Billy Tibbals Taps The Source Code to Power Pop Glory
A new wave of power pop has struck the Sunset Strip and Billy Tibbals is right at the heart of the action especially coming off his debut single "Onwards and Upwards" last December. Ahead of his show tonight in Buffalo, we caught up with Tibbals to discuss what it's been like since moving from London to Los Angeles, working with fellow Angeleno Reza Martin of the Uni Boys on the debut 7", and getting in touch with The Black Crowes' Chris Robinson for his forthcoming EP Stay Teenage.
Before 2022 ended, Curation Records offered one more power pop nugget from rising rocker Billy Tibbals. His melodious debut single, "Onwards and Upwards" was written and recorded at home in his parents' garage at the height of lockdown times alongside Uni Boys' guitarist-singer Reza Martin, who also drums in Tibbals' band. Back in 2014, Tibbals moved from London to Los Angeles and quickly found a love for much of Hollywood's eccentricities and its history of primal rock 'n' roll and skinny tie power pop. Leaning into a love of Sparks, The Quick, 20/20, and The Lemon Twigs, Tibbals tears into the mod revival and power pop playbook while still sounding fresh as ever with his punchy and reflective sensibilities and indelible hooks. Across his forthcoming six-track EP Stay Teenage, Tibbals throws in a sugar-rush of strings and piano, swaggering guitar licks, and fantastical lyrics — proving why he's at the forefront of Hollywood's rock 'n' roll scene.
Tibbals and his band hit the road last month with Detroit rocker Mac Saturn and we were lucky to catch up with him to discuss the tour, what it's been like since moving from London to Los Angeles, and working with The Black Crowes' Chris Robinson on his forthcoming EP.
Paperface Zine: Hey Billy! We've been really digging everything you've released and we're really excited for everything happening around you right now. Tell the readers a little bit about your background and how you dipped your toes into playing music?
Billy Tibbals: Hey! I'm a singer-songwriter from L.A., I moved there from London in 2014. Back in London when I was a kid, I used to put on magic shows for slightly younger kids at their birthday parties. From there, I got into acting for a little while and then filmmaking. Probably around the 10th grade was when I finally settled into what seems to be my proper calling. What I'm doing now is definitely still very tied to all of those interests I had growing up! I like to heighten reality… not that I'm out of touch with the real world though! Maybe just a little bit.
PZ: Who are some of your musical heroes?
BT: The Beatles always have been and always will be my favorite band! I grew up listening to lots of Beatles CDs as well as my dads favorite band The Clash. I'm a big disco fan too, I love Abba! A lot of my musical heroes are those guys that came close to being successful, but never quite made it in the mainstream. Chris Sievey, Brett Smiley, and Martin Newell to name a few… oh and Alain Kan! There's so many underrated songwriters. Not an archetype that I hope to fall under the category of though!
PZ: Take us through the origins of your solo venture and backing band. Were you in any bands prior?
BT: I was in one band in the 7th grade. We were called Blinding! For a while I wanted to come up with a moniker or band name to put my music out under, but I just couldn't really find anything that sounded right so I decided to go with my own name. I've been writing and recording for a few years now, stockpiling songs and recordings. I actually don't have a full time backing band at the moment. While we are on tour with Mac Saturn this year, there are going to be a few lineup changes. I'm hoping to get the band locked in when I get back from tour! The first carnation of the live band came about around two years ago though. We got an offer to open up for Gary Wilson and that seemed to me a good reason to finally get a live band together! The show never ended up happening, but we had a 30-minute set ready to go. We started playing around L.A. and haven't stopped since then.
PZ: What's something you admire about your band? Also, who dresses the best?
BT: I'm lucky to have found a group of musicians who are all incredibly hard working and talented! They're also all my best friends so we have a great time together. Tristan who plays guitar is definitely the best dressed. That guy's got some sharp suits!
PZ: What was it like moving from London to L.A. in 2014? What did you love about the city and its rock 'n' roll history?
BT: It was pretty exciting! I'm one of those people who just belongs in L.A. I think, it feels like home to me. It's quite a magical place, never ceases to inspire me.
PZ: Legendary power pop acts like The Quick, The Nerves, Pushups, and The Knack formed in Los Angeles. In what ways has this impacted your music? Do you think power pop is timeless?
BT: I think it for sure can be. I absolutely love The Quick — they're one of my very favorite bands. I go to this one record store by my house a lot called Freakbeat. I went there one morning rather hungover with my friend Pamer. I noticed this guy and thought that he looked kind of familiar, then it hit me! It was Danny Benair, the drummer of The Quick. I chatted with him for a while. Stuff like that's pretty cool! Rock 'n' roll is happening in L.A., it's starting up! I can feel it.
PZ: Los Angeles has always been a hotspot for psych rock and punk, but it looks like there’s a rise of or at least craving for glam-tinged power pop especially with Curation Records artists including you and Uni Boys. One of the modern kings of power pop Richard Hamilton even recently moved there! Do you think this is true and if so, what's the scene like right now?
BT: The scene is small, but it really does feel like the start of something to me. The shows feel exciting. We need more bands though. Calling all rock 'n' roll bands! Come to Hollywood!
PZ: Aside from you and Uni Boys, what other L.A. rock 'n' roll bands are worth checking out?
BT: My friends Chance and Skye have cool band. I think they're called Death To The Puritan right now… I played in a band with them a little while back too. I love their stuff, hoping they release something soon. Dagger Polyester puts on one of the best shows in town. A name to watch out for!
PZ: Right at the end of December '22, you released your debut single "Onwards and Upwards," which was recorded in your parent's garage studio and produced alongside Uni Boys' Reza Martin during the height of lockdown. This single feels like it's out of time so what was it like putting that track together along with its B-Side "Lucy"?
BT: It was a fun few sessions! We recorded it all on an 8-track tape machine. We were really just trying to get a slightly more HiFi sounding version of the original demo we recorded probably about a year prior. But still trying to keep the energy and life of that demo. It took a few tries. I really do love recording at home.
PZ: Were you surprised by the positive reaction to the single?
BT: I was super stoked! I wasn't really sure what to expect to be honest. I'm glad people seem to dig it!
PZ: Last month, you released "Hollywood Baby," the first track from your forthcoming EP Stay Teenage. There's some strings and piano on this one and it's got a bit of an early T-rex flair to it. How did this number come about and what was it like working with Chris Robinson of The Black Crowes and Silver Arrow Records?
BT: "Hollywood Baby" is the oldest song on the record. I wrote it like a year or so before recording it in the studio. I think it was actually the demo of that song that got Chris interested in the idea of recording a record together. It was a lot of fun recording with him. He really let us be free, but always gave us very smart and helpful direction during the sessions.
PZ: How did that collaboration even come about?
BT: We met at a bar in L.A. We got along and I ended up sending him a few of my demos. Much to my surprise shortly after, he called me and asked if I wanted to cut a record!
PZ: The second track off the EP "Best Day I Ever Had" sounds a bit like Sparks mixed with The Boys. What were the sessions like for the whole EP? It sounds like you carefully put this one together especially with the baroque pop-styled production on the last two cuts.
BT: The sessions were pretty full on. We recorded the whole thing as a three-piece live. Then after that we overdubbed for two days. We had very clear ideas of what each song needed and had all of the arrangements planned out so even though we only had three days to record it, it didn't feel to overwhelming. We had a string quartet come in on the last day. That was a lot of fun!
PZ: How do you approach your songwriting and what sort of themes do you like to write about?
BT: I'm constantly humming tunes into my voice memos! I don't really have any set method or way about it to be honest. Stay Teenage thematically is kind of about growing up and that.
PZ: How's the tour going so far with Mac Saturn? Tell us some of your favorite spots you've visited and any interesting stories from the van?
BT: Having a ton of fun! The crowds have been absolutely fantastic. Last nights show in Montréal was a lot of fun. We played this smaller place and crammed in like 200 kids. It was Reza's birthday too so we were all extra amped up, definitely one of the most fun shows of the tour so far. When we played in Vermont there was another show going on in the bigger room of the venue we we're playing. It was this band called Disco Biscuit I think! We all had a few drinks after our set and went over there to watch their set. I must say they attract quite an interesting crowd. We had a lot of fun hanging around and reza got way too high! Also tried conjuring spirits with a ouija board I found at a thrift store one night in Philly. No luck unfortunately… or maybe that was for the best!
PZ: What was that L.A. show like with Uni Boys and Hammered Satin back in January?
BT: It was pretty mad! Honestly one of the best shows we have ever put on together, it was the first time I'd seen a line of people outside waiting to get in to one of our shows! Hopefully they just keep getting bigger and crazier!
PZ: How has it been playing these tracks live so far? How have they differed from the studio versions?
BT: Before even heading on tour we'd been playing our current set for about a year or so. Fortunately I'm still not tired of playing it! We're having fun just bringing a lot of energy to the live shows. It’s a bit louder and faster live!
PZ: What's next for you following the EP? Will it lead to a full-length?
BT: When I get back from tour, I'm going to record another EP. Hoping to get that out sometime this year along with another single or two.
Onwards and Upwards / Lucy is out now through Curation Records.