Mo Troper: Power pop trip

story by Halee Hastad

photo by Samantha Sutcliffe

Exposure and Response Prevention therapy (ERP) is often used with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) patients. The exposure part refers to being exposed to that which makes one anxious or triggers the obsessive behavior. Response relates to training the reaction one has to such trigger. The goal is to eventually cure or lessen in severity the disorder.

Portland power pop sweetheart Mo Troper has titled his third and most recent album after this type of therapy. The work, Exposure and Response, is him forcing himself to feel uncomfortable. Having experienced OCD for much of his life (he has an irrational fear of contamination), Mo is currently working through the disorder via ERP. He wrote the album while living in his native Los Angeles before moving back to Portland where he spent parts of his youth. Exposure and Response was recorded at Atomic Garden in Palo Alto and is due to debut this month.

Mo has a familiarity with music going back to childhood, with a birth father who had some 30,000 records in collection. He remembers an early superhero-like adoration for The Beatles, Michael Jackson, and various other pop icons. In 2007 he began playing and making music and from 2010 to 2015 led the now defunct band, Your Rival. His most recent self-titled project took flight last year.

Exposure and Response is being put out on Good Cheer Records, a Portland label Mo co-founded and produces his music under.

“Growing up in the Portland music scene, I saw what was happening at bars and with the weekly mags and wasn’t impressed,” he said. “The goal for me was never to create an empire or anything, but to cut the shit and highlight the underground landscape by giving those musicians a space to be heard.”

Mo speaks very casually about music and his thoughts of it. He isn’t the die hard type. His aspirations are realistic, ambition about average. This nonchalance is a reflection of an inner conflict Mo feels when it comes to musicians and the metaphorical pool they swim in.

“I think being a musician is, for someone like me, a luxury pursuit,” he said.

It is a privilege to earn very little money making music but still be able to do it, Mo explains. There is a part of him that finds musicians annoying and gross, and another part of him, the musician part, that understands the draw and is, after all, a musician. The reconciliation he seeks between these two parts remains in limbo.

Exposure and Response is Mo’s third album with this project, following Beloved (2016) and Gold (2017). He wrote it while living in L.A. and explained it was much more labor intensive than those of the past. It took about a year to produce, and sports a less angsty tone, which he traded for a narrative-based approach inspired by Smile Era musicians such as The Beach Boys and Randy Newman. The album also features more instrumental and orchestral elements than before, which he gleaned from fellow Good Cheer band, Turtlenecked.

“I wanted to get back to making music that was more like musicians I actually like,” he said.

Mo admits without hesitation that he doesn’t necessarily know what he is doing with his life, let alone his music. Though, a divine sense of purpose seems less relevant here because Mo is branching out, presenting something different both personally and musically. A coming of age style sophomore album, Exposure and Response is Mo stepping out, making himself subject to his apprehensions. The result of which just may be his greatest work yet.

Mo Troper performs Nov. 10 at Make.Shift. See them on Facebook at