Postmodern Jukebox: Party Like It’s 1929

I like to say that we put current pop songs into a time machine and take them back to bygone eras. But, if they’re a Seinfeld fan, I’d simply call it a bizarro-world of pop music.

Story by Matt Heidkamp - Photos by Icarus Blake Cover by Max Power Videos provided by Postmodern Jukebox
Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

In today’s digital landscape, where masses of musicians fight to be heard, it can be difficult to stand out from the crowd…even more so if you’re a cover band. Postmodern Jukebox has drastically broken from the pack. By putting a vintage twist on contemporary pop music, the band has amassed a huge online following of fans looking to Lindy Hop to “Thrift Shop” and party like it’s 1929. Their covers are racy, adventurous, and would certainly earn Fitzgerald’s approval.

We spoke with Postmodern’s founder and pianist Scott Bradlee about the state of contemporary pop music, crowd funding, and their plans for the future.

Citizen Brooklyn: How did the idea for Postmodern Jukebox come together? How was it formed?
I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of translating songs into different eras.  When I was a kid, I would take Notorious B.I.G. instrumentals and turn them into jazz piano pieces.  Later, when I first started playing gigs, I would sneak in ragtime versions of “Stairway to Heaven” and “Freebird” – stuff that was entertaining, but maybe also a bit subversive. Years later, I found YouTube to be the perfect place to post these experiments, and came up with the idea of labeling them “Postmodern Jukebox,” as sort of an umbrella term to describe the concept of covering current pop hits in different time periods.  Of course, it didn’t really take off until February of this year, when Robyn joined us for a 1930’s swing version of “Thrift Shop.”  Now, Postmodern Jukebox is somewhere between a band and a concept – we have our original lineup (Robyn, Adam, Allan, and myself), but we keep a flexible framework that allows us to incorporate various guest musicians on our videos.

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

CBK: How do you feel about the state of pop music today? Do you think there is something lacking from today’s music that music from the past captured?
I think no matter the time period, there will always be a nontrivial amount of people that swear that pop music was better in the past.  That’s just the way nostalgia works.  In general, though, I try to play the part of the observer, rather than passing judgment on the pop scene.  The mostly electronic production of pop music today certainly lacks the urgency and earthiness of music recorded in earlier eras, but it also reflects the disconnected feeling of today’s Smartphone Culture quite accurately.  I think one could make the case that today’s pop music does exactly what it’s supposed to do.

CBK: In the age of crowd funding, more and more artists are finding success in getting fans to donate money for interesting projects. In Postmodern Jukebox’s case, you guys are seeking funding to create music videos on Patreon. How do you think things like crowd funding are impacting artists today?
If you aren’t a Top 40 artist, crowd funding is extremely important.  The record industry was built to mass produce albums and sell them for profit;  this worked for many years, but it no longer makes sense in the digital age.  The ability to stream any song at any time killed the old model. Fortunately, a new model has emerged, with crowd funding as its cornerstone.  In the new model, artists don’t sell music, they sell access.  A crowd funded model allows fans from all over the world to connect directly with artists, without any middle men or gatekeepers. Platforms like Patreon and Stageit (an online concert venue) are win-win; the artists get funding, and the fans get to be a part of an experience.  Albums can be duplicated easily, but experiences can not; this is why touring is still a huge revenue stream. The personal relationship between artists and their fans will always be important, no matter how technology changes.

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

CBK: What can we expect with your upcoming crowd funded videos?
Well, no major format changes.  I’ll still film things in one take, and mostly in my living room – after all, that’s a big part of our appeal.  But, it will be nice to upgrade our equipment and have more flexibility.  And, of course, the budget will make it easier to make videos more often; we no longer have to choose between making money and making videos.

CBK: If you could live and play in one particular era, which would it be and why? (‘60’s Motown scene, the New Orleans jazz scene in the ‘20s, etc)
This one is easy, since the idea behind Postmodern Jukebox actually started in New Orleans around the turn of the century.  Back then, there was this amazing confluence of cultures and music genre all in one place, which resulted in the birth of jazz. Musicians there would take popular songs and melodies and flip them into jazz and Latin styles – that was the scene back then.  So, in a way, what we do is a very old concept.

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

CBK: If you had to explain what Postmodern Jukebox does to someone who has never heard the music or seen any of the videos, how would you describe it?
I like to say that we put current pop songs into a time machine and take them back to bygone eras. But, if they’re a Seinfeld (or Superman) fan, I’d simply call it a bizarro-world of pop music.

CBK: What are your plans for 2014?
Our calendar for 2014 is already filling up, which is very exciting.  We’re going to be playing live a lot more, and not just in North America.  But of course, we’re going to keep experimenting with different ways to present music online, and I’m going to try to offer more educational material like sheet music for musicians that are interested in the more technical aspects of what we do.  The challenge for us in 2014 is to grow Postmodern Jukebox without sacrificing any of the traits that made us interesting in the first place.

7 Responses to “Postmodern Jukebox: Party Like It’s 1929”

  1. Tom says:

    Poor puddles didn’t get mentioned. Poor, poor Puddles.

  2. Phil says:

    Yeah puddles is now a part of this group. Hope they all go far.

  3. Norma says:

    Puddles is not a part of the group. He was a guest performer.

  4. Tom says:

    Puddles is his own person. Still, he’s sad. So, so sad.

  5. Scott S says:

    This group is fresh and classic. Thanks for the interview and I look forward to more music in 2014.

  6. […] to engage with their audience and involve them in the creative process. In an interview with Citizen Brooklyn, Bradlee explained that this was very deliberate, because in the digital age where fans can stream […]