Pop Pistol: Making Music in the Digital Age

by Diana Phillips, Senior Staff Writer | IgniteSA Magazine | Cover Story | April 2012

“When I first experienced music it was on old records that seemed to be magic vessels,” Alex Scheel recalls. “I would take in the artwork, read every word, look at every picture and imagine the far away places that the music came from.”

Scheel, the frontman of San Antonio-based beat-centric, atmospheric, indie electro-rock band Pop Pistol, waxes nostalgic about the vinyl experience: the artwork, the liner notes, sliding a 12-inch record out of its sleeve, placing it on the turntable and dropping the needle onto the first groove. All of this, the experience of listening in a room, holding the tangible product in your hands, the pop and sizzle of the static teasing your eardrums as the first track begins to play, this is the allure of vinyl - still cool even as ever-shifting technologies transform the music industry into a predominately digital marketplace.

The business of music making has also been transformed. “Nowadays making music is extremely easy, but making great music is still very difficult,” Scheel says.  Computer software programs like Pro Tools, a digital audio platform used for recording and editing, is widely available for home use. Websites such as ReverbNation and Bandcamp enable artists to upload their music for easy distribution via streaming or download while Facebook and Twitter are excellent grassroots marketing tools that allow independent artists to reach a global audience. Touring is expensive while posting videos on YouTube to maximize exposure is less so. The advent of social networking has made it possible for musicians not only to connect with their audience through the music, but also to directly interact and communicate with fans in real time.

Pop Pistol – a trio comprised of Scheel (guitar and vocals), George Garza (bass), and Jorge Gonzalez (drums) – are currently at work on their second full-length record. Their first LP, “Angelus,” (2008) will be re-released on vinyl later this month. 

Growing up listening to rock legends like The Doors and Jimi Hendrix, Scheel gained an appreciation for musicianship but wasn’t yet inspired to become one. That came later after discovering indie and punk rock, which made picking up a guitar and forming a band seem more possible. “It wasn’t about pure talent, it was how you moved through life, your perspective and limitations. Being imperfect was cool and music seemed like a good way to be imperfect. But over time, being imperfect was not enough as talent was not enough.”

Scheel, Garza and Gonzales have been playing together for over a decade, and officially as Pop Pistol since 2005. Their moniker emerged from an idea to form a collaborative of musicians that would come together to produce an electronic, futurist wall of sound, bridging culture and politics. “We were really interested in creating music that was original and honest and reflected our growing ideas about what music can do,” Scheel says.

Pop Pistol’s sound is eclectic, drawing inspiration from a range of musical influences. “We often get compared to bands but that’s dependent on the listeners’ tastes and what they’ve been exposed to,” Scheel says. “Radiohead comes up often, as well as Muse. People tell us we have the feel of The Doors or the atmosphere of U2 or an 80s dance vibe, or we remind them of Mars Volta or that my voice reminds them of Placebo. If I hear a Tom Waits song and then a Beach House song and then see a video of Flying Lotus, every one of those things is going to creep into our music.”

“The songs are stitched together like a quilt,” Scheel explains, describing the process of songwriting, that elusive art of crafting beats and rhythms and lyrics to convey meaning and elicit resonance for listeners. The songs are “patched together in layers and [go through] multiple incarnations. Sometimes we play a song together while we are practicing and it becomes right in front of us, but these moments are rare,” he says. “Most of the time the songs are created in pieces over time through listening and reacting and growing the music. It’s like raising a plant to bear fruit. It takes time and light and rain and attention. The songs crave attention and they also crave time.”

“The days are long and there are many things that make you want to create. Human interaction and the interaction you have with yourself are major themes [in our music,]” he says. “We look into the ways things react with each other and how our unconscious mind affects how we act toward each other.”

 “It’s very important to us to connect people and respect people. We love bridging gaps through music. Being true to yourself is a major theme in our music and I think that’s a universal anthem that can make us feel more connected to each other,” Scheel says.

 “We like to create movement in the body. I want people to lose themselves in the hour that we play. I want them to lose time and lose self and lose pain or any emotion that is not a part of the now. But in spite of all of these yearnings we are still present in the super-fast techno-chatter-polluted world of capitalism and consumption and information that we swim in every day. I can’t see how we can create contemporary art without giving attention to those things.”

Pop Pistol is also involved with Local 782, a volunteer-driven coalition of musicians established to unite and educate the independent music community of San Antonio through workshops on subjects such as media relations, merchandising, publishing and copyrighting. “As supporters and volunteers ourselves, we believe that sharing knowledge and experiences with one another assists in maintaining strong relationships with our peers and community members,” Scheel says. The band has hosted several workshops on silk screening, Photoshop and press releases and is currently involved in organizing Local Music Week 2012, which will take place from April 1st through April 7th in San Antonio.