Denver’s underground music scene, as local fans are eager to espouse, is booming. It’s Top 40 draw? Nobody really seems to talk about that much, and that’s what Jonathan And BPro are hoping to change. The duo—Jonathan Nelson and Billy Prohaska—drops its self-titled debut this Saturday at the Larimer Lounge, picking up where 3OH!3 left off with electro-tinged attitudes and Top 40 vibes. And though the Nelson and Prohaska may make tunes for a radio-friendly audience, they have a lot more on their minds than merely rocking the party that rocks the volume, as they explained to The A.V. Club.
The A.V. Club: Because you’re a pop duo playing in the underground, do you feel you have to hustle more to be seen as a valid rock band?
Jonathan Nelson: A lot of bands that we’ll play with or bands that have heard of us and haven’t seen us are very cautious. They’re very suspicious. It’s not a negative thing. It’s a general confusion about what we are doing and how we are presenting it, what the show’s atmosphere is like and what we’re expecting of people when they come to it.
Billy Prohaska: It’s probably pop [music] that people don’t think is valid, especially how our record turned out.
JN: I don’t think it’s fair to say that someone’s art or music is less relevant just because of the tempo and the packaging. That has a lot to do with it, more so than the genre. I think the tempo is where people bow out and are like, “Oh, it doesn’t have anything to it.” There’s still a point. If you listen to some of these songs, it’s more than a catchy hook and a dance beat. I try really hard to write lyrics that can be interpreted in more ways than one.
AVC: One of the misconceptions about Top 40 music is that it’s usually pieced together by a cabal of label people and producers rather than created on an individual level. How do you work to overcome that?
JN: This is very much us. This is us doing it. It’s all art directed by us. It’s [conceived] by us. It’s written by us. It’s not part of a great machine where we are contracted by a label to do this sort of performance here in Denver. We [asked], “Can we do this here?” [Then] we should be able to do it anywhere. It’s as if to say, “We can do it too, and still be DIY.”
AVC: The DIY aesthetic isn’t usually associated with pop music. How much are you drawing on punk’s ideas of self-reliance and self-determination?
JN: I grew up listening to punk. That’s pretty much where my young-adult identity of music and music culture comes from, doing what you want and making your statements and having something to say. That sort of “fuck the establishment” mentality that comes along with punk rock and early hip-hop has a lot to do with how we view what’s going on. I listen to a lot of records by rap artists and punk artists from the early ’80s, and it could have been written today. It’s the same struggle. That’s why I identify with it.
BP: We’re still cleverly wrapping it in a pop package, but it does have meaning and it does have depth. I think a lot of pop music has meaning and depth. A lot of listeners choose to take it at surface value and a lot of listeners choose to look for that. That’s kind of the duality of pop music.
JN: Nobody’s going to think that it’s got depth if somebody doesn’t give it depth. If someone doesn’t actually stand up and say, “I’m going to change the way you think about this,” then of course people’s mentalities don’t change.