Poppy vividly remembers her 2020 “Mission Impossible moment.”
The pop-metal shapeshifter was gearing up for a European tour behind her acclaimed January LP, I Disagree, when her manager broke some unfortunate, pandemic-related news.
“I got the call right when I was about to fly [over there],” she tells SPIN. “We were like, ‘Do you think we can get in and get out, just do the U.K. and come home?’ It was maybe four hours later, they were like, ‘Oh, the borders are closed.’ That phone call was crazy for me and will always stick in my head.”
Like most musicians, Poppy suffered some tough breaks this year, including a postponed North American tour opening for metal giants Deftones and Gojira. On the bright side, she was able to “flow” through the insanity: performing (safely) on a WWE broadcast, releasing a deluxe edition of her third LP, earning a Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance (“Bloodmoney”), writing loads of new material and recording a new album (“all stuff I wrote within the last five months or so”) with her touring band.
“It feels right to me,” she says of that music. “I’ve been excited in the past, but this feels special.”
The singer-songwriter joined SPIN to reflect on her chaotic but productive year, the inspiration of David Lynch, her love of professional wrestling and a new LP that’s “not like any other Poppy record you’ve heard.”
SPIN: What are you up to?
Poppy: I’m just organizing my jewelry collection. And then later I’m going to go into the studio and work on something.
Looking back, I’m so glad we got a new album from you before the insanity —
The unfortunate events.
One unfortunate event was having to cancel your tour with Deftones and Gojira, which I know you were excited about.
When I can acknowledge something is sad at the surface, I try not to crack it open and reflect on it from an internal perspective where I’m drowning in my own sorrow and misery. When I got that news, I recognized that it’s a sad event, but then I tried to find the positive in it. The positive is that it’s being rescheduled to 2021, so fingers crossed that we’re in fact able to do that. But when I first heard the news about being able to go on tour, I believe I was doing a couple of press events or shoots. My manager called me, and I was very excited because I’m a huge fan of Deftones — and Gojira, as well. My sister was the one who got me into them when I was pretty small. They’re one of her favorite bands, so that was a cool sister moment, where I was like, “Guess what just happened?”
I’m just looking forward to when I can go on that tour but also just play music again. I feel like a broken record to keep saying that — all of my friends and my team hear it from me almost every day. But I think it could help heal the world. I read this quote from an article with David Lynch, and he believed that the quarantine and lockdown would cause people to be a little nicer by the end of it. I hoped [so], but I also feel it’s made people more aggressive. I was anticipating the extremes — either a softer heart or a colder heart from the general population. I believe we’re going to be experiencing the ends of the spectrum when the world returns to some form of normality.
I didn’t know you were a David Lynch fan. What are some of your favorite Lynch projects?
I love Blue Velvet and, of course, Twin Peaks. But my favorite, going back far in his line of work, is Eraserhead, which is so experimental and out-there — it’s something I return to often when I need inspiration. He’s an artist with no restrictions, and everything he does is a step up from the last thing. Eraserhead ages so well, like a fine wine.
You play a lot with dynamic extremes — contrasting the harsh and the soft. Lynch does that a lot visually and thematically, like in Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, where there’s this darkness lurking behind the sheen of American suburbia.
The uneasiness definitely draws you in. It draws me in personally.
You were in a weird but unique position this year: Since I Disagree came out in January, before the pandemic had fully wreaked havoc, you were able to roll out the album in a more traditional way — and even do some North American touring.
It felt like a taste. We were just getting started. I had tours routed for the entire year. I was like, “This is great! I’m gonna be gone the entire year promoting this album. When I was making I Disagree, I was like, “This is an album I want to tour on for at least a year before I release new music.” In this time, I’ve been able to work on music and a bunch of other projects a lot sooner than I was anticipating. If it comes, it comes — just flow with it.
Is it more painful that you couldn’t finish what you started, or are you thankful you got that taste of it?
I’ll keep it on the positive and say I’m thankful I got to do a little. The last show we got to play was in Los Angeles, and it was one of the most fun shows on the tour. If somebody told me it was going to be the last show I’d play for a year…I don’t know if I’d have done anything differently, but maybe I would have cried, like, “No way, a whole year?” But we went out with a bang in a way.
You were able to perform some of “Scary Mask” at a WWE event in October. How did that feel, getting back out there?
I’ve played “Scary Mask” now twice on Halloween. The first time was awesome — that was in the middle of a marathon run, but I absolutely wanted to do it. I played a show and then went to Florida to play “Scary Mask,” ran to the airport to fly to London and play an NME event, came back and played another show to pick up on the rest of the tour. It was awesome — I didn’t sleep for like four days.
I played the intro music for Io Shirai, and we’ve become friends. She’s one of my favorite wrestlers now. She had a bit recently where she put a trash can over her head and jumped into a group of girls during a match, which was awesome. I love wrestling, so when I had invitation to come play, I had to do it. That was also one of my side dreams from a very long time ago — I wanted to work with WWE. I got the idea after I saw Paul Reubens, Pee-Wee Herman, make an appearance on WWE back in the day. They used my music in a video game and for a couple of intro songs, and then invited me to play. I think I’ve done it three or four times now. [Before the 2020 appearance], I had to go through some pretty intensive testing and screenings because they run a very tight ship. Everyone had to wear masks — it was a whole process. But I was cleared, and it happened!
I used to be obsessed with WWE growing up.
Who was your favorite wrestler from before?
I loved the Undertaker and Mankind, that whole era.
“Undertaker 30” was this year — did you see that? They just celebrated 30 years of the Undertaker a month ago. He never actually retired with wrestling.
Wild. Back to music, you talked to SPIN back in March and said you were “cataloging layers of sounds.” Now that it’s been so long ago, is that still where you are creatively?
I still intend on releasing what I was doing in March, but it morphed into something else. I actually have my hand in a couple of projects at the moment. But one of them is about 95 percent done, and I am itching to release that. About a month ago in L.A., I got my touring band together, and we got to record a new album. It was a process I’d never experienced but knew I always wanted to do. It was very organic.
I Disagree was written over the span of about a year. It was done in the studio: live guitar and vocals, but everything else in the box. This whole experience and approach was completely new, and the producer is someone I really respect and have wanted to work with for a number of years. I can talk about that at a different point. But I was able to get my band together and learn the songs I wrote in a very confined space and time, about things that are very close to me. We tracked it all live in a room. It has a completely different sonic vibe. We’re doing the last touches on it now.
Did the pandemic inspire any of this new material?
There’s no mention of quarantine or lockdown or any of those things in the songs. I think we all know where we’ve all been for the last nine months. I don’t need to beat people over the head about that — we all know what happened. [laughs] The songs are just very personal to me — they’re about a span of two years.
I’ve been worried that, once this pandemic is over, we’re going to have a flood of quarantine-themed concept albums.
It’s so cringy. Every time I see something come out like, “This song’s called ‘Lockdown,” It’s like, [sarcastically] “Wow, so creative! Nobody’s ever thought about that.” I’m trying to forget, OK? Please don’t remind me.
To end on a light note, do you have any favorite albums or movies or TV shows of 2020? What helped you get through this insane year?
A new favorite series for me is The Queen’s Gambit. Highly recommended, all my friends have watched it. It resonates with me because I was in chess club for three years when I was in school, and I got made fun of pretty bad for it, but it’s kind of like a secret weapon.