Pomplamoose's DIY Revolution

In Dawn's lyrics, many fans see, and sometimes imagine, subtle messages to Conte. After the band released "Expiration Date," which she had written about a friend's break-up, mistaken interpretations of the song quickly arrived. "I was getting messages on my personal YouTube page: 'Hey, I hope everything's OK with Nataly, I know you guys are having some trouble right now,'" Conte remembers with a chuckle. "It's a little weird, but we did it to ourselves."

Pomplamoose's music frequently gets labeled "indie-pop," but Conte and Dawn studiously avoid clinging to any single genre. Their vehicle to YouTube fame was covering Lady Gaga's "Telephone" and "Single Ladies"—videos that now have more than six million and seven million views, respectively. But Pomplamoose don't cover a song in the typical sense. Rather, the band reimagines it, surrounding the original melody with different harmonies, rhythms, instruments, lyrics—and, usually, gags. In Pomplamoose's decidedly chilled-out "Single Ladies," Dawn sings over a bridge of complex minor-key chords: "Don't make me sing this part of the song/The lyrics are so bad/So we're going to skip ahead/To the 'Single Ladies' part instead." Pray that Beyoncé ever attains such candor.

Mainstream pop covers were really just a way for Pomplamoose to gain fans. Dawn and Conte's focus is on their originals, which usually receive far fewer views on YouTube. (The most popular has about two million.) These songs drift among musical styles, threading a deep appreciation for vintage pop and jazz through organ-driven rock, funky R&B and delicate folk. Nearly every one, whether a cover or original, employs sophisticated arrangements and technical proficiency that reveal the pair to be talented musicians. But Pomplamoose songs rarely make compelling emotional statements, and few are what you'd call thrilling. While a certain chemistry often carries the music, the overall pleasantness can also make it feel tired and one-dimensional.

Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn handle virtually every aspect of Pomplamoose themselves, including recording, mixing, editing video and marketing to fans.
Jeff Marini
Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn handle virtually every aspect of Pomplamoose themselves, including recording, mixing, editing video and marketing to fans.
The first time Conte and Dawn tried to record music together, it was a disaster- they dated for a year before trying again.
Jamie Soja
The first time Conte and Dawn tried to record music together, it was a disaster- they dated for a year before trying again.

Conte's parents both performed jazz; he grew up playing piano, later picked up the drums and studied music production at Stanford. He's a musical Swiss Army knife, the kind of person who can write an arrangement for string ensemble, lay down a densely syncopated drum track and perform complex passages on the piano with aplomb. Conte has long worked as a record producer for friends' bands, and after meeting Dawn at a gig in college, he offered to produce her debut album, too. But their initial stab at a musical relationship was a disaster. While Conte is enthusiastic and outspoken—and was used to working with others who, like him, would voice an opinion on something the minute they heard it—Dawn rarely offers an emphatic view one way or another. "Later on, I just learned that Nataly doesn't get excited—about anything," he says, only half-jokingly. But after figuring out how to communicate, the two discovered they had extremely complementary musical abilities.

This skillfulness partially fuels Conte's distaste for the practices of the recording industry. Unlike many up-and-coming musicians, he can do everything—writing, performance and production—himself, and at a professional level. He's good enough that he was asked to try producing a song on the latest album from Cee-Lo, who recently had a major hit with "Fuck You." But like a lot of talented independent artists, Conte balked when Cee-Lo's label began telling him how the song should sound. "I wrote this beautiful string arrangement—it was 32 tracks of strings," he recalls. "Beautiful chords! I loved it! But we sent it back to the label, and they were like, 'We don't like this note—can you change that chord?' And I was like, 'No, I can't change that chord. It's the whole point of this arrangement.' So they didn't use the track."

Dawn, by contrast, had no formal training. But her father is a preacher, so she grew up singing in church choruses and playing piano and guitar, before discovering a love for the bass in her late teens. Now, she develops Pomplamoose's bass lines and guitar parts, and writes and sings all the lyrics. Her delicate voice seems to snatch complex melodies out of the air as if they were hanging there, already fully formed. She sometimes sings in French—a legacy of the eight years she lived in France and Belgium between her early childhood in Southern California and coming to college in the Bay Area. (The band's name, in fact, is a phonetic spelling of the French word for grapefruit.)

Dawn also handles the editing of raw footage taken in the studio (or bedroom, as used to be the case) into Pomplamoose's signature videosongs. While music videos are often excruciatingly self-serious affairs, these are casual and laced with witty humor. In "Telephone," she spliced in footage of herself and Conte mocking the original video's extended dance scenes, and inserts a shot of Conte drinking from a water bottle with a label that reads "shameless product placement"—a commentary on Lady Gaga's product-filled original. In their cover of Earth Wind & Fire's "September," the usual split-screens are interrupted with clips of an older woman dancing in high heels and a black dress. A second later, Conte's face is shown stretched into a smile, next to a comic book-style speech bubble that reads, "That's My Grandma!"

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I was going to buy a Hyundai, then I remembered they are total garbage. Kind of like the moronic twee shit this band calls music. Total DIY sellouts. Keep sucking that corporate teat PumpLameAss......


they have attained this level of success because those stupid Hyundai commercials were running nonstop a couple months ago.

Not to mention their music totally unoriginal hipster horses*&t. This woman totally ripped her vocal style from Jolie Holland....a true musical talent.


It's a revolution! A real, honest-to-God revolution!


This article, while interesting, is lazy bullshit when it comes to the reality of the music business - you see, we professionals who lament the death of the Online Guitar Archive (OLGA) understand there's this little thing called copyright. Yeah, they may have sold a shit-ton of downloads on iTunes but they made their name with material still owned by "the major labels." Just because they're popular darlings of the internet they don't have to pay mechanical royalties? The Harry Fox agency and the RIAA haven't sued them into oblivion? What the fuck? Maybe I'm just ignorant as to the new normal of "how to make it" but I'm pretty fucking sure I can't go selling covers of me playing Lady Gaga tracks without some industry goon jabbing me for cash...tell me how they can make money without getting fucked by the system and you've got my vote for a Pulitzer...


Speaking of total garbage.... your comment just makes you sound bitter.


Yeah? Did it occur to you that Pomplamoose legally obtains copyright permissions, pays royalty fees, etc? Its really not that difficult, you know.

Apparently, this possibility never crossed your mind. Wow. Really. Just wow.

You're probably one of those people who might listen to a song by one artist and when you hear a similarity with a song from another artist, you immediately "Plagiarism!" and "Rip Off!" without realizing the original artist was properly credited in the derivative version of the song by the artist you claim is stealing.

In fact, this is something that's very common. Any idea about why that may be? Check out the documentary "Everything is a Remix" for insight into the creative process.


Creativity does not exist in a vacuum. Artists "steal" in the sense that the creative process entails taking bits and pieces of different experiences and inspiration and mixing it up into something new and making it their own.

There is a difference between transformation and imitation; between remix and rip-off; between credit and plagiarism. Its one thing to blatantly copy something with no ideas of your own to add and without giving credit to your sources. Its another thing to use bits and pieces of ideas or concepts from different sources of inspiration as seedlings to develop something new by adding your own ideas and experiences. You can't grow new flowers without the seeds from old flowers. Oysters can't make pearls without putting a grain of sand into it. Freezing water can not form into beautiful snowflakes around nothing i.e. it needs a dust particle from the air.

Most artists are actually flattered to be an influence on other artists. In fact, a really good artist use those tributes from other artists as motivation to take it up another notch. Because that's what winners do.

Haters see someone doing well and it bothers them. If you're a hater, you think that there is only so much pie in the world and if someone else is doing something great then they're taking up all the pie and there is no room left you. That is a terrible way to look at the world. There is plenty of room for everybody. Winners see others doing something great and it INSPIRES. Winners don't get jealous. Winners have a special kind of attitude that allows them to bypass the ego and use other people's accomplishments as motivation to take it up a notch i.e. step up their own game.

If you don't have to filter everything through your ego, you will find that a whole new world is opened up from this vantage point. You should try it sometime.


They have managed the copyright permissions through a proper attorney. Nat is a friend and she and Jack explain the process candidly in a video on Youtube. It is all legit, and as it turns out, remarkably seamless. The legal process is surprisingly accessible to artists.

It is not an original observation that you are making. Journalists have asked and investigated. Legal analysts have been consulted. It is refreshingly legit, and that is why it is getting so much press.

It is called freedom of artistic expression and the legal world has gone to great lengths to both simplify the legal procedure and encourage its proper use.

They'll take that Pulitzer, with our without your vote, thank you!


Just FYI, Pomplamoose has paid for the rights to every song they have ever covered -- they did all of this legitimately, and are doing an awesome job of it.

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