As Polvo's anticipated Cat's Cradle show approached on Saturday, the sun hanging heavily over the late afternoon horizon, guitarist Dave Brylawski and bassist Steve Popson took a break after soundcheck to talk about changing times, evolving sounds and indie rock mythology.
INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: What do you think, since you've last been playing frequently, has changed, and what has stayed the same?
STEVE POPSON: Well, George Bush has been president, so it's sucked for America.
DAVE BRYLAWSKI: I feel like the instant criticism of the Internet was sort of just formulating when we were ending. So that was happening at the very end of our arc. But I feel that's a big difference—the music blogs and how bands just sort of pop up out of nowhere and get really big and get a lot of Internet hype and then sort of trail off.
SP: And, I mean, that's a pretty wide-ranging question. The industry's different, you know...
DB: But I don't think that affects us.
SP: No. do you mean, like in regards to Polvo?
DB: Nothing. Nothing that affects us. It's like we're still...
SP: We're doing this for a lot of fun reasons.
How did the ... I guess "reformation" is probably the more appropriate term...
DB: Yeah, we don't think of it as a reunion necessarily because we're sort of looking ahead. We're not just getting up there and playing our old songs. We're playing a couple new songs, and we've reformulated some of the older songs.
SP: It's the next chapter.
DB: But, we'd been asked a few times before and always mulled it over and considered it. We've come close a few times. I think when Explosions In The Sky asked us to play the ATP in England, they gave us enough of a head start, like seven months. We were like, "Yeah, we could try." And we committed to it before we even knew if it would come together, but, after a couple practices, we knew we had enough to work with. It's fun to play with each other again.
What is the balance between old songs versus new songs?
DB: We only have a couple new songs. We've just started doing that.
SP: But every old song has been reapproached.
DB: Some of the old songs are pretty faithful, but a couple of them, we've just taken like the essence of the old song and sort of reformulated it from scratch.
SP: Yeah. Some of them might be one-half percent different, another might be 50 percent different. But each song, I think, has sort of allowed Dave and Ash [Bowie, other Polvo guitarist] to rethink about what they liked and didn't like about it. And we had the time to change it.
DB: It's weird. I don't think many bands get a second chance to revisit old material and sort of retrofit stuff that you wish you would have done back then.
Did you have any hand in selecting the opening bands?
SP: Yeah, those are just two bands we like. We could have picked a lot of locals, but I mean, I used to own King's, so I've seen hundreds of local bands, and those I just think really fit the style and the atmosphere of the night.
DB: Des Ark is just a great band. You ask what's different. When Steve and I—all of us, when we were like 19—and coming to the Cradle for the first time—we'd go see shows three nights a week. I sound like a nostalgic old man, but the '90s were a really exciting time—and I'm sure it's no different for any era when you experience it at that age—but for us it was really exciting. It's interesting coming back as a 39-year-old. I can't believe I'm admitting my age. It sort of feels like it's familiar and nothing's different, but everything's different at the same time.
How has the band dynamic changed with the change in drummers.
DB: That's a difficult question because I don't feel like the actual drummer has changed the dynamic. I feel like we're a little bit more mature and we're more confident musically, I guess. I mean Polvo started when we were like 20, right?
DB: This is gonna sound really stupid, but it's not like we're pros, but we're more pro than we were. So it's just like, we're friends and there's an ease to it. I guess the sense of urgency when you're younger is gone, but that's a calming thing. Does that make sense?
SP: Yeah, that makes sense.
DB: In terms of Brian [Quast, formerly of the Cherry Valence, now the new Polvo drummer], he's a good friend of ours. We just love hanging out with him and we love playing. He's a great drummer. It's an easy dynamic, but it's always been: We were friends with Eddie [Watkins] and Brian Walsby. We usually play with people we're friends with.It's funny because it's a weird time. A lot of bands are reforming now. Like for some reason, this summer is like the time of bands coming back together, and we're just one of those bands. But, you know, people can be weird about that or whatever, but, you know, we have fun playing music. Old people play music, too.
So the biggest thing that made it happen this time was just having a long enough head's up?
SP: That's oversimplifying the fact that me and Dave and Ash have all been really busy for the past 10 years. We've been extremely busy. Because the other two main shows we'd been asked to play were the Merge and the Touch & Go anniversaries, both of which we really wanted to do. It's just with our personal lives...
DB: Because I live in New York. It would be different if I was here, but it's a commitment that I have to come down at least once or twice a month. Which is why with this ATP thing we really had enough time to sketch out when I was coming down.The thing is though—and I'm speaking for me, though I'm sure Steve will back me up on this—is that playing with Ash is just really special. He's a really special musician and a great friend. I've wondered at one point, "Will we ever play with Ash again?" And I've always wanted to, so I jumped at the chance just to play with Ash. [Ed.'s note: Steve and Dave also play in the band Black Taj together.]
I feel like ATP has done a lot to get bands back together.
SP: Well, I feel like that's a key point to the industry change. This is gonna be our first festival, and that's pretty common now. That's one of the biggest changes, and I have a feeling it's gonna hang that way, as gas prices become too high. Who knows what it'll be like in 10 years. It might be that instead of seeing a band every week, you see eight bands in one weekend. That might just be the way you see live music. Who knows what'll happen.
DB: When gas is like 80 bucks a gallon.
SP: Yeah, and you have to take the train to one show, instead of driving to a bunch of them. But festivals really allow the opportunity for this kind of stuff to happen.
DB: When Polvo was around, the only festivals you had were Bumbershoot, maybe Bonnaroo [Ed.'s note: Bonnaroo started after Polvo broke up in 1998.] and then Lollapalooza, and that was it. And now every mid- or major city has a festival, which I think is cool. But ATP really does have its specialty in bringing bands back together.
SP: That whole concept of the [playing an old] album thing is great. It's funny, though, because that's what we said we couldn't do.
DB: I mean, they didn't ask us to, but when they first put it out there I thought that was all they wanted, was albums, and I was like, "We can't do that. We can't play an album."
SP: That'd be a lot of work. That'd take about two years.
With the new material, this doesn't feel like a museum piece, either.
DB: When Ash, Steve and I were sort of conceptualizing this, we didn't want to go back and recreate. I mean, we couldn't. We played really shitty, cheap guitars, and now we don't do that anymore. And we're not 20 anymore, so we were like, "Let's just sort of start from scratch." But we're not going to be playing a set with 90 percent new material anytime soon. We like the old songs.
SP: It was a chance to revisit songs that I still enjoy, and I enjoy playing.
DB: We're really enjoying it. And I'm not speaking for these guys, I'm speaking for me personally, but I feel like—and this is sort of what I was saying about when we were young and just in the moment—but now that I'm a little older, I'm really savoring these moments and playing with these guys, in a way that, in 1995, I was just, "Yeah, it's cool." And now I can just be more mindful of the friendships and the musical connections. It sounds really sappy. [Laughs.]
How do you feel to be tagged with the term "influential" or "legendary."
SP: Oh, legendary is ridiculous.
DB: I'll say this. We're influential, but look at who we're influenced by. We're influenced by classic rock and SST and Homestead bands: Sonic Youth, Meat Puppets, Minutemen. To me it's all a continuum.
SP: We have been legendarily bad.
DB: We have been legendarily bad before.
SP: Or legendarily inconsistent.
DB: It's not something you spend a lot of time thinking about.
SP: It's a very positive thing for somebody to say that, but I don't see it, and I don't think any of us dwell on it.
DB: Because music is that continuum. I mean, in the way that Des Ark is influencing 15 year-olds now.
SP: There'll be some kids making music that will reference them as an influence. But do they look at themselves as an influence? No. They're just playing the music they enjoy playing.
Do you feel that once you've been given a title like that that there's some responsibility to live up to it?
DB: We sort of reject that. It's Polvo's nature to kind of opt out of that kind of. It's not a burden...
SP: I think we feel burdened to play our music the best we can.
DB: Really, the bottom line is the four of us have to enjoy it, and anything else that comes over and above that is sort of icing. If you stop and think too much about that sort of meta-musical stuff, it just becomes distracting.