Polar Bear Club

Polar Bear Club

Jimmy Stadt

Bridge Nine Records
By on March 22nd, 2010 at Starlite Room - Edmonton, Alberta

 

 

Polar Bear Club have been making a name for themselves in the punk underground over the past few years. With an EP and two critically-acclaimed full lengths under their belts, the post-hardcore band from upstate New York have been touring the world endlessly trying to get themselves – and their music – in front of as many people as they possibly can. After a successful tour through Australia and Europe, Polar Bear Club headed back to North America to do a North American tour with Every Time I Die, Four Year Strong and Trapped Under Ice and that tour took them into Edmonton for their very first time.

Joining me in a dimly lit booth in the back of the Starlite Room, vocalist Jimmy Stadt sat down to discuss the band’s hectic touring schedule and their latest album, Chasing Hamburg. However, the conversation took a drastic turn as the mention of a recent blog written by Brendan Kelly of The Lawrence Armsignited new topics of conversation that soon took over the entire interview. The two of us stepped back and recounted different stories and opinions concerning the ever changing punk rock ideology and the interview soon turned into much more of a conversation and one of my favourite interviews I’ve conducted in a long time.

We had to call it a day after thirty minutes of chatting as Trapped Under Ice began playing, essentially drowning out any possible chance of additional conversation; then again, that’s life and sometimes things like that just happen.


Bobby: Starting with the basics, you guys are almost two weeks into this tour with Every Time I Die, Four Year Strong and Trapped Under Ice, how’s that going so far? Has there been any memorable moments from it?

Jimmy: It’s been going great. It’s sort of a typical tour for us as in it’s not a typical tour for us, you know? It’s sort of like most of the tours we do where most of the bands aren’t similar to one another. Those are really our favourite tours to do because, even for us, it keeps it fresh; but I think even for kids too, watching the shows, they don’t get bored because every band’s so different; and that’s been cool. We’ve been playing to a lot people who would never come see us.

The first night in Poughkeepsie was really good for everybody. Last night was pretty cool too, in Calgary.

Polar Bear ClubBobby: Yeah, a friend of mine went and said it was an amazing show.

Jimmy: The Every Time I Die set was insane.

Bobby: Yeah, he said there were people crawling up the walls and climbing on the roof.

Jimmy: It was absolutely insane. It was so much fun to watch. This tour is cool too because we know Trapped Under Ice and Four Year Strong from tours we did before with them, but we’ve never met Every Time I Die which is kind of funny because we live so close to each other. We only live an hour apart from each other and the scenes were kind of interwoven and we just never met before until this tour; and it’s kind of cool to finally get to meet them and get to know them. We grew up in the same scene but just never got to know them.

Bobby: You said before that when you toured with Gaslight Anthem, you guys were the tough guys but when you toured with Have Heart, you guys were the wusses. What do you think it is that makes it so that you guys can play across so many genres and with so many different types of bands?

Jimmy: It might have something to do with our music, I don’t know though. I think we just don’t care. I think we really just don’t care; we just want to play and play to everyone. I think people respond to that, I think they respect that sort of confidence; but I think, first and foremost, we’re honest and passionate when we play and I think that people respond to that no matter what style of music you’re playing. You know, I think a lot of bands are kind of afraid to branch out and do kind of weird, wild card tours but we just never have. We really like sticking out and kids respond to that I think.

Bobby: Speaking about playing everywhere, you guys just got back from a tour of Australia and a tour of Europe; how was that?

Jimmy: It was awesome. We headlined in Australia and that was the first time we had been there. No idea what to expect and it completely blew our minds – just the response. It was kind of weird too because people were responding more to the newer album than they were to the older stuff and we didn’t expect that at all. We were like “we never came over here on Sometimes Things Just Disappear, we never came over here on The Redder The Better, we better sort of favour those songs.” But it was almost like people didn’t care about those songs, they wanted to hear the new songs which was weird but we adjusted for sure.

And then we went right into the European tour where we were headlining as well. Again, didn’t know what to expect. We knew sort of what to expect from England because we had been there a bunch but Germany and other main land dates, we just had no idea and it really blew our minds. I think every German show was sold out, I think – or close to. And that was, to us, just insane.

It’s kind of nice to be on this tour now though because we’re only playing half an hour. We went tour to tour playing…some nights we’d be playing like fifteen songs; and we had just never done that before. Now we’re playing like nine songs and it’s such a breath of fresh air. They have their pros and cons -headlining to support. We had done two headlining tours; we were ready to do a support tour. We’re lucky, you know, to be having that breath of fresh air.

Bobby: When you guys were leaving Australia, you guys updated your Facebook page saying “Thanks for an awesome tour Australia, thanks for nothing United Airlines.” So what did United Airlines do? Or didn’t do?

Jimmy: Oh my god, what a horrible airline. Going to Australia, they just… We flew from Syracuse to Chicago to LA to Sydney and when we got to LA, we sat on the plane for about four hours just lobbying. Then they finally got on the loud speaker saying they didn’t pack enough fuel for the flight so they had to postpone the flight until tomorrow morning. So then we’d get to this hotel at five in the morning, get up at eight to get on the bus to the airport, they postponed it to eleven o’clock that night. They didn’t give us enough meal vouchers, enough this and that. And then after this whole thing, we finally get to Australia and our luggage is soaking wet, all this shit you know?

Then, coming back, we got from Sydney to LA and we were trying to get our connection from LA to Chicago and they oversold the flight and we almost didn’t get on the plane because they oversold it.

In hindsight, it’s all just sort of middle class kind of whining but at the time it was just so infuriating. It just sucked but whatever; it’s not a big deal.

Bobby: When I went to Vegas to go see Blink182 on the opening show last summer, on the way back, the flight we were supposed to take was cancelled so we had to wait which meant we missed our connecting flight in Denver to get back home. That meant we had to stay the night in Denver. We got to Denver at midnight, had to drive to a hotel, get to the hotel at one and then had to leave the hotel at like six to catch the eight o’clock flight.

Jimmy: And the worst part is there’s just no communication within the airport, so you’re getting told one thing when another thing’s really happening. This rule’s in effect with this airline but not with this airline – it’s a lot to fucking keep straight. It’s a pain in the ass for sure, but it’s worth it to go to these awesome places.

Bobby: Oh yeah, Australia would be phenomenal.

Jimmy: And we were there during their summer and our winter, so it was fucking doubly incredible.

Bobby: And then you come back to weather like we have outside [tons of snow had fallen the night before and it was freezing outside].

Jimmy: [laughs] Yeah. And then we went right to Europe which was debatably worse, but we made do.

Bobby: Speaking about going from headlining to opening act, I know that you guys have opened for a lot of bands throughout your career and sometimes you get a mixed reaction. You said that one time you were opening for Face to Face at the House of Blues and there was like twenty people watching you and then eight hundred to watch Face to Face. Does it ever get tiring or difficult kind of fighting that distance as an opening band?

Jimmy: Yeah, it does. It definitely wears on you. The first night it happens, you’re like “yeah, whatever, I’m just stoked to be here.” The second night it happens, it’s like “uhhhh it’s fine, we’ll get them tomorrow;” and then the third night it happens, you’re just kind of like “Jesus Christ, what am I doing wrong?”

That’s a big part of touring, it’s a fucking rollercoaster. Even on this tour too. We’re playing second and there’s been nights where people have just looked at us going like “what the fuck is this?” And then there’s been nights where people are going crazy for us. You take the good with the bad; it can’t always be the best show of the tour. It definitely wears on you for sure. When you’re at your lowest low, you fucking hit even lower, then you hit even lower and then you fucking pick yourself back up again; just stick it out.

Polar Bear ClubBobby: Well, to help pick yourselves up a bit I guess you can take peace in knowing that you guys have always been sort of critical darlings in the way that your CDs have always been incredibly well accepted within the underground press. Like Chasing Hamburg ended in tons of year end lists. Were you surprised at all the accolades you were getting?

Jimmy: You know, it’s hard to plan and then sort of imagine what people are going to think of your album because you’re just so close to it, you get so analytical of it and you spend so much time with it that, really, the most difficult thing about writing and recording is perspective. Keeping a fresh perspective on it; so yeah, I had no idea what to expect or people were going to think of Chasing Hamburg. I’ve read all sorts of reviews, mixed, bad, middle-ground, really good and they’re all valid, I guess. I know how I feel about the album and that’s all I can really pay attention to. It’s not going to benefit me at all to harp on a bad review but I think we’re lucky in a lot of regards in terms of the critics; but we take the brunt of it as well. Not as bad as, say, Against Me! or whatever – which I just read an amazing blog about that album – side note.

Bobby: By Brendan Kelly?

Jimmy: Yeah, yeah. That was incredible. I just read it just two minutes ago and it was incredible. We definitely don’t have it that bad but we have our critics for sure. They’re out there and they’re not going anywhere. You can’t pay too much attention to that sort of thing.

Bobby: I actually just interviewed Against Me! last Monday. They do have a very polarized fan base, people either love them, hate them or love to hate them.

Jimmy: Exactly, exactly and I don’t get it. I just don’t get it. It’s just music. I don’t know, that’s another thing, that’s a whole other interview I guess.

Bobby: But what Brendan Kelly said was quite articulate in his own coarse way.

Jimmy: Yeah! It was great. I mean, it was really so true and I’m just glad that someone said it because a lot of bands think that and are afraid to say that because the climate just won’t allow them to say those sort of things.

Bobby: Because everyone will turn on them like they turned on Against Me!.

Jimmy: Exactly, and the fact that Tom Gabel came out and said what he said about “I want to be playing to more people.” Everyone does and it’s really commendable. I just always fathom that people who knock albums because they think that people are changing for certain reasons and it’s like “how could you ever know what Tom Gabel’s intentions are or what he’s thinking?” How could anyone but him know? Just take it at face value. I’ve always felt that way and the fact that Brendan Kelly came out with that amazing, amazing fucking blog – I just saved it too, I just saved it.

Bobby: You’re right that you have no idea what it is that he was thinking. Like I said, I interviewed Andrew from Against Me! last week and I asked him some questions about lyrics and he’s like “I don’t know, Tom wrote them, I can’t speak for him.”  When the band themselves isn’t going to go and say “we think it means this” – it’s “no, Tom wrote it, it’s his words” – how can random people?

Jimmy: How can they assume? And even if you’re assumptions are right. Even if Tom Gabel is making these records just for money, even if you’re right about that – the old albums still exist. They’re still there and they still mean the same thing that they meant to him at the time.

It is a crazy thing. Music is such life or death to some people and it’s just not that way to musicians, or the most that I know; and there’s nothing wrong with that. All these people who dole out these criticisms, go start a band and live the life. Go do it. And if you have the same ideals that you had in the beginning, more power to you. But yeah, it’s hard to read those things sometimes, interesting too.

Bobby: I talked to Ben Weasel last December, which was an amazing experience, to sit down and talk to him for a while. But he was saying how people constantly re-quote things he said twenty years ago, like “you said this, now you’re saying this.” He’s like “well, people change their minds, people change their opinions. But when you’re in a band, your opinions are recorded and preserved in either recordings or in interviews to be constantly thrown in your face; and it’s unfair that people expect you to believe something you believed twenty years ago.” Things change, your point of view, your point of reference can change in one day from one thing to another easily.

Jimmy: And to try and hold onto your ideals you held twenty years ago against what you might feel today – that, to me, is more of a sell-out than being true to yourself and going with the flow and coming out and honestly saying what you want out of life now, in your thirties or late twenties. I don’t know, it’s so much fun to kind of read all the things people say and how serious people take it.

Bobby: You also wonder if a year from now, five years from now, if those people look back and be like “oh, what was I thinking?” Even I know I’ve said stuff that I look back on and I’m like “wow, I don’t agree with that anymore.”

Jimmy: Oh my god, everyday, everyday. Things I swore by. I mean, I was straight-edge until I was twenty-two and I just one day decided it’s not for me anymore. Now, looking back on that person, I’m like “wow, I really changed” and I don’t feel bad about it all.

Bobby: But that’s a healthy part of growing up, being willing to accept that you are changing, that you’re not going to stick by your old ideals just for the shake of sticking by them. You understand there are differences; there are new understandings that you may not know, you have to accept that and live with that. That’s quite interesting.

Jimmy: Yeah, it’s very interesting. The fact that when you’re younger, the less you know, the more certain you are; and the older you get, the more loose, sort of, your ideals become. More open minded I guess. I mean, that’s not true with everyone, of course, but it is very interesting that life is lived this way. You always seem to understand it only in reflection but it’s lived the opposite way.

Polar Bear ClubBobby: Like when you’re younger, it’s black and white. But once you take the time to listen to the other side of the argument, you see that there is a gray area. There’s almost nothing that’s just right/wrong, black/white, its middle areas, gray areas.

Jimmy: Exactly, and that’s a huge part of Polar Bear Club – the gray area. I think even lyrically and sonically. Even just as simple as the way I sing. There’s so much interesting stuff in-between a scream and a singing voice and to not explore that and to deny that is just not what we do.

Bobby: That actually goes with a question I had about an interview you did with EmotionalPunk. You said… let me find the quote… I wrote it down because it’s quite interesting… you said “I was taught how to love literature, not how to answer the question of what it means.” And so you try to bring that philosophy in your lyrics where you want to write something you love but not necessarily have to dissect it.

Jimmy: Exactly.

Bobby: How do you bring that into your lyrics?

Jimmy: I had a professor that put it so great: you dissect something that’s dead; you analyze something that’s alive and moving and living. The best writers are so hard to explain; you know, Shakespeare, and O’Neill and my favourite playwrights and authors, I have so many more questions for them than I do answers to their work.

And my least favourite question in an interview is “what does this song mean?” I’ll always, always, dodge it. I got into a while where I was explaining it too much and I would look back on the interviews and be like “god, I’m talking about it too much.” I think ambiguity is so important, and interpretation.

Bobby: It adds an extra sense of mystery. Like you look at Brand New for example; Jesse Lacey, his lyrics are insane, you have no idea what he’s talking about. But at the same time, what adds more mystery to that is Brand New refuses to do interviews, they refuse to do press, and they don’t do photos.

Jimmy: Which is crazy.

Bobby: They don’t do publicity and that adds an extra element of “what the hell is he talking about? What was wrong with him when he wrote these lyrics?”
 
Jimmy: [laughs] I have a lot of respect for that band. It’s not mystery for the sake of mystery. Those songs definitely mean something to him and there’s something universal there. You don’t need to know specifically what inspired those songs; you just need to read them and take it and make it your own. Kids have come up to me and said “what’s your song about” and they say “I think it’s about this, this, this;” and I’m like “I’m not going to refute you. I’m not going to say you’re wrong.”

Bobby: If you believe it then take that and hold it as if it’s your own as opposed to trying to understand what I meant.

Jimmy: Exactly.

Bobby: It’s better when you interpret it the way you want to interpret it, it’s more meaningful that way.

Jimmy: It is kind of fun too because people want that explanation so bad. They want to be so close to artists and the process; especially in today’s day and age where you video blog, Twitter, Facebook, whatever, behind the scenes this, behind the scenes that. They want to be so close, so close and so when somebody asks me “what’s this song about?” and for me to go “whatever you want,” it’s really kind of fun.

Bobby: That kind of crosses out a few of my questions though.

Jimmy: [laughs] Well, still ask them. I’ll probably try and find way to beat around the bush and that can be fun in its own way.

Bobby: Okay, well I’ll go straight into one then. One of my favourite songs on Chasing Hamburg is One Hit Back which is obviously kind of an attack on message boards, people’s feedback on the internet, stuff like that. Kind of like what we were talking with Tom Gabel earlier on. My question is was this a reaction to one specific instance or just more of a general reaction to the anonymous posters of the internet?

Jimmy: Well, speaking about that song – and there’s other songs too that we have that’s a lot clearer about what they’re about, and those ones I don’t mind so much talking about because there’s not so much hidden there. But One Hit Back, or Our Ballads – it’s just clear what those songs are about. And again, that’s both sides of the coin, that kind of gray area. There’s these more mysterious kind of songs but then these more forward kind of songs.

But One Hit Back is just about that whole thing, that presumption that you know, as a fan or as a music listener, what my intentions are and then you judge them. And yeah, about that internet world… those who can’t do comment. I don’t mean that to be snarky or mean, but that’s just the nature of this whole thing. People take this game so seriously and it’s sort of a double edged sword. In one sense, it’s kind of – not annoying – but kind of off-putting when people are so life and death about your music that they don’t allow you that room to change. But on the other hand, they take it so seriously and that gets them coming to your shows and singing along and giving you the positive feedback and that’s sort of what the song’s about. It’s not really the biggest issue in the world, but it is a slight annoyance I guess. Yeah.

Bobby: That reminds me of an interview I read with Thomas Barnett of Strike Anywhere. He was once again talking about Against Me! – because they’re always being talked about – but he said “I wonder what it is that makes somebody hold onto a band so much and believe in them so much that they wont allow them to change or grow?” So why do people hold on to bands or believe in them so much to not allow them to change at all?

Jimmy: Well, they went through the same thing as well. I mean, from Chorus of One to Exit English, the same exact thing. I would talk to people who heard Exit English – which, to me, is a great album – and they just shat on it. They just said “fuck this, it’s too clean, it’s too polished, why would they turn their backs on me?” It’s just like listen, they’re just trying something. It’s not the end of Strike Anywhere. And then they came out with Dead FM which is almost the other end of the spectrum, and then they came out with Iron Front which is incredible. It’s just not over with one album. It’s just the nature of the whole thing.

Punks like to talk like they’re not engaged in this whole gossip culture that mainstream America is apart of, but that really is what it is. That sort of “what are they doing, why are they doing it and what does it mean for the future?” It’s just sort of snarky and I don’t know, it’s a strangle hold on your favourite band. I was like that when I was younger but being in bands, it died quick. It really did. I never thought I’d be on tour with Four Year Strong and Every Time I Die when I was with punk/hardcore kids growing up because those bands we just didn’t really like when we were younger. But now it’s like, who cares? They’re such good dudes, they make people happy with their music, who the fuck am I to say that that’s wrong or bad?

Bobby: It can get to the point where it can even destroy a band’s career, like I’m thinking way back with Jawbreaker and Dear You. When that was released, people destroyed it and they ended up breaking up partly because everybody hated it. Now Dear You is heralded as a classic. So sometimes you just gotta give it time.

Jimmy: Exactly. It’s also interesting too the bands that kind of slip through those cracks. Like in the midst of all that Against Me! stuff, everyone brings up the Clash and the Gaslight Anthem. Bands that it’s just okay. Like why is it okay for them? I think it’s okay for everybody but you clearly have a problem with Against Me! Why is it okay for those bands? I don’t know, it’s just funny; it’s very interesting to say the least.

Bobby: Going back to more specific Polar Bear Club stuff.

Jimmy: Okay, yeah. [laughs]

Bobby: You guys are releasing a new video for Living Saints in a couple weeks, can you tell us a bit about that?

Jimmy: Yeah, I just saw it actually a couple days ago and it’s really, really fucking cool. It’s very different than band videos that I’ve seen. It’s more like kind of special effecty and I don’t mean that in a Matrix kind of way. There’s animation and computer effects and green screen type stuff. I mean, it’s mainly just my head and weird things happening to my head. It’s really kind of Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads type of video and I haven’t seen anything like that in so long. So when the guy who did it, his name is Tom Colella – he’s an old friend of our drummer – and when he proposed the idea, we were all just like “yeah, definitely.”

Bobby: Bridge Nine, right now, they’re promoting it saying it’s “unlike anything expected from a post-hardcore punk band.” So it sounds as if that description is accurate.

Jimmy: Yeah, those things that they say, I take with a grain of salt. That’s their job to kind of hype it up like that. I would never say that myself; but I like it. I will say that, and I hope people like it too.

Bobby: [flipping through my questions] Let’s see, we jumped all over here…

Jimmy: [laughs] We did, I’m sorry. I’m chatty, I know.

Bobby: Nah, it’s good – it makes it a lot more interesting. Going back to the internet, you guys have obviously had a lot of help and promoting through underground press and the internet. Do you think that’s becoming a more useful resource for bands, where they can survive in part to the internet?

Jimmy: I think yes and no. I think it helped us get our start, but it wasn’t enough. I think it’s cool though because everyone, anyone, can start a band and get it on the internet. But with touring and just being a full time band, it sort of weeds out the weak from the strong because you just can’t be in a band that doesn’t tour. In other genres maybe, but in rock and punk and hardcore or whatever, you just can’t. But I mean the internet helped us so much, I’d be a fool to knock it.

Polar Bear ClubThe first US tour we did, I’ll never forget going to the West Coast for the first time – I mean, the very first time – and playing San Francisco to two hundred people, all of them going crazy and that’s just unheard of. We’re more experienced in the sort of way it is now. People seem to be getting kind of bored with us because we’ve been going so much; but the first time it was almost like we had already laid the ground work without laying the ground work. We were privileged in that sense but now we’re more laying the groundwork, I think, to kind of branch out. We have that sort of die hard fan base but now we’re trying to seek out who else can dig us. But that first tour, I’ll never forget that first time on the West Coast; and even the first time in England and Europe. Just because of the internet to have five people to two hundred people singing along, it’s so flattering and surreal but it’s good and different than it used to be.

Bobby: Before you did make Polar Bear Club a full time project, you were studying theatre and acting at school. I read somewhere that you were saying that when some people find that out about you, a lot of punk fans kind of shrug it off and dismiss it and say that’s lame. Why do you think that is and do they still do that?

Jimmy: I mean people I know don’t, I don’t think. I don’t know, those worlds just don’t really go hand in hand. Maybe sort of more mainstream punk and theatre but kind of underground punk and hardcore and indie rock, they don’t go together so much anymore. But back in the day, Lou Reed was writing performance art pieces. The Talking Heads, too, did amazing performance art pieces. But I was kind of a middle child of the two worlds because I always kind of wanted theatre to be more like punk rock or punk rock to be more like theatre or at least the things I liked of both and sort of mix in the middle.  But there’s things I hate about both, for sure; and I think fans, they sort of focus on the things I hate and think that that’s all there is to those worlds but it’s not. People think theatre, they think over the top musicals and when I think theatre, I think William Shakespeare and Arthur Miller and Eugene O’Neill and those really gritty, nitty gritty realist plays. People don’t know about them on a face value sort of level. They know 42nd Street, they know Damn Yankees and all that sort of stuff. [Trapped Under Ice starts playing and the music blasts through the speaker right behind us] Oh boy…

Bobby: Oh well, I guess that’s about it since we won’t be able to hear anything. Thanks.

Jimmy: Thank you very much.