A new man

The end of Popgun means Happy Landings for Mark Harrod

Mark Harrod is ready for his close-up, Mr. DeMille.

Mark Harrod is ready for his close-up, Mr. DeMille.

9 p.m. Thursday, April 14; with the Kimberly Trip and the Holy Men; $6. Old Ironsides, 1901 10th Street.

Mark Harrod feared a day job. Since 1998, his Sacramento-based band, Popgun, had dreamed of big-time success—a recording contract with a major label and heavy rotation on national radio. Both friends and fans thought the group’s success a lock.

During that time, Popgun endeared itself to local audiences while receiving critical acclaim, including a Sammie for Best Local CD for the self-titled Popgun in 2001. Popgun’s second album, N.U. Machine, was released with national distribution, and it seemed that the band’s dreams were edging toward reality. Its music was being played on college radio stations across the country, the fan base was growing, and live performances were met by enthusiastic crowds. Popgun was on the verge of breaking out.

Instead, the band broke up.

One might expect Harrod to be clinging to a pseudo-rock-star lifestyle: the empty, crushed beer cans piled in the corner and the cirrus smoke from burning cigarettes undulating across the ceiling. But on a recent Friday night, the reality was stunningly more suburban. Aside from a piano tucked into a corner, there were no visible musical instruments in his home. Playskool toys—plastic rings like giant purple donuts—lay scattered across the Pergo floor. The Harrods’ dog, Farley, a horse-like Great Dane, whimpered at the sliding glass door from the backyard. Becky, Harrod’s wife, quietly read a paperback on a nearby sofa while Harrod—the rock star—cut into a pan of fresh-baked brownies.

“It’s all about kids now,” said Harrod. “Once I had the boy, and as soon as he started walking, it’s like ‘Wow. Do I want to play a show in front of 20 people or 100 people or watch him walk around?’ It’s more fun to watch him walk around.”

Fatherhood didn’t destroy Popgun; it merely hastened the end. Harrod—weary of the success-driven Popgun machine—wanted to create music for himself. He recently finished his first solo CD, Danger: Risk of Death if Used When Train Is Moving. He plans to perform with ex-members of Red Star Memorial under the name the Happy Landings.

Danger says goodbye to Popgun and showcases Harrod’s growth as a musician. The songs display a rawness the radio-polished Popgun avoided. Danger features upbeat guitar and drum-driven tunes reminiscent of the Strokes, and slow piano arrangements made popular by the Beatles and, more recently, Jet.

Harrod’s attention to recording techniques helps define Danger. “Popgun was about ‘What will the crowd want to hear?’ This is more truthful. This is real writing for me,” Harrod explained. “I like to hear the mess-ups, and I don’t care if anyone else likes it. There are a couple of songs where the vocals get out of tune, but I was actually feeling it. So, I left it in, because I was more emotional there, which I never do. I’ve never done that on any recording.”

Danger also showcases Harrod’s growth as a husband and a father. On the opening track, Harrod sings, “I believe that I have finally found exactly what I’m looking for.” Once gigging regularly with three different bands, Harrod now finds comfort at home with Becky; their 2-year-old son, Connor; and their 5-month-old daughter, Skylar. “It’s all about them. I can’t imagine going on the road for a week much less a couple of months and missing out on those two months of their lives. I’d rather sit and watch him play terrible 8-year-old baseball than practice or go to a gig.”

Although Popgun officially has broken up, Harrod plans to make its final CD—tentatively titled I Spit My Last Breath at Thee—as well as Danger and whatever new music Harrod chooses to pass along available at www.notlame.com.

In the end, Harrod does have a day job, sitting behind a desk at a Sacramento County office at the beck and call of his superiors. But pictures of Connor and Skylar surround him—on his desk, as a screensaver—and Harrod revels in Connor’s budding musicianship. He is teaching Connor how to play drums. “He’s really good already,” Harrod said, beaming.