Surprise, surprise, eh? Well, I was thinking: "Who is a great, relevant band that could possibly pop my interview cherry." Actually, I knew exactly who I wanted; I don't think my love for Polar Bear Club is any news to the Org-readership --- pun definitely intended. Recently, guitarist Chris Browne and I exchanged E-mails, shot the proverbial breeze, discussed their recent admission into the Bridge 9 family, and most notably, a brief insight on their highly-anticipated follow up to 2008's Sometimes Things Just Disappear. Punknews exclusive: We should expect "shorter songs and more energy."
Polar Bear Club is pretty obviously a bunch of drunk nerds with glasses.
A part-time band to a Rock Sound Magazine-1,000 daily Myspace plays-Bridge 9-band… You know, my grandfather always told me that it took "years to really become something." What's it like for self-proclaimed "lazy dudes" to see their band catch on shortly after becoming an actual "full-time" band?
It's pretty awesome. But I'd be lying if I said we were still lazy about it; that much has changed for sure. It's weird though, because I can't really see things the same for us as when I watch things like that happen to other bands I follow. I'm sure this is the case with bands more often than not, but it's just really hard to keep perspective on what you're doing while watching it from the inside. To me, it doesn't really feel like things have "caught on" so much, it more just feels like now we have even more ahead of us and even more reason to work hard and appreciate this while we can.
I mean, I've definitely noticed that more kids are at our shows now and know our words and all that, but the more we get out there and tour and expand our horizons, the more it seems like we're actually the newbies that are just scratching the surface (which is a cool feeling in its own right). And to us, it actually hasn't been a quick thing at all; it's just kind of happened gradually now as opposed to at some other time. Most of us have been doing bands together and with our friends in upstate NY for upwards of 10 years now, and while I'm sure we've progressively gotten better, it's still strange to be just another kid in a local band for SO many years, and then all of a sudden out of nowhere, we're supposed to start taking it more seriously and acting on a broader scale. But we've always put every ounce of energy into everything we create, and I think that's what always drew me to the bands from around us, is that was always transparent regardless of whether kids cared locally or otherwise.
Now we're just lucky enough to keep doing it for the time being instead of growing up and getting a shitty job, and now we have more people sharing it with us, and that fucking rules regardless of perspective or how much we've caught on or whatever. I'm having the time of my life with it so far, and it definitely feels like the very beginning for us as opposed to the culmination or the end.
My money was on Equal Vision, but after a quick double take at Bridge 9's recent signings, it definitely clicked on their motive. What about them in particular led you all to settle on them?
It really had more to do with the people at Bridge Nine than anything else. We talked with a bunch of different labels around when we decided to start touring more, and we weighed our options for a little bit, but it ultimately just came down to the fact that when we met with Karl (Hensel, B9's label manager extraordinaire), we were instantly like "this dude has a plan, and it's the same as our plan, and we really get what each other are saying." Not to mention he was the only one that seemed to get our shitty sense of humor, so that was good.
Almost every label we met or talked with was impressive in some way, and we were fortunate to even have a decision to make, but we just had this gut feeling that B9 was the place we should be. We realized instantly that some people would consider it bizarre because of their roster and hardcore history, but we all grew up as hardcore kids and going to hardcore shows, and that's an environment that taught us how to make music; we were more concerned with sharing an ideology with our label than whether or not we sounded similar to the other bands they put out. Who wants to put out the same thing over and over anyway? Bridge Nine was willing to take a risk and so were we, and we're already super happy we did it.
It feels way cooler to be in new and uncharted territory, like we're trying to do something that hasn't been done before, than just being another band on a label that doesn't really stick out or do anything different. That being said, EVR is definitely a great label and we have some good friends there, and we'll continue to back what they're doing even though we're not on that label. That is, as long as they keep at least trying to party with us when we come to Albany.
It seems that whenever a band makes the big jump to labels, there will always be haters. I know where I live, Bridge 9 is looked down upon nowadays by the super-underground, more-hardcore-than-thou crowd. Have you caught any flak?
Maybe I just have a totally different view of things because of where I grew up and what got me into punk and hardcore, but I don't see Bridge Nine as such a big jump at all, and I definitely don't understand what's to hate. To be quite honest, there were very few B9 bands that I personally cared about over the years, but the ones that I liked were really special, and I would always equate Bridge Nine with the pinnacle of hardcore labels regardless of that.
I was stoked on Carry On and Terror for a long time, and now they have bands like Have Heart and Crime In Stereo that I think are really important to where our genre is headed, etc. Sure, I guess the B9 name is synonymous with some negative things in some people's minds, whether because of some of the bands or because of the message board and all that garbage. But like, I really don't follow those bands or those people, and last I checked, PBC is pretty obviously a bunch of drunk nerds with glasses.
A band is still a band and being on a label doesn't necessarily change what that band is, it just gives them the opportunity to reach more people with what they're already trying to do. But to finally answer your question, we really haven't gotten much flak at all anyway. More of the "hmm, that's a weird fit" type response that you mentioned earlier. But then again, you can't follow what everyone is saying all the time, and I'd prefer not to for the sake of my own sanity. But by and large, people have just continued to be supportive of us, and we're very grateful for that. No reason for negativity!
Sometimes Things Just Disappear on vinyl -- how stoked are you?
Man, really fucking stoked. We had been discussing this and trying to get the ball rolling for a REALLY long time (obviously), and it just got to the point where it was ridiculous that it hadn't happened yet. But the last year or so has been a wildly transitional and crazy time for our band, so I think we had other decisions that we really wanted to devote our attention to. In the end, it's out, it looks and sounds rad, and Bridge Nine is doing a fantastic job with it so far.
How did you get Matt Bayles for recording? His resume doesn't really scream "Polar Bear Club," should we expect a drastic change in sound or is this going to be a prog-metal, Pearl Jam cover album?
There is nothing like knowing that you can travel to pretty much any city you want and you know you'll have a friend there who will help you out or just meet you for a beer.
It was actually as simple as reaching out to him with an email. We had a short list of people that we would be excited to work with, and Matt was definitely up at the top of that list, so when he got back to us we were like "huh, well that was easy." And while he hasn't necessarily done a lot of bands that sound like us, he HAS done a veritable shit-ton of records that we all love and think sound awesome. We're big fans of Minus The Bear, Mastodon, Botch, and a bunch of his other shit, and it was really cool to be able to hang out for a month or so and just talk about music and try to make our band sound as good and unique as possible with a dude that really knows how to do that.
That's what I personally enjoy most about the records Matt makes -- there's no "Matt Bayles sound," like with a lot of other producers where you can just tell they went to that guy. Matt is better at just making a band sound like they should sound and not overproducing, and he doesn't have one formula or process. He also works ridiculously hard, like insanely hard, and really invests himself in the project. Which is great, because we're a bunch of assholes who booked tours around recording so he couldn't have days off! But as far as how it sounds, in my mind it is a logical progression from our earlier stuff.
I think it is maybe a little more dark, energetic, and a little more "live" sounding, but with a lot of variety between songs as always. I guess it also plays to the ends of the spectrum a bit more -- the heavy songs are heavier, the punky songs are punkier, and so forth. I am really really happy with it and can't wait for people to hear it. We worked really hard and put all of our energy into this, just like bands should always do.
Are there things you just weren't happy about in with Sometimes Things Just Disappear, or something you wish you did better in the studio that you're going to make sure to hit this time around?
We are definitely our own worst critics, and we're really hard on everything we do; I guess that's why we end up pretty happy with stuff later on, is because we drive ourselves fucking nuts in the process. So I mean, I could give you a long list of things that I think could have been improved about both of those records, and frankly I could probably already do the same with the new one. But that's what's great about recording, is that there comes a time when you just have to let go and say "I'm done," and come to terms with what you've created.
You could keep refining and adding ad infinitum, but then music is no longer fun and you're probably just over-thinking anyway. Probably the first bad things that come to mind about STJD are the tempos and some of the songwriting choices we made. I think that album is a little sterile sounding, and I think it has a lot do with the fact that we play those songs a lot faster live. So this time we were really picky about all the tempos and making sure everything feels as energetic as it should.
And I think the songs were also just a little too long for what we were trying to do…a lot of the songs this time around are a good deal shorter. And I like that. But that's not why we did another album so fast; it was just because we were excited to be going full-time and wanted to really see what we could do, and didn't feel like waiting. We had songs and ideas already, so why not use them while they're fresh?
Completely off topic: Not enough bands talk about their roots. Tell me something awesome about Polar Bear Club's local music scene.
I think Western NY is a criminally underappreciated area that has produced some KILLER bands over the years that didn't even come close to getting the attention they deserved. Growing up there, it felt like this tight-knit little bubble community that nobody else really knew about or understood, and we were all very proud of that. Bands like Marathon, How We Are, Standfast, Hedaya, The Disaster….I could go on forever. But those bands seriously made me who I was growing up, and I can't imagine having lived in a different place or having looked up to different bands and different. They never got enough credit outside of our area (especially Marathon in my mind), but in a weird way it seemed like the kids there were happy about it.
It's like we had this very special thing that no one else could touch, and all those bands were doing something so unique. I really feel like Rochester had its own sound, and still does, and I'll never get rid of that ideal in trying to make music or capture a certain feeling. I'll never forget going to see Bane and Standfast at the Ely Fagan VFW hall, or seeing Majority Rule and The Disaster in the basement at Java's. BUT, the sad thing about our area is that most young people there grow up and get out…the kids that made all that special when I was younger were largely RIT students that had come from elsewhere, or kids that grew up in Rochester and then had to move elsewhere for a job or something. Rochester still has some awesome bands and some VERY awesome people, but they're struggling to find venues and to find new kids that will make the scene a community like it was 5 years ago.
It's a shame, but I feel disconnected from our hometown right now. We've all moved to different places (or we did for a while) and now we're on tour all the time, and things change so fast there that it's hard to feel like you're part of something without constantly being there for it. But every time we come back and play Syracuse or Rochester or Buffalo, that's when it absolutely feels like home, and I know it'll come back around because everything is cyclical like that. And I should definitely end this answer by saying everyone who likes punk/hardcore should check out the newest generation of Rochester/Syracuse bands that are doing really unique things, still: bands like Like Wolves, Forfeit, Another Breath, Sakes Alive, Such Gold, Dasha, and a bunch more.
They're carrying the torch, and they deserve the credit that those older bands never got.
You guys didn't really do much extensive touring in the band's early stages. How has it been to finally hit the road for the long haul and explore unfamiliar territories, meet colorful people, and play music every night?
The one thing I find myself repeating to people is that the absolute best part about finally getting to do this full-time has been making friends. We have met so many fun, generous, amazing people on our travels already and it's only been such a short period of time in the grand scheme of things.
There is nothing like knowing that you can travel to pretty much any city you want and you know you'll have a friend there who will help you out or just meet you for a beer. We always toured part-time, and some of our old bands did the full-time thing for a while, but this has been way different than any of that, and I feel like we're a part of this amazing community now and that will never go away. It's an amazing privilege.
Oh yeah, and getting to play music every single day and have it consume your life instead of some shitty job for which you feel no passion….that's alright too!
I do admire the fact you all can play with just about any band or sound. How different has the crowd reception been from when you played with The Gaslight Anthem and Frank Turner than say, Have Heart and Trapped Under Ice?
It's been super different for sure. But that's part of the fun and keeps things interesting. We've been lucky to hit it off with literally every single band we've toured with so far…like, we love them as dudes and we love them as bands, even the ones we haven't heard of before or may not expect ourselves to like.
So the crowds have been way different, like obviously the HH/Trapped Under Ice tour was more hardcore kids, while the Gaslight tours were more punk/indie kids and even some older people in Europe…and our responses have been all over the map, but I really think its just different ways that people show their enthusiasm for music, because kids have ALWAYS been respectful and attentive, and that's all you can ask for.
We figure, hey, we like Gaslight's music and Have Heart's music, so why wouldn't other people be into things as different as that as well?
You guys pick some pretty sweet covers, have you ever just thought: "Fuck it, let's cover "Polar Bear Club"? I'd definitely go nuts and punch a few pit ninjas if I heard that. (Note to any ninjas; it was a joke and I am a wimp.).
Haha. The idea has come up, but we sort of ruled it out when we heard Crime In Stereo does that already. They're actually from Long Island and thus have dibs on it and probably do it better than we could anyway, haha. But it does sort of suck that I actually haven't seen them do it yet. I'd like to. And we have plenty of other cover ideas and like to mix it up a lot, so it hasn't really come up very much at all.
Finally, this is Punknews: How comfortable are you wearing flannel?
Very comfortable. I'm more of a fan of the "lighter" material plaid shirts myself, but it's all in the spirit of flannel. I think in our band, Jimmy and Goose have the most impressive flannel collection, so it's not worth it to try to stack up to them. But what I'd really like to know is when punknews readers are going to embrace flannel PANTS? It's the next logical step for you! Pajamas at shows; think of the possibilities.