Los Angeles-based four-piece War Tapes share their new record via Louder Than War. On the EP, singer/guitarist Neil Popkin says, “these songs pull from our post-punk roots, but also dive deeper into our love for bands like the Clash and Talking Heads.” Only Time Will Tell is out everywhere this Friday via MAKE Records and streaming in its entirety today on Louder Than War.
“I think that we sound like that nostalgic feeling of something you just lost but can’t remember what it was, and yet you miss having it.”
So says Neil Popkin, singer, guitarist and main songwriter of the L.A.-based foursome War Tapes. War Tapes’ new five-song EP Only Time Will Tell is the quartet’s first new music since 2010. It’s also their first release for the iconoclastic independent MAKE Records label, in which drummer Billy Mohler is a partner.
On their prior releases, namely the 2009 album The Continental Divide and the EPs War Tapes, Turtles and Fever Changing, War Tapes earned a reputation for deeply dramatic, yet effortlessly accessible rock song craft that was brooding and angst-ridden, yet unfailingly catchy and rousing. Only Time Will Tell finds the band retooling its approach towards a more direct, streamlined sound and the result is the most organic and effective music the band has ever made.
“This EP was the result of us not getting to do what we love for five-plus years,” Popkin asserts. “It just slid out of us, like a birth. Some of the songs came from demos that were made on my crappy laptop, and we ended up keeping a lot of those scratch tracks and building around them. Other songs were recorded in Billy’s home studio. Some of them were created by mistake, or by hearing one loop and the next thing you know it’s six hours later and there’s a completed song. We didn’t push things too hard, they just happened.”
The sense of freedom that accompanies War Tapes’ return to musical action is particularly impressive in light of the band’s history. Boston native Neil Popkin began writing songs in early childhood.
“I can’t remember a time in my life where I didn’t have a musical outlet,” he says, adding, “Me and my sister Becca grew up playing music together; we would form bands and do shows at family parties in our basement. Billy and Becca started dating shortly after they graduated college after meeting randomly in D.C. After a couple years of a long-distance relationship, they moved to L.A. together. I then moved into Billy’s old apartment in L.A. to escape one particularly cold dreary winter in Boston, and I ended up staying out here.”
“When I moved here, I didn’t know anyone in L.A. except Becca and Billy, so we naturally started writing music together,” he continues. “Matt Bennett came along shortly after. I remember seeing him play guitar in his old punk band at this crappy venue in L.A. that was in the back of a sushi restaurant. I went up to him after the show and asked if he wanted to join my band, and I wasn’t going to take no for an answer.
Becca Popkin is a classically trained pianist and guitarist who had never played bass before joining War Tapes. Billy Mohler, a Southern California native, was trained in jazz bass and guitar, while Hawaii native Matt Bennett played in several punk and shoegaze outfits before joining War Tapes.
War Tapes’ early local shows generated considerable momentum and word of mouth, and before long, the band was asked to tour in America and Britain, sharing stages with the likes of Smashing Pumpkins, The Bravery, Tiger Army, VNV Nation, She Wants Revenge, Chameleons U.K., Shiny Toy Guns, Moving Units and Longwave. Their songs “Dreaming Of You” and “The Night Unfolds” were featured on Last Call with Carson Daly; “Dreaming of You” was played when the Ball dropped 2009 on NBC’s New Year’s Eve, while “Mind Is Ugly” was featured on a Season Five episode of the MTV series The Hills, and the band also performed on the Season Two finale of the ABC Family show Greek.
According to the band, the birth cycle of Only Time Will Tell was an inspired and organic process that left a permanent mark on the band as a creative unit.
“These songs pull from our post-punk roots, but also dive deeper into our love for bands like the Clash and Talking Heads,” Neil says of the EP. “We started making various bedroom demos, sending them back and forth, and slowly but surely developed a new sound that we all were vibing with. We then got into Billy’s home studio and recorded these songs. We believe we’ve all gotten better at our instruments since we first started War Tapes, and so the recording process was very fluid and natural.
Some degree of War Tapes’ current creative rebirth is due to the fact that the band is now recording for MAKE Records, the idealistic, forward-thinking label that drummer Billy Mohler runs with longtime friend and fellow musician Aaron Smart of Silverplanes.
According to Smart, “MAKE Records was born of Billy and I being involved in music together in a lot of different situations, and never really getting to have the control and the direction we wanted to give the different projects that we were involved with. The idea of the label is Autonomy, Creativity and Unrestricted Freedom, and to be able to MAKE Records the way we want them made, and the way we want them to be put out and heard.
“War Tapes and MAKE Records is a perfect fit,” Smart continues. “I have known the band for over ten years and I think of them as family. War Tapes is the next act waiting in the wings for MAKE Records and the world will soon know them well.”
Or, as Neil Popkin puts it, “We believe these new songs represent the journey that we’ve all taken while on hiatus, but they also tell the story of where we came from and where we are going.”
Neil Popkin – vocals, guitar
Matt Bennett – guitar
Becca Popkin – bass, vocals
Billy Mohler – drums