Words by Paul Maland
Sydney garage-soul duo Polish Club have had a big start to the year, dropping new video and single 'Come Party' ahead of their debut album Alright Already, set to drop this Friday, March 31. We caught up with drummer John-Henry to take us through all things Polish Club ahead of their stop by Rocket Bar on May 19.
“I think I started playing in [Dave]'s bands, like a four-piece soft-indie band, maybe, like, four years ago? Five years ago? It was mainly because me and Dave were on the same page, and the other two guys wanted something else. I kind’ve saw that and was like, ‘Dave, should we just get together and have a jam?’"
“Me and Dave, we've kind’ve known each other since high school, not like ‘bestie buddies’, but kind of in the same, like, group of people," John-Henry says, on how the two formed as band.
“We had a jam, and we work well together, but it was really soft kind’ve music. [Dave] was singing like a sweet little boy, and it was kinda like real devo, ‘cause his girlfriend dumped him, or something, and he was real devo. I was like, ‘yeah, that was alright’, and then I went away for a year to Canada and L.A. and stuff. When I got back, I was broke, and was like, ‘hey, let’s have another crack,’" he recalls.
“By that time Dave was deep in Tinder, having a great time, rooting heaps and stuff. I think that’s where the sound kind’ve came out of — I was listening to a lot of Motown and soul during that year for some reason, and he was rooting, so we decided ‘fuckin’ let’s just have a good crack — try and play fast and play loud and move heaps of air around’.
“He kind’ve figured out he could kind’ve yell sing — he kind’ve sung more conventionally before that. We were like ‘yeah, that’s pretty good’," John-Henry says.
The boys have had a pretty quick and momentous rise from the get-go, with their second song Able featuring straight away on triple j airwaves after a brief stint on Unearthed.
“Our EP was pretty much just a mate of mine sticking a couple mics in our practice room, and then kind’ve polishing a turd a bit. triple j liked it, and that’s kind’ve how it started really," he says.
“It was pretty quick. They were very much like demos. I put the song up on Facebook, and my mate who works for Unearthed was like, ‘you should put it on Unearthed’, and I was like ‘uuuhh, yeah alright’.
“I never expected things to move so fast, ‘cause I just put it up as just a shitty demo. I think we’d played live like once or something [before triple j]," he recalls.
Polish Club's genre is like a contemporary re-invigoration of classic soul and Motown hits from the '70s and '80s, filled with the energy of indie-pop from the early-2000s. Their Unearthed page explains it as "pop songs fifty years late and twice the speed." The profile goes on to explain the contemporary influence, citing their sound as "the full-bodied howl of Motown’s finest frontmen [...] parsed through the garage rock scuzz of Detroit." They proudly wear their passive influences on their sleeve, John-Henry explains.
“It was kind of natural, I was listening to heaps of Motown, I think Spotify was starting, which is really good for getting into these real rabbit holes of music genres. I got really deep into that.
“Dave loves all that stuff, but he’s more into that early-2000s Strokes kind’ve stuff, which still sort’ve has like a soul backing underneath it. I think his mum was in like a soul revue as a singer in the Philippines. So, I guess he grew up with that kind’ve stuff, and it’s in him somewhere,
“When you’re just playing guitar and drums it’s either gonna be thrashy, like punk or whatever, or you’ve gotta really push the melody to capture people. [Dave]'s really good with melody, so I guess it kind’ve just happened," he explains.
The sound coming out of Polish Club's music conveys a sense of depth that many would assume goes beyond what just two people can create, but as John-Henry explains, that's all part of the charm.
“At the start, the EP was just one guitar, one drums, some cheeky bass underneath it. I think now we’ve figured out you’ve gotta add a little bit more, and be a bit more ambitious than just sticking with that kind’ve like low-fi thing.
“When we move on we’re gonna try and experiment with more shit. Essentially we write songs as a two piece, and record them in a way that if we add things people won’t come and see us live and be like ‘oh, where was that section...?’. It’ll still work," he says.
“We like to add a little bit of layering when we’re recording. I reckon we’ll eventually get like a bass player maybe, or a keys player, but that depends on where we go with it — at the moment, I think we wanna keep it as a two-piece as long as we can, ‘cause money and that.
“It makes it easier, but also part of it is that whole 'Oh, it sounds like it’s more than two people!' thing at the moment. It’s good to try and hang on to for a little bit," he explains.
In preparation for the new album, the energetic duo have been showcasing their thunderous tracks across Australia throughout the past few months, including appearances at BIGSOUND 2016, St Kilda Festival, and scheduled appearances at Big Pineapple 2017.
The boys also recently stopped by triple j's studios for their own Like A Version, taking on Flume for a true re-imagining of 'Never Be Like You' ahead of their upcoming national tour.
“We kind’ve had not much choice but to do it." John-Henry explains of their song choice.
"They didn’t want us to do throwback songs, it had to be like a new song. We probably would’ve done some ‘90s RnB, some Mariah Carey song or something. We already do heaps of covers though, like old covers. So we were kinda like 'let’s try and do Flume ‘cause no one else has done it'," he explains.
“I reckon in the end that was the best possible choice for us — we’re like a small band that’s not necessarily on everyone’s radar, but Flume apparently is; it ended up getting coverage from heaps of blogs that would never cover us, even In The Mix covered it.
“It was kind’ve like a totally different genre, which is part of the challenge of it. We only got told like a week before — I think there was a mix-up or something, and we were kind’ve the quick pull-in guys. It was actually pretty stressful, to be honest, but we just worked it out in one practice," he says.
Polish Club's debut album, Alright Already is a fourteen-song album that ricochets off the walls from the get-go. As well as featuring the established, fast-paced anthems the band have developed a following for, it's chock-full of some nuanced changes of pace as well.
“It’s an album made up of 14 songs that we’ve kind’ve written at different times over two years. It’s got stuff that we wrote at the very start, and stuff that we wrote the week before," John-Henry explains.
“We kind’ve started with that fast kind’ve shit — we’re still doing that, but we’re trying to explore mid-tempo stuff, like with 'Why Should I' [track 3] and see if that works. We’re just trying to broaden it a bit, with a couple of slow-jammy ones. I think it’ll be a bit broader than what people expect,” he says of the new album.
The duo are scheduled to head out on a thirteen date tour spanning across most of Australia in support of Alright Already starting in May. In terms of touring, it's the largest the band's done yet.
“It’s pretty cool, aye. The last tour I was freaking out because I thought we booked too big places. Places like Newtown Social Club, which I think is, like, 300 people? I was like 'man, I dunno, that’s too big'. We ended up selling out, and I was like 'that’s pretty cool.'
“Again, this tour, it’s the same, the venues are a step-up again, and I’m like 'oh man', but I think it’s lookin’ alright," he says.
“It’s pretty cool when you’re sitting around, and you see Facebook likes and streams, and see people are digging it, but it’s pretty amazing when you see the actual physical reception of something. When you see actual people that actually like it — like people singing along and stuff — I don’t think it gets any better than that, really."
With the band's reception picking up and a national tour due to kick-off ahead of their debut album, it's time to knuckle down and get the marketing in action. In the age of social media, the internet is a strange, sadistic place where user engagement is key.
Just ask Polish Club — but only after you've filled out their favourite dog breeds survey.
“I’m more a cat person, to be honest. That post, we saw our friend, I think it was our booking agent on her Facebook, like, ‘I was just thinking, what are you favourite dog breeds?’
“And I was like, ‘Dave, look at this, she’s written this and she’s getting hundreds of comments on her personal account, this incredible engagement.’
“I was like ‘Let’s literally copy-and-paste that on our band thing and see if we can get the same engagement’. The internet is weird, 'let’s just have a look and see if this works' — and it kind’ve did, and it makes me a bit sick inside," he says.
“Like that Bag Raiders song is a meme now, and now they’re in the charts again. They had nothing to do with it, could be any song. Some bloke just put it to some stupid video."
With all the internet idiocy surrounding meme culture, John Henry does have a soft spot for some tried and true-blue meme-masters.'
“The comment streams on Shannon Noll’s Facebook, there’s like a formula to the response. I love that kind’ve like, 'oh no worries mate, just pulling your chain, but seriously can I collect me esky,'" he laughs.
Just don't bring the Shannon Noll comment threads where they don't belong. “Clive Palmer, he’s a c**t as well, he doesn’t deserve attention," John-Henry says.
Polish Club's debut album Alright Already releases this Friday, March 31. Pre-order it at PolishClub.co.
They're also taking off on a national tour in May, with tickets available now from their website. See them in Adelaide at Cats at Rocket Bar on May 19.