INTERVIEW WITH THE POP-PIRE: An interview with SHAKE SOME ACTION's John Borack!!!
Who is John M. Borack?
Well, as it says on my MySpace page, “I’m a dork.” Beyond that, I’m a husband, father of two awesome kids, community relations director by day and power pop journalist/fanatic by night. I’ve been writing about power pop for more than 20 years and have been playing drums with various L.A.-area pop acts (Receiver, The Dons, Popdudes, Barry Holdship Four) for nearly seven years.
If someone were to come up to you and ask, how would you define power pop?
Well now THERE’S a tricky, sticky question! The generic answer that I give to people with a limited knowledge of music is that it’s influenced by the sound and spirit of the Beatles, but obviously there’s much more to it than that. The definition changes each time I attempt to define it, but it generally includes the words “melody,” “harmonies,” “hooks” and “guitars.” Oh, and don’t forget songs. Gotta have the songs.
For me personally, the net that is cast over the power pop genre is pretty broad; it can encompass the quirky art-pop of XTC, the near-AOR teenybop of ‘80s-vintage Rick Springfield and/or the classic skinny-tie sounds of The Plimsouls, The Beat and 20/20.
What was your first experience with power pop?
As I mention in the book, it all began with my dad purchasing my first Beatles record for me at age five. Once I got into college and got over my Foreigner/Boston/Styx phase, I found myself constantly on the prowl for music that moved me in the same way the Beatles always have. Power pop did just that and it still does.
Your book SHAKE SOME ACTION is a pretty exhaustive history of power pop. What gave you the idea to write it? How long did it take to compile and write?
The seed was actually planted by the book’s editor, Jeff Bleiel, who originally approached me with the idea sometime in 2001, I believe. Jeff, who is a former Goldmine Magazine scribe like myself, thought that a good jumping off point might be a more fleshed-out version of the “Top 50 Power Pop Albums” lists that I used to compile for Goldmine. I agreed, since I had always gotten a good response to those lists and had seen them pop up on the internet from time to time, with folks debating the merits of my choices.
From there it involved going back through my old reviews, re-writing and re-purposing some, working up others from scratch, ranking the top 200 and selecting other folks – friends, artists and fellow music journalists – to contribute their own top 10 lists, quotes, musings, etc. It was a long road to be sure, but certainly a worthwhile one to travel.
Was it easy to get in contact with your power pop heroes for their lists and pieces? Is the power pop community a tight-knit one? Were there any artists who said “no”?
It was easier than you’d think to get in touch with some of the musicians who contributed lists or quotes; artists such as Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne), Peter Holsapple (dB’s), Dave Smalley (Raspberries) and countless others were not only very approachable, but also very supportive, encouraging and willing to help.
I think my tenure as a writer made it a bit easier for some of the artists to trust me, as I have known many of them for quite some time through my various writing endeavors and am lucky enough to count some of them as my friends. I’ve had the opportunity to meet a bunch of the musicians thanks to the International Pop Overthrow and Poptopia festivals, and I’d have to say that those sorts of events helped in forming some long-lasting bonds.
And yes, there were some artists who chose not to contribute, but just about everyone was quite gracious about it.
Are you expecting any backlash from fans about the placing of certain albums on your “Top 200 Greatest Albums” list?
Oh sure, and that’s half the fun of it. It’s definitely a “your mileage may vary” type of thing in terms of the rankings, especially since I chose to sneak in quite a few “under the radar” albums in there and ignored some higher-profile, well-respected acts. And of course, to use the old cliché, if I had to re-rank them today, the list would probably look quite a bit different. As a matter of fact, just today I was thumbing through the book and was amazed I had ranked one particular album so low. Perhaps I’ll start a backlash against myself…
If you could go back and make any changes to the book, would you or are you completely happy with it?
Since nobody’s perfect (especially yours truly), I always look back at things I’ve done and wish I had done certain things differently. In the case of SHAKE SOME ACTION, I wish we had room for some more of the outstanding contributions from other journalists and artists. Other than that, I’d have to say that I’m pretty pleased with how everything turned out. My hope is that others will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed putting it together.
Has being immersed in power pop during the writing of the book kind of made you want to take a break from the genre, or has it only strengthened that love?
Well, it definitely didn’t make me want to take a break from listening at all, but it did make me want to take a break from my other writing endeavors for a bit. As I write this, though, I’m listening to The Nines’ amazing new one, GRAN JUKLE'S FIELD, and I’m remembering why I love power pop so damned much.
The book also comes with a CD of power pop rarities. How involved were you with the CD selection process?
Intimately involved, meaning I picked ‘em all! It’s a wide range of stuff, with some cool archival cuts (The Wackers, Paul Collins & Peter Case, the 20/20 demo), rarities and songs recorded specifically for the project. Just about everything on the disc is previously unreleased and I feel that there are some real gems on there, particularly the Mark Johnson, Rooks, Michael Guthrie Band and Pranks tracks. But I’m biased – I like ‘em all.
Are you considering a follow-up to SHAKE SOME ACTION, maybe a volume two? It seems like there’s still a lot of ground to cover.
Paging Bruce Brodeen – are you listening? Yes, I’d love the opportunity to do a follow-up volume, and to that end, I’m already kicking around a few ideas. There certainly is plenty more ground to be covered and I’d like to be the one to cover it!
Want a copy of SHAKE SOME ACTION? Better hurry and order here!