The Pursuit of Pop: An Interview With Konnor Ervin of the ACB's

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Kansas City's ACB's frequently make the run down I-70 to St. Louis, and they return to town this Friday with a show at the Firebird alongside our own Blind Eyes, Nee and the Jump Starts.

The band released its self-titled debut in 2007. That successful effort consisted of well-penned, straightforward pop rock. Soon after, however, the band lost two members to relocation, leaving lead singer/guitarist Konnor Ervin and bassist Bryan McGuire to deal with the aftermath. They shelved a partially completed album and set out to record a second full-length, Stona Rosa, soliciting help from members of fellow KC groups Ghosty and Cowboy Indian Bear. The result was something significantly more mellow and complex than their debut, featuring delicate melodic twists and smart hooks (though much more of the former), all framing Ervin's yearning, self-questioning lyrics.

With two new members on board and a new record in the can the ACB's seem more settled than they have ever been. I caught up with Ervin over the phone while the band made its way to Minneapolis for a gig. Many topics were discussed, including the difficulties of playing in a band in the Midwest, how transition affected their second record and the elusive nature of pop music.

Chris Bay: The band has received a fair amount of positive press and attention from people within Kansas City but it seems like you're still trying to break out and grow an audience outside of your hometown. What has that experience been like?

Konnor Ervin: It's kind of hard. We don't really know how to go about it the right way to promote ourselves. We haven't really been able to get more than one proper tour together. We've been with this lineup for a year and a half or so, but Brian and I have played together for a long time. We've just never seen much success and I can't explain why. I don't know, maybe it's laziness.

You've stayed in Kansas City when a lot of bands in your situation have the option of picking up and leaving town to go somewhere where they think they might have a better shot at making it with a music career. What are some of the advantages or disadvantages of being a band in a small city in the Midwest?

There certainly aren't a lot of advantages to it. There are a whole lot of obvious disadvantages. I'd say the only real advantage is how easy it is to live in a place like Kansas City. It's a smaller city where you can just get a part time job and kind of survive pretty easily and devote a whole lot of time to music. That's been a good thing. It's about the only good thing I could say. But it's not a terrible music town. I've met a lot of people over the years that have definitely influenced me and I've learned some things from people.

A lot of people describe the group's sound as power pop. Stona Rosa has that in parts, but it's also fairly mellow. Was that due to the way it was written and recorded, with only two members?

I guess so. With the band, the way it would work now is that I'll do a really rough demo of the song and bring it to the band and they will groove on it. I wouldn't bring them a song that was slower. I don't know, it'd be more embarrassing. I don't want to bring anything weak, I guess.

But mellow doesn't necessarily mean weak. Do the band see itself as a power pop band? Is that why you take that approach?

Sometimes people will say power pop. I wouldn't really say [that]. I think the first album was a power pop album for sure and I wanted to get a way from that a little bit so I ended up going to something more mellow. But I don't know, people still kind of think of us as a power pop band.

When the song is still raw and I have to play it in front of my bandmates I'm reluctant to play a softie because it would be easier to bring more upbeat fun songs rather than something that might be sadder.

What does the term "pop" mean to you?

I guess pop for me is...pop form...it's just the most easily consumable, digestible structure you can make to kind of get your...you're kind of serving up these melodies and you want to put them to beats. I don't know, you want them to resonate with people. I guess it's pretty upfront or straightforward and still interesting. So I don't know, pop to me is something that...shoot, what is pop? It's kind of a form that you structure your songs around.

That's a terrible answer. I think about it all the time, but even I still can't really...it's hard to define I guess.

Do you have an innate feeling when you write a really good melody or hook? There's a fine line between something that's catchy and direct and has just enough smartness or complexity to it to be listened to over and over, and something that gets old after the fifth time you've heard it. Do you feel like you understand when you've found a good pop hook or a cheesy one? Or do you just throw things out there and hope that they stick?

The good hooks come from a certain part of my brain that's hard to reach. I just have a good feeling about it. Ideas are floating around your brain all the time, good and bad. You just kind of know when you have a good hook that's somewhat original and catchy. It's hard to explain, but things come from a certain part of you.

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