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Friday, May 20, 2016

Q&A: Polyenso Opens Up About the Light & Dark in Pure In The Plastic

Posted By on Fri, May 20, 2016 at 10:00 AM

click to enlarge polyenso1.jpg
Halfway through 2010, a Floridian post-hardcore outfit, Oceana, reformed after a short break-up to release the band’s final breath in 2010, an EP called Cleanhead. With that last four-song EP, Oceana gave fans and the greater music community something revolutionary to wrap their ears around. Cleanhead featured Thom Yorke-style vox reminiscent of Radiohead’s Hail To the Thief, but with the technical time breaks and leftover angst of a millennial punk band. Oceana disbanded soon thereafter, but those who kept their eyes and ears fixed for the next chapter discovered a new band and a fresh set of sounds. Three of Oceana’s core members — Brennan Taulbee (vocals), Alex Schultz (multiple instruments and vocals), and Denny Agosto (percussion) — checked into a studio in mid-2012 and re-formed as a trio under the new name Polyenso. Just six months later, Polyenso released their debut full-length studio album, One Big Particular Loop.

Today, Polyenso is still a trio in the studio, but on the road they recruit support from additional musicians, often presenting various iterations of themselves for different audiences. Regardless of the night or space, Polyenso remains consistently adventurous. The band focuses its raw experimental-rock nature with a soulful spirit, now drawing influence from Flying Lotus, D’Angelo, and Bjork, to name an eclectic few.

After locking themselves in the studio following the release of OBPL, Polyenso dropped Pure In The Plastic this past April, further defining their experimental sound. We caught up with Alex Schultz of Polyenso in advance of the group’s San Francisco show on Monday, May 23 at Brick and Mortar. When the call connected, however, I was met with a peculiar commotion.

“Hello? Oh man, I killed one! There’s another one behind you! Oh shit, I can hear myself,” Schultz said. I was starting to think I had just established communication with a world amidst the throes of a zombie apocalypse. Schultz continued: “Oh man, it’s a wasp! There’s another one in that window behind you.” Pause. “Yeah, those’ll sting you! Hello?” A bizarre way to start a phone call if ever there was one, but then again, hunting a horde of wasps is also a very memorable way to start one, as well.

Did you get that wasp?
I got that damn wasp. We’re in the mountains right now in this really cool cabin, but the bugs are just insane. We’re from Florida so we're used to bugs, but this shit is next level.

Where are you now? What are you doing? What mountains are you in?
We’re in the Blue Ridge Mountains, right on the Tennessee-Georgia border, recording a buddy’s album. His name is J.T. Brown. He’s actually our roommate. He’s been working on stuff for the past couple years and he finally got the funding to do this album. So he rented a cabin up here and we brought him a rig. We’re up here for the next 10 days. He’s actually opening the show in San Francisco. He’s gonna be opening up all our headline shows, just him and an acoustic guitar.
Cool. So I’ve been wondering, what does Polyenso mean?
"Enso" is an ancient Japanese symbol. It’s a loose brush stroke in a circle, kind of an unfinished brush stroke. It symbolizes a lot of things for us. Mainly what we latched onto is that it symbolizes beauty and imperfection. It symbolizes the moment the mind is free to let the body and spirit create without overthinking—just letting whatever happen that may, creatively take place. And then "poly" is more than one. So in other words, it's something special and unique to all of us. It made even more sense on our first record. You can hear how much we put into Pure In The Plastic, so it got kind of ironic with the whole not overthinking things, but it’s still us.

So you feel like there was some over-thinking on this last album?

Well, we came into a really unique situation. About four years ago, some friends of ours in St. Petersburg booked us a studio to meet with a producer named Jason [Pennock]. We ended up showing him some of the old album and he was like, "REM...Radiohead...I'm really lovin' these vibes! Do you have any new sets?" So we jammed around a bit. We ended up really connecting and he pretty much gave us open reign in the studio. We were there everyday for two years, which is a musician’s dream, ya know?

How did that freedom affect the writing process?
It turned us into producers more than ever. It opened a lot of doors for us and it opened our minds with the writing. Our last album was written and arranged together with a really classic process. And that worked. That was cool, but this time we had no real music prepared. We had our little starts here and there, but we literally just wrote in the studio. We hadn’t played any of it live up until a couple months ago. We kinda nailed this whole album then learned how to play it live later, [which is] a really unique situation for us. So, to answer the previous question, there was some dwelling on these tracks. We had the time to really shape and perfect them. We had to have other people tell us, ‘OK. Stop fucking with it.’

Producing Pure In The Plastic, you thought outside of the box, making use of packing peanuts and slapping a belt for sound — super creative stuff. When did you guys start approaching your song composition in that way?
I think that we always wanted to do stuff like that, we just didn’t know how. But the way this studio process went, it loaned itself to that completely. We had opened doors to a studio with amazing gear. It was almost limitless. At that point, we’d been listening to Flying Lotus, Knxwledge, The Roots, and Bjork. Bjork was a big one. [Music] like that, we idolized and wanted to try but didn’t have the capability—or we didn’t think we did. We definitely did with Pure In The Plastic, so it was a lot of repressed stuff coming out. It just exploded all over the album. I think that’s what made it. Even now when I listen to it, I hear something new. We documented everything so there’s tons of Instagram and Facebook videos of us doing stuff like that. We’re gonna keep doing stuff like that.

Was there any theme that you kept in mind when writing and recording Pure In The Plastic?
There is definitely an underlying theme — a dichotomy of light and dark. When we first got in there, we had something inside of us. All the songs were coming out real dark and moody. That was “IWWITIW” and “A Pool Worth Diving In.” Tracks like that, really angsty and edgy. Then “Moona Festival” came out of nowhere. Brennan brought in the demo and we loved the way it made us feel. We’d been writing these dark-n-edgy tracks, so we thought, let’s try and make a conscious effort to write more songs like “Moona Festival.” That’s where “Osaka Son” came from and “Price” and all those light tracks. It became a classic light vs. dark kinda thing. The album name came after we saw what it was.

What does “IWWITIW” stand for?
“It Wasn’t What I Thought It Was.” We wrote that one about a friend. He met a girl and fell in love. We’ve all gone through this. It seems to be a chronic thing for musicians and performing artists. They say they support what you do. They say they understand that this is downtime and once things heat up you’re not gonna be around as much — that this is your dream and you don't want to do anything else. But when it comes time to actually do it, they can't handle it and they start giving ultimatums and basically try to crush dreams. Unfortunately, it’s something that’s happened to most touring musicians I know. She was trying get him to work a mundane job and I got really upset over that. From the outside looking in, it was terrible. He ended up doing what he needed to do and now he’s touring the world, living the dream. I’m so happy for him. During that time, it was a big thing with all our friends. We talked about it all the time, so we ended up writing a song about it. It wasn’t what I thought it was.

What other personal experiences have found their way onto Pure In The Plastic?
Brennan and I worked together on “Osaka Son.” We were at home one night. Our friend got us ...something we won't talk about. We took it and went on this walk down to our rehearsal space. We went in there and started messing around. It felt incredible. We were in this crazy euphoric state. He was on his keyboard and I still have the voicemail on my phone when a saxophone came into play. The song starts up with the original loop from that night. It’s throughout the whole song. We also wrote the lyrics that night. That song’s about things that we do to gratify our minds and then the opposite, the things we do to satisfy our souls. It’s about sleeping with a stranger, those type of things that satisfy the most immediate desires in your mind. The things you do for the head versus the things you do for the heart. It’s about the tension between the two. Especially the chorus, “I don’t do it for my heart, only do it for my head.” I was talking about those things. Everyone can get into a bunch of silly stuff that doesn't do to well for your heart.

Polyenso performs with Owl Paws and Talk of Shamans on Monday, May 23 at Brick & Mortar Music Hall. More info here. 
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Ryan Mannix


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