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Months before SXSW, I pored through the list to find bands that I wanted to interview and catch live. To my surprise, there was only ONE band in the entire lineup who billed themselves as “pop-punk”: Orlando-based Ivypaint.

Back in January, lead singer Sean Duong answered some questions for me ahead of the festival.

Who are the band members?

Sean Duong (lead vox), Christian Wheeler (lead guitar + vox), Jason Flanders (drums), and Cal Mueller (rhythm guitar)

Where are you from?

We say Orlando, but we’re generally scattered around the surrounding central Florida area.

Have you worked with any cool people?

Co-writing 50/50 with Kellin Quinn was an awesome experience considering that Sleeping with Sirens played a huge part in my coming-of-age during my adolescence. I still can’t really believe we can say we have a song with him. I listened to “Let’s Cheers to This” and “If You Were a Movie, This Would Be Your Soundtrack” on repeat literally all of freshman year in high school. Kellin plays a huge role in how I sing and the overall timbre of my voice for sure.

Can you tell me a bit about your upcoming release?

Our next EP, “Never Pleasure”, is a collection of six songs all written from the lowest points of my life. They are the most vulnerable pieces of myself, and every line of every song was written out of necessity. This is, in my opinion, my strongest songwriting yet, and features more weighted themes such as guilt and sorrow, indecision and regret, nostalgia and escapism, and coping and self-sabotage. On a deeply personal level to me, this EP represents the cyclical nature of my life, and my obsessive fear with whether or not my brain and psyche are predisposed to operate the way they do. At the heart of it all, it’s an honest expression of my entire self, in the only form that feels right to me. And that’s all I’ve ever wanted to be able to do with Ivypaint.

How did you get started, and what has led up to where you are today as an artist?

Funnily enough, Ivypaint really started in high school after I went through a “bad” breakup—by high schooler standards—and needed an outlet to help get over it. This outlet ended up being Ivypaint’s debut EP “Quiet Compassion,” produced by my good friend Jacob Craddock of Miramar Drive. But one fateful morning, I figured that continuing Ivypaint on my own would be daunting—and lonely—so I decided to pick up other members to join full-time. So, after a few member rotations, a stellar sophomore EP (titled “Blue Light”), a Kellin Quinn collaboration, and a BTS cover, our roster has finalized as Christian Wheeler (lead guitar), Jason Flanders (drums), and Cal Mueller (rhythm guitar). And now as this beautiful quartet, we’ve begun rolling out our third EP “Never Pleasure,” which will definitely be a treat for any longtime fans, as well as a great entry for any newcomers discovering us.

Who do you feel has influenced you the most as an artist?

Considering that we’re four young twenty-somethings in a pop-punk band, it’s hard not to find influence from all those 2000’s Warped Tour bands like All Time Low, Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, but we also find a lot of value in looking at less accepted pop-rock/pop-punk artists such as 5 Seconds of Summer and Waterparks.

What do you feel sets you apart from other artists and gives you your own sound?

One thing that sets us apart is our ability to use serious themes and lyrics in our songs, such as mental illness, abusive relationships, substance abuse, etc., and still make it sound upbeat and “energetic.” Although it technically doesn’t contribute to our sound, I find it especially valuable in how this band is fronted by an Asian guy, which is so very rare in this scene, and that diversity brings a breath of fresh air that inspires our younger audience. It proves that you can look any-which-way in this genre and kick-ass at it, regardless of your background.

What has been your biggest challenge and what do you feel you have learned from it?

Our biggest challenge has been adapting to a constantly evolving music industry. People seldom admit it, but a LOT of musicians hate making promotional marketing videos for social media because they just want to let the music speak for itself. Unfortunately, in this era of music, it really requires biting the bullet, putting your ego aside, and making trendy TikTok videos or talking to a camera as if we aren’t introverts. Thankfully, COVID left us with no choice but to resort to internet content creation as a means of connecting with fans, and ironically enough, without COVID, we wouldn’t have established the audience we have today.

What advice would you give to anyone new coming into the industry?

  1. Make the music you want to be playing and listening to.
  2. If you strive for nothing but perfection in this industry, you’re not going to last very long.
  3. Do not let numbers control you.
  4. Make as many connections as possible, especially at local shows.
  5. Don’t be a dick to the sound guy.

Is there anyone you’d like to thank for getting you to where you are now, anyone you’d like to give a shout-out to?

First off, we have to thank Jacob Craddock for producing literally all of our EP’s and doing a damn awesome job at it. We should also thank Micah Rojas, Jack Bramuchi, and Matthew Brown for also lending their creativity and talent to Ivypaint. I also want to give a shoutout to MGK and Travis Barker for reviving pop-punk and bringing it to the mainstream again. Another shoutout to Christian Cuales of Santoku Media for being an awesome music video director.And shoutout to all the people who have supported us over the years. If you’ve streamed a song or added one to a playlist, thank you. If you’ve been to one of our shows or bought merch, thank you. If you find comfort in listening to our music, thank you.

We kept in touch after this, and I was able to snag a video interview with ¾ of the band. Check that out below.

For more interviews and SXSW coverage, keep an eye on KOOP.org and listen to The Emo Diaries at it’s new time, starting Friday, June 3, from 4:30-6p on 91.7 FM.

Interview and video by Stephanie Robinson, AKA Stefny! at the Disco