Kamtin Mohager, the brains and brawn behind the project the Chain Gang of 1974, fully embraces the concept of pop, despite the fact that in some circles that term may connote something disposable, cloying and lightweight.
"I never want to be afraid of putting out a pop record, of putting effort into something that sounds good and has catchy hooks and choruses and attractive melodies. That pretty much describes the music I was raised on, even the bands in the 1980s and '90s."
Pop's not throwaway music, he said; it's important to our culture.
Mohager also is refreshingly frank about the artists and sounds that have inspired the Chain Gang of 1974.
"My influences are definitely obvious; you can hear them. I like to think that I mix the sounds of today, in terms of electronic music and production values, with the music that has been with us for decades. ... I grew up listening to Echo and the Bunnymen, Tears for Fears, Talk Talk, the Psychedelic Furs, and lots of that has filtered into my music."
In case you're wondering, the epitome of music, in Mohager's opinion, is Tears For Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World." He said, simply, "I believe it is the greatest song ever written."
Accompanied by a backup band of three good friends, the Los Angeles-based Mohager will bring the Chain Gang of 1974 to Tucson to open the show for Tapes 'n Tapes on Tuesday, Aug. 30, at Club Congress.
The Chain Gang of 1974's third album is the alluring Wayward Fire, which was released in June on Modern Art Records. Mohager wrote and recorded it in collaboration with his roommate, Isom Innis, who plays with buzz band Foster the People.
Innis, said Mohager, "was definitely the right person to help me bring these sounds in my head forward. It was an amazing experience, being able to realize what I have been working toward for several years."
Mohager is 26, and many of his fans probably are in the same demographic, so what they hear in his music may feel fresh and radical. But music buffs who were teenagers or young adults in the 1980s will feel wistfully nostalgic when they listen to the Chain Gang of 1974, and it's easy to marvel at the way he melds elements of music from 25 or 30 years ago with a contemporary flavor.
On the Wayward Fire track "Hold On," you can hear echoes of the piano figure from B-Movie's "Nowhere Man." "Heartbreakin' Scream" and "Teenagers" are irresistible new-wave earworms in the Simple Minds-meets-Psychedelic Furs school, and "Undercover" calls to mind the intoxicating dance-rock buzz of New Order and Modern English. Elsewhere, you can hear elements borrowed from the music of LCD Soundsystem, Talking Heads, Primal Scream and Justice.
"I write songs for myself, for the most part," said Mohager, whose first name is pronounced "com-teen."
"I don't want to sound like I don't care about the listener, but I pretty much write the songs that I always wanted to hear. Maybe I will be inspired by an element of a certain song I like and want to expand on that, or I might be inspired by an especially moving scene in a movie."
When writing the lyrics for Wayward Fire, Mohager's primary source of lyrical inspiration was the painful breakup of a relationship.
"It's a very personal record. Every song is about ... all the hurt and pain I was feeling as this relationship came apart. It's hard for me sometimes to go back and listen to the record. And it does get overwhelming to play those songs at times and feel a lot of the pain and anger I felt to make this record. During the recording process, I would literally be in a huge fight with this person and then 10 minutes later I was in the studio.
"Not to be dramatic about it, but I became a stronger person out of it. I was a broken man then, and I am still healing now. But it feels good to make such an honest record and have people come up to me and tell me how much they relate to it. It's helping me move on."
Mohager says he already has begun planning the next Chain Gang album, and envisions it as depicting the resiliency and transformation he is starting to feel now.
"I have to be true to myself, though. I never want to write about something that's never happened. I can't write a song about a hypothetical situation. It needs to be about something I've been through personally."