BY COLIN MIXSON
This local band has gone international.
Members of the TriBattery Pops, Tom Goodkind Conductor, a community band of local amateur and professional musicians, recently learned that they’re a hit in France. This came as a surprise to the bandleader, because the group has never been to France.
“We haven’t been to France, not even close,” said Tom Goodkind, the band’s eponymous conductor. “The farthest we’ve gotten was Irving Plaza.”
Nonetheless, the local group’s latest album has gone viral in the land of fine wines and fancy cheese. A Facebook post linking to the group’s latest album has garnered an unprecedented 108,000 clicks and rising, of which nearly 93,000 — 86 percent — hail from French IP addresses, mostly young people in their 20s.
It’s the type of inexplicable phenomenon that could only exist in the digital age, and it has left the band in a state of exuberant bewilderment, according to Goodkind.
“I saw they were mostly from France, mostly between 20 and 25 years old, and I’m like, ‘what?’ ” the conductor said. “I have no idea what to do about it. Probably nothing, but it’s sort of cool. It puts us right up there with Jerry Lewis.”
But based on the Facebook translations of the French comments, Goodkind suspects that it may not be just about the music.
“The music’s so goofy,” he said. “I mean maybe that’s what they’re into, it’s hard to say. But my best guess, it’s got to be the cover.”
The album, “Turn On, Tune Up, and Drop Out,” is a tongue-in-cheek compilation of acid rock covers, and its cover features band members in tie-dyes popping out of a classic Volkswagen bus parked on a beach.
Many of the comments seem to focus on the cover’s setting rather than the music — such as “Great vacation with friends” and “We’re going on vacation.” And some referred directly to the beloved Volkswagen touring van: “I’d like to have this little truck.”
It should be noted that neither the band, nor any of its members actually own a Volkswagen bus. The album cover was a Photoshop job courtesy of flute player and web designer Heidi Hunter, who was herself a tad confused by the French comments.
“It makes me wonder if they really understand what it is. I don’t know, maybe they think we all sit in one of those VW buses,” she said.
The TriBattery Pops feature a loose-knit, revolving ensemble of amateur and professional musicians, who volunteer their time and expertise to provide live music at neighborhood events. The band actually grew out of what Goodkind described as the bizarre bonds of love and fellowship that formed among Downtowners after the harrowing events of September 11, 2001. According to the conductor, the terrorist attack taught the denizens of Lower Manhattan that, even in New York, events may conspire to force neighbors to rely on each other — and that revelation led to faces becoming names, names becoming friends, and eventually, friends becoming a band.
“A sort of problem that occurs after 9/11 is people get together and become friendly, because we almost got killed,” said Goodkind. “New York shouldn’t be like that, where you talk to people in elevators, but in Downtown we still do that. Typically you get in an elevator, size someone up, and say I’m better than that person.”
Specifically, the attack led Downtown residents to host a greater array of community-based events, including a 2001 block party, where the absence of live music was conspicuous, according to the bandleader — so he started making calls.
Goodkind had been involved in music back in the 80s, when he was a member of the Washington Squares, a neo-beatnick/folk-revival group that toured with the Beach Boys, the Ramones, and Joan Jett — in addition to selling out Carnegie Hall and shifting about 300,000 records. Perhaps more pertinently, the conductor and his partners opened several iconic clubs and music venues back in the day — including Irving Plaza, and the Peppermint Lounge — and he was able to leverage some old contacts to help the band get on its feet.
Goodkind managed to arrange a peculiar gig early in the band’s career opening for a goth band at Irving Plaza — though he threw a fit after the club owners tried to cancel on the day of the show.
“I was stamping my feet, screaming, ‘I made this club and I can destroy it too,’” he recalled. “Of course, I had no power to do that.”
Nonetheless, the Tribattery Pops went on to play the venue, and the crowd of dour, black-clad youths ate up the band’s early catalogue of jazz-bop covers, as Goodkind tells it.
“Everyone was dressed in head-to-toe leather, with earrings and tattoos, and they were all grumpy and it was hot out, but they went nuts,” he said. “They were dancing and it was fun.”
The band consists of a fairly eclectic lineup. Members range in age from 8-year-old kids to geriatrics pushing 80. Professionally, they include real estate agents, lawyers, actuaries, accountants, and baggage handlers. Musically, they range from professional trumpeters to amateur triangle players, in addition to a certain late tambourine player, who would occasionally remember she was in a band.
“Our tambourine player, who was one of the top real estate saleswomen in Downtown, who’s since died, played tambourine when she felt like hitting it,” said Goodkind. “It starts with that and it goes all the way up to professional jazz musicians from Tribeca.”
Since its inception, the band has suffered two losses from causes related to old age, which Goodkind, with his irreverent sense of humor, thinks is pretty neat.
“We’re like the Beatles, we have two dead band members,” he said. “It’s kind of cool. It gives us street cred.”
Also worth noting: the group’s logo was designed by Marvel comics legend Stan Lee, who became friends with Goodkind back when they were neighbors in Hewlett Harbor, Long Island.
The TriBattery Pops usually play about six shows a year, beginning with the opening of the Downtown Little League’s season in April and ending with the 4th of July fireworks in Wagner Park.
And they put out an album every year, which is always free — and always a little weird.
In 2012, the group produced the “Dark” album, featuring songs inspired by the Mayan calendar’s supposed end-of-the-world predictions. That album cover featured a logo stolen from Apple, Inc. — in what Goodkind claims was an attempt to goad the technology juggernaut into suing the band for copyright infringement — again, for purposes of accruing “street cred.”
Their 2015 album, which has soared to unlikely heights in the country responsible for baguettes and croissants, found its inspiration in a Downtown nursing home, which led to Goodkind’s realization that the oldsters of today were the acid-head rockers of yesterday. So he went to the Church Street School for Music and Art, grabbed some talent from their adult choir, and started recording psychedelic hits from the ’60s. The effect of sweet little old ladies singing about getting whacked out on drugs is, he says, priceless.
“They were really cute and fun,” said Goodkind. “When they sing ‘I’m Wasted and I Can’t Find My Way Home,’ it’s precious.”
The group doesn’t take itself too seriously. The amount of musical talent required to join is basically none, and only one member has ever been ejected from the group in its nearly 15-year run — and Goodkind said that was for smelling bad and making crude remarks to the group’s female members, not playing out of tune.
But playing for the TriBattery Pops is a lot of fun, according to Hunter, especially compared to many of the city’s other community bands, who tend to take themselves more seriously and play more sober sets.
“We don’t play classical,” she said. “We do rock and roll, jazz. We play stuff that people like and is fun to play, and the types of gigs we play are more fun too — more outdoor gigs, or club gigs where people are dancing or drinking. It’s not like a concert hall. It’s a different vibe, and people are rocking out.”
And the bandleader makes a point of being generous with the spotlight.
“They’re all stars to me,” said Goodkind. “If they want to solo, I let them solo. I say, ‘go crazy.’ It’s fun!”
Of course, you can’t expect the French to appreciate all of this nuance — you’d have to be a local. And while their Facebook numbers aren’t quite as big locally as they are across the pond, that doesn’t mean the Tribattery Pops have gone unnoticed Downtown, according to one of the band’s benefactors.
“They’re not all professional musicians, but what they lack in professional musicianship, they gain in heart,” said Lisa Eckland-Florus, founder of the Church Street School for Music and Art, where the band stores its equipment and rehearses free of charge.
Eckland-Florus said that the TriBattery Pops are an important part of maintaining the fabric of a neighborhood experiencing some growing pains.
“I think a community band is one of those essential elements that creates a real neighborhood feeling, and this neighborhood has grown exponentially in the last decade,” she said. “Trying to keep these sort of low-key but high-warmth activities and organizations and opportunities for residents to get together is really important to the community, and it’s something Tom had in mind and it’s something he’s been successful in doing.”