Mo Troper Caps 2020 With “The Perfect Song,” a Sunny Tribute to Adam Schlesinger

Portland, Oregon power-pop troubadour Mo Troper is capping 2020 with the perfect song—literally.

Videos by American Songwriter

Premiering below, “The Perfect Song” is a short, sweet, sunny dose of indie rock that doubles as a tribute to Adam Schlesinger, the late Fountains of Wayne frontman who died earlier this year from COVID-19 complications. 

“You wrote the perfect song / it gets stuck in my head all day long,” Troper coos in the track over a bright, fuzzy guitar part. “And it sounds / just like how / a kiss tastes / makes me want / to sing along / until I’m blue in the face.”

“I wrote the song back in April, during the start of the quarantine,” Troper tells American Songwriter over email. “I recorded it at my mom’s house, with everything going directly into my tiny interface, and then mixed it and had it mastered to tape at the end of the summer.”

“It’s a tribute to the late Adam Schlesinger from Fountains of Wayne, who wrote several perfect songs over the course of his career,” Troper explains. “I think I was specifically referring to ‘That Thing You Do!’ More broadly, it’s about this feeling of hearing a great song and really believing that it’s the greatest song ever made in that moment. I think any aspiring pop songwriter is constantly chasing that feeling—like we sort of all want to capture the ‘essence’ of a song like ‘I Want You Back’ without just ripping it off. Anyone knows that feeling when they hear it though, and I think it’s ultimately a phenomenon unique to pop and why these pop singles that were released 60 years ago never actually seem old.”

Troper’s recording and production methods skew DIY—a fitting approach given his musical influences. “I was sort of just working with what was available to me, which wasn’t a lot,” Troper says of his experience crafting “The Perfect Song.” “I don’t actually have a drum kit or a guitar amp right now, so I knew I was going to have to rely on, like, Apple Loops and GarageBand presets. I suppose I was trying to go for something like the Lightning Seeds, or anything else from that strange era of British music where indie pop and shoegaze sort of overlapped. I was also listening a lot to the Tokyo-based songwriter Yokosawa Shunichiro’s newest album, Zettai Daijoubu, which is really ornate, artful bedroom pop.”

“I don’t have any impressive synthesizers or anything,” he adds, “so a lot of the sounds are actually sampled from old video game music. There’s a kick drum taken from Super Mario RPG and one of the arpeggiators samples a specific noise from Yoshi’s Island.”

“The Perfect Song” comes on the heels of Troper’s recent cover of The Beatles’ “And Your Bird Can Sing” (spelled “And Yr Byrd Can Syng,” of course). Both tracks follow his Tending Loving Empire debut, Natural Beauty, released in February. In the intervening months, the Portland musician and occasional music journalist self-published a list of the “100 Best Power-Pop Artists of All Time.” For Troper, this list was a long time coming.

“When I was a music freelancer I tried pitching it to a few different publications, but it didn’t seem like there was an appetite for a list like that,” he says. “In the summer, I wasn’t working for the first time since the pandemic started and had some time to dedicate to a project like that. I wrote it all over a few days in sort of this fevered Adderall frenzy which is why it was pretty weird and had bands like Tommy Tutone going head to head with the Smithereens. There wasn’t a lot of thought put into the actual ranking itself and I was really just drawing from my own tastes and the contents of my hard drive.”

Troper says he wrote the list in an effort to “establish some genealogical context for ‘power-pop,’ which is notoriously hard to pin down as a genre.” Naturally, the list stirred up some controversy among fellow power-pop practitioners and enthusiasts.

“The list was pretty snarky and nakedly critical at points,” Troper says, “and some of the artists I wrote about less favorably saw it and I think assumed it was just a vehicle for my personal animus or that I merely wanted to snipe them because I’m jealous.”

But Troper owns up to that jealousy. “I am, definitely,” he says. “I wish I could make a living off writing rock songs! I think I extinguished most of those fires, but it was a busy weekend on the internet for me. I wasn’t expecting it to ever reach them and I think it’s easy to think of successful people in an abstract way that permits flippant shit talk. Those artists were always larger than life to me, so I didn’t think about how they weren’t really famous and just had these modest followings, and how seeing someone write about you like you are famous and untouchable sucks, especially at this point in history. That was never my goal—the list was written with younger people who don’t know about power pop in mind, and thankfully it reached them too, and hopefully encouraged them to track down a Velvet Crush CD or whatever.”

Other than stirring the power-pop pot on Twitter, Troper has spent the last few months studying (he’s now finishing “a degree [he] started forever ago”) and prepping a new album, which he says “will hopefully be out next year.”

“It will likely be my ‘quarantine’ album,” Troper explains, “since a lot of the instrumentation is pretty strange and new for me.” In the meantime, check out “The Perfect Song” below.

“The Perfect Song” is out December 25.

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