interview – ryan pollie

– featured image courtesy of dominic ferris –

ryan pollie’s brisk, twenty-five minute new self-titled album is bookended by a pair of choral tracks, brief exercises that retain a remarkably cleansing effect. in the past year or so, pollie relinquished his nom de guerre of los angeles police department, battled cancer, and wrote many of the songs that would wind up on this record, but not necessarily in that order; he received his diagnosis after much of the album was complete, putting those songs – and their existential themes of mortality – into a slightly more immediate context.

under his own name, ryan pollie is much more clear-eyed in his approach to songwriting. the hazy ennui that dotted his output as los angeles police department – a perfect analog to one’s mid-twenties – has disappeared, bucolic slide guitars, straight-ahead acoustic strumming, and detuned piano chords reigning supreme.

breezy though its contents may be, ryan pollie’s aural affect is at times belied by its namesake’s lyrical tone; the plaintive refrain of “my god’s insane” on “aim slow” might serve as a mantra for the entire album, an attempt to explain the inexplicable. “only child” finds pollie addressing his diagnosis and its accompanying uncertainty head-on, while “raincoat” is a brief, heartbreaking ode to a relationship’s end.

the nostalgia of pollie’s earlier work as los angeles police department has throughlines in cuts like “leaving california” and “eyes of vermont,” both awash in images of childhood and home. taken in as a whole, this ten-song collection serves as a potent snapshot of pollie’s current existence, its delivery done in a timeless fashion.

we recently caught up with pollie via e-mail to discuss 1970s singer-songwriters, the fruits of collaboration, and his lingering affinity for new england. check out the transcript, lightly edited for clarity, below.

this is your first album under your own name after a handful as los angeles police department. was there anything in particular that led to you shedding that moniker?

totally. the past few years i’ve been getting heavy into singer-songwriters from the early 1970s. whether american, english, irish, japanese – most of the artists i fell for were making music so personal that the subject matter and the tone was so closely linked to the writer. like graham nash or jackson nrowne both writing really personal break-up albums (both about joni mitchell) – there was just no separation between the songs and the songwriter.

i came to kind of an existential moment where it felt like by shedding a “band name,” i was able to dig a little deeper with what i had to say and how i wanted to represent myself with my art. once i made the decision, it really provided a new space for me to grow as an artist, i think. 

you wrote most of this album, which tends to grapple with mortality and the general essence of being, before receiving a cancer diagnosis. did you subsequently find yourself ascribing new meaning to those completed songs, or a new perspective on the contents and scope of the album? 

i think that’s really perceptive of you to ask, maybe just because that’s absolutely what happened. i had written and recorded most of the material before i knew that i was sick, and the lyrical themes you are describing, that i was already exploring, became even more meaningful to me.

songwriting seems to have this magical prophetic nature sometimes. not always. but for this record, and this has happened to me in the past, i was writing songs about facing death, getting sick, ending a specific relationship – all things that just kind of flowed through me without knowing that they would be around the corner in my life.

the collaborations across this album feel especially significant, given the intimate circumstances surrounding its final stages of creation. can you speak a bit to any part or parts of the collaborative process you found particularly meaningful?

community was a huge part of the album process for me, and a really important part of my life through all stages of making the record.

i feel really proud of where i’m at as far as my relationship with my own work. i not only feel so lucky to have amazing friends and family supporting me in general, but i was able to collaborate with all of my friends in bringing the songs to life. i would reach out to all of my friends who play music, asking them to contribute on different days when i was writing and recording different songs, and they all were so graceful in that they really gave 100% of themselves to my art.

i can hear the personalities of all my friends all over the record, as if i’m spending time with them, as if they’re in the room with me. it’s nice to know that i’ll have that feeling when i play the record for the rest of my life.

i also mixed the record with one of my best friends while i was going through chemo: brian rosemeyer. he would be in a room with me, as i was pale and bald and sick – i looked like nosferatu. and he would not only give such caring attention to each track, but he was also a huge emotional support for me through that whole experience of getting cancer. i could tell he was emotionally invested in the story i was weaving together, and it really shows, i think, in his work. it was the best get well soon gift, looking back on it now. 

your childhood home is on the east coast, but you seem pretty geographically and musically preoccupied with california. do any parts of life in new england – and its accompanying experiences – seep into your songwriting?

very much so. i wrote “eyes of vermont” in vermont – while listening to a lot of will fox demos. being among the trees, at the lake – it’s so inspiring to me visually and just gives me such a different feeling than california does. it was nice bringing that energy back.

i wrote “leaving california” – originally called “leaving california for vermont” – right after that trip as well. that song is about going home, the fear and anxieties of los angeles and the comfort of the green mountains. 

ryan pollie is out now via anti-.

mothers – “blame kit”

– featured image courtesy of tonje thilesen –

the second mothers album was always going to be a sonic departure from the first.  the songs contained on the band’s 2016 debut when you walk a long distance you are tired were largely culled from kristine leschper’s solo work that existed under the same moniker; the non-album single “no crying in baseball,” recorded after the album and arriving before it, already signaled the quartet’s tilt away from spectral folk and more towards the intricate polyrhythms that accentuated leschper’s song structures on when you walk.

render another ugly method, mothers’ eagerly-anticipated sophomore follow-up, seemingly continues to indulge in those intricacies, at least if its lead single, “blame kit,” is any indication.  essentially a sequence of miniatures, leschper and company meander through tempi and time signatures before slowing their enduring waltz down to a plodding pace, angular guitar arpeggios and percussive interjections providing movement around a languid lead vocal.  mothers has always demanded a certain level of attention in their music, but “blame kit” elevates the active listening expectations to another plane, one where repeated visits routinely reward its audience.

render another ugly method arrives september 7th via ANTI-.  listen to “blame kit” below.

japandroids – “near to the wild heart of life”

– featured image courtesy of camilo christen –

it’s been more than four years since japandroids’ triumphant, no frills sophomore album, celebration rock arrived, propelling the vancouver duo to critical acclaim and spurning a massive, grueling international tour in support of its success. time was needed to recoup.

brian king and dave prowse ended a long period of dormancy earlier this fall when they began playing select dates around north america, their set lists peppered with new material.  an album announcement was imminent; near to the wild heart of life is due out january 27th via anti – and polyvinvyl records, a mixture of new and familiar distribution for the band.

the album’s title track also serves as its thundering lead single, with all of the japandroids hallmarks in tow: a wall of guitar (with a lead line superimposed ever so slightly over the top); punishing floor toms; beer-can-in-hand sing-along hooks; a chorus of “whoa-oh”s for good measure.  in the sequence of the overall album, however, this song may prove to be an anomaly, as an extensive pitchfork interview conveys the band’s desire to become more three-dimensional in their songwriting.  expect near to the wild heart of life to be just as grandiose, just perhaps in a different manner.

in the interim, there is this titanic lead single, an anthem of anthems from one of this century’s most anthemic bands.  take a listen to “near to the wild heart of life” below.

the antlers – familiars

when the antlers released burst apart three years ago, it was clear that the album constituted a make-it-or-break it scenario for the band; their 2009 album hospice, the brooklyn trio’s debut effort as a collaborative project, received immediate, almost unanimous universal acclaim and catapulted the antlers into the indie spotlight.  luckily, burst apart was a suitable follow-up and a substantial success in its own right, but frontman peter silberman still finds himself confronted with inquiries about hospice, more than five years after the album’s release.  although there are those who still can’t let go of the past, silberman certainly isn’t one of them.  the antlers’ newest effort, familiars, is a lush musical experience that all but abandons the outfit’s signature heartbreak.

while silberman is the face and the voice of the antlers (after all, it was his initial solo project and his emotive metaphor that began to turn heads), familiars is an environment that finds all three members contributing equally.  a large portion of musical direction seems to come from darby cicci, the multi-instrumentalist responsible for much of the texture on the album.  previously confined to a primary role of keyboardist and an explicit secondary exploration of trumpet, cicci has full reign on familiars; many songs have a foundation of acoustic piano, layered trumpet, and michael lerner’s drums, further augmented by extremely prominent bass lines (also courtesy of cicci) that slither throughout the chord progressions and give the antlers’ sonic palate a more organic low end.

instead of silberman’s guitar largely defining the album like it did on hospice and, to a lesser extent, on burst apart, the instrument has the chordal support of the piano and the occasional melodic support of the trumpet, making the moments where it truly separates from the texture that much more meaningful.  take “director,” the album’s centerpiece, for example: although the ostinato guitar riff is arguably a staple of the song, the instrument doesn’t really begin to take control until the descending riff and subsequent counter-melody kick in halfway through.  underneath is that warm palate, full of drums and resonant bass that, although devoid of the trumpet in this particular instance, help the antlers firmly place a foot in the realm of jazz that has so long been an influence.

though a musical liberation of sorts for the antlers is present, silberman’s lyrical and vocal progressions are less discernible, relying even more so on subtle nuances.  his falsetto lamentations are still there, but silberman showcases a desire to return to his natural range, even dipping into lower, haunting extremes on “doppelganger.”  lyrically, he’s more of a wildcard; “hotel” is extremely sparse yet somewhat confessional, as silberman admits “i rent a blank room to stop living in my past self,” while “parade” traces a more narrative style and lacks any type of hook.  one constant that remains throughout is a sense of ambiguity, as silberman seems to strive less to attach an explicit meaning to each song and instead explore more inclusive, multi-dimensional emotions.

familiars is nearly an hour of slow-burning which may inevitably put listeners into two broad camps: those that dismiss the album due to a perceived sense of stagnancy and those that appreciate it for its nuances and painstaking attention to detail.  the latter of these two camps is the best lens through which to view this album.  the antlers continue to expound and expand an incredibly complex and dense aesthetic, and provide another body of work that demands to be addressed before the reminiscing can begin.

8.9/10