Chris Chu knows that his group, POP ETC sometimes meets a little hipster prejudice.
"Pop music has a stigma and it's sort of a dirty word," says Chu. "Since the 1980s it's become more and more calculated and assembly line."
But Chu and his band mates, Julian Harmon and Jonathan Chu (Chris' brother), embraced the term so thoroughly that they made it part of the group's name.
POP ETC developed out of the band The Morning Benders, which Chris began in 2005 while he was attending the University of California, Berkeley. The group gained a local following and recorded two EPs before releasing a full-length album, "Talking Through Tin Cans," in 2008. The disc gained critical acclaim and iTunes' named Best Indie/Alternative Disc of 2008.
The Morning Benders landed opening gigs on tours with Death Cab for Cutie, The Black Keys, Grizzly Bear, The Kooks and other artists. They released the album "Big Echo" in 2010. By the end of 2010, when his brother Jonathan replaced Joe Ferrell on guitar, Chris was the only original member of the group who remained.
The trio relocated to Brooklyn, N.Y. and, at the beginning of 2012, the Morning Benders turned into POP ETC and recorded the new self-titled album.
"Some people think we made a pop album because we sold out or we're trying to make a big move to the mainstream," says Chu. "If we were trying to do that there's a lot more surefire ways to do that."
Instead, the group is trying to approach pop with the sort of spirit that seems to have been lost over the past decade.
"A big part of it is making pop music that has heart and is artistic," says Chu.
"We grew up with the Beatles and the Beach Boys. The ethos that went into that music — they went in with energy and that sense of freedom."
Chu says that while the greats who emerged in the 1960s were influential, he and the rest of POP ETC, also grew up with D'Angelo, Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men.
"There was so much intricate stuff going on when I was a kid."
He and his band mates are students of many eras.
"We're all obsessed music listeners," he says.
Chu says much of the soul and fun has disappeared from pop and that the trend probably started when artists stopped writing their own songs and turned over the art to producers.
"Now a lot of pop music is not made by the artists themselves," he says. "We wrote all the songs on our album and produced it."
Not that he dismisses all modern pop, which a scan through his music collection would bear out.
"People seem to be surprised that I like Katy Perry. I have some Taylor Swift in there."
Chu says there is no shame in creating music that is of its era.
"I always identified with Neil Young and Bob Dylan, artists who always embraced what was going on at the time."
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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