking on you and they’re [going] through something that you don’t know about, they’re taking it out on you. When I was going through that in school, I found solace in music. To someone who’s reading this, if you’re made fun of, turn to music.
Were there particular artists who you were influenced by when you were writing “Fill The Crown”?
Marilyn Manson and Madonna are artists who live on different ends of the spectrum sonically, and you created a song that blended those two influences. How did you work to meld those together?
Well, one of my friends said to me that [the] record sounds as a whole like you’ve created your own favorite band. That was a big compliment because I feel like that’s what occurred. [It’s] everything that I’m very drawn to.
Talk to me about the inspiration behind “BLOODMONEY,” what this song means and why it’s so important for this album.
It was one of the last songs we wrote for the record and when I was going through a transitional stage. I was realizing a lot of things for the first time, and a lot of things I thought were true ended up to be the opposite. Titanic and I were in the studio, and he wasn’t really feeling like writing a song, but I was like, “No, I have these words. You need to make a song.” It’s about hypocrisy and subtly, but not so subtly about my understanding or misunderstanding of religion and Christianity.
Your fanbase refers to themselves as the “church.” Do you find any irony in that?
I created my Poppy.Church because people started calling me a cult leader, so I just made it a place for everybody to gather. My religion is more about encouraging creativity and critical thinking as opposed to saying, “Read this book and follow all of this, and if you think about anything negative, you’re going to hell.” It’s not really what we practice.
As you’ve developed as an artist, you’ve grown to have your own way of seeing things and looking at things. Do you think that’s tested what you believed when you were much younger or what you grew up with?
Yeah, definitely. That’s kind of where the first iteration of the project comes into play because I describe Poppy as version one as opposed to the current one Poppy version X is what I referring to her as. Poppy version one is more about who I was before the world touched me. Before your thoughts got muddied and anything was thrown in your path, slightly naive and open to certain criticism and trusting certain people. As you mature and grow up or live life or travel, that starts to change The way you think of things and your understanding of the world. Whatever it may be, I think it’s all part of the process of life.
The following track “Nothing I Need” is very passive aggressive.
It’s a more straightforward arrangement-wise, kind of like a deep breath. It’s about everything I thought I wanted is actually nothing that I need [and] coming to terms with a lot of things. Maybe certain things that I was drawn to [or] attracted to, and I realized that what I need I already have at the bare minimum, and happiness is way more important than material objects.
How important is it for people to understand that life is more than just money, fame and pretty things?
I think if you can come to terms with that or stumble across that way of thinking, maybe this giant backpack full of weight that is on your back will become a little bit lighter. Do things that make you happy every day. It’s about having good friends, making art, spending time with people that you care about and traveling the world. At least to me, that’s what it’s about.
At the end of your life, you don’t get to take those material things with you. As for “Sit Stay,” this is a standout track on the album for a number of reasons.
“Sit Stay” I wrote when I was feeling very boxed in, and it’s me communicating that I’m not going to listen to the people that I’ve been listening to for years tell me that I can’t do something that I’ve always wanted to do. The more melodic part is, in a way, a warning to people that are just beginning in music because this thing that you love could also be the thing that’s killing you. “Don’t go blind from the stars in your eyes/Welcome to the new starting line.” Don’t look at the world like, “Once I get this, then I’ll be happy.” You should just focus [on] being happy right now because it’s all important.
Tell me where “Bite Your Teeth” came from, how you worked on it and what the inspiration was.
So that was the last song we wrote for the record, and it actually comes from an Alan Watts quote, which is, “Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.” It has one of the heaviest breakdowns on the album, and I’m currently playing it on tour, and it’s pretty fun because the Bring Me The Horizon crowd, you know, when I step out onstage because I’m opening the show for them, they’re like, “Who’s that girl?” And then when I play that song, they’re like, “Oh, OK.” When you go to a Poppy show, you know what to expect. Throwing me into the [Bring Me The Horizon] mix, maybe [fans are] standing there with their arms crossed, and by the end, they’re like, “OK, that was something else.” Whether they liked it or not, we’re subjecting them to this. [Laughs.]
When you listened to the album for the first time, where were you, and what went through your head?
I just completed the album art photoshoot, and I did that shoot with the worst flu of my life. I could barely stand up. And I went back to my house, I was laying there in my bed and crying and listening to the album. And I was like, “Wow, this really took everything out of me.”
What was the overall message that you wanted to send with these tracks or with the album as a whole?
The album as a whole is just about not stepping to anyone and disagreeing with people in positions of power and not accepting “no” for an answer or “you can’t.” And sometimes when people tell you [that], or at least when I’m told that I can’t, it makes me want to have it more. It’s all about burning down the music industry in a way and stepping out of any box that anyone might have tried to lock me up inside. The message is empowerment, not gender specific. Just empowerment.