Michael “Mikey” Hodges began his music career the way thousands of other songwriters start out: by moving to New York. Hodges split from his home state of Indiana in 2009 and landed in Brooklyn, moving in with a musician buddy from back home. He bounced around the Brooklyn scene, bartending, performing with friends’ bands and making pals everywhere he went — but on his own, he’d begun to record a batch of pop songs that would mark his debut as a solo artist. He claimed the rock ‘n’ roll moniker Pop Zeus after a song written by Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard and Doug Gillard. (Pollard was cool with it, Hodges told AL.com.)
Pop Zeus’ scrappy and heartfelt guitar-pop tunes caught the ear of Orange County label Burger Records, and the imprint put out Hodges’ 10-song debut in 2012. A year later, Hodges hit the road again; he relocated to Portland, Ore., then Los Angeles. He released a promising EP on Gnar Tapes and began working on more music with Wyatt Blair of the psych outfit Mr. Elevator And The Brain Hotel. But he would never finish those recordings. On the afternoon of Dec. 18, 2014, Hodges was killed in a motorcycle crash in downtown L.A. He was 29.
Blair is one of the founders of L.A.’s Lolipop Records. After Hodges died, the label tidied up and published the one song they’d finished: a nugget of squealing power pop that sounds descended from the ’70s pop band Shoes and supplemented by punk rock and Ariel Pink. It could be Hodges’ best song ever. But its words assume another layer of significance in the aftermath of his death. Singing a story about dumping a no-good lover, Hodges sounds relieved when he cries out, “I’ve never been more alive.”