An Interview with
Tropical Popsicle
by Michael P. O’Shaughnessy

Tropical Popsicle, one of the moodiest musical offerings to come out of San Diego in years, has been garnering hype faster than I can keep up. I mentioned the band in last year’s Best Of lists, promised to interview them, slacked off, and in the meantime they’ve been popping up in links to magazine articles like twice a week. Beach music is hard to pin down: is it towel hoppin’ and sand kickin’, day drinkin’ in a bathrobe and shorts, or a night breeze and moon dippin’? Tropical Popsicle encompasses all three. They are punks at heart, but they have backed away from the razor’s edge to go with an ever effusive flow. Like a slow splash of Psychocandy-era Jesus and Mary Chain on an elaborate sandcastle of Sisters of Mercy ebbing, the band’s debut album, The Dawn of Delight, is awash in an unforgiving ocean of coastal pop. It’s an amazing feat for an entitiy that has grown from a bedroom project to a full-fledged band in just two years time. I got in touch with drummer Ryan Hand to learn more about Tropcial Popsicle’s progression.

You guys have been touring like nobody’s business.

Ryan Hand: We were playing a shit ton of shows locally, and we did a couple things like from here to Seattle and back. Just recently we did a little thing with Sisu, the side project of Sandy from the Dum Dum Girls. They’re rad and that was a ton of fun. It wasn’t anything but five days. We’re waiting to hear about maybe going to Europe and some other stuff.

Have you noticed the crowds getting bigger the more you play?

RH: Yeah, we’ve had really, really good crowds, especially in California. It seems like the buzz is growing steady. We do really well in San Francisco and up the coast. As far as local shows, it’s been hard to gauge reaction because we’ve been fortunate enough to be on the bill with a bunch of national acts. So it’s like, “Are they here to see us?” But yeah, I think things are going well.

You went to CMJ, how was that?

RH: Yeah, we went to CMJ last year, and we did pretty good. Brooklyn Vegan said we were the best new artists and it was really super fun. It was a really good response. That’s the idea: working up for this European tour, and after that we’re going to try to put some of that energy into touring the US.

I’m trying to piece together how this band came together. The first permutations had drum machine, but you play drums. Was that before you joined?

RH: It was. A lot of the first cuts are basically glamorized bedroom recordings. I’ve been in the band, per se, since its inception, but Tim (Hines) recorded a lot of the stuff from the first record. I broke my leg super bad—I completely shattered my tibia and fibula and now I’m bionic from the knee down—and the surgeons told me to get back in the swing of things, so I joined this band called Sunday Times. Tim’s old band and Sunday Times played together a lot and we became quick friends. Then he invited me to be a part of this new project. It was pretty much up to me to interpret his stuff, and originally I was going to use timpani drums, but obviously that doesn’t work for touring purposes, so I switched back to a normal kit. He and I basically assembled the band, so we took the liberty of transcribing what he’d already recorded into a more live experience, but a lot of what you hear on that first EP I don’t play on.

Where did the name come from?

RH: Shit, do you really have to ask me this? The local press got hold of the news that Tim had a side project. He was deejaying at the same time under the name Tropical Popsicle and the wires just kind of got crossed like they do. He made a Facebook page with the name, and he immediately started getting press overseas—people from Berlin and Paris were picking up on it the first couple of weeks it was on Facebook—and it just spiraled out of happenstance. Now it’s really too late in the game to change it. It is what it is.

This new stuff you’ve been writing, you just get together for rehearsal and jam?

RH: Yeah, but Tim had all this great material in the can and it kept slowly leaking out. It finally came time to put up or shut up, and we got this French record deal. The European deal dropped out of the sky so we picked those songs to put on this new record. Then we signed with Volar—it’s more of a handshake deal—on this side of the pond. But as far as our new modes of songwriting, we all chip in. We have a studio in Tim’s basement that is real nice, and it’s more of a collective writing process now.

For this next record, I think we’re going to go into in a proper studio. I have a lot of dream engineers I’d like to work with, but now it’s really comfortable to just work with our friend Andrew out here in San Diego, who’s got a great two-inch machine and has been wiring all this shit into the walls.

Tell me about the cover art? That stuff is great.

RH: That’s my friend Jess Holzworth. I’ve known her since I was 14, and she basically helped raise me. She went on to big things and was nominated for a Video Music Award. She killed it. The record encapsulates the sound of the record down to a point.

How about this cold wave, beach goth thing?

RH: Beach goth? Cold wave? Oh god, I don’t know, Mike. This beach goth stuff is really starting to be a thing out here. It’s really starting to stick. I don’t even think we can take credit for it—it was a total joke.

Like shitgaze?

RH: Yeah, that band The Growlers kind of took it and ran with it. Next thing I know, there’s t-shirts and all kinds of stuff saying beach goth this and beach goth that. My girlfriend—she’s a fashion designer—and I were joking around about doing a beach goth line of clothes, and we talked a bunch of stuff about it from there. Next thing I know there’s shit all over the internet about how we’re a beach goth band. But, as far as cold wave goes, that’s just like minimal wave stuff that harkens back to ’80s stuff. That’s nothing new.

Everything I see says Tropical Popsicle equals cold wave.

RH: People have a desire to pigeonhole things and put them into little compartments. This record got panned in Filter because of that genre name. We got a fine review over in France the other day, but the record is pretty eclectic, and I don’t think people know exactly how to respond to it and they throw around all kinds of crazy crap. Sun-burned psych-pop, beach goth, cold wave—just on and on and on. It’s easy when you’re a third party to take those liberties.