There have really only been two bands over the past few years that I've totally fallen for and written about over and over again, and Philly alt.-rock outfit Shinobi—now known as Peroxide Blonde—is one of them. I've tried to take every opportunity to yell and scream about how much I believe in this band and their potential, and their latest three-song EP, Never Made Me Cry, simply continues that trend.
The opening title track provides the strongest example of the band's knack for atypically interwoven and off-beat-sounding riffs and cryptic little earworm hooks—complete with '60s-esque vocal harmonies, in this case. "Ripoff" is reworked from the group's very first cassette (back when they were Shinobi) and is about as close as they come to a punked-up form of "straightforward" and catchy energy. It's hard to pick a favorite, but I might have to go with emotional and moving closer "Thief in the Night"—there's just something about its powerful dynamic shifts, depressing atmosphere, and explosive chorus that especially strikes me.
Peroxide Blonde just doesn't really sound like anyone, and—in the most complimentary sense—they're getting even harder to categorize, too. In much the same way that a lot of "metal" bands are "metal" simply because they're too heavy to be anything else, this material is "alternative rock" simply because... what else? Emotional, sure, but far from "emo." Too dark and swirling for simply "indie rock," but absolutely not a shoegaze band. Far too creative and indirect to be considered overly pop-centric. More polished than garage acts, but still weathered and D.I.Y. enough to appeal to the cassette-loving lo-fi crowd. So... yeah. Let's just broadly call it "alternative rock," shut up, and enjoy the tunes, shall we?
Stream the new EP below, followed by a quick interview with guitarist/vocalist Johnny Poppke:
It's been almost two years since The World is Mine EP—back when the band was still called Shinobi—and knowing you personally I understand that the delay was because your mother got sick and tragically passed away not long after that EP hit the streets. I'm certainly not asking you to discuss that matter, but fighting your way back to the point of even being able to be creative after such an awful experience, deciding to change the name of the band... did you ever come close to just breaking down and giving up on music? Having been following your work for about four years now, I'm so glad you were able to find inspiration again.
In 2018, we felt like things were picking up. We put out The World is Mine and were playing shows. But, then our mom was diagnosed with glioblastoma—a terminal form of brain cancer. We put everything on hold and focused on taking care of her and spending as much time with her as we could. She ended up passing away in October of 2018. After that, we basically didn't want to do anything. That was a pretty rough time for us. For about six months after that, we didn't work on anything creative.
We never thought about giving up on our music. We just didn't want to force anything, we were waiting until we felt up to it again. There was no definitive thing that got us back to the place we needed to be in to write new music. It was basically a waiting game while we processed and adjusted to what had just happened. During that period of time, I was listening to a lot of different styles of music—everything from Tragedy to Bert Jansch. Listening to different artists and letting time pass was the only thing that helped me feel motivated to write new music. In the summer of 2019, we started recording Never Made Me Cry with Jeff Rattay [Tall Man Studio], and we wrapped it up by the end of the year.
I have to assume that whole situation played some role in driving the new material toward its more somber direction. I wouldn't say that this EP sounds like an entirely new band or anything, but overall it's clearly exploring a wider range of your influences.
Yeah, the new material is definitely darker than the last batch of songs. That wasn't intentional, but it came out of what we experienced in 2018.
I also brought in new influences. The guitar work is very Johnny Marr- and John Squire-inspired. I was influenced by records like Chairs Missing, by Wire; Amnesiac, by Radiohead; Hurt Me, by Johnny Thunders; and Is This It, by The Strokes. I'm not only influenced by "alternative" music. I draw a lot from different genres like electronic—with Fishbach, Goldie, The Chemical Brothers, and JK Flesh—and hardcore, punk, and metal bands like Isis, Mastodon, Agnostic Front, and Integrity. I don't know if any of that is apparent in our music, but that's the type of stuff I'm listening to while I'm writing.
Yeah, I don't feel like this new EP is a complete departure from the old stuff, just an incorporation of different influences and drawing from the experiences that we had.
Now more than ever, it's cool that I can't really compare Peroxide Blonde to any other bands off the top of my head. I remember when you sent me the first rough demo of the new EP's title track, I immediately picked up on some Johnny Marr-isms in the guitar work, but it certainly doesn't sound like The Smiths, you know? It's not like you've developed some totally innovative and alien sound, but you've got an interesting writing style with lots of peculiar riffs and layering that's still crazy catchy—sometimes understatedly so. What's your writing process like in that sense? For example, do you write stuff sort of "straight" first and then try to "mess it up" and make it more challenging and unusual, or do the riffs just come to you being kind of circuitous from the start?
Usually, I start out by writing a rhythm part and then I move on to the lead. Typically, I write the guitar parts unplugged. After that, Abigail [Poppke, bass] and I work on bass parts. Once we've come up with the general idea of the song, Liam [Boyle, drums] and I demo it at home. Sometimes, parts of songs hang around for a while—I've written a lot within the past year that hasn't found a place in a song just yet.
Ideas for songs come out of weird places. When I was 16, I was sleeping over at my friend Matty's house in Queens, and I dreamt up this chord progression for an imaginary song. Ever since then, I've been trying to work it into our material... that's the chorus of "Never Made Me Cry."
What made you decide to rework "Ripoff," one of the band's earliest tracks from Tape No. 1?
"Ripoff" is my favorite song from our first demo. I thought it deserved to be recorded with better production value. With this re-recording, I added a new solo that I think makes the song more dynamic. I knew Jeff would do a great job with it, and I'm glad we did the song justice.
Are you interested in working with labels at all, or are you content getting new material out there on the digital D.I.Y. tip for the time being?
Our goal is to eventually get signed to a label. We take our music very seriously and we want to be able to reach a wider audience. It feels like that would be easier to do if we were signed. I'd love to put a split or another EP out this year. I want to increase our output going forward.
Do you have any shows booked to promote Never Made Me Cry yet? I know you're itching to get out there, but it seems like it can be a struggle to get a foot in the door setting up shows.
We're working on getting some shows, and we're hoping to tour in the summer. We just got a van—a beautiful 2006 Nissan Quest—and she's ready to hit the road!
Before I let you go, I have to pester you about your poppy trip-hop side project, Set the Boy Free. "Don't Feel Fine" was so damn great, so why the hell haven't you released anything else yet!?
We've been focusing on Peroxide Blonde recently, but we plan on putting more songs like that out this year. We're going to rebrand before we release new material. Liam and I have been searching for new sounds. With that project, we're also very open to collaborating with other artists...
Never Made Me Cry is available as a free download through Bandcamp, as is equally recommended The World is Mine EP. Both can also be streamed through Spotify. Curious listeners should also explore Peroxide Blonde's debut (as Shinobi), Tape No. 1.