With Postmodern Jukebox, everything new is old again
GREAT BARRINGTON — Though she is just 23 years old, Postmodern Jukebox vocalist Natalie Angst describes herself as an old soul.
"PMJ's actually helped me learn more pop songs because it is in that vintage style that I prefer," Angst told The Eagle during a recent telephone interview.
She isn't the only group member or fan that has had that experience.
"Other people have told me, 'Yeah, I've learned all my pop songs through PMJ,'" she said.
But part of what has made Postmodern Jukebox a YouTube sensation has been its ability to draw young souls, too. By applying retro sounds to, say, Radiohead's "Creep," Scott Bradlee's musical collective of instrumentalists, singers and dancers has garnered enough devotees spanning the age spectrum to warrant performances in four continents this fall. One tour will stop at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center on Friday.
"It appeals to everyone — to the older people who love that older style, and then to the younger people who know these songs, and they're just hearing it in a different way," Angst said.
In 2010, Postmodern Jukebox started as a basement project for Bradlee, a longtime lover of vintage music. He was living in New York City.
"I was trying to make it as a jazz pianist and I couldn't find any work — nobody was booking me for gigs," Bradlee told Billboard during a 2017 interview. "I saw a lot of people were putting things on YouTube. So I thought, why don't I do this to one of the things that was near and dear to me, which was playing pop songs as jazz or ragtime."
He first reimagined Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi," but it didn't get much online traction. A turning point came in 2013, when Postmodern Jukebox's rendition of Macklemore's "Thrift Shop" went viral overnight.
"That was really the start of PMJ," Angst said.
The musical collective now has 3.6 million subscribers on YouTube. Its vintage versions — both in sound and appearance — of "Creep" (54 million views), Megan Trainor's "All About That Bass" (43 million) and The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army (27 million) have been its most popular creations. "All About That Bass" was part of what attracted Angst to the collective.
"I loved that one, and then, just from there, I was on YouTube watching these videos for hours," she said.
In 2016, she participated in her first video, singing The Cure's "Just Like Heaven." The next year, she was featured in the group's version of Sublime's "Santeria." Both videos paid homage to 1940s jazz sounds that Angst knew well after performing with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Sublime posted the "Santeria" video on its social media.
"They're actually watching us do these," Angst said of Postmodern Jukebox's subjects.
Angst is now on her first tour with the collective. Fourteen other Postmodern Jukebox members will join her in Great Barrington.
"The bus sleeps 15 people, so we can't really fit any more," she said.
That volume of creativity is the advantage that Postmodern Jukebox's live shows hold over its videos.
"There's so much energy over just looking at a screen," Angst said.
At the Mahaiwe, Angst will put her voice to Taylor Swift's "Blank Space" and Blondie's "Heart of Glass."
"It's normally kind of a funky '80s song," Angst said of Blondie's smash. " ... We do it more as a ballad, which is really cool."
"Creep," Toto's "Africa," Plain White T's' "Hey There Delilah," and Bruno Mars' "Finesse" are also on the set list.
"We've got a whole variety," Angst said.
Michael Jackson's "Thriller" promises to evoke a different era.
"It's got some '70s vibes in there," Angst said of the 1980s hit.
Bradlee isn't on this tour, but he watches videos of the performances and offers notes, according to Angst. His vision meshes with Angst's.
"I love that old style," Angst said. "I just love the whole idea of it. I thought it was brilliant, and I wanted to be a part of it."
Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.
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