Brian Woodbury and His Popular Music Group

Pay Attention

Pay Attention


In 2015, Woodbury revived The Popular Music Group in Los Angeles to produce the 18-song album “Pay Attention,” with Andy Sanesi (drums); Dan Lutz (bass); David Witham (piano); Marc Muller (guitars, bass, pedal steel, etc.); Jim Kimo West (guitars); Glen Berger (woodwinds); Chris Tedesco (trumpets); Dan Levine (trombone); Ben Powell (violin); and special guests Tulasi Rain; Johnny Unicorn; Michael Webster; Eli Brueggemann and Nick Ariondo.

A farflung journey from comic miniatures to grandiose art songs to quirky power pop to cosmic world excursions.

Rave Reviews

What if Weird Al Yankovic wrote his own songs instead of doing song parodies? He’d be Brian Woodbury.

For three decades, Woodbury, a California tunesmith, has been crafting tight pop ditties with a dark sense of humor — sort of like an episode of “Louie” crossed with “Louie Louie.”

Woodbury will celebrate his new album, “Pay Attention,” on Thursday, July 30 at Barbes in Brooklyn. Like the disc, the show will open with a bit of classic Woodbury self-mockery, a title track that bemoans the plight of the under-appreciated singer-songwriter: “Pay attention to me/Pay attention to me/Cause this is the place where your attention should be/It’s not all about you/So pay attention to me.”

He’s been singing that particular tune from his seminal debut album, “Brian Woodbury and his Popular Music Group” in 1992 to today.

“I even used to do costumes and antics on stage to get attention,” he jokes. “I even had breakaway pants that I’d pull off to reveal another set of pants below.

“But now it’s just me on stage singing my songs…and mugging a bit,” adds Woodbury, who lived in New York from the late-1980s until 2000, when he decamped to California to write music for kids shows.

The July 30 show will feature mostly new numbers — it’s a CD release party, after all — but the same Woodbury eclecticism.

In “The Real World,” he mocks conspiracy theorists and domestic nut jobs: “President Obama wasn’t born in Kenya/The world wasn’t made in seven days/A chain letter won’t get you a million bucks/William Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare’s plays.”

In “You Had Me,” he pulls out a country twang to sing about a mean girlfriend he can’t quit: “You had me at ‘Go f–k yourself,’” is the opening lyric.

And in “Diplomatic Plates,” he mines that classic New York annoyance: If he had DPL tags, Woodbury sings, “I’d park in front of hydrants/Punch patrolmen in the jaw/I’d drink and drive, go 95/And break the so-called law.”

Gersh Kuntzman, New York Daily News

First Album

First Album

Mr. Woodbury’s melodic, irreverent rock outfit formed in 1990, with Marc Muller (guitar & pedal steel); Eric Boyd (bass); Jon Feinberg (drums) and Elma Mayer (keyboards & vocals), and Woodbury providing lead vocals and acoustic guitars. The band played at numerous clubs during the heyday of the New York downtown art music scene including the Knitting Factory, Wetlands, and at a rally for Jerry Brown’s 1992 Presidential campaign.

The first CD, released in 1992 on Fang Records, includes guests John Linnell (They Might Be Giants); DJ Bonebrake(X); Oren Bloedow (Elysian Fields), Dan Levine, Frank London and Brian Dewan.

Woodbury revived the project to make the 2015 album “Pay Attention,” with Andy Sanesi (drums); Dan Lutz (bass); David Witham (piano); Marc Muller (guitars, bass, pedal steel, etc.); Jim Kimo West (guitars); Glen Berger (woodwinds); Chris Tedesco (trumpets); Dan Levine (trombone, euphonium, tuba); Ben Powell (violin); and special guests Tulasi Rain; Johnny Unicorn; Michael Webster and Nick Ariondo.

Rave Reviews

Brian Woodbury and His Popular Music Group is what happens when impressionable minds are exposed to Van Dyke Parks’ Song Cycle at an early age. Woodbury, whose ’80s band the Some Philharmonic actually performed with Parks, has a similar desire to cram every bar of music and line of lyrics with witty references and ear-catching surprises. Unlike Parks, however, he is also a consummate writer of instantly memorable pop tunes, and so all 19 songs on this 55-minute album are suffused with the kind of pure pop hooks that fans of XTC or Guided by Voices will immediately love. (Fans attuned to the pop underground familiar with San Francisco’s K.C. Bowman or Toronto’s John Southworth will immediately recognize the New York-based Woodbury as a kindred spirit.) Woodbury’s goofy-brainy persona and fondness for surreal wordplay will appeal to They Might Be Giants fans, but those who find that duo too precious will respond to the solid power pop hooks of songs like the faux-patriotic “Your Roots Are Phony” and the Young Fresh Fellows -like “I’ve Still Got My Balls.”

Stewart Mason, All Music Guide

…[Woodbury] creates hook-laden pop tunes that simply won’t behave themselves. Woodbury and his musicians perform ditties like “Your Roots Are Phony” and “I’ve Still Got My Balls” with an innate avant-rock sensibility. The eclecticism of Sparks and Zappa is crossbred with the melodic sheen of NRBQ. The coolest thing is, I’ll bet Woodbury doesn’t like any of those guys. Only a man with a firm grip on his cojones could write a tune like “I Burn the Flag” (a brilliant ode to sexual passion) or the Donovan-meets-Gentle Giant “Dreamstate of California” (“…where you always let your subconscious be your guide.”)…18 demented gems.”

Dino Di Muro, Option

“Woodbury’s a charming melodist, more toward the Broadway tradition than top 40 radio. But he has clearly studied Brian Wilson’s notions of harmony and arrangement, and you’d swear Todd Rundgren was involved in some of his more guitar-crazed scores. (He does have a tendency to liven up standard changes by dropping beats.) Lyrically, he aspires to Cole Porter’s complex internal rhymes, homonyms and puns. He’s also witheringly sarcastic. Often he has a political axe to grind: “Food Fight” discusses the likelihood of armed uprising from a Third World tired of starving, and “Your Roots Are Phony” skewers patriotic icons; on the other hand, “I Burn the Flag”is a love song that improbably quotes “Some Enchanted Evening.” Sometimes he just grabs his metaphor and runs with it: one tune’s called “The Oranges,” as the inverse of the blues, and it’s an absurdly jolly patter song. And the chorus of his catchiest love song goes, “Flavor packet, you’re my flavor packet, you taste so good you make everything else taste worse!”

Michael Bloom, Boston Rock

“…a parcel of songs that from a distance sound like very infinitesimally demented pop-art pieces…. Beneath this patina of normal niceness lies a veritable tank trap of lyrical ambushes. Take “Your Roots Are Phony” for instance. Bright and ebullient, it takes just two minutes and nine seconds to completely demolish the American dream and its false historical mystique…. Nineteen wistful works, packed with twinkling tunes and more clever lyrics than you’ll find in a decade’s worth of other releases…. Brian Woodbury, on this showing alone, can definitely be trusted to make a great record, again and again and again.”

Andy Dunkley, Rockpool

Scroll to Top