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David Bash describes himself as not much of a risk taker, but he took a risk nearly 20 years ago when he started the International Pop Overthrow Music Festival. In 1998, Bash gave up his job teaching at a community college to put on the festival in Los Angeles. It featured bands in the musical niche of power pop – hook-filled songs with jangly, chiming guitars and strong melodies and choruses. Today IPO festivals are held in 17 cities in the United States, Canada, England and Sweden. The one in England, by the way, is held at the reconstructed Cavern Club in Liverpool, where the Beatles played in the early ’60s. A self-described non-traditional entrepreneur operating a non-traditional business, Bash wants to continue to produce the festival his way. While bigger name acts and bigger venues would bring in more money, taking that route would spoil what IPO has become for its fans around the world, Bash said. Bash, 57, pretty much runs the business by himself out of his home in Sherman Oaks. He spoke with the Business Journal about starting his business, the appeal of power pop, his all-time favorite band and his extensive music collection. Question: What motivates you? Answer: What motivates me is to continue to do something special, something that people appreciate, something that helps musicians, something that other people aren’t doing. I just want to be able to continue to create a platform for musicians to play in front of people who dig what they do. Do you consider the IPO festival to be a business in the traditional sense of the word? Definitely not. For all intents and purposes it is a business. I don’t like to think of it that way while I am doing it. But in point of fact it is a business. It generates income. I need that income to live on. I like to think of it as a passion as far as I’m concerned. That’s the main reason I do it. It’s certainly not a lucrative business by any stretch. What do you love about it? The music. I only book bands I like. I love going to all the different places. I love the people who are involved, the bands, the people who come to the shows. There are good vibes all over the place. What was your original career aspiration? To work with my dad. He was first an architect and then started purchasing land and building on it. Then he went into acquisition of companies, he went into producing movies. He had his hand in a lot of stuff. I really admire my dad and wanted to follow in his footsteps. But as I got older, it became clear it was not for me. You studied journalism and psychology. Why didn’t you pursue a journalism career? I really went to school more to get an education. I liked journalism and I also wanted to bridge the gap between my innate ability with numbers and my lack of innate ability with words. As I continued to go to journalism school I started to think that maybe I’d like to write for a magazine. Lo and behold, at that time my dad did get involved in the purchase of a magazine. I worked for that for a while and got a little experience. Then I discovered that really wasn’t for me. I was floundering a lot in my early 20s. What did you do next? I went back to school to get my psych degree. When we moved out from New York to California, I went to UC-Irvine, got my bachelor’s degree in psych and then went into their Ph.D. program in cognitive psychology. I started teaching while I was a grad student and really loved that. I taught psychology at a community college for eight years before I started doing IPO. I had one diversion. In 1994 I was marketing director for a real estate company in Bakersfield. What happened? The timing was not good. That’s when the market went belly up. How did you come to start the festival? One day I was sitting in a Carl’s Jr. with a gentleman named Ben McLane. He’s a music attorney and a friend. We were talking about the fact there are a lot of bands from all over the world that wanted to play in Los Angeles. I said to Ben, “I can do a festival that brings bands from all over the world and puts them under one roof with the commonality of the music being pop and melodic rock and roll.” He said, “You should.” That was all the encouragement I needed at the time. It all came from that lunch. Did you know anything about organizing a festival when you started IPO? I watched what Tony Perkins (another local music festival promoter) was doing with Poptopia, so I learned a little from that. Other than that I never organized anything in my life. But I had a good feeling about it and because of the core group of people not just in L.A. but all over the world, I thought it was viable and would work. I don’t know if I could have sold it to people outside that sphere. Did you have a long-term plan? After the first IPO I taught one more semester and said that’s it. During our fourth IPO in 2001 we had a panel and a bunch of the bands came to the panel and one of the guys stood up and said, “It’s time to take this on the road. We love coming out here, but it’s expensive.” Where was your first festival outside Los Angeles? One of the members of a New York band said, “Do the first one in New York. I’ll get you into venues.” I believed him and he was true to his word. The first one other than L.A. was in New York in December 2001. How did it go? While I was putting the lineup together, 9/11 happened. I contacted the bands about a week afterward saying, “Should we do this?” To a person they said “Absolutely. We need it.” The venues said the same thing. I was encouraged by that and it went great. And from there you just kept adding new cities? The following year we went to Chicago for the first time. That one was taken to heart because I had named the festival International Pop Overthrow after the name of the first Material Issue album, and they were from Chicago. Little by little we kept expanding. The most exciting one was in Liverpool. In early 2003 I was contacted by a woman named Jean Catherall who said she had heard of the festival and had I ever thought of doing it in Europe. I said, “Not really.” She said, “Have you ever thought of doing it at the Cavern Club?” You could have knocked me over with a feather. I said, “It would be a dream come true.” She said, “Leave it to me. I know the people who run it.” Two days later she gets back to me and said they wanted to do it. In October 2003 we did our first one (in Liverpool) and it went great. What did a Liverpool show mean for the festival? It is the one that is the most exciting. It is the one that stays truest to the idea of bringing bands from all over the world under one umbrella. Now that I am doing the festival in all of these cities, each one has more of a regional feel than L.A. did initially. In Liverpool that doesn’t matter. The Cavern Club is the draw. You can get bands from anywhere to come. Why should people attend the festival? We have a core group of people who follow IPO but those are obsessive pop fans. What about people who are more in the mainstream? There are bands playing this festival that will remind your readership of the music they listened to in their youth. These bands are good enough to pull it off. It will touch something within them that was a part of them. What other cities or countries would you like to expand to? I’ve been contacted by a promoter in Madrid who wants us to do one there. I’d certainly be up for that. They love pop in Madrid. Other places I’ve been thinking about are the Netherlands, I’ve been thinking of my ancestral homeland Israel, I’ve been thinking about Tokyo, Sydney, Melbourne. Those are the ones on my shortlist. I have a feeling next year we will choose one of those cities and make it a third true international festival. What is your favorite moment from the festival? In 2011 it was the 20th anniversary of the International Pop Overthrow album. The two surviving members of Material Issue – and for your readers the main guy Jim Ellison committed suicide – Ted Ansani and Mike Zelenko decided they were going to celebrate the anniversary of the album by recruiting a local (Chicago) musician named Phil Angotti and asked him if he would play Jim’s part, play his guitar parts and sing his leads. They decided they were going to go out and play the “International Pop Overthrow” album top to bottom in honor of the anniversary. When I heard about that I said if this going to happen, it has to happen at IPO. So I contacted them and said I want this. We worked out the details and it happened in April 2011. The place was packed, absolutely sold out. It was a big moment not only in the history of the festival but in the history of the band. The band did an amazing job. It was almost like Jim Ellison’s spirt was in Phil’s body, he did it so well. Who are some performers you’d like to have play IPO? I’d love to have the Fountains of Wayne. I’d love to have The Smithereens. More than anything I’d love to have a Jellyfish reunion. Everybody says that’s not going to ever happen. But never say never. And if a Jellyfish reunion does happen, it has to happen at IPO. So if (Jellyfish lead singer) Andy Sturmer reads the Business Journal, he can see those words right there. You are known for wearing different hat style. How did that come about? I am pretty bald and I don’t like how it looks. So I thought let’s make the best of the situation and I’ll wear some hats. I remember starting with the cowboy hats for a while. I still have my beret. Last year I found this hat (at a resale shop) which is known as the Godfather. I have gotten more compliments on this hat than all my other hats combined. Now anytime I do an IPO show, that is the one worn. Why the focus on power pop? I like ’60s and ’70s Top 40. I love ’50s rock and roll, doo wop and R&B. But power pop was beginning to experience a renaissance in the mid-’90s. I fully embraced that. When I moved back here from Bakersfield there was a scene happening. Tony Perkins was doing his Bubblegum Crisis stuff and ultimately the Poptopia festival. In a sense you can say it chose me because the renaissance was happening and I fell in full throttle. What is the attraction of power pop? For a lot of people there is a feeling of great nostalgia. Not just the old stuff but stuff from bands of today because it is reminiscent of what they grew up with. That and the songs are very catchy. What’s your favorite band? The Beach Boys are my favorite band for sure. The vocal arrangements are second to none. The melodies are awesome. The production values have always been really good. In certain phases of their career, like the early ’70s and the albums “Sunflower,” “Surf’s Up” and “Holland,” they created stuff that has never been able to be copied. That is a testament how great the Beach Boys are. How big is your music collection? I have about 14,000 CDs, maybe about 1,300 albums and 1,500 45s. I am definitely buying a lot more vinyl now. I am buying stuff I had gotten rid of. I used to have a lot more vinyl, I got rid of it in ’93. I have been buying some of it back and buying reissues on vinyl. There is going to come a time where I’m going to have to make a decision to get rid of some of it or move into a house. You list baseball and football among your hobbies. Who are your teams? I love watching both. The Yankees are my team in baseball. That’s mostly from growing up in New York and being counter against all the Mets fans. I have been a fan since 1970. Later in that year I became a Miami Dolphins fan. Now we are in some lean years. But, you know, there were some great times and I’m sure there will be again. What would you do differently in your career? Would I do anything else other than IPO? No, this is my calling. I hope to keep doing it as long my health allows. Would I run the festival differently? There are things that people suggest all the time. Get bigger names, get bigger venues, get more sponsors. Things that will raise the profile of the festival, things that will make more money. In theory I agree with a lot of them. In practice I disagree with most of them. To do a lot of these things would compromise the integrity of the festival. It would compromise the overall vibe and it wouldn’t jive with my personality.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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