Pomplamoose Calls the Tune

No record deal? No CDs? No problem. How Pomplamoose is modifying the music industry.

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On an improbably sunny midwinter day, amid green pastures and meandering cows, two unassuming musicians are waging a revolution against the established order of the recording industry.

Here, inside a dim shed formerly used as a dog kennel, Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn are recording their next album as Pomplamoose — a musical project that is half traditional band, half social media experiment, and entirely an insurrection against how things are normally done in the music business.

This insurrection, by the way, is often prosecuted in pajamas. That's just one of the many perks that come with working according to your own rules and working at home. The central theater of Pomplamoose's campaign, the renovated shed and nondescript ranch house in which Conte and Dawn record their music, sits on a spread in rural Sonoma County in Northern California. And aside from the sprawling collection of musical instruments housed here, and the youthfulness of the residents, this property stands out in another important way: It was purchased with money earned by selling MP3s on the Internet.

Yes, despite what you may have heard, it is actually possible to make money — a living, even — by selling songs online. That is, in fact, the only place you can buy the music of Pomplamoose, a band as striking for what it doesn't do as for what it does.

Pomplamoose doesn't release music on CD or any other physical media. The group has no deal with a record label. It also doesn't tour — in three years, it has played only three live shows, all in San Francisco. The band has no publicist or traditional manager; the only outside professionals it uses are a lawyer and an accountant. Conte and Dawn handle every other aspect of Pomplamoose themselves: arranging songs, recording and mixing tracks, editing video, posting new songs online, and even marketing to new fans. And they retain a sense of humor through most of it.

Any list of Pomplamoose's appealing aspects would have to begin with the teasing, sarcastic, and flirtatious relationship between Conte and Dawn. Their deadpan jokes and natural banter make viewing the band's "videosongs" — which show all the instruments used in the song and no lip-synching — feel like more than just watching two talented musicians in a room. Filmed at home, the videos are two-thirds performance and one-third messing around. There's no psychedelic footage or legions of writhing dancers. There's just Conte and Dawn recording, and flashing homemade signs, eating cereal, and making faces.

Yet despite the levity — or, actually, because of it — Pomplamoose has attained a level of success that is rare for any independent artist, and unique in the way it was achieved. The band's releases have found their way onto the Billboard charts and major television networks. Its videos have been watched millions of times. And it sells digital songs at a rate that provides Conte and Dawn with a desirable lifestyle: instruments galore, a spacious home and studio set among rolling hills, and the freedom to do nothing but write and record their music — just the way they want to.


An immense blue sky is begging for attention, but inside the darkened studio, today's work is grinding along slowly. Conte's long, narrow frame is bent over the keys of a black Bösendorfer grand piano that seems to take up the entire room. He's trying to nail a small piano part for a new original song. And he's been trying for about half an hour now.

"Euugh!" A bellow of frustration booms through the room after Conte misses another take. The passage he's recording is only about 15 seconds long, but it requires a complicated series of notes played with precise timing — slightly behind the beat, to underscore the jazzy poise of the song. Last time, he played too quickly, so he hops off the piano bench and dashes over to a laptop connected to the videocamera recording him. He hits three buttons on the laptop's keyboard and looks across at Dawn, who is sitting, her doll-like face placid, in front of another laptop that serves as an audio recording console. With the camera rolling and the recording gear ready, Conte yanks his headphones back around his head and plays the passage for yet another time.

As he pounds the keys, Conte launches his neck out over the open guts of the piano. Its bronze strings, as thick as adult fingers at the lower registers, consume the room with a giant sound, barely under control. The veins raise up on Conte's neck as he sticks out his jaw and tightens his mouth into an oval. His head tilts mechanically in time with the swinging groove of the song. When Conte finishes muscling through the take, he launches off the bench, slightly out of breath.

"Oh, that feels great!" he shouts, rushing over to Dawn. They lock eyes, her sitting, him standing, as the take plays back. But at the end, neither of them is satisfied.

"Let's keep it as a 'maybe,'" he says, already heading back to the piano and videocamera for another try.

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23 comments
CarMonkey
CarMonkey

Really great musicians making fun music. That's makes some folks mad.

Zipzap
Zipzap

Part of being great are that some people won't like you.Thankfully most of them live in their mom's basement.

6String
6String

this is the worst thing thT has ever happened to music, and there videos are the worst thing to happen to tv. So they got all there bases coverd for sucking, so thanks pompalomoose for ruining media

Mcw
Mcw

hate much?

Spew
Spew

Godawful product only fit for Hyundai commercials.

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Seriously
Seriously

There is nothing revolutionary about this. Pomplamoose are a repulsive fraud. They are the archetypal vapid pacific northwestern post-DCFC hipster/hippie band, and to really seal the deal, they are evangelist Christians. The only thing worse than Pomplamoose are their fans.

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Guest
Guest

Pretty sure they're NOT evangelicals. Jack favorited a video on his extras channel that outright makes fun of the Biblical account of creation. I doubt a hardcore evangelical would ever even watch such a video.

seriously
seriously

There is nothing revolutionary about this. Pomplamoose are a repulsive fraud. They are the archetypal vapid pacific northwestern post-DCFC hipster/hippie band, and to really seal the deal, they are evangelist Christians. The only thing worse than Pomplamoose are their fans.

Liorargov
Liorargov

Wonderful article, very well written and interesting. I am so excited by this phenomenon, and am very hopeful that the talented and brilliant Pomplamoose are pioneers of a real revolution.

Nav_sec
Nav_sec

have they ever written an original song that was any good? the only thing i've heard from them are saccharine covers

Guest
Guest

Two words - "Be Still."

whateverthatmeans
whateverthatmeans

I love this band. It's simple, homey, and just plain fun.

Also - if it makes the two feel any better - I've been with my boyfriend for about three years, and we're CONSTANTLY getting quips about how we should buy a house, get married, etc. I say [insert rude comment here]. Do what you do, and love what you do. It's no one else's business, and don't feel pressured to do something because it's "supposed to be".

Please just keeping making awesome, fun music. And enjoy it while you do -otherwise, there's no point.

Newcolour78
Newcolour78

While I agree that the future of music is going to be on line, there are other ways of selling/promoting the music. I personally hate all the itunes/amazon download movement because I still prefer to have some sort of "physical media" for my music. From this point of view, I think Dope Stars Inc. are a step ahead (www.dopestarsinc.com). Their new full length cd is going to be free do download upon release, but your have the chance to buy the empty cd jewel case, with booklet and even a stamped physical cd on which you can "burn" the files you downloaded. In this way, you can have their music AND the cd if you like it, and support them at the same time, without the burden of a label. Now, that's looking forward...

paulc1978
paulc1978

There's a reason why these two don't have a record label. They're horrible and every negative thing about hipsters is personified in these two.

Ali
Ali

i hope their tour bus crashes and they both spend 24 hours bleeding to death.

ladycatnip
ladycatnip

Two of the most talented artists - love their music.

Roymond
Roymond

Really nice overview of their career progress as Pomplamoose, but it would be good to point people to their alter-egos in their far edgier solo works. Their originals are much more substantial than what is hinted at here.

No
No

Great article, they're great at what they do (upbeat, happy "candy" music). Also I'd like to throw out that a friend of Pomplamoose, Lauren O'Connell (who released an EP with Nataly) is a breath of fresh air for a more sedate, almost melancholy style but who still has that "untainted by corporate music" feel.

Helen Hill
Helen Hill

Jack and Nataly are a refreshing change from the steady diet of manufactured music by major labels that all sounds the same. That's why I listen to them. And they are who they are... The other big reason I like them.

 

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