'Postmodern Jukebox' Finds Viral Magic in Pop Hits and Throwbacks

Image: Postmodern Jukebox

Postmodern Jukebox via YouTube

Miley Cyrus, meet the double bass.

Postmodern Jukebox, a New York-based jazz band with a rotating cast of guest musicians, has struck YouTube gold with its jazz-inspired, swinging remixes of pop hits, hip hop throwbacks, and even techno dance tunes.

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And the people like what they hear. The group’s twerking-free version of Miley’s “We Can’t Stop” has nearly 9.5 million views.

Frontman and founder Scott Bradlee will spend June touring Europe with his fellow musicians, bringing their ragtime take to modern tunes across the continent. He talked with NBC News about playing live, picking out the perfect song, and singing clowns.

Given that the band is hitting ten European countries this month, have you translated any of your covers?

We haven't translated anything for any particular shows, but we do have quite a few songs with lyrics in other languages -- for instance, our vocalist Robyn translated the 2Chainz rap from "Talk Dirty" into Yiddish for our klezmer version of that song. It's been fun to watch the audience dance the Hora to it.

Have you recruited any European guests for Postmodern Jukebox renditions on the tour?

We have a number of really talented supporting acts that will be performing before us, but we haven't worked any European guests into the show just yet. But, that could certainly change! We're hoping to make time for some outdoor Postmodern busking in Europe, too.

Do you have a hidden list of your ideas for upcoming Postmodern Jukebox video covers? How do you know what will go viral?

I have a list of ideas and a few arrangements that I haven't gotten around to filming just yet. Coming up with ideas is the easy part, though. I don't worry too much about whether or not a particular video will go viral, but I generally like to arrange things in styles that contrast sharply with that of the original. When it comes to viral content, the more ridiculous, the better.

Back in 2011, you released your Motown cover of Nickleback’s “How You Remind Me.” Since people on the Internet seem to love making fun of Nickelback, did you initially fear you would receive flak for the cover?

Motown Nickelback came about as a result of a petition that circulated in Detroit a few years back to ban Nickelback from playing at halftime at a Lions game. Since Detroit is the home of Motown, I figured it would be a fun experiment to cover a Nickelback song in the style of Motown, and see if I could get those same people to actually enjoy Nickelback. It wound up provoking a lot of discussion online, and really was a precursor to the Postmodern Jukebox videos of today. I'm completely fine with receiving flak from some people for it; my goal is just to start a conversation about "good" musical taste, and whether or not that even exists.

On June 10, you released the most recent Postmodern Jukebox video, a cover of “No Diggity” by Blackstreet with Jessica Rabbit in mind. How did you come to pairing a racy redheaded cartoon character with a song featuring Dr. Dre?

The Jessica Rabbit idea actually came from [singer] Ariana Savalas -- she really nails that style, and we hadn't really released any torch songs up until then. She initially suggested "No Diggity" as a joke, but I realized that it was the perfect choice; it's kind of the '90s R&B update of Peggy Lee's "Fever," after all.

Last Halloween, you released a rendition of Lorde’s ‘Royals,’ featuring an extremely tall crooning clown named Puddles. How’d that happen?

I first saw Puddles in [New York City’s] Manderley Bar, and I knew instantly that the Internet needed to see him. It took a year before we had the chance to record something for YouTube, and "Royals" was just beginning to climb the charts. In this case, there's the obvious contrast (lyrics normally sung by a 16-year-old-girl now being sung by a giant sad clown), but at the same time, it also seemed to fit the lyrical content. After all, the lyrics are about being an outsider.

When you return to New York in late June after your European tour, what do you have planned for Postmodern Jukebox?

We're going to take a couple of months to record an album and a whole bunch of new videos, and then we're going to gear up for a full national tour so that we can hit all of the cities that we missed on our first tour. Most importantly, we're going to get some sleep! Touring with 12 musicians is a lot like going on a class field trip for two weeks with no chaperone. Or -- even worse -- maybe I'm the chaperone.