"WHEN I WAS YOUNGER I wanted to be famous," says Mo Troper. "When I was a kid that's what I wanted to do: I wanted to be in a famous band."
Perhaps it's no wonder—growing up, Troper was surrounded by images of the world's most famous band.
"My birth father collected Beatles memorabilia," Troper says. There were bobble-heads, foreign seven-inches, VHS bootlegs, blowup doll caricatures of the Fab Four's cartoon likenesses, and so on. "I feel like if I was an adult I probably would've thought [he] was an insane person," Troper says. "But when you're a five-year-old that's really cool."
Troper formed Your Rival in high school. A bombastic, nakedly emotional, wailing power-pop band more teenaged Weezer than Beatles, they wrote "fun songs about horrible things." Though they found an audience in the all-ages house-show circuit, played Treefort, and signed with local label Party Damage, Troper struggled continually against expectations, process, and plain bum luck.
"It just never really worked," he says. "It seemed like for every minor accomplishment there were multiple setbacks. I never had my excitement about the project matched, and that was really hard."
Even in the moments when it came together, Troper was left largely unfulfilled. "I got a taste of what it was like to be in a band that some people cared about, and I don't think that did anything for me," he says. In a performance billed as their last, two members didn't bother showing up.
After the band disbanded, Troper, now 24, experienced a shift in his songwriting. "There was definitely a point with Your Rival that I was writing for Your Rival," he says. "When we broke up I started writing for myself again."
"I'm still just doing pop music," Troper adds. And indeed, the full-throated, nakedly aching delivery remains in Troper's eponymous work—a breezy, Laurel Canyon reinvention this is not.
Between jobs—including his regular and ongoing contributions to this paper—and housesitting for his grandmother in the spring of 2015, Troper penned an album's worth of material.
"I wasn't thinking about releasing this music, or about who was going to hear it," he says. "So it was just kind of private. It wasn't until I got together with the band that it sort of materialized."
The group—guitarist Jackson Machado, bassist Ben Burwell, and drummer Asher McKenzie—was dubbed the Assumptions, and they matched Troper's enthusiasm. Last October they assembled at the Magic Closet, a studio in Southeast Portland.
"It was the fastest studio experience I've ever had," Troper says of the two days tracking and two days mixing. "We recorded all the rhythm tracks live, which is something I had never done. The Your Rival stuff was really labored over in this way that I think was really self-conscious. With Your Rival I was always trying to create the illusions that it was a loud punk band, when really it was very tinkered with."
The first record under his own name, Beloved, captures a legitimately loud, energetic live band. It is a brisk, bright, hook-filled pop confessional, an outpouring of unrequited love and perceived inadequacy that struggles to cope, where sentimentality is as much a prison as a safe space. In "Star Wars," lamenting his friends as loutish, rote party animals Troper wails, "I just want to stay home and watch Star Wars alone."
Yet after finding responsive bandmates, a swift, more confident process, and a representative voice, Troper is dialing back his ambitions.
"With Your Rival I really wanted to be in a big band, which now seems pretty stupid to me," he says. "I feel like I grew up. I'm in a place now where I just want to write songs that I think are as good as the bands I like. That's my goal. If I do that then I'm fine, regardless of who's listening. That sounds cliché, but that's real for me."