Philly power pop band 2nd Grade discuss the inspirations behind new album ‘Easy Listening’
Philly's 2nd Grade are students of classic power pop -- the kind started in the '70s with Raspberries, Big Star, and Cheap Trick -- and make their own excellent version of it, as you can hear on their terrific second album. With 16 songs in just 35 minutes, there is an extremely high Earworm Quota on Easy Listening, an album that lives up to its title (but not in an elevator music way), going down smooth but sticking to your ribs. Give it a spin below.
We talked to frontman Peter Gill about the inspirations behind Easy Listening, which include a lot of power pop masters of the form (Guided by Voices, Redd Kross, Outrageous), as well as classic rock radio, Joan Didion, Rolling Stones fan fiction, and more. This is a fun read, and you can check it out below.
2nd Grade have a few live dates on the horizon, including shows in Baltimore, Philly and Chicago. Head below for their current schedule.
2ND GRADE - 10 THINGS THAT INFLUENCED 'EASY LISTENING'
Physical discomfort and mental understimulation
When you’re working outside all day in February and it’s 10 degrees out, and you can’t feel your fingers or toes, and blasting your last remaining brain cell with Peter Brötzmann live recordings simply won’t do, how do you hold onto your sanity? Coming up with little melodies and jingles is one strategy that works for me. You’d be surprised at how many of these songs were born out of that kind of necessity!
WRAT 95.9 “The Rat”
The Jersey Shore’s premier station for classic rock, where you’re sure to hear numbers like “Caught Up In You” or “Hurts So Good” or “Moneytalks” all summer long. A funny thing happened where my roommate’s car radio got stuck on 95.9 AND the volume got stuck on full blast. So we’d be driving around Philly with random static blaring at us, and anytime we approached the shore it would transform to deafening classic rock hits. The sensory overload of hearing familiar music in that manner was very inspiring.
Roky Erickson - Gremlins Have Pictures
One of my favorite albums ever, it’s an odds-and-ends sort of deal that covers a range of styles and sonic fidelities yet coalesces around Roky’s unmistakable vision. Guaranteed to blow your mind in the tradition of America’s smartest and weirdest bar bands. He takes us right up to the edge of everyday language, the point where it drops off like an underwater cliff into something deeper.
Redd Kross - Hot Issue
Another odds-and-ends collection from two of the greatest brothers-in-rock to have ever done it. So punk that they ended up in the world of bubblegum classic rock, gleefully taunting hardcore audiences from behind enemy lines. I’ve heard their work described as a reflection of pop music’s past in a funhouse mirror, and that feels pretty apt. Listening to “Don’t Take Your Baby Downtown” and “Motorboat” makes me feel like one of those lab rats who purposely kept electrocuting themselves in experiments in the '60s.
Rolling Stones fanfiction
I can’t talk too much about this for legal reasons, but there’s a ton of incredible fanfiction out there about the Stones that will have you laughing so hard you’re crying. Not like erotic fanfiction, just very surreal stuff that destroys your brain in a pleasant way.
The Three O’Clock - “Jet Fighter”
For a number of these songs my sole instruction to the band was “play it like you’re on an aircraft carrier," and anytime I said this you can be sure I had “Jet Fighter” in mind. “Jet fighter man / that’s what I am / ‘cause tanks go too slow.” Huge hooks and a pop-forward arrangement make it an alternate-reality number one hit.
The “serious rock” of Guided By Voices
By this I mean stuff like “The Best Of Jill Hives”, “Girls of Wild Strawberries”, “Mincer Ray”, and most of Under The Bushes Under The Stars, where there’s a nobility and straightforward sense of purpose guiding the music. Simple pop songs exerting massive gravity. There’s a throughline of serious rock in Pollard’s and Sprout’s work that to my ears descends from Who’s Next, and I tried to continue the thread in songs like “Me & My Blue Angels” and “Hands Down”.
Joan Didion - Slouching Towards Bethlehem
I am in awe of the way these essays infiltrate the veneer of American pop mythology to grasp what was really going on with the cultural changes of the time. Whenever I think of John Wayne, the John Wayne that comes to mind is the one depicted in this book.
More than anything, the music of Detroit band Outrageous Cherry kept me excited about writing songs in the early days of Covid. The universe they’ve created is rich and infinite, full of nods to 60s pop, noise, psych, punk, power-pop, and the school of genius songwriting that defined the Brill Building— it’s record collector rock. I firmly believe that as a songwriter, Matthew Smith, can go toe-to-toe with Bob Pollard or nearly anyone not named Bob Dylan. “Our love will change the world / into a strange place that we don’t recognize."
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion live on Australian TV in 1997
Exhilarating! Words can’t do this video justice, it simply demands to be seen. A testament to the magic that can occur when you set your mind to something and truly go all in.
2ND GRADE - 2022 TOUR DATES
Oct 25 - Ottobar - Baltimore, MD
Nov 09 - Johnny Brenda's - Philadelphia, PA
Nov 15 - The Empty Bottle - Chicago, IL
Nov 16 - SPACE - Evanston, IL
Nov 18 - Rose Bowl Tavern - Urbana, IL
Nov 19 - Hi-Fi - Indianapolis, IN