Plaid Brixx Navigates the Pop-Punk Divide
Columbus, Ohio threesome Plaid Brixx started out in 2014 on the poppier side of pop-punk, with a sound akin to late 2000s-era bands like Fall Out Boy, We the Kings, and Cute Is What We Aim For. Success followed quickly, with their first EP, Chemistry, earning a nomination for an Independent Music Award in the 2014 Best Rock EP category. Plaid Brixx continues its winning ways on the road, most recently as part of the We the Kings 10-year anniversary tour through the US and UK.
Plaid Brixx singer and songwriter Chris Duggan spoke with Rawckus about the band’s self-titled EP, released in November 2016; artistic integrity; playing live versus in the studio, and the power of Taylor Swift.
Rawckus: You guys just came out with an EP last year. How did that come together?
Chris Duggan: I took two trips out to LA to work with two guys that are hip hop and pop producers. It was the first time I cowrote a song with anyone. That was a really cool experience. One of them actually happened to be someone I went to college with.
What made you choose to go with a hip hop or pop producer?
CD: Part of it was because we knew them. I also listened to their work and really liked it. I thought it would bring an interesting aspect and allow us to change our sound a little bit from what it had been. I could learn from them as well. I’m always trying to learn and grow as a producer.
What have you personally produced?
CD: I co-produced the EP. I produce maybe 50 songs a year. We’re sitting on a goldmine of material right now. We haven’t really released any of those songs that I’ve made over the years.
You said you like to constantly grow and change. How do you think you’ve changed since Chemistry?
CD: The whole Chemistry EP was about finding the positive note in negative stuff like break ups. I’ve tried to write about happier stuff, I guess—be positive and uplifting. I think that my songwriting has gotten tremendously better since the first record in terms of ability.
The Plaid Brixx EP feels very of the moment with its electronic influence. How does that translate to the live show?
CD: We use most of the synth tracks directly and cut out the drum tracks and the bass tracks. Then Mark, our drummer, plays his own version of the song on a live kit. It rocks a lot harder. Since we started as a punk-rock band, that has always been in our live performance. Now that we’re playing more pop stuff, we’ve kept the rock feel of our set.
So would you say that you’re almost like two different bands then? One studio and one live?
CD: We want our live shows to be different than the recording. We don’t want to go up there and play the same thing that everyone’s heard. We want people to expect a little more. Have some showmanship.
What songs or albums specifically influenced this EP?
CD: I dissect the music industry into a post- and pre- Taylor Swift’s-1989-world because of how influential the album has been on pop music since. Definitely that album, also Grimes’ new album Art Angels. I’ve been listening to a ton of top 40. Like a ton.
We want our live shows to be different than the recording. We don’t want to go up there and play the same thing that everyone’s heard.
The top 40 influence is certainly present in the Plaid Brixx EP. Where I see that diverging though is on your song “Away We Go.” It’s more industrial and ‘80s in its sound.
CD: That’s Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode. I love those two groups, and I wanted to do more of an industrial electronic song. Thank you for picking up on that vibe.
Some bands—Fall Out Boy for instance—that have transitioned from a heavier pop-punk sound to a more top 40 pop sound have caught some flak from fans wanting that earlier pop-punk sound. Do you worry about missing out on those types of listeners?
CD: I don’t because I enjoy making the music that we’re making now. Doing the other thing wouldn’t be authentic to who I am or who we are as a band now. If they wanted us to be inauthentic and do the old stuff, we wouldn’t be happy, and then we probably wouldn’t make music anymore.
What has been your favorite moment of the We the Kings tour so far?
CD: When we played PlayStation Theater in New York. It was dope. There were 1,500 people, or something. The green rooms were absolutely stunning. It was right by Times Square, and we filmed a music video there before we played. It was a really fun day.
What is your dream tour package to play on?
CD: We were just talking about this last night. We’d love to open for Twenty One Pilots. That would be the dream. They’re also from Columbus, Ohio, so that would be cool too.
CD: They have a great thing going on right now. They are able to maintain a career in pop music but also retain artistic integrity.
Are there any other Columbus, Ohio bands we should be looking out for?
CD: Kid Runner is our friend’s band, and they’re really good. They have some great songs. They have a song on a Nexium commercial too, which I thought was cool.
What’s your ultimate goal for the band?
CD: To take it as far as we can—sell out our own tours. I would love to do stadiums—to take it as far as we can possibly take it.