Having been to the UK three times already this year, Polar Bear Club are certainly no longer strangers to these shores, which is splendid, because we can’t get enough of them here at Change The Record, so we took it upon ourselves to catch up with Jimmy Stadt (vocalist) during their headline run on the Bridge Nine UK Tour in Newcastle earlier this month. We got talking about their forthcoming album, Chasing Hamburg, as well as their sordid criminal past of sketchy omelette making, and a whole lot more during the half-an-hour he put up with me.
Faye: How did Polar Bear Club form?
Jimmy: Well, we’re from upstate New York, some of us are from Rochester and some of us are from Syracuse, they’re about an hour apart from each other. There were two punk and hardcore scenes in the two cities, there were shows in Rochester and there were shows in Syracuse, but a lot of people from Syracuse came to shows in Rochester and vice versa. There were Rochester bands and there were Syracuse bands, so we all just kind of knew all the same people and we met going to shows. I was in a band with Chris our guitar player and Emmett and Nate were in a band called Marathon, and Emmett knew Goose, so it just kind of happened.
F: For those who have never listened to your band, can you give us three words to describe the sound of Polar Bear Club?
J: It’s so hard to describe your own band, people say punk and hardcore but I always think of it just as a rock band, because, that to me, can encompass everything in hardcore and punk rock, and softer stuff too. So, rock, I guess is one word… Loud [laughs] and energetic, we really try hard to have a good live show in terms of our energy, regardless of how anyone’s feeling that day, so: rock, loud, energetic, that’s good, pretty generic. [laughs]
F: What made you decide to go from being a part-time band to do this full-time?
J: I think we had realised that we had accomplished everything we could as a part-time band, we kind of hit that wall. It was like we could either break-up as a band or become a full-time band. It got to the point where we had played the part-time areas as much as we could, and people from across the country and even from the UK were sending us messages like, “When are you getting over here?” And when we were reading the messages, it was like, “Well, never.” [laughs] So, we said, “Alright, well, we can either break-up or we become a full-time band.” and we decided let’s do it, let’s try it.
F: You’ve already been to the UK two times this year, you must like it over here…
J: Yeah, we’re coming over again in August too, for Reading and Leeds, and then we’re doing some shows after that as well. It’s awesome, the first time we came was with The Gaslight Anthem and Frank Turner, and that was a big tour.
F: Did people react to you well during that tour?
J: Yeah, well the thing I love about my own band, if I can sound that way [laughs] is that we can do this tour with Ruiner and Defeater, and we can do a tour with The Gaslight Anthem and Frank Turner. We do the tour with Gaslight and Frank, we’re like the hard, heavy band and we can do this tour, and we’re kind of the softer band. But, yeah, the tour with Gaslight was cool, we did the UK and we did mainland Europe, and in the UK there was definitely at least 5 to 20 people there who knew who we were. Then afterwards I would hang out at the merch table and people would say “You guys were really cool. I never would have thought to have seek you guys out if I didn’t see you tonight, you’re awesome.” So, yeah, it was nice when it was really receptive, but when we got into Europe a little bit it wasn’t as welcoming, it was in Germany though, Germany was awesome, but when we started to get into Sweden and Switzerland… The shows were still good, it was just that they wanted to see Gaslight, they didn’t really care too much about us. [laughs] But it was good, it was a great opportunity. This tour has been different because we’re headlining smaller venues and it’s more our style, so that’s cool, it’s refreshing to have that experience as opposed to the big 800-people, barrier, kinda vibe, which was something we weren’t used to. We became accustomed to it and the end of that tour, but at first it was a little awkward, but these are definitely more our style.
F: There’s a barrier here tonight.
J: There is, and there was last night, it’s a little weird. Clubs over here, there’s more barriers, that’s what we’ve noticed, a lot of places are very strict about barriers. A lot of times in the States, you get to a club where there’s a barrier, if you put up a big enough stink they’ll put it down, but that doesn’t happen over here. They’re like, “Absolutely, not, no!”
F: Are there any countries that you really want to tour?
J: Yeah, I want to do Australia and Japan, that should be in the near future for us. I want to do Russia too, I don’t know if we ever will but my family’s Russian, so I really want to go there and check it out, but a lot of bands don’t go there, just because, I don’t know, some people are sketched out by it, but I really want to go, hopefully sometime.
F: You worked with Matt Bayles on your new album, Chasing Hamburg, out on September 8th, how was that?
J: It was awesome, before we built a working relationship, it really was a privilege, we felt really fortunate to be there because he was like our top guy. We didn’t really think he’d say yes, then he did, and we were like, “Whoa! Have we bitten off more we can chew here?! This is awesome!” It was really cool, he’s really meticulous and he’s very obsessive about certain things, but through experience, he’s also learned to step back and let a band breathe. The reason we wanted to go with him is because his recordings don’t really sound the same from band to band to band, he’s really good at letting a band sound like a band. Whereas, some producers or engineers, you hear one of their records and you know instantly just by the sound of the snare drum or the way the guitar is in the mix or whatever, and you know that’s such and such recording, but with Bayles, it’s harder to grasp onto those things. He was very, very O.C.D. about things, but I don’t know how he has this certain balance of obsessive, meticulousness but also hands-off, kind of, let the band be the band. He’s learned over the years what to pay real close attention to and what to let just be music, so, yeah, he’s really good at what he does.
F: How does the new album differ from your previous releases?
J: The songs are a bit shorter we’re noticing, on Sometimes Things Just Disappear the songs were nearly all in the upper 3’s and mainly in the 4-minute area, and I think we have one song, the song Chasing Hamburg, that goes into 4-minutes, but most of the songs are 3/2-and-a-half, so the fat is hand-trimmed, I guess, a little bit, and the songs are a bit more concise. It’s weird too, there’s this weird kind of upbeat, darkness to it, I don’t know if that makes sense, it might when you hear the album, but a lot of people who’ve heard the album have commented on how it’s strangely upbeat, but darker than the last album, so that’s really interesting. Polar Bear Club has always been sort of a ‘grey area band’, a band that is hard to classify, and this album is still along those lines, but I think we’ve dissected a little bit more. Our harder songs are harder and the punky-pop songs are a bit more punky-poppier, and then there are slower songs that are in the middle. I’m rambling, I know, I’m sorry [laughs], but we kind of dipped outwards to the end of the spectrum that we play a little bit more.
F: Why the name ‘Chasing Hamburg’?
J: It’s the name of the last song on the album, the song’s called Chasing Hamburg. The song is about that European tour we were just talking about with Frank and Gaslight, we played in Hamburg and the show was just a really great show for everybody. What happened that night was that Brian from Gaslight, he had to go to some emergency dentist because something was happening with his tooth, he had to get a tooth pulled or something, we weren’t sure if he was going to come back and if Gaslight was going to go on. Frank ended up playing a longer set, he was doing covers and everybody was either on the side of the stage or on the stage singing along with him. There were a lot of nights where we would watch Frank’s set from the side of the stage and the Gaslight set too, looking out to the audience and seeing their faces as they watch their favourite band, but in Hamburg that night, the vibe was just perfect and everything was just so clear, as to what we were doing and why were doing it. So, we called the song Chasing Hamburg, because every night, no matter how shitty it is or whatever it is, we’ll always think of that night in Hamburg and how crystal clear everything was and we’re just going to keep chasing that night from here on out. The album title Sometimes Things Just Disappear, at the time, really spoke what the band is all about, and this time around Chasing Hamburg did, who knows what the next one will be, maybe it’ll be Fuck Off and Die, I don’t know. [laughs]
F: You signed to Bridge Nine earlier this year, did it feel like all your hard work had paid off?
J: Yeah, I mean, when we decided to go full-time, there were a couple of labels that we were going to meet with and talk to, and Bridge Nine was like the wild card.
F: Since none of the bands on the label are similar to you?
J: Yeah, that’s how we felt, we were like, “That could be really cool or it could be really weird.”, so when we met, we realised it was really cool. That was the label that I grew up on, the Bridge Nine bands were huge for me when I was younger. They’re branching out a little bit now, with us specifically, and with Paint It Black and Strike Anywhere now, but when I was younger, it was a really hardcore, Boston label, it was huge for me when I was going to hardcore shows and stuff. So, it was a little bit of like, “Wow, Bridge Nine!”, but it was more, “This is weird for Polar Bear Club, but it’s a good weird.” We’ve always been a weird band, so why not sign to a weird label? Kind of thing. [laughs] But, yeah, they’re awesome, the working relationship is really, really cool.
F: I’ve heard a few people say that they prefer the EP, The Redder, The Better, over the full-length, Sometimes Things Just Disappear, how does that make you feel?
J: It’s all good, when you do bands you really can’t control who likes what, or who interprets what in what way, all you can do is just make the album you like and that’s all we’ve done, we‘ve just made the best album we can make at that time. Some people heard the EP first, so maybe they’re a little more emotionally connected to it than they are with the full-length, and that’s fine, we still wrote those songs, we still like those songs. Sometimes it’s what you hear first, back home in Rochester, a lot of people like our demo the best, and I don’t think anyone over here has heard the full demo, just because we pressed it ourselves and when it was out, it was done, we stopped making it. So, yeah, a lot of people back home like the demo better than the EP, and sometimes it’s just what you hear first and that’s cool, I still like all those songs. I’m not going to say, “Well, fuck you, you don’t like what we did most recently? We’ll, you’re not a true fan.” or whatever. It’s pick and choose, no-one is going to like everything, it’s just stupid to think that’s going to be the case as much as you want it to be. Whatever you like, it’s all gravy.
F: Which of your songs get the best reaction live?
J: It depends, over here it’s more of our full-length crowd, some people know the EP as well, but if the crowd is into it, we usually close with the song Most Miserable Life, from The Redder, The Better EP, and that gets a good reaction if people know it. Burned Out In A Jar gets an awesome reaction too, I love playing that song live, and Our Ballads, those are like the highlights in the set for me. Those two songs are kind of like pick-it-back-up-songs in the set, they usually get pretty good responses. Burned Out In A Jar, the chorus is a bit poppier and kind of upbeat, it’s got some good sing-a-long aspects to it and it’s just a super, fun song to play live, people get way into it sometimes.
F: Do you get sick of playing any songs?
J: Sometimes, yeah, I’d be lying and I think everyone would be lying if they said no, but it varies, it’ll be like there’s a week or 4-days or whatever, where I don’t want to play this song or I’m not feeling this song as much as others, but it changes, they kind of switch in and out with each other, it’s kind of a constant, a rotation of what songs I get really psyched on. Sometimes, my voice will get weird or hoarse or something, and certain songs will be easier to sing than others, so I tend to love songs that are easier to sing, y’know? But, yeah, it switches in and out. Right now in our set, I’m pretty content with playing all the songs, there’s nothing that really bums me out. It’s weird, you learn to love different things about the songs that probably no one pays attention to, like you play them so many times, to me, it’ll be like, “This offbeat snare hit here is really what does it for me in this song” or a tiny little guitar lead or something. Most times you’ll see me drumming along to the parts I love or even playing guitar along to the parts I really like, but, yeah, it’s little things that keep you going and playing the songs night after night.
F: Have you ever covered the song that you name originates from, Polar Bear Club by Silent Majority?
J: No, we haven’t, but we toured with Crime in Stereo and they covered it one night at show where like no-one was at. We’ve never thought about playing it, people have asked us a lot about it too, but I don’t know, maybe we will sometime, it just hasn’t felt right for some reason. I think mainly because Chris and I are really into Silent Majority, but we’ve gone through so many member changes, like the guys that are in Polar Bear Club now are into but not the same way we’re into it. We toured with Capital too, which is the singer from Silent Majority is in too, it just felt a little weird to me, to cover that song, but maybe someday we’ll be feeling it. [laughs]
F: Speaking of Crime in Stereo, weren’t they originally supposed to be on this tour?
J: Yeah, they were initially, I think. We’ve gone to some places where they’re still on flyers, we’ve been like, “Oh, damn it! We hope kids don’t come tonight hoping to see Crime in Stereo. ” I’m not sure what happened actually, I think they might have had something else going on, I think it was a scheduling thing, but, yeah, I’m not sure. We’re gonna see them though, we’re going to be touring with them maybe in the fall. They’re good dudes, we toured with them in the states, and we like them a lot.
F: Do you plan on doing an actual polar bear jump? Or have you done a polar bear jump?
J: [laughs] We’ve never done one, we wanted to, we played in Long Island and we got approached by a representative from The Polar Bear Club, and he invited us to do a jump, we said we were going to go, and everyone thinks that I’m making this up, but we busted our van the night before and everyone thinks it was an excuse, like we were just saying that to skip out of the jump, but, no. We went over this really steep set of train tracks, way too fast, and ripped the trailer out of our van and we couldn’t go to the jump the next morning. It sucked, I was trying to call The Polar Bear Club, which is not an easy thing to do, so I was calling people that I thought would know people in the actual Polar Bear Blub, and I was apologising profusely but they probably think we’re a bunch of sissies for skipping out. [laughs] But if we play Long Island again, I would love to go and do it, I think it’s appropriate, and it’s crazy. I don’t want to do it, but I want to do it. [laughs]
F: Sometimes Things Just Disappear – that sounds like something thieves would say. Have you ever been caught in a criminal act?
J: [laughs] Sort of, we broke into this kitchen in Germany once, it wasn’t really criminal, it felt criminal. [laughs] We were in Wiesbaden we played this venue and we stayed over there that night, and they gave us a key, so we could go to the bar and they had this huge catering business, that was in the venue as well, and they locked the kitchen and we were like, “Maybe the key works for the kitchen too!” This was at like 2am, and the key did work for the kitchen and we broke into the kitchen, and we were trying to make omelettes, everyone was really drunk, and then out of nowhere, this scary, bald man, comes through the back door and is like, “Hey! What are you doing?! What are you doing here?!” Everybody left, except for me because I’m kind of like the pacifier, and try to make everything ok, so I talk this guy down even though I was drunk out of my mind, and I was just like, “No, no, it’s ok! We were trying to heat up our food from earlier” and making up all these excuses. That was pretty bad, he said he was going to call the cops, he didn’t though, with my negotiation skills, drunk Jimmy… But yeah, we’ve got into some trouble like that, never really with the police. I got a speeding ticket once driving, I was wearing a sailor’s hat too, that’s kinda funny. I was wearing a sailor’s hat and I got a speeding ticket, I forgot to take it off, and the policeman comes up to the car and he just looks at me for a second, he’s like, “Ok…” He didn’t say anything, but he probably thought I was a gay sailor or something, to each his own. [laughs]
F: The opening line to Burned Out In A Jar is “At midnight my house is ablaze…”, if your house was on fire, what possessions would you save?
J: My guitar, definitely. My dog doesn’t count as a possession, because he’s like a person, so I won’t count him, he’d already be out. My DVDs, no, I’d get one DVD, I’d get A Long Day’s Journey Into Night with Jason Robards and Katharine Hepburn, I’d grab that DVD for sure, and I’d probably grab my Complete Works of William Shakespeare book, those three things.
F: Do you enjoy reading a lot in your spare time?
J: Yeah, I do, I like reading plays and stuff, I read novels from time-to-time, but novels I like to read are really easy reads, I’m not a deep novel reader, sometimes, but not most times. I love reading plays, though, and I love reading Shakespeare, and comic books.
F: What does Polar Bear Club have planned for the rest of the year?
J: We’ll be finishing up this tour, then we go home and we have a little bit of time off in the summer. We’re doing a couple of days with Every Time I Die in June, for just like three days, then we have a little bit more time off, and we’re trying to fill-in some holes in July, we were supposed to do a bigger tour in July, but it kind of feel through. In August, we go on tour with Set Your Goals and Four Year Strong, and do a full US-thing, and then we fly back here for Reading and Leeds, we’re doing a couple of dates after that, then we go home and the album comes out on September 8th, then after that it’s just touring all the time, we’ll be doing a lot of the US and hopefully be coming back here in December, maybe, something like that.
F: You mentioned your upcoming tour with Four Year Strong and Set Your Goals, are you excited about that?
J: Yeah, Fireworks is on that tour too, they’re friends of ours, we toured with them for a little bit before and I’m excited to see them again. We’ve briefly talked to the Set Your Goals guys online and heard that they’re all super cool dudes, so I’m excited to meet them. I don’t know much about Four Year Strong, but I’ve heard they’re really nice guys too. It’s just really exciting to meet new people, and, generally, band people are good people, so, yeah, we’re excited to have some fun with new band people and make some new friends. We’ll be playing to new people too, we’re curious to see how their fans will receive us because those are kind of fans that we haven’t played to before, that kind of crowd, so it’s going to be interesting but exciting. We’re game for a new adventure.
F: So, you’re going to be busy for the rest of year, what do you like to do to relax when you aren’t touring or in the studio?
J: I’m really obsessed with going to the movies, it’s completely irrational, y’know? It’s so expensive, I’ll go to the movies and I’ll get popcorn and a soda, and it’s incredibly expensive. I’ll sometimes go see a movie three times, and it’s a complete waste of money, but it’s really relaxing to me and it’s like my favourite thing to do. I love going to the movie theatre. I walk my dog a lot too, going hiking with my dog is like the number one thing I like to do, just to relax. Sometimes when I’m walking my dog, I come up with really good song ideas, it’s really weird, like I’ll be walking my dog and I’ll have this melody in my head, and I’ll call myself on my cellphone and leave a voicemail humming the melody, y’know? It’s weird, when I’m really relaxed, I come up with really good ideas. So, yeah, walking my dog and going to the movie theatre, I could do that every day and be happy.
F: Change the record, who should we be listening to?
J: Broadway Calls, I never fail to mention them in interviews, just because Ty, Josh, Matt, and their roadie, Lazer, are awesome, they’re probably our best friends in bands. Ty sang some gang vocals on our album too. We would tour with them forever, if people didn’t get sick of it, they’re just so good. Every time people ask me who they should be looking out for, I always say them, because they are such a hard-working band and their hearts are in it for all the right reasons, and they deserve the best. Not a lot of people think that about them when hearing their band, hardcore kids sometimes hear their band and think “They’re trying to make it big” and think they’re this super pop-punk band who are trying to sound really poppy to make it big, and it couldn’t be further from the truth. I hope that they get huge, but that’s not what they want at all. They just love the music they play and they love being in a band, they’re the most genuine band I’ve ever met. So, yeah, I wish the best for them and you should check them out, because on top of those great things, they’re awesome and they write really good songs, so definitely look out for them, for real.
Oh, and from the same city, Oregon, another guy who did guest vocals on the album, his name is Aaron, the singer of Marathon, he’s got a solo thing called Attica! Attica!, and it’s amazing, it’s just him and he’s such a talented singer and musician, he’s really harmony-heavy, he’s like a composer, so the Attica Attica stuff is really well put together and intricate, so, yeah, check him out, definitely.
Lone Wolves, they’re a hardcore band from England, our merch guy plays drums and they’re fucking awesome, they sound kinda like Cursed. Of course, Dead Swans, our label mates, and The Swellers, and Fireworks, and all the bands we’ve toured with. [laughs] Just look at our tour résumé and those would be the bands to look out for, but, yeah, there’s a lot of good bands out there that people don’t know about, and I hope people will check them out upon reading this interview.
Polar Bear Club’s new album, Chasing Hamburg, is out on September 8th on Bridge Nine Records.
For more on Polar Bear Club visit: www.myspace.com/polarbearclub
Our interview with Defeater from the Bridge Nine UK Tour will be up shortly.