Pope Paul and the Illegals Create a Devout Rockabilly Following

(Credit: Eadweard York )

Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana is known for a lot of things. Actually, it’s mostly known — besides being a private prep school — is for producing a slew of pro athletes. Paul “Pope Paul” Bouyear and John “John the Bassist” Kveen, both alums of the school, are aiming to add incubator for rockabilly stars to its legacy.

“I was always cool with John Kveen in high school but we really didn’t hang out much until senior year when we would take turns playing bass for our high school basketball pep band, and I knew then he was a good bassist,” Bouyear recalls. “Around the same time, I had a falling out with a different psychobilly band that introduced me to the scene. Looking for new band mates I respected John’s playing in other bands and knew he was more than versatile enough to start the Illegals with me.”

The duo didn’t actually start playing music until their 20s. At the time, the two’s then-recent outfits is disbanded and having known of each other’s prowess, they decided to start jamming together over a mutual love of rockabilly and psychobilly. 

Formed in 2014, Pope Paul & The Illegals, the duo cycled through different drummers before meeting Sal “Big Sal” Sandoval, who remains the band’s man behind the kit.

“For me, usually people who are into those things [music], are into the other things as well,” Kveen says. “We saw a lot of bands that might embrace one or a few of those genres, but not many that would embrace swing or jazz as much as punk rock and psychobilly. We wanted to make a band that played within all of those.” 

This eclectic melding of sounds has allowed the band to create an energetic, raucous live show. The band plays regularly in Long Beach and Anaheim, which has helped them stay sharp when they’re not touring. So far, they’ve appeared on festival bills with the likes of Wanda Jackson and Shooter Jennings, have opened for Cherry Poppin’ Daddies at the Yost Theater, and Johnny Hatton (Brian Setzer Orchestra) and Bill Bateman of the Blasters has played with the band as well.

“We were lucky in that it wasn’t hard to meet those people to gain insight and knowledge,” Kveen says. “But, there’s a lot of people who have served as mentors to us given us good advice to go about touring and knowledge about music. We’re lucky to live in a place where there’s so much talent.” 

As far as they’ve come in the four years since their inception, Pope Paul & The Illegals are focused on releasing their third studio album. Recorded in Northern Mississippi at Dial Back Sounds, which is owned by Matt Patton of the Drive By Truckers, the yet-to-be named record has the same warm feel as their earlier work, and captures the band’s strengths as it was recorded live. The band is also releasing the album through Dial Back Sounds’ record label of the same name. 

“At the end of one our tours last summer Matt and his sound engineer Bronson called us up to inform us they were starting a label and would like to help us put out an LP,” Bouyear explains of the origins. “Honestly, being asked to join a label and not having to pay out of our own pockets to record our music is a dream come true.”

For now, Pope Paul & The Illegals are focused on an upcoming Southern tour and maintaining the momentum they feel has come from the recording of their album. They’re planning on getting back to recording, with plans to head back to Mississippi to record their fourth album in the works. For now, they’ll continue playing live and steadily building a receptive fan base.

“There’s no way to do it easily, you just gotta keep cranking away at it,” Kveen says. “It requires a lot of work but anything worth doing does.”


Pope Paul and the Illegals perform at the Marine Room, 214 Ocean Ave, Laguna Beach, (949) 494-3027, 9 p.m., www.marineroom.com, free, 21+

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