If “I Miss You” echoes in your head when you think of pop-punk and the Warped Tour, you’ll be happy to hear that the genre has a new home on YouTube, where fans are putting their spin on revered pop-punk anthems and pop-punkifying songs from outside the genre. Among those leading the revival is Alex Melton. The multi-instrumentalist is famous for making pop-punk tunes sound country and established pop singles (like “Semi-Charmed Life” and “Love Story”) sound punk, and he was recently retweeted by the Barenaked Ladies after covering their hit “One Week” in the style of blink-182.
I recently sat down with Melton to talk about Now That’s What I Call Music!, the millennial hunger for a pop-punk revival and how a fresh YouTube audience can reinvigorate just about any genre. Grab a Monster Energy and come in for the chorus.
When did you first fall in love with pop-punk?
It started with those compilation discs. I think they still make them to this day for some reason: Now That’s What I Call Music!, specifically volume 8. I was big into boy bands, and I’m sure I picked that CD up for Backstreet Boys and NSYNC. But there were two bands on there that really caught my attention pretty quickly: blink-182 and Sum 41. I would play those songs on repeat and started talking to my friends at school about them.
Shortly after, one of my friends gave me three burned CDs — just blank, silver discs with Sharpie on them. Those CDs were Enema of the State, TOYPAJ and Untitled, the three most recent (at the time) blink-182 albums. I became obsessed with them and started trying to find more music that sounded like that. My first couple albums I bought with my own money were the All-American Rejects’ self-titled debut and Good Charlotte’s The Young and the Hopeless.
What about YouTube? How’d you find a home there?
YouTube was very much a new thing when I was in high school. There were very few “creators” and very few rules for making content. I started messing around with recording software in high school and ended up going to university for a music degree, with a focus on music production. By the time I graduated with my bachelor’s, YouTube had become a huge deal. There were plenty of people that made money as a creator, and I started by emulating musicians and bands that I saw on there: performance-style covers, sometimes with a genre twist or gimmick.
For me, it was mostly a way to demonstrate my production skills to get clients for my studio, hence my channel name, “Vacation Room Studio.” It was always more about grabbing people’s attention to lead them to become clients, but over time, it became more about me performing and sharing my arrangements with people. When the pandemic hit, I got sent home from my day job, and I suddenly had a lot more time to devote to music. I made a lot of stuff in a short amount of time, knowing that this was a precious moment for me: My day job can be pretty demanding, physically and schedule-wise, so I hadn’t had a lot of time for music in the last four to five years. I hit the ground running, going from 7,000 subscribers to 120,000 this past year.
Your “Goin’ Country” series in particular seems to get viewers square moshing. How’d you come up with that?
It started as a meme, as many great things do. I was playing around with that Panic! at the Disco song, “I Write Sins, Not Tragedies,” and played this super generic chord progression with the words and melody on top. I ended up posting it as a TikTok and got a lot of attention, so I decided to record the full song. Then I just kept picking songs that I love.
I treat it like an arrangement exercise mostly: How can I re-harmonize or re-contextualize certain elements in a song while still keeping the spirit of the song intact? The best part is, it can be a funny meme to certain people, and then fellow musicians can appreciate the nuances, like how I integrate a lead part from the original into the new arrangement, or how the melody can take on a new feel with different chords or drums behind it.
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It’s a neat feeling being able to anticipate the song and know all the words, but still have the experience of taking in a new song for the first time.
Why do you think people love genre swaps so much?
There’s always been a big market for genre-flipping on YouTube, and if it’s done well, it can go past a novelty into some legitimate art. For me, the idea of re-creating a song one-for-one holds no artistic value or challenge currently, which is where the genre-flips come in. There has to be a discernible reason that I wouldn’t just listen to the original record, y’know? If you can present your ideas in a clear and interesting way, while also having fun with it, people will naturally want to tune in. There’s so much good music being written in every genre, and it’s really fun to take solid songwriting and switch up the instrumentation, or meter, or style or any combination of things.
What’s the state of pop-punk these days, anyway?
There are plenty of more recent and active bands that I love and actively listen to. They certainly aren’t in the peak of pop culture like blink-182 and Green Day were 20 years ago, but there’s definitely a strong and vibrant scene. People like MGK are playing a version of pop-punk, topping pop charts and playing on SNL. There are even bands that have managed to evolve from the old scene and grow with the mainstream, like Paramore and Fall Out Boy.
However, as my generation gets older, there’s a very precise era of nostalgia that will never really go away. As millennials become more established in life, we’ll always fondly remember the days of less responsibility, goofing around with our friends and having huge, new experiences all the time. The soundtrack to those memories, for a lot of us, are bands like blink-182, Yellowcard, Taking Back Sunday and My Chemical Romance.
Pop-punk detractors might say it’s too specific of a sound, the lyrical content is basic and there isn’t room for growth, but it’s easy to overlook the really good and interesting stuff sometimes. New bands are forming all the time, with more influences than ever, and it’s very exciting to see where new combinations of influence and culture can move the genre.
Will you keep riding the pop-punk wave?
I’ve been in the process of building the business up to the point where I can possibly think about making it my full-time job! It’s a very daunting idea as a 31-year-old man with a fiancée and a stable career, but I love the “Goin’ Country” series, and I think it has great potential moving forward. I’d love to collaborate with artists on making their songs country, and maybe even work with labels to use the new arrangement as a marketing tool for a single they’d like to push. While I have some original music out now, I’d love to make more pop-punk and indie stuff of my own in the near future — and of course, keep making pop-punk covers, too.