To appreciate the recent rise of Tapioca and the Flea is to recognize the power of persistence and dedication to the idea that a bedroom project is always just a song or two away from blowing up. For Samuel Jacob-Lopez Jr., the lead vocalist and brainchild of the OC-bred outfit, years of pawing and tinkering with electronic music in between gigs as a hired gun for gritty garage bands was always just something he'd seen as a spare time outlet with no intention of gaining an audience. Fast forward to 2013 and songs like “Mellotron” and “Home” are being blasted over the airwaves and getting clicked on like crazy.
Over the last few months, Tapioca and the Flea's profile boost in the eyes of indie rock tastemakers comes on the heels of a relentless radio campaign inspired by Lopez's new and improved sound bolstered by a band full of his best friends and roommates. Right around the time stations like 89.9 FM KCRW and 98.7 ALT FM began to take notice, Lopez–along with drummer Matt McClanahan, guitarist Ronnie Knott and bassist/keyboardist Frank Alva–were already on a mission to play key gigs like Silverlake's Jubliee Fest well as packed shows at Bardot and House of Blues. Currently, the band is on the cusp of releasing their new EP in the fall. As opportunities continue to expand exponentially for TATF, they're adamant about maintaining their connection to OC, which includes a gig tomorrow at Detroit Bar alongside fellow OC/LA band Mt. Ossa as well as Gazoota and Semi Sweet. We caught up with Lopez over the phone to get a better understanding of what this whirlwind summer has been like for them.
OC Weekly (Nate Jackson): You've developed a pretty interesting blend of electronic dream pop and dance music. Has that always been the recipe for the band as far as the sound?
I've always been fascinated with blending genres, ever since high school. My dad's a DJ, I grew up listening to dance music. I grew up in a house full of my dad's vinyl collection and always around his DJ friends and I always had that influence on me of appreciating music that makes your head bob. And being around so many different kinds of music early on really influenced the way I view music. I've never been one to stick with one style. The reason I started Tapioca and the Flea was because I wanted to just break all the rules. It was just like a little recording project of mine. I was touring with other bands at the time, I toured with a band called Kitten, Thee Rain Cats, I was playing guitar in a band called Gothic Tropic. Tapioca and the Flea was just my way of getting weird production shit out of my system. Stuff I just wanted to do to see if I could do it. Overtime the songs started developing and I decided I wanted to make this a band and I wanted to start touring instead of playing as a hired musician. So I decided to bring on my best friends, dudes I've been living with for a while to flesh out the sound.
You also grew up in the same circle of bands like Local Natives, The Growlers, Young the Giant, Mt. Ossa and Dahga Bloom, does seeing those bands succeed give you more pride or faith in your own project?
It's so rad, all the ones who stayed with it are doing great. I wasn't even really in bands like that in the early days, I was more just like a homie in that circle wanting to play music, but at the same time I'd just graduated high school and trying to figure out how I was going to support myself. It wasn't until after that period where I realized I wanted to do music for a living.
Lyrically, what kind of concepts or influences do you reach for as a songwriter to compliment your sound?
It's different with every song, but as cliché as it sounds, this new EP we're putting out is sort of a break up record. It wasn't that way intentionally. But that's what sparked these songs in the first place and what drove me to make something out of this band. I was in almost a four year relationship with a girl that actually gave me the name Tapioca and the Flea. I was on tour when we'd broken up and I came home and this was my way of coping with the break up. I'm gonna write these songs and make my own band and make something of myself. So mainly with all my lyrics, I like to write when I'm in the heat of a particular emotion. I don't like to over think it too much. I want them to sound as honest and real as possible. I want them to sound like I'm just speaking them.
You also tend to do a lot of remixes of songs in addition to originals, do you try to keep that stuff separate from what you generally do live with the band?
It all goes hand-in-hand. My remixes are basically just my production practice. They're a chance for me to try different recording and production techniques that I've never done before. That's usually what I get out of it. And the better the song is, the more fun it is for me. Most of the songs I remix are already awesome songs already. So it's a challenge to get them sounding cooler or different, but the hardest part is not ruining them.
Tapioca and the Flea play tomorrow at Detroit Bar at 9 p.m. For full show details, click here.
Nate Jackson is the gatekeeper to your dreams of local dive bar stardom. If he writes about you, expect your band to be offered at least one more drink ticket than the rest of the bands on the bill. Get his attention with some groovy tunes and he might just do it. Then, boy will you feel special.