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2022 SXSW Festivals Interviews

Interview: Ivypaint is surfing pop punk’s biggest wave

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Get to your nearest mall and head to Hot Topic because it’s 2022 and pop punk has returned in force. Among the influx of bands rejuvenating the scene, there’s Orlando based Ivypaint.

Fronted by lead singer Sean Duong, Ivypaint’s infectious brand of energetic melancholy eagerly fills the big shoes of any band that would be discovered on MySpace or reblogged on Tumblr. “Bedheads” is their latest in a string of catchy singles that’s priming us for a long, glorious, emo road ahead.

On the corner of Esther’s Follies, From the Intercom caught up with Ivypaint (vocalist Sean Duong, guitarist Cal Mueller, and drummer Jason Flanders) to talk everything pop punk, Waffle House, an innovative, potential release strategy. You heard it here first.

This interview has been edited for clarity.


From the Intercom: How’s SXSW been so far?

Sean Duong: It’s been splendid. We got to see a lot of artists that we would have never seen ever like in any other state of course. And then we’ve also got to see a lot of culture. A lot of the food has been amazing. The ribs. Yeah, we just got done with some ribs, actually. Best ribs I’ve ever had in my life. 

Jason Flanders: It’s just been cool. Being in a band helps you get to locations that you probably otherwise would never go to. I’ve always wanted to go to Texas. It’s pretty awesome just being here and taking in the culture and all that. It’s been amazing. Nothing but good things to say. 

Cal Mueller: I’m definitely loving all the food trucks. I love all the variety of the food. You can get Jamaican stuff, you can get Asian cuisine and pretty much anything and I love that. I love looking at the Capitol building too. Yeah. Beautiful.

(left to right) Jason Flanders (drums), Cal Mueller (rhythm guitar), Christian Wheeler (lead guitar), and Sean Duong (vocalist) of Ivypaint.

FTI: How was the drive here and would you do it again?

Jason: Only if we had to. I think we almost died. 

Sean: Oh, man. We ran into a tornado going on in Louisiana. That happened to be during my graveyard shift between 12 AM and like 6 AM and we had to pull over because we couldn’t see the lanes at all. And that was grueling, pouring rain at night. 

Jason: The road was not lit and there was a tornado coming. I was asleep and I woke up to the van swerving and Sean driving, I was like “Oh, we’re going to die.” 

Sean: We were hydroplaning before pulling over. And then we got some of my Pringles in us to help get morale back up. You know, pizza, Pringles, barbecue Pringles we say stacked on those. 

Jason: We drove for another 30 minutes and then stopped again at Waffle House.

FTI: What’s the short review on Waffle House. Go? Don’t go? 

Jason: If you want something quick and cheap, it’s great. If you want variety, go to IHOP. 

Cal: And if you want your waiter to offer you a cigarette when you say syrup.

Sean Duong, Christian Wheeler, and Cal Mueller of Ivypaint.

Jason: Oh yeah, I asked, “Can I have some syrup?” They said sure and pulled out a pack of Newports. 

FTI: Did you get the syrup though? 

Jason: I did.

FTI: Tell me the philosophy behind Ivypaint? How did you get the name?

Sean: I’m going to be blatantly honest. I just wanted a name with ambiguity. I wanted a name that wasn’t mixed up with any other searches when you Googled it. So I just decided to put two words together that I thought had a nice, pretty aesthetic vibe to it. There honestly, unfortunately, was no backstory to it in terms of naming it.

Jason: Ivypaint is a hybrid of fun and sad at the same time. 

Sean: Yeah. You know, we got the emo vibes for the MySpace, Tumblr homies and then we also have those upbeat tunes that you can jump around to. We make sure that we put a lot of emphasis into our live performance and make sure everyone has a good time. That’s what being at our show is all about.

It’s making sure that any of the problems that you experience in your regular day to day life, you don’t have to worry about. Just let it all go. Just have a good time. I think we don’t necessarily offer people solutions, but we definitely want to offer people a space to forget for a while.

Sean: I guess even within our music, from a political standpoint, mental health is definitely a popular theme that recurs in our music. And I think it’s really important that people know that they’re not alone in their battles with mental health, depression, anxiety and whatnot.

Just knowing that there is a common understanding and being able to relate to someone else and their struggles, agony, and whatever tougher adjectives I can come up with.

Ivypaint.

FTI: What’s it like to be Asian in the pop punk scene? Because it can be difficult  to find folks in that scene even five, ten years ago.

Sean: Growing up going to any concert, whether it be within the crowd or on the stage, I would realize like I really am like the only Asian dude in the room. And it’s definitely a layer of responsibility that didn’t start when I created Ivypaint. It came from the passion for music. 

I’ve slowly realized that there is that layer of responsibility that comes with being at the forefront, being one of the first people to help pave the way. You don’t have to come from any specific one background in order to just passionately make art and create and do this stuff, you know. 

Honestly, the only artists I can think of with Asian heritage are One Ok Rock. I guess not specifically Asian, but I really like 5 Seconds of Summer. Their bass player is Pacific Islander to New Zealand. And he was definitely a big inspiration. It’s not the norm. It’s mainly white dudes. 

Ivypaint at Soundbar on Aug 14, 2021.

There’s a lot of the change and diversity that has been coming like, you know, in, especially into pop punk. We’ve got Kenny Hoopla. We’ve got our friends in Orlando, Magnolia Park, Meet Me @ The Altar, Willow Smith. There’s iann dior as well. The diversity that’s been occurring has been really amazing. I think the Gen Z and the TikTok generation has definitely done a lot to expand the range of voices that are present.

FTI: Asking as a former clarinet player in marching band, when are you going to bust out the clarinet for a song?

Sean: I played clarinet for beginning band, so I didn’t quite I didn’t quite get that much experience with it. But, you know, I love learning new instruments. I would love to bust out that diversity of instrumentation. 

Jason: We’ll collab with you.

FTI: Just let us know. We have all the goofy vibes coming out. 

Sean: Before a breakdown just a long B flat. 

FTI: A very specific group of people will be seen if you do that. So I sent your music to my girlfriend. We’re a bit older than you all, but we listen to Dashboard Confessional, Taking Back Sunday, Daphne Loves Derby, Meg & Dia. Are these the influences you’re pulling from? Any influences people might not expect for Ivypaint? 

Sean: We take a lot of influence from that MySpace generation, as I mentioned earlier. Bands like Fall Out Boy, Paramore, all the iconic ones and then even like the I was part of more like the Tumblr generation with pop punk. Bands like Neck Deep, The Story So Far, Real Friends, The Wonder Years, and State Champs

Jason: I think what’s great about our band is that there are no two people in our band that have the exact same music taste. So we can all kind of bring something different to the table and create this like similar but still fresh sound. Because we’re all we all come from different musical backgrounds, and when we come together, we can make something fresh.

Sean: Even in our discography, we’ll have pop rock jams, we’ll have heavier, just straight punk. Sometimes moments of post-hardcore, a little bit metalcore here and there.

On occasion, I’ll listen to Knocked Loose and maybe I’ll steal a little chromatic scale, some chunky breakdown. On this next record, we definitely got some, darker tunes. Very Movements-esque, I think Movements is from California as well.

One of our guys really likes Polyphia. So we always leave room for his guitar solos.

FTI: When I think of pop punk, there’s a particular relationship with social media. As you mentioned, MySpace, there’s the YouTube era, there’s Tumblr. Do you gravitate toward a certain social media platform to get like your taste and your vibe? 

Jason: I think that Instagram has been the most beneficial in terms of updating the fans that we already have on what’s going on. And TikTok has been the most beneficial in terms of people discovering us. We treat each platform with an equal amount of care, but also depending on what our goal is, that day, we’ll focus more energy on one or the other.

Different social media platforms have different algorithms and different benefits. You really can’t neglect one or the other because they all do different things for you. And if you want to reach as many different avenues as possible, you got to give them all an equal amount of attention.

FTI: The return of pop punk is here. It just legitimately is. I’ve seen the Hot Topic and scene style return to TikTok. Would you have predicted the resurgence of pop punk when you started the bands? 

Jason: Absolutely not, personally. 

Sean: Warped Tour had just died the same year that Ivypaint started. So it was a little foreboding at first for a lot of the pop punk scene. Ever since the new wave of pop punk with MGK, Mod Sun–that’s definitely played a huge part in literally bringing pop punk back to the mainstream and it’s been very inspiring. 

We know that we’re not just going to have a very niche community that’s specifically the same set of people that only listen to the same stuff. The last time pop punk was really at its peak was before the 2010s. 

Jason: I’d say 2008, 2009 is where the genre really peaked And I think in 2022 it’s at the biggest peak it’s been since that point. Any bands that formed after 2009 up until now kind of had to tame their expectations a little bit in how far they can actually take it. Seeing where the culture is now, It’s given everyone the fire that there’s actually potential to go way bigger than we actually thought we could with this. So it’s really motivating us to work hard at it.

FTI: The cross-pollination of new subgenres that are out like combining it with emo and glitch pop and hyperpop is really amazing. 

To dive more specifically into the music, I wanted to ask you about a verse on your song “Buggin’ Out“, “I’m buggin’ out about an ex of mine living in Anaheim.” The Orange County area has deep pop punk roots. Do you have an actual ex there? Do you have a connection to the OC or was it just a reference? 

Sean: So I’m going to be honest, it was definitely for the rhyme scheme. However, outside of that, I mean, I’ve definitely had a few flings on that side of town.

FTI: The rap break on “Melatonin”, though. Incredible. Can you tell me how that happened? 

Jason: Sean has an alter ego called Little Sean. Search Little Sean on TikTok. You can find it. 

Sean: I’m going to have a little embarrassing moment for myself. I was kind of a hardcore Eminem fan, a stan–an original stan–back in my middle school days. By the time I was in high school, I was already listening to more rock music, but I wanted to pay tribute to my little middle school self. And we had some bars. That was kind of the era where rap plus pop punk was kind of beginning. And I took a little dive to make it.

Jason: I think if there was ever a time for us to do something like that, it was now because pop punk is becoming a lot more multi-genre. Nobody listens to just one genre anymore, like they did 15 years ago. I think a lot of that has to do with Spotify playlists being the new radio now. And everyone’s listening to a mix of everything which gives us a lot more freedom and room to play with a lot of different genres.

FTI: Have we reached peak pop punk revival or is it going to swing even harder because y’all are pushing so you can kind of see a little bit beyond the hallway than most of us can.

Jason: I think we were just talking about this last night, too. 

Sean: I mean, I don’t want to jinx it, but I think there is still a lot more to come. There’s still plenty of artists who are still finding new ways to keep the genre interesting. I’m consistently impressed by what  fourteen, fifteen, sixteen year olds are adding in. Just hearing a trap beat on a pop punk song changed the game so much.

Cal: I think genres are just going to keep continuing to expand. And I think it is going to keep growing.

FTI: No full length yet. When’s it coming? What words can you say if you can say anything? 

Sean: Well, we can say that we really adapted more of a single release mindset. I think the consumption habits of listeners have totally changed. You know, it’s definitely harder–at least in my opinion–when you drop albums sometimes after the first four or five songs, yeah, people’s attention spans kind of want to click out. We’ve definitely adapted a new kind of release plan where we do a good portion of the singles coming out on a frequent basis. And then almost at the end of the year, we put them together and with inflections that end up on the EPs and longer length albums. 

Jason: We definitely have plans to put out a proper release consisting of a lot of the singles that we’re going to be putting out all year. We’re debating on an exact release date right now. We’re going to compile them into an official release with some extra bonus tracks that will be exclusive to just the EP.

Sean: Or you know, or we’ll just have a Patreon and have our first debut album exclusive to Patreon. 

FTI: Whoa. 

Jason: Did you just come up with an idea right now during the interview? 

Sean: I think it’s the only good idea I’ve ever had.


This interview was conducted by Justin Ricafort, in-person at SXSW 2022 in Austin, Texas on March 18th, 2022.

“Bedheads” is out now on major streaming platforms. Press photos taken from Ivypaint’s website.

Artist pages: Instagram | Facebook | Spotify | YouTube

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