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[Interview] Shut Up & Play Some Pop Punk: A Chat with Mikei Gray of The Frst

Given the fact that that the When We Were Young festival sold out in mere hours (and now has not only a 2nd, but a 3rd date), it shouldn’t be surprising that pop punk is here to stay. It certainly doesn’t surprise Mikei Gray of The Frst, whose latest single, “Pop Punk Song”, captures the mood of an entire generation in a simple, yet catchy way.  

So, to quote The Frst, allow me to “shut the fuck up and play some pop punk” for you:

“Pop Punk Song” by The Frst: streaming now.

My favorite thing about The Frst’s “Pop Punk Song” is that while it’s got that catchy, cathartic chorus that’s just begging to be screamed at a show, it’s also campy and self-aware. At first, I wasn’t too sure if the band was poking fun, or just having fun–or both–which is the exact kind of energy found in the genre it’s parodying.

In other words, this song is a good reminder that not everything should be taken so seriously.

Pop punk, at its core, is all about processing big feelings and having a bit of fun while we’re at it. It’s about resilience in all its forms. We might bitch and moan about whatever’s going on–you know, package up all of our collective angst into guitar-heavy singles about how much we hate our hometowns–but we’ll get through it, whatever “it” is.

Pop punk is an outlet for all the shitty things we go through, and that need for a release is timeless.

In short, pop punk is: “work sucks, I know.”


Meet The Frst

Bio

After a stretch of touring, playing alongside acts like Florida Georgia Line, Portugal. The Man and Sublime With Rome, from venues all over like The Grand Ole Opry to the Vans Warped Tour stages, The Frst founder Mikei Gray was looking to fill the gap between his spectrum of experiences and focused on forging a project that encompassed hard rock riffs and meaningful songwriting.

In 2017, Gray founded The Frst, intentionally leaving out the I, due to the band’s changing nature and revolving lineup. Since the formation, Gray has elicited the support of featured artists like Nathan Cogan of Taking Back Sunday along with Andrew Leahey, Jeff Hutchins, Justin Smith, Eric Barfield and others to realize his ideas for his debut album Prelude, pegged by the single “Ammo” which peaked at No. 1 on Soundcloud Rock Charts and and “Tarantino” which also climbed to No.1 on US FM Radio (KXFM) and  No. 78 on iTunes Top 100 Rock Songs Chart.

Subsequent albums like 2020 Record Store Day special, Bees, and recent singles (2021) like “Small Talk” and “This is me Now (feat. Kid Brunswick) were equally as successful and paved the way for Gray to continue down his experimental creative path that boasts the meaning of songwriting and collaboration while blurring the line between genres.

I was lucky enough to be able to ask the punk behind the chaos a few questions about the single:

Read the interview with The Frst below!


Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today! So, to get us started: would you please tell us what inspired The Frst to write “pop punk song”?  

Of course–thank you for having me!!

Sure… let’s see–

Well, “Pop Punk Song” is not only a humorous caricature of ourselves, but really, of the world at large. The lyrics kind of speak to frustrations with dead end jobs, abusive cycles, and breaking free…. It’s sort of a cathartic call to arms for Punks everywhere! [laughs] 

This was also our goof-ball way of making fun of ourselves and our friends in ‘our scene’. But the song itself was actually written in the fall of 2019, which is hard to remember a time before the pandemic. MGK was still rapping, and the Pop Punk Revival was only one coronavirus away from becoming the next big thing….

Our friends that had heard the song live kept asking when that ‘Pop Punk Song’ would be recorded, because the ‘shut the fuck up, play some pop punk!’ line was stuck in their heads. We thought, ‘what better time than right now to have a little fun and be dorks for a minute and a half!?’

After all, our last few songs were quite serious, and fun was the whole reason for our name!

But really, the angst of the lyrics is honest, and came from touring through a few southern college towns (which, by the way, I grew up in one), and sometimes, ‘the bro’ mentality [and] closed-mindedness, could really get you to at times…so It was written in a self-preservation way… sort of a rallying battle cry for all the outsiders, weirdos, rockers punks, metalheads and dorks to unite with a screaming message when they’d had enough bullshit – ‘SHUT THE FUCK UP & PLAY SOME POP PUNK!’ 

Growing up, how big of a fan of pop punk were you? Who were your favorite pop-punk artists back then? What about now? 

Oh, I loved it!

Well, given the time period, obviously the Big 4- Green Day, Blink-182, Sum 41, and Good Charlotte.

Naturally, things progressed…

Over time, I’ve gotten more into the OG punks that paved the way for all of us: The Clash, The Ramones, Black Flag, Minor Threat, Fugazi…

But there’s obviously some great stuff coming out now with bands like Dead Bundy, Hot Mulligan, Meet Me at The Altar [and others].

Check out some hits from Mikei’s favorites, curated by the author

So, how do you feel about this new ‘Era’, let’s call it, of pop punk? What do you make of it?  

Well for starters, I think anyone could see it coming from a mile away, right?  

We talked a lot about this concept in the song “Cycles” and in the interviews for that single, but essentially, our culture, fashion, music, aesthetics all revolve in this strange 20-25 year cycle. It’s been happening long since before we were born…

And I don’t think it’s inherently creepy; it’s probably just the amount of time it takes for people to grow, and tastes to shift away from one direction, so that the pendulum can then swing back in the opposite direction…

Nonetheless–

I think it’s great that young musicians are inspired to pick up guitars and drums from it! And in a few years the general aesthetic will shift back towards Indie/Alt Pop and a lot of those musicians will move in that direction, and that will be more innovative and exciting but overall, I think it’s great! The cycle has started over again with some new sounds thrown in– 808s, etc… 

As someone who has been in rock music for a while, where do you see the genre heading?  

I think Rock is alive and healthy, aging sure, but I think there’s innovation happening right now, and it will continue–there’s certainly going to be an electronic element to that, because that hasn’t been explored for centuries like acoustic and woodwind instruments.

[check out an example of The Frst’s electronic rock dabbling here, with their “This Is Me Now”]

I love that answer and honestly, I completely agree with you there… So, pivoting back to your single: you sport a powerful LOOK in the “Pop Punk Song” video; do you care to elaborate on those aesthetic choices? (Was that you in high school?) 

Do I??

I hadn’t noticed! [laughs]…

“Pop Punk Song” video

Seems like my normal hair-do…oh wait! [laughs]

….

Yeah I was a punk…well, more-so a metalhead.

‘Course, I dropped out of high school to go to college full-time so I could tour and what not, but yeah, more or less… I didn’t spike my hair with glue back then though! [laughs].

“Pop Punk Song” was a collaboration with Dead Bundy, right? How was that experience?  

It was so much fun working with those dudes! What else can I say?!

I’m super stoked– they just signed with InVogue Records and I know they’ve been working hard on a lot of new material.  

And those dudes can really sing! They added some incredible harmonies and stuff. The track was there, but they made it so much better.  

What does the rest of 2022 look like for The Frst? What are you most excited about? 

Lots of releases!

Singles…Albums…Specials…

I’m enjoying our [so-called] “Revolver” era very much. 

Any parting words for our readers? 

Wow did anyone read this far?? If so, congratulations and thank you! [laughs]

Please give yourself a LOUD round of applause…wherever you are…work, coffee shop, bathroom, restaurant….Let’s all just start clapping…

Yeah! All Right!!!


Keep in Touch with The Frst:

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Love “Pop Punk Song” by The Frst and want more? Check out RRGH Vol 1: Retrograde & Emo for more pop punk!