I recently got a chance to chat with two-thirds of LA trio Pollyn, a band who would seem to be most famous for avoiding traditional genre labeling. When they first began making noises together they were most closely aligned with ‘90s electronic music, but they’ve transformed and expanded their sounds over the years and on their third LP, Distress Signals, which hit shelves yesterday, they produce what seems to be an amalgam of dark “alt-pop,” synth pop, hip-hop, and a postmodern and funk-infused take on the sexiest kind of alt rock. Vocalist Genevieve Artadi and beatmaker Adam Jay Weissman recently took some time to tell me essentially the history of the band.
Izzy Cihak: I realize this is a huge question, so I apologize, but I’m just realizing you’ve been doing this together for almost two decades now (which seems crazy), so I have to ask: What have been some of the highlights of Pollyn so far? Any experiences or reactions that especially stand out in your minds?
Adam Jay Weissman: We haven’t actually been releasing music for two decades, we’ve really known each other for almost two decades. Our first album, This Little Night, came out in 2009. Before that we did record, but it wasn’t consistent. There’d be years without recording. We all went to different colleges. Around 2008, I needed a creative outlet and started to put together songs for an album.
Gen Artadi: When we started, we didn’t know much about how to make a strong song, even though we had our talents. So whenever we got that feeling like something clicked and we reached the next level, it was a very special thing. And over almost 20 years [with a lot of that time apart, living our lives], that has happened several times. Fortunately, this last album, along with the new material we’re working on, is giving us that feeling still. Also playing at Bonnaroo, opening for Little Dragon, and working with Liquid Liquid’s Sal Prinicipato. As far as reactions go, I once met a girl who had tattooed my lyrics on her ribs the day of one of our shows. It made me realize not to underestimate the potential effect of what we put out into the world.
Izzy: This is also a pretty huge question, but considering that there’s not a ton of info about you available, despite how long you’ve been around, I’m curious if there’s anything particularly significant for fans and potential fans to know about your process of creating music, or just your aim as artists?
Adam: I create music I’d want to listen to.
Gen: This may be the very reason for our not having blown up, but we follow what we love. We make what we want to hear. The process has taken different forms, from me coming in with a song with acoustic guitar or MIDI demo to Adam playing me a bunch of beats to choose from. There is always discussion of concept, like let’s try to make an album that’s both funky and melancholy with lots of voices… or let’s do something minimal and kinda spooky that emphasizes Adam’s producing skillz.
Izzy: How do you feel like Distress Signals compares to previous releases, both in terms of sound and the process of writing and recording it?
Adam: Distress Signals was incredibly different from the first two albums. For our second album, Living In Patterns, we were playing live a lot with a large live band and wanted it to have more of a live sound. There are songs that have 20 people singing with Genevieve. It was a big process of recording and mixing. For Distress Signals, I wanted to strip all that away. I worked almost all on my laptop, using ableton to create the beats, instead of all my analog equipment in my studio. I wanted to be able to create music anywhere in world, not just confined to my studio. Also, I wanted this album to sound modern, especially for the last album the influences were Talking Heads, Fela, CAN… all albums that were recorded at least 25 years before they were influencing us. This time around the stuff that really had an impact on me was music from the last five years or so. It was also less about studying the songs and more about the vibe.
Gen: Adam’s gotten so damn good at beatmaking, he really has his own voice. So I wanted to layer myself on top in a way that didn’t interfere with that. On the album, we were real influenced by the bigness and live-ness of Talking Heads’ Remain in Light, and ‘cuz I’d been working with a lot of musicians from music school, I played a bigger role in the instrumentation. Also I think my lyrics have become more effective, but who knows.
Izzy: At the moment, what would you consider to be your most significant influences, whether musical or otherwise?
Adam: I was into music at an early age, but Hip Hop really opened the door to a whole new world. The beats, the style, the artwork had probably the biggest influence over my life. It has crept into everything I do creatively.
Gen: Louis Cole [the guy I work with in Knower], my parents, Bjork, Michael and Janet Jackson, lots of my friends making music, like Thom Gill, Spencer Cole, Sam Gendel, Thundercat.
Izzy: Your music videos all have a very cinematic quality to them, so I’m curious who are some of the band’s favorite directors (in addition to Adam)? Or are there just any individual films that you profoundly enjoy?
Gen: David Lynch, Eric Wareheim, Michel Gondry, Jonathan Glazer, Ridley Scott.
Adam: Favorite directors would be David Fincher, Alfred Hitchcock, Michael Haneke, Mike Judge, Jonathan Glazer, The Coen Bros, David Lynch, Alejandro González Iñárritu (but I strongly disliked Birdman).
Films I love… Seven, Flirting with Disaster, Aliens, Under the Skin, No Country for Old Men, Jaws, Vertigo, The Graduate, Blade Runner, Animal Kingdom, Amores Perros, Don’t Look Now, Deliverance, City of God, Taxi Driver, Election, Dogtooth, Lost Highway…
Izzy: Finally, how are you ultimately hoping and planning to spend 2016, once your new album drops?
Adam: Film is a big piece of my creative process. When I’m not working on music, I’m working on film stuff. Currently I’m in film mode.
Gen: Trying to stay on the rock I’m surfing on down the lava river that is my current life. Touring, writing a new solo album, putting out more and more stuff with Pollyn, getting wiser, wearing little shirts.