David Brylawski - 2009

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David Brylawski is one of the two singer/songwriter/guitarists behind Polvo, the creative high-mark of the '90s Chapel Hill rock scene. Since that band's friendly break-up in 1998, he has released two albums each with Idyll Swords and Black Taj, as well as marrying an old college friend of mine. But now it's 2009, and Polvo is reunited and working on a brand new CD! As such, I was quite pleased indeed when Mr. Brylawski agreed to meet me at a Chelsea watering hole one fine April evening for an interview. We began the interview with potato skins, then moved on to cheeseburgers (his Swiss, mine Cheddar). He drank three bottles of beer, me two vodka/tonics. So if we said anything dumb, blame minor tipsiness. Also please note that prior to this interview I had never heard Black Taj. I now have, and man! They're good! Go purchase their 2008 Beyonder CD for proof. With no other furdue, my questions are in bold; his answers in regular.


So a new Polvo album!

That's correct.

That's pretty exciting for a lot of people.

New Polvo album.

How was the writing done?

It was done similar to our other albums where Ash and I both brought songs that we'd written, but one difference is we've been playing these songs together for eight months, where we would usually write them and record them really quickly. We've incubated these songs for a while.

But people who've seen your live shows have heard a lot of these songs?

Only one song that we've played live actually made the cut.

Oh, really!?

Yeah, people who've seen us live will have only heard one song.

Wow! And you have a new drummer?

The drummer is Brian Quast.

Okay, and where'd you find him?

He's been in tons of North Carolina bands. He was in Vanilla Trainwreck, Erectus Monotone -

He was in Erectus Monotone?

He was one of the drummers in Erectus Monotone.

I loved Erectus Monotone.

Oh, me too. And he was in the Cherry Valence. So he's been around for a long time, and he actually has played with Ash for about 6-7 years. He worked on Ash's solo stuff, so he's been playing with Ash for a long time.

Had you kept in touch with these guys over the years, as friends?

Yeah. With Steve and Ash, yeah. I've known Steve since fourth grade, so we've stayed real tight. And every time I'd go back to Chapel Hill, I'd hang out with Ash and Steve, so yeah we've stayed pretty close.

Didn't you play in a band with one of them recently? Another band?

Yeah, Black Taj.

Black Taj, okay.

Steve was in Black Taj.

So where does he live? Does he still live in North Carolina?

Raleigh. And Ash lives in the country outside of Chapel Hill, near... near whatchamacallit, what the hell's it called. His mailing address is Hillsborough, but - Calavander! He lives outside of Calavander. It's a really tiny bedroom community outside of Chapel Hill.

Is he still with Mary Timony?

(shakes head)

Oh, okay. That'd explain the move back from Boston, I guess? Yeah, okay. With that much time apart, I'm curious if the new music sounds - will people recognize it as Polvo?

"Yes" is the short answer, but it's different. A little more cohesive. Brian is a very powerful and precise drummer, so I think we're gonna sound a little tighter than before. But all the other Polvo elements are there. Maybe we're just a little more fully realized, I guess.

When did you become interested in what is generally labelled as 'Eastern Music'? I know that means a lot, but.... Did it start out of listening to '60s rock?

I would say probably. The same as the blues. When you're 15, 14, you start with rock and roll. You start with Eric Clapton/Cream and Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles. Well, I started with The Beatles a lot earlier; I started with that when I was about 12 or whatever. I think it's easier to trace the blues back that way, but then after listening to Cream and Eric Clapton, you sort of listen to the sources a little bit more. I would say with Eastern music too, it might have been The Beatles, but once I was in high school and college, I got really into Indian classical music. By the way, on the new album there's none of that.

Oh, really!?

It's just a long rock-out.

Oh wow! Okay.

50 minutes of it.

How many songs?


So is there one really long one, or are they all about seven minutes?

No, we have one really short one. The rest are 6-8 minutes.

Are there gonna be any of the sort of crazy - well, not crazy - well YEAH! Crazy! - new approaches to the guitar sound, like on "Fractured (Like Chandeliers)," where you just hear it and go, "What the hell is he doing there!?"

That's more Ash, but yeah, there's definitely some of that.

Are you guys still using the same equipment?

No, that's another thing. I think we're approaching this with a little more maturity and seasonedness. You know, we never really wanted to sound lo-fi or crappy, even in the 1990s or 1989 when we started. We feel like the lo-finess was due more to our limitations and our financial limitations.

But the last few records didn't sound lo-fi. The Touch & Go ones.

Right, right. And I feel like we're more fully realized in that...'arena,' I guess. We've got better equipment, we're in a better studio, Brian Paulson's producing.

I recently ran across a download on the Internet, because I hadn't been able to find an affordable copy of the single, of a song I hadn't heard in about... Christ, it must've been about 15 years ago. It was the first Polvo song I loved, but it doesn't sound at all like the rest of your stuff - "The Drill."

Oh yeah?

Yeah, and I listened to that, and I hadn't heard the single in about 15 years, and I just thought, "Wow. That's much more lo-fi than I remembered it being!"

Oh yeah, those first two singles and even our first album - yeah, it's pretty lo-fi. And again, it wasn't -

You used the money you had.

Right, and I think even - You know, it's funny because Jerry Kee did our first album, and even by the time Jerry Kee got around to doing "Celebrate," he'd been through four years of recording so he'd gotten a lot better. So it's more just a confluence of ability and technology that Polvo sort of was hindered by before, but is now able to take advantage of.

Okay, when I got to college, what you had out was the double-single -- which I for some reason remembered as a triple-single, but it's just a double-single, right?


The double-single - I liked it. I heard in it what everyone else at the time heard in it: some Sonic Youth, some Dinosaur Jr. and some original sound. But then by the time the album came out, you sounded like nothing I had ever heard. I mean, I'd started listening to the Thinking Fellers.... Maybe it sounded like something YOU had heard, but those songs on that first album took me forever to figure out what was going on, because they just seemed to.... They were weird songs!

Yeah, I don't know. I haven't really listened to that album in a while, so I'm not in touch with maybe that perspective.

Like the first time I heard it, I thought to myself, "You know, this sounds like a band trying to do Sonic Youth, but doing it wrong." But then I saw you guys play it live, and it sounded just like the record. I was like, "Oh! They did that on purpose!" and I grew to really, really like it.

But did what on purpose? That's the thing, you know? Sounded crazy and chaotic?

Created songs that hadn't been written before, which is important if you've heard as many records as you and I have. You want to hear something you haven't already heard.

I don't know how much conscious thought went into that, especially since we were 20 years old, 21. It was more like distilling what you've heard and what you like, and adding to it the layer of your inability or ability - your limitations and your inabilities.

So you're not that fond of the first album?

No, it's not like I'm not fond of it; it's just of its time. And I think one reason maybe the first album sounded like that was that Ash didn't start playing guitar until he was in college. I started when I was like 13, and he started when he was in college. And so he didn't grow up wanting to learn the Rush riffs, you know? He started at a more advanced level and was able to tap into a little more of his own personal creativity, I guess. If that makes sense.

Yeah, it does. Let's eat some and then I'll (*ABRUPTLY CUTS TAPE OFF*)

So Steve and I had been playing together. I started playing guitar when I was 13. Then by like 14, Steve and I had started playing together. We came from a very classic rock-oriented background, and Ash not having the need to come from that background -- I remember for instance when he played for Polvo for the first time at a practice "Kalgon/Bend Or Break" off the first album. I remember Steve and I were just like, "What!?" We were like, "What the fuck is that?" We couldn't even make heads or tails of it really. It was only after really letting it breathe with us and living with it for a while....

Oh! That's how it was for me initially! I had no idea that -

It was like that for us too! Yeah. But it eventually made sense. But Ash came from a very different place.

What was he listening to?

Well, he likes a lot of different stuff. He likes classic rock like we like, but he also probably has a little bit more of a new wave background than me and Steve, for instance. And he was also listening to a lot of Eastern stuff. And also more progressive stuff like Mahavishnu - that might not have been then, but around the same time. And also we were listening to a lot of indie rock too, you know - a lot of SST, Homestead.

And then the second full-length album - I got that right away, I loved that right away. It was a lot easier to get. The first one was really -- it's probably why people started calling you 'math-rock.' Because with the first one, it was just really hard to understand what the songs were about.

I wonder why that 'math-rock' thing was -

Well, I didn't think it was math-rock. I think of math-rock as like when you have to count the beats.

Just doing complex time signatures, a lot of stops and starts.


Yeah, and I don't think that was really what we were doing, which was more chaotic and not very harnessed - which had its charm, you know.

You remember that show at, I believe it was La Terraza -

Where Ash bled all over his guitar?

Yeah! That was the show where I finally got that first album.

There used to be a video of that, and I saw it years ago and I wish I could find that video now. That was a good show.

That was one of those, for me, one of the shows that while I was there felt like a religious experience. I finally got those songs, seeing you guys play them live. And he was just... why did he bleed? Just from hitting the strings?

Yep! Probably opened up a cut on his hand. Yeah, that was a fun show. I think a lot of the early shows were hit-or-miss. Certainly a lot of feedback we got pointed to that. And I think that was probably part of Polvo's early charm too was not knowing if we really were fully capable of harnessing the noise that we wanted to make or whatever. But it's sort of like what I was saying about limitations; I feel like that's not something we intended ever. We never wanted to be hit-or-miss live, even if it had its charm. We really wanted to be tight and on top of our sound and everything, but that didn't come until much later.

I'm gonna jump around here, because there's something else I didn't want to forget. One thing in your later shows I didn't understand why you were doing and I wanted to ask you about now that I've got you here was -- I don't remember what song it was, it may have been "Thermal Treasure," it seems like you slowed down the introduction and turned it into a different song or something?

You mean to how we play it now?

No, this was around the time of "Exploded Drawing."

Yeah, Ash always wanted to tinker with stuff and never consider it finished.

Like that little 'Gleeng-gloong! dowwwr.' He would just keep playing it: "Gleeng-gloong! dowwwr. Gleeng-gloong! dowwwr."

Well, towards the end of our first incarnation, we actually added a whole new 3-minute intro.

Yeah, that's what I'm talking about. That's what I wanted to ask you; so it was the same song?

It's always a work-in-progress.


And we definitely carried that over into this new incarnation. We knew we didn't want to just play stuff off the album the way it sounded on the album; we wanted it to reflect more of what we're capable of doing now. We're a lot better musicians than we were 10 years ago.

Since you've been up here, and especially since you've had a child and a career, have you had time to practice much?

The three of Brian, Steve and Ash practice every week. And I fly down on the average about once a month. So the answer's "No, we don't practice enough," but again I think -- especially with Brian, really having a super-tight foundation -- we're able to make up for the deficits of not being able to practice every week. Another thing that really helps us is technology, because now we record every practice and I just download it and put it into my iPod so I can practice by myself in my small apartment in New York. So I do feel like I practice every week.

Do you just normally play the guitar now, or do you have other stuff in your apartment?

No, I play guitar. Just the guitar. I have a small apartment, and I don't want to torture my neighbors.

Who has the sitar and everything?

I do. I have a pretty large collection that's at my Dad's house in Chapel Hill.

Is any of that gonna be on the new album?

(to waiter) I got the Swiss - (*TAPE ABRUPTLY CUTS OFF*)

Now you work as a therapist. What do the other members of the band do? Are they professional musicians?

Ash is an electrician's apprentice; he's gonna be an electrician. Well, he already is an electrician. Brian does construction, the drummer. And Steve works in the external relations of the Museum of Natural Science in Raleigh. The big Natural Science Museum in Raleigh. So we all have jobs. I'm sorta glad actually that I have a job. I don't think I'd wanna be - I'm too old. I'm 40 years old. It would seem sort of frivolous to be a musician now. I always sorta liked the fact that having a job gave me an escape hatch from having my head in the music all the time, and that having music was an escape hatch from work-a-day stress, so for me it's a really good trade-off. I like the balance.

Do you already know what record label is going to put out the new record?

The answer is yes, but I can't say which one.

Okay. Have you named the album?


Well, you just recorded it a couple of weeks ago, right?

We're not finished recording. We've done all the basics, and we're gonna spend the next three weeks overdubbing and mixing.

Have you considered a release month?


How many songs of yours - well, I don't need to ask you that. I was gonna say "How many songs of yours are gonna be on the new album," but I haven't even asked you about any of the older songs that were yours.

I'd rather talk about the new songs.


Nah, I'm just kidding. Polvo suffers from not liking a lot of their earlier material.


Not all of it - some of it.

That is so interesting. Meaning the first two albums?

No, I think there are definitely moments on everything that are valid and worthy. It's just like looking at a picture of yourself when you were growing up. You were going through an awkward stage, you know? Wish you weren't wearing that shirt. "If only I'd combed my hair differently back then!" You know, more looking back with wishes than regret. It's not that major actually. I don't want to overstate it.

Like what songs do you just look at and go "Ew!"?

A lot of mine. I wouldn't say that about Ash's. I think Ash would probably have his own opinion about his songs. I don't like a lot of my early stuff. I think I got better as I went along really. I think I started out sort of primitive, and I'm still getting the hang of it.

How old is your son now?

He's 21 months.

At what age do they start recognizing music?

They recognize music really early. He's obsessed with music. He loves it.


He asks for it all the time. He's just very specific about what he wants to hear.

What does he like at 21 months?

He likes the Mary Poppins soundtrack, the original cast recording with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. He loves Mary Poppins. He's enrolled in a music program called Music Together, which I actually am sort of into. It's really good musicians playing children's songs. So there's a lot of songs off that that he likes; they're children's songs. My wife and I play him a lot of folk music. We play him the American Anthology -- Harry Smith?


And he became obsessed with "Froggy Went A-Courtin'" - "King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O"?

Oh, I loved that when I was a kid!

My God. So I wound up burning him a CD of ten. Just because he kept asking for it! He would ask for it, and then you'd walk away, and he'd go "Ki-Me-O!" and again you'd have to go over.... So I finally made him a CD with ten of them. He'll listen to the whole thing. What else does he like? He likes a lot of Spanish music, because he has a Spanish babysitter. Spanish folk songs, like "De Colores." (sings) De Colores!

Wow, I had no idea that children that young -

He loves it. And it's funny; like, I don't push him. It's not like I'm trying to be one of those stage mother types. I let him do what he wants, but yeah, every waking moment he really wants to listen to music. The Mary Poppins thing is funny, because at first I could not fucking stand it. But now, seriously I can almost sing the whole album. It's actually pretty good. There's some funny things on it, like his favorite song off that is "A Spoonful of Sugar." He loves it, and that's actually a pretty good, you know, it's got some interesting parts. Once you hear something about 400 times, like you have to with a child, you start to appreciate different aspects of it.

Is that normal to start that early? Like I don't remember listening to music until I was about four.

Kids love music. No, you probably did. At first they really grab ahold of the rhythmic aspect probably. Did you ever rock as a kid or anything?

Yeah, I did. Yeah.

It's very musical.

Yeah, my mother would sing "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?" as she rocked me.

That sounds like a sad song.

I know. That's probably why I'm such a sad man.

Traumatic. My earliest music memories are - it's really what your parents turn you onto, I guess. My parents love rock'n'roll, so I listened to rock'n'roll at a very early age. I became really obsessed with The Beatles at like 5. Age 5 or 6. The Beatles were my entree into music.

Yeah, mine too.

A lot of their songs are sorta childlike and easier to -

Especially Paul's.

Yeah! Especially Paul's. And you know, obviously I didn't start with "Revolution 9." I started with -

"Yellow Submarine!"

Yeah, "Yellow Submarine" but also the early - "She Loves You," very sort of primitive yet... whatever, "cut to the bone" or whatever.

Yeah. Great melodies.

Yeah, they all had good melodies. Very inclusive songs.

It wasn't all about the eight-minute blues jam.

Yeah. You know, it's funny; that was more 13, 14, but I did go that route too.


Man, when I first started playing guitar, I was listening to Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan. And when I was 14, that's what I wanted to do. I was like, "I want to be a blues guitarist!" But I was not good enough. I wasn't crappy, but I was too primitive, you know? I was also pretty influenced by friends that played. I had a lot of friends that were really good guitarists, which was a little demoralizing at the same time. Because it really wasn't until more like U2 and REM -- for me personally, it was U2 and REM that sort of showed me that you didn't have to shred to write good, emotive guitar stuff. And then of course Sonic Youth and a lot more '80s SST. I never was a big punk fan, but that was sort of my entree into more - you didn't have to be technically proficient to be emotive.

Would you describe yourself as having a style now? Do you write more based around chord changes or slide guitar or -

Personally, more psychedelic I guess would be my style. More arpeggios, and something that sort of grooves a little bit but is also a little trippy. Much more of my college influence or whatever - stuff I listened to in college.

Outside of the new album, what are some of your favorite Polvo songs that you wrote?

That I personally wrote? Or Ash wrote?

That you personally wrote.

I like more Ash songs than I do my own.

Oh, really?

Yeah, it's sorta like I described before about the picture of the kid. Cringe! Cringe!


Yeah, I don't know. I'm trying to think if there's any -- I like "City Spirit." I like that song. I actually like the songs I wrote on "Shapes" better than my earlier stuff, I guess. "Lazy Comet" was one I wasn't really that into, but people responded to that one a little bit more. So I sorta revisited that and was like, "Yeah, it's okay." But I like more Ash songs.

Like what are your favorites of Ash's? Actually, does he write your parts? Or do you write your parts for his songs?

I would say 90% I write my own parts, and then he will make suggestions for changes. On the new album, the same. Probably 90% I wrote, and then he would nuance me, if you want to call it 'nuance,' or we'd nuance each other: "No, I'm actually looking for something a little more like this," "Make this part quieter," or "I want you to be really assertive on this part." So I think it's turned into more of a guided collaboration.

So I interrupted you - what are some of your favorites of Ash's songs?

"Fractured." "Enemy Insects" is one of my favorites; I love to play it. We play it a lot now. I love to play it. "Vibracobra," "Kalgon/Bend Or Break," "Stinger (Five Wigs)," "Thermal Treasure." Those are probably - yeah, I like those.

Okay. Do you have a favorite album of the ones - not the new one, but.... Or no?

I like different things about each album. There's also a contextual part about what was going on. "Cor-Crane," you know, I like it for what it is. It's a band trying to figure out how to be a band. As I said, and I don't want to keep using the term 'rugged charm,' but it's a little more innocent, I guess. We didn't really know what we were doing. "Today's Active Lifestyles" I liked because we only had written like three-quarters of it. We really weren't ready but we had a deadline, so we decided to just go in and wing it a little bit, which brought out a more experimental side of us. We did it with Bob Weston at Steve Albini's studio, so it was the first time we've had some time on our hands to play with stuff, so that album sounds like what it was. Sort of like... More than a work-in-progress; I don't want to short-sell it. But it wasn't as fully realized as, say, "Celebrate," which maybe if you had to pin me, I would say "Celebrate" might be my favorite. Because I felt like after "Today's Active Lifestyles," we wanted to be a little bit more cohesive. And we felt like that was, for us, a very cohesive statement - a little more technically adept. And I think "Exploded" was that too - just a little more cohesive. And then "Shapes" is an interesting album too, because that brought us back to more of a "Today's Active Lifestyles" situation, where it wasn't as cohesive. We sorta thought of it as more experimental in terms of doing whatever we wanted to do. I mean, I feel like -- you know, I'm not immune to what people say about that album.

Wait, what do they say? I think it's great!

I would say critically and fan-wise, it's the least accepted record. I think people have come around to it a little bit, but I think people think it was a little half-baked. So it was a time when Ash was in Boston and the rest of us were down here, and we were more getting together to write than to work. Steve and I have talked about that aspect of it. Here's a criticism of that album that I've read -

Oh wait, I think I screwed up. You're talking about "Shapes"?

The last album.

Oh, okay. I was thinking of "This Eclipse," sorry. "This Eclipse" I love. "Shapes" I'd be one of those who... I think it's good, but -

Well, what'd you think about it?

"Shapes"? It seemed like you were trying to fit in new instruments that maybe you didn't play as well as the guitars, which kind of limited what you could play.

(*Dave accidentally lowers beer bottle onto drinking glass, breaking glass*)


See what you made me do?

No, I think it's a good album!

No, I'm kidding! I'm kidding. Well, here's the thing about that. There's not a lot of non-rock instrumentation on that album. There's only a couple things.

Okay. The last time I listened to it, it sounded a lot better than I'd remembered it sounding.

I think people's complaints about that album were that it sounded like a band breaking up; I've read that before, which actually makes a little bit of sense. Some people say there's like a sadness to it because of that. People have said it wasn't very cohesive, and I'll grant that. I don't think the intent was to make a cohesive record. It was more just to work within the structures that were imposed on us by not living together.

Yeah, that's another thing. I didn't realize that that was the case when you recorded it.

I would say that my songs are a little more overtly rock, and I think that threw some people off.

Oh no, I liked those!

Some people liked it; some people didn't like it.

I remember really loving the first song. What's the first song?

"Enemy Insects"?

Oh yeah. Yeah, I love that one.

Yeah, that's one of my favorite Polvo songs. I mean, again I can't really speak for Ash. But for myself, there was an element in my own songwriting that I really wanted to sort of, after listening to Eastern music and indie rock, I really wanted to get back to more aggressive 14-year-old, 15-year-old, 13-year-old self classic rock. That really was sort of juicing me at the time.

There's also a really long song on there.


Isn't there also a really long song on there?

Oh yeah, that would be "El Rocio."

Oh yeah, okay.

It's Ash's happy instrumental or whatever.

I loved his, uh - I assume it's his, I don't know. I forgot the name, "When Will You Die In My Dreams?"

That's off "Exploded."

I love that song. It's so emotional.

Yeah, Polvo's been called 'emo' before, which is sort of funny, but 'emo' in the pure sense of 'emotional.' Not like Blink-182, but emotional. But a lot of the bands we liked from that time, like Sebadoh and Dinosaur Jr. - they were pretty emotional. There were really powerful, evocative emotions on those albums.

Yeah, Sebadoh. He really cut to the core of it.

In a really raw way that personally I really admired and admire. I wish I could do that. I think it takes a pretty strong sense of your songwriting and your voice to do that.

I know. When I first got to college and I was introduced to Sebadoh, I tried to write songs like that, but they just sounded contrived. He makes them sound so natural.

Because he's got a beautiful voice and he can write really melodic, catchy, beautiful hooks.

How important are the lyrics to Polvo?

An endless source of frustration, because we know they're not not important. People listen to the lyrics. I would say again I'm not going to speak for Ash, but I'm going to speculate about Ash for a minute about this, just sort of inferring from a lot of stuff. I don't think we feel it's our strongest suit. Again I'll shift it more to my own abilities or whatever. I feel like first I'm a guitarist, second I'm a songwriter, and third I'm a lyricist, I think in that order. I even think that, now just speaking for myself, songwriting in itself sort of eludes me a little bit. You know, you listen to a 'songwriter' with bridges and hooks and breaks, and that's just really elusive. I would love to be able to do that -- maybe not all the time, but just have that ability -- but that's not really my ability. Maybe based on more Eastern music and on Sonic Youth, that kinda thing, to me it's more about stretching out riffs. That's my strength.

Do you still use alternate tunings?

On this record, I do not. Ash does a lot. Ash probably has, I think, three distinct string tunings he uses on this record. I play standard.

I want to get back to that question, but before I forget - on those early records and at the live shows, why did Ash's guitar sound so much different than everybody else in the scene? It had a really distinct buzzing sound.

All I can say is that it's based on a combination of -- and it's sort of a lame answer -- his tuning, the way he played, and his equipment. I don't know if there was a conscious directed effort; I think it was just more organic. That's what happened, and he liked it.

Okay, now back to the lyrics. Lyrics?

Very difficult to really convey your feelings and your cognitions well, abstractly but not too abstract. That's a fine line, you know. You want to say things that mean something and aren't nonsense, but you don't want to - I don't feel strong enough to be too overt and direct. So just abstract enough so it's not super-obvious, but also meaningful. Very difficult mood to hit, so to me it's a little more hit-or-miss. A little more what pops into my head about what I'm going through. You know, half my songs are about going on walks in cities, because that's really when my juices flow. A lot of songs are about that. Or driving. Sort of impressionistic.

Oh, okay. And just about what you see? What you feel?

Yeah. "City Spirit" was about that. "D.D. (S.R.)" was sort of about that. A couple new songs on the record. I have a song on the new record about driving from New York to DC. A lot of my family's there, my wife's family's there, so I go to DC like every other month. And on that drive, just the -- it's impressionistic, but it's really sorta what I feel most comfortable tapping into. It's really hard.

And you're right, people do listen to them.


The biggest one I remember is "Give me something brown that sticks like glue," which people said, "Oh, that means they're on heroin now!"


And I was like, "I don't think that's what it means!?"

No, it doesn't. And you'd have to ask Ash what he really meant by that, but I'm sure it was wordplay.

I was thinking of those lyrics today, and I was like, "Well, I wonder if he's talking about - 'Give me something brown that sticks like glue' - I wonder if he's talking about like taking shit from people."

It's very possible. I mean, "Every Holy Shroud," I wouldn't say that song's about anything in particular, but it is sort of a reactive song to what people -- whether they be critics or people with opinions, that sort of people -- what kind of boxes they expect you not to stray from, and how you chafe against that. And I don't think Ash really meant it to be such an important statement; it was more just what was on his mind, you know.

It comes across that way probably just because it seems - you know, when you say something like "We just got a sitar, so be prepared," it seems more -

Which was true!

It seems more like he has something he wants to say and he wants you to hear. It's less abstract, I guess.

But still abstract enough that you have to ask -

I can't figure out what it means! Yeah.

But that's the fine line I'm talking about. You do want it to be meaningful. Or I do, rather. I don't feel comfortable writing nonsense or bullshit. But again, I don't feel like someone like Lou Barlow, who can write about pretty overt emotions in a very direct way and still be artful. I'm not artful like that, so I have to put at least a layer of abstraction on it. But I don't want to be too abstract; I'm not artful enough for that either. Really, within the lyrics, I'm really exposing my personal limitations.

Did you write lyrics for your new songs?


Did you answer the question of how many songs on the new album are yours?

Three. Out of seven.

Does Steve Popson write material?

He does write material, and it's similar to how Ash and I sculpt each other's parts of each other's songs, where he usually will come up with a bass line, and it's nuanced until it fits more with the vocal line and everything. But he writes the majority of his own parts.

What do you think now of the Idyll Swords records?

I'm proud of them, in general. I felt at the time, after Polvo was ending, I didn't really have interest in playing in another rock band. And I wondered what it would be like to really fully give myself over to this other side - the more folky, bluesy, Asian, Middle Eastern side. I'd done a lot of traveling too. Really that, especially. It still moves me, but at that time I felt really like that -- especially Indian classical music, but also Middle Eastern oud music and a lot of different music really. Stringed instrument musics, all sorts of whatever - even Japanese koto and shamisen music. It was emotive and evocative in a way that I couldn't really capture with an electric guitar. So I really wanted to explore. And look, I know I'm not a great oud player, I'm a very poor sitar player - you know, I play them like a guitar player. I'm a guitarist that plays other instruments. But I don't really care. It's not about, for me, being technically proficient. It's about expressing what you really want to express, so I was proud of it.

I got one of them a few years ago and I was listening to it and looking at it, and I was like, "How the hell did Grant Tennille end up on this!?"

Yeah? Well, some of the best stuff on there was Grant!

When I first met him (1991), he was already a Guitar God.

Yeah, yeah! He's a guy who just incubated in his bedroom for fifteen years, and then came out seemingly fully-formed.

Did he play in any bands?

Black Taj.

He was in Black Taj? See, I still haven't heard Black Taj.


Do you have CDs out?

Two. On Amish Records.

Okay, I'll grab one of those then. Is that rock music?

Yeah, it's straight-up rock that's a little more classic rock-oriented than Polvo. A little more straightforward than Polvo.

I didn't even know about that until I looked up Polvo on Wikipedia last night. They don't have an entry for you personally, but they did mention that you were in Taj Mahal.

Black Taj.

And you're in the Taj Mahal!

I've been to the Taj Mahal twice!

Really? What's it like?

Gorgeous. Breathtaking. Not my favorite part of India by any means, but yeah. I've been to India a couple of times.

Where else have you been?

I've been around; I travel a lot. Morocco, Syria, Turkey, Vietnam -

Any place you've been scared? Like where you scared in Syria?

Syria? I wouldn't say I was scared about Syria, but it was a little crazy. It was pre-9/11. I don't think I would've gone after 9/11. I was in Morocco when Falusia happened - when like the Falusia shit went to shit. My wife and I were on our way to the Sahara. We were in a little -- I can't remember the name of the city, but the border town to the Sahara, and it was the night that the contractors were killed, which really was a turning point to the war in a way. It was like when people realized that the war was just an ugly situation all around. And we were in a little, not very touristy area, and we got - not harrassed, but people expressed their displeasure with us.


Well, you know. I have to own that America wasn't making any friends in the Middle East Al-Magrib at that point in time, for obvious reasons.

What would you say are your favorite places as far as what you look for? Do you look for history or culture or -

India sorta was its own thing. I went in '96 for the music. I just wanted to see where the music came from. Music permeates everything there. I went to Varanasi, which is like the music city where a lot of classical musicians come from. So that was a big part of it. I guess a lot of the places I've been, I like the music. I've been to Japan, I've been to India, I've been to Vietnam. I haven't been to Indonesia and I like Indonesian music. But I've been to Turkey; I love saz music and oud music. And like I said, I've been to Syria and Morocco.

Are places like that tourist-ready?

I went to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, which is extremely tourist-ready. Basically there's like $800-a-night hotels. But if you were to go anywhere else in Cambodia, like Phnom Penh or something, it's not touristy at all. Vietnam is just starting to open up to tourists. You know, it's funny; Tokyo you would think is really touristy, but actually they're very self-contained. I don't think they really care that much about tourists. I could be wrong. But a place like India is very oriented towards tourists. Pretty decent train infrastructure, and because English is so widely spoken - because of when they were an English colony - they're very geared towards tourists. There's a lot to see too - obviously history, and I love the people. Wonderful people. I went in '96 and again in 2006.

Have you travelled anywhere that you came out of it thinking, "Man, I do not want to go back there"? Not because of violence, but just because of either the attitude of the people or because you just didn't like - I don't know, just didn't like the country?

No. Everywhere I've been, I would definitely go again, but there are some that wouldn't make it first on my list. A place like Bermuda. I don't ever have to go back there again. I saw it, it was nice, but there was something really strange and disturbing about the fact that there's not much poverty. I know that sounds weird. But it's sort of monolithic. It is nice there, but it seems a little surreal. I don't really feel like I have to go back there.

Are there places you haven't been that you'd really, really like to go?


That's right; you said that.

I would like to go to cities I've never been. Like I've been to Tokyo, but I definitely would like to see some other places in Japan - Kyoto and maybe some smaller places in Japan. I definitely will go back to India again, because I've never been south of Mumbai and I've never been east of Varanasi, so I'd like to go to Calcutta and I'd like to go to the south, the Karnataka area.

Are you able to communicate in these places?

In India, you can get by on English. Japan was somewhat a little more difficult than you'd think. Morocco wasn't that bad, because again you go to Fes or Marrakech or even the Sahara, and it's pretty touristy. Wherever there's tourism, people speak English. Where else.... Syria, not too much English spoken, but you can get by. Turkey, you can get by on English. I love Turkey too, by the way. Istanbul's a beautiful city.

I don't really know anything about Turkey, I don't think.

Well, I would just say it's like -- the reductive viewpoint is that you definitely see European elements and Middle Eastern elements. There's nothing like hearing the Call To Prayer for the first time, you know? It kinda wakes you up out of your sleep. I can't remember what the exact times are, but there's like a 5:00 AM call, and for the first four or five days, it wakes you up and it's really beautiful and a little spooky too. It's really powerful.

What is it? What does it sound like, I mean?

I'm not gonna imitate it. I can't do that.

Okay. But is it like people or bells or -

No, it's a prayer sung - it's a call to prayer, so I don't know what they're saying. I'm assuming they're saying, "It's time to come pray. It's time to face Mecca" or whatever. But if you can imagine what Middle Eastern music sounds like, it sounds like that. Not atonal, but (sings in wavering tones) "ah-ah-AH-ah-ah!" I'm embarrassed to actually -

But do you find that they hate America because of our freedom?

Oh, I think they hate America for a lot of reasons - some deserved, some maybe not as deserved.

Do you think it'll get better now?

WAITRESS: Are you guys okay?

What? Oh, I'll have another Budweiser.

I'll have another vodka/tonic. (back to David) Do you think it'll get better now, with new leadership?

I certainly hope so.

He's certainly making a concerted effort.

Yeah, I think there'll be a honeymoon period, and then we'll see what happens. I'm not trying to be a political scientist here, but it's not the freedom. I think it's -

I was joking about that.

I know you were. I know, but I think America does have a stereotypical attitude that it's sort of entitled, or 'My Way Or The Highway.' It's very righteous.

Is it true all this stuff I've heard about how we go into places and force coups with the CIA and all that?

Yeah, America has a very ugly interventionist history, in Latin America especially. Sure. Superpower and all. Yeah, I think the tough part is explaining to Europeans or people that don't like America that "I'm American, but you don't hate blues music and jazz!" You know, "Arrested Development!" There are some wonderful things that the dynamic American go-getter mentality has produced, and there's also some evil shit too, you know?

Yeah. You mentioned -

Take out Arrested Development and put in Martin Scorsese.

Okay! Alright.

Arrested Development's not that great. Or Citizen Kane or something like that.

Wait, what is Arrested Development? That band?

The TV show!

Oh, I didn't think you meant -- do you remember that band? "10 Days And 6 Months In The Life Of -"

Sure! Sure.

Do you have any insight into why music is so important to you? Important enough that you would travel to other countries because you were drawn there by the music?

I think it goes back to what we talked about about childhood. I think it just fulfills some kind of primal connection that's hard to put into words, and it's just really appealing. Everyone likes music; some people get obsessed with it. Not only musicians, you know? I mean, I also was a DJ at WXYC for years, and those guys are just as passionate about music as people who play music - the ones who don't play instruments, I mean. I think in terms of art form -- this is just opinion and it's not a very educated opinion -- but it's a very direct form of emotional expression. Because it comes from the human voice, I guess. Even instruments are imitating voice sounds in a way. The voice is where it started - singing and the physical aspects of beating rhythm and singing, which is very primal. It's a very direct way of communicating very complex or maybe not so complex emotions, whereas television, movies, painting, sculpture, plays are a little less direct. There can certainly be direct paintings, and paintings that move you - like I love visual art too, and I love movies, but.... Now I'm just all over the place with this. Because movies can be really direct too, but movies can be overtly direct. This is not gonna make any fucking sense when you listen back to it.


But I do want to just get to the essence of expressing abstract emotions directly. But abstract emotions!

Yeah. I know what you mean, because the most emotional band I can think of in recent years for me is Sigur Ros. And they're either speaking Icelandic or making stuff up, but still it just makes me like cry almost!

And a lot of that's your projections on it, right? You're projecting onto it? But that's another wonderful thing about all art; you do a lot of projecting.

But, from what you know, is that actually the case? Because, you know, you hear music and you go, "Ah, that's supposed to be scary music." You hear music and go, "That's supposed to be happy music." Is that because you've already heard similar music before? Because like a child raised in India is gonna have a different feel for what's scary or happy. Take minor keys, for example. Major key vs. minor key. Is that learned? Or is it actually something in the notes themselves?

Yeah, that would be the psychology of music, which I really don't know much about.

Yeah, me neither.

I think people have very specific theories about that, which I don't know. I'm not very well-versed in that. I mean, there is a reason why minor keys sort of tug at your heart strings. In terms of Indian music - with ragas, there's definitely implied moods. And not only that; there's morning ragas and evening ragas and afternoon ragas. It's not like they have to be played in the morning, but it's more like this mood that you're, you know -

Do you know what appealed to you about Indian music? Was it the sounds of the instruments? Was it the way there were notes between the notes?

I would say the two things were the drone -- there's something so warm and powerful about a drone, a tambura drone. And Sonic Youth certainly tapped into that, as did a lot of rock bands. The Beatles. You know, "Within You Without You." It's funny, Sonic Youth's cover - I've said this in other interviews. Sonic Youth's cover of "Within You Without You" - I don't know if you've ever heard that.


It's like one of my favorite covers; it's just all there, you know?

As good as the original?


As good as the original?

It's sort of like sacrilege to say, but I prefer it to the original. The Beatles are one of my favorite bands, and I wouldn't say that about any other Beatles cover really. But Sonic Youth did it Sonic Youth rock style, while still maintaining the very droney Eastern Indian structure. Not structure, but feel. So the drone's part of it, but also the melody of the ragas, which is really emotive in a very primal, direct way that words to me can't really reach. Like hearing a beautiful or powerful raga, there's really no lyrics that can reach that very core deeper emotion that is sort of inchoate. I don't really have words for what is coming up necessarily, but I just know that it's powerful.

Are there any instances in Polvo where either the lyrics you wrote or the lyrics that Ash wrote kind of changed the music for you, and you sorta felt like, "Well, that's not the right mood"? Or did they always seem to flow? Or did it not even seem to matter?

Yeah, the lyric writing process is really difficult. I, again just me personally, I would say 99% of the time, the song is written before any lyrics. Like, "I have a song." And then usually a vocal line pops into your head based on that, so then you sorta gotta think of cadence and timing and what syllables will fit into the vocal line in your head, and then hopefully you can match that with some cohesive emotion or cohesive thought.

So what do Ash's new songs sound like? You said there wasn't an Indian or Eastern influence.

No. Like with a lot of our earlier stuff, it runs the gamut. I would say overall it's pretty powerful rock. It's definitely that. There's definitely some stuff that will make people that like the mathier, more complex Polvo -- the Polvo fans that really like the more complex songs -- there's definitely stuff that will make them happy. There's a lot of complex stuff on there. You know, for us, at least.

Stuff that was hard for you to learn?



Yeah, there's a couple of those. And then there's one song on there, and I don't know the title yet because Ash hasn't come up with a title. It's got sort of - so there's that, there's really complex powerful rock, and also he probably wouldn't like me saying this, but to me there's like I think the most beautiful song Ash has ever written.


It's along the lines of "Enemy Insects," with this beautiful, slow, just beautiful feel. There's one of those on there too. So it sorta runs the gamut.

Okay. When you were quickly going through the Polvo records, the reason I got confused is because I think you skipped "This Eclipse." I just wondered your thoughts looking back on that.

That was a strange time because Helium took a lot of Ash's time after "Celebrate," and we took a lot of time off. We were album after album every year, and after "Celebrate," we actually had some time off. We weren't sure what we were gonna do; we weren't talking about breaking up, but we weren't really talking about our next steps. So we had a lot of time on our hands, so we all of a sudden had a lot of material. We basically wrote the material for "This Eclipse" and "Exploded Drawing" almost at the same time. So some of the songs could've gone on either. So to me, it was sort of like a little appetizer, "This Eclipse." I will say this about "This Eclipse": a fan favorite is "Bombs," and that's on there.

I mentioned this in my reviews that I wrote about twelve years ago: I hadn't seen you live in a long time, and then you played in Chapel Hill this one show, and everyone I know who was there (including me) were like, "Why are they wanking so much? They're up there -"

Why were we what?

Wankin'. You know, just showing off.

That's really funny. I know what show you're talking about.

And we left the show and we were like, "Aww man." But then "This Eclipse" came out and I was like, "Wow, I feel really bad for saying anything bad about them, because this is great!"

Well, look. I think with Polvo growing up in a small town like Chapel Hill -- and this was definitely at the very beginning of the Internet -- the beginning of getting instant feedback was actually sort of an adjustment for us. Because all of a sudden, we'd play a show and I wouldn't even have to go read what people said; people would come up to me on the street and be like, "Oh yeah, people really weren't into the show last night."

Oh no!

My first reaction was actually a lot of anger. I sort of reacted -

I didn't know people wrote about it. I wasn't on the Internet yet. Wow.

Well, we might be talking about different shows.

It's probably the same. If it was before "This Eclipse," then that's the one.

You know what show I really think it was? We played a show with Truman's Water.

That sounds familiar.

And we did a cover of "Expressway To Yr Skull" that lasted like ten minutes?

That sounds familiar.

At the Cradle.

Yeah, that sounds like it!

And for some reason, people who were really into us came away from that show with a bad taste in their mouth. Hey, you know, it happens. At the time, I wasn't very mature about it. I felt very defensive. I think I'd handle it a little differently now.

I recall it had been a long time since we'd seen you.

Yes! But it's funny that you thought of it as wanking, where I thought the main complaint was that it was too 'rock.' Like we came out really 'rock.' Like posing rock and trying to be all rocky.

I don't remember the show. I just know that I have it written down that like "They came out and they were acting like they were big stars or something." Looking back, I thought that meant you were doing solos, but I guess maybe it means -

All we were doing was having fun!

Yeah. Well, it was a college town. We were kids.

You know what? It's a subjective experience, and -

And we were kids! We were all kids.

Absolutely, and as I say, I have a lot more perspective on that now. And you know, you're allowed to have opinions. You don't have to follow lockstep and like everything a band does. I'm a little bit more tolerant of that than I was at the time, where I felt betrayed. I felt a betrayal.

As you should've.

No! I don't think I should've. It just -

Well, we could've been nicer!

Well, it was just my first exposure to super-fandom. Not even that they were super Polvo fans; they were super music fans. Look, I could tell you the names of all the people I'm talking about. I won't, but they know who they are. I know who they are. I've talked with some of them about it.

It felt like, "Wow, Polvo! We see them every month; they're great. They go away for a while, and they come back and they think they're big stars." But nobody bothered to ask you.

And you know, it's funny, because in the Tuba Frenzy interview I did with Nate - I mean with Tim, where it digressed a lot because I got a little too drunk -

I don't remember reading it.

A lot of that was about peoples' expectations for all those bands from that era - Pavement and Polvo, Sebadoh, Dinosaur Jr. And just a lot about how fans - it's not like they're not allowed to have expectations. They're allowed to have expectations, but the bands are also allowed to defy peoples' expectations.

The thing is, when you're young, you - well, not you because you were in the band - but when listeners are young, they tend to put too much of their own self-image into their favorite bands. You know what I mean? Like "Well, my favorite bands are Black Flag and Polvo, Superchunk!" And then if you come out like -- it's not like we felt, well maybe we did feel betrayed. Maybe we did feel like, "What, they left us and now they're big rock stars? And they're gonna come act like this?"

Well, but there was also the music too. I'm not gonna say it was all attitude. You know, maybe the music seemed - I think people who saw the new incarnation of Polvo, some really liked it and I'm sure some people missed the old sort of scrappy Polvo. You know? It's so subjective. It's really based on a lot of what you said - a lot of your own sense of self and what you were going through at that time and what connected you originally to the music, and maybe now things are different and you don't find that same connection. But that's called growing up.


And we're allowed to grow up, and you're allowed not to like it.

It's just hard. Kids are just, in general - like, I'm only saying 'in general' because I know how embarrassed I am about how judgmental I used to be about that kind of thing. It wasn't right to be judgmental.

But why would you apologize for it? Because the judgment shows that you were passionate about it, which we all were. Hey, everyone of those guys -- the chin-scratching guys that would sit there and go "Well, Polvo this, Polvo that" -- I like music as much as they do. I listen to music all the time, and I have opinions too. I mean, I guess where I felt what I would do is I wouldn't necessarily go on the Internet.


Hey look, you know what came out of that a lot was that bands read that shit and if you put it out there, then you also have to open yourself up to the possibility that a band's gonna read that and wanna talk to you about that. Which is viable. Valid.

At least I was mature enough to - just when your next EP came out, I felt so bad about having been thinking like that. Just to have reacted like that because of one hour of performance.

Well, I think expectations.... I'm not gonna say Polvo fans have huge expectations, but they have some expectations, and they're really hard to live up to. I will say this though: I think that people who did not respond to "Shapes" for all the cohesive issues, I feel pretty - not confident, but more confident that this might be a return to form. A lot more cohesive than "Shapes." But I really love "Shapes" too, you know.

"Shapes" is good. It is good. Last time I listened to it, I liked it a lot more than I liked it when it came out.

But this album is definitely more cohesive.

Oh really? Well, the songs are long -

It's really cohesive. What?

These songs sound like - are they prog rock epics?

Some, sort of. Again, 'prog rock' is another thing we chafe against a little bit. We don't feel like we're super-proggy. But there's a lot of different emotions packed into the 50 minutes of music, a lot of twists and turns.

Has your wife heard it?

Nope. This one, I haven't heard it! I just recorded it. I'll hear it again maybe by next week; I'll hear some roughs.

Does Ash's voice seem about the same? His singing voice?

He hasn't sung vocals on it yet. He does vocals next week. So I don't know.

There was something I wanted to ask a few minutes ago, but now I'm totally blanking on it. Hang on while I stop this and try to remember what it was.



You probably won't be able to answer this, but.... "This Eclipse" was before the double-album, right? Because "This Eclipse" came out, and then I moved up here. And then your wife visited up here, and she told me that you were working on a new album, you had a lot of songs, and she said one of them even sounded like a Broadway song.


And even after the album came out, I was like, "I don't hear a Broadway song." What was she talking about?

She could've been thinking of a couple different ones, but there is one song called "All The Cliches On Broadway." It's on a split-7".

Oh! Okay, yeah.

It does sorta have like a show tune.

Okay. I know about that song, but I don't think I've ever heard it. New Radiant Storm King?

Yeah, yeah. I really like that song. I don't know; Ash might disown it, but I actually really like it. I think one thing that was good about Polvo is we felt like we could do whatever we wanted.

"Mexican Radio"!

Yeah. We've been playing that!


You mean the cover of "Mexican Radio"?

Yeah. That was one of my favorite songs when I was a kid.

Oh yeah, we've been playing it on these live shows. We've been playing it.

Whose choice was that? Or did you both like that one?

We both - oh, Ash's.

Another moment I really felt a kinship to Polvo was at a show when you came to the mic and said, "This is a new song that I wrote. You may recognize it; it's got kind of a Paul McCartney & Wings thing."

Ahh yeah.

Remember that?

No, but I know what song you're talking about.

(sings intro to "Solitary Set") And I heard it and was like, "Hey! It's the beginning of 'Band On The Run'!"

Right, right, right.

But you made a good song out of it!

Thank you. I have to admit I was a big Wings fan when I was younger. It's that Beatles thing again.

You took just the first notes of that song, and turned it into a really catchy -

Yeah. Thank you.

When you recorded "Shapes," did you know the band was breaking up afterwards?


Is the band breaking up again now?


Will there be a tour for this album?

Yes. I have job and family limitations, so it just will be broken up over two or three months, hitting major markets.

Did you have a goal with Polvo the first time around?

Yeah. To play the Cat's Cradle and to put out a 7". That's it.


That's all we wanted! We had very humble goals, but at the time we thought those goals were absolutely unreachable. Like "Play the Cradle? No way! Dare to dream!"

Did you have to pay for the first single?

Yes. We put it out ourselves.

Why'd you make it a double-single?

Because we wanted to -

Because you could afford it?

Yeah, we could afford it. We actually had sent it out to like SST and Homestead, I think -- that shows you what year it was -- and didn't hear anything, so we put it out ourselves.

Then Randy Bullock put it out later on CD for just a limited period.


That's still really nearly impossible to find now, isn't it?

Yeah, we might have to do something about that at some point.

Are there a lot of Polvo songs that were recorded but not released?

There are a few.

When you listen to them, are there things worth keeping in them? Or are they best left -

I would say there's probably like four or five songs that have never made it onto anything. And there are probably some good things about them, but there's also probably a reason that they never wound up on an album. I'm a fan of b-sides/rarities comps. I don't know if there will ever be a Polvo one maybe.

I remember you had something on "Pyloric Waves."

Oh yeah! "Wild Turkey." I like that one!

I don't remember what -

That's a crazy one. Polvo had a pretty playful, silly side. Everything didn't have to be the epic 7-minute - you know, we also liked being playful. That's a very playful silly song, but I like it.

Do you have a goal this time?

I would say no, not a real goal. I feel like getting back together was sort of an experiment where we didn't really know what would happen, and we found that we missed each other musically. We'd stayed friends, but we missed the really intense tight kinship that comes from playing music together. So we just really missed each other. And we were pleasantly surprised by how much we missed each other and how much fire we still had to play music together, and so everything else was sorta gravy. So no goals. We're sorta doing it. We wanted to play, we wanted to put out a record, we're doing it.

What was the audience reaction at your reunion shows? Did it seem to be people your age and my age? Or were there younger kids?

Well, the first two shows were the Cradle show and the DC show. Then we played the Festivals, where they weren't necessarily there to see us; they were there to see a lot of bands. I would say 'decent reaction' at the Festivals. The Barcelona Festival, which you can see in some clips on Youtube, 'really good reaction'. England was a little bit more 'not sure, but good enough.' And DC and Chapel Hill were the first two shows. Chapel Hill was a home show at the Cradle, and all our family and friends were there, so that's completely a different bag altogether. One more thing with all the other shows is that there were some people our age, and some people that'd come up to us and say, "I was five when 'Cor-Crane Secret' came out." Shit like that.

Whoa! Nice!

Well, and now they're 23! So shit like that, which is crazy. I am surprised that someone who's young would even ever come across Polvo or like it, because to me it does sort of seem like - not that we're only of our time, but we're a '90s indie rock combo. So for some younger people to be sort of into it or discovering it - that's a very pleasant surprise. Unexpected.

But the thing is that there are a ton of '90s indie rock bands, and your music is different.

Sort of, but so is Pavement and so is Thinking Fellers. They're all different.

I don't know if I'd say they were all different, because you get into stuff like - never mind, I don't want to put anybody down. But there were a lot of really straightforward bands. Indie rock, like even what Dinosaur Jr. became later on - just really straightforward, you knew what you were getting. You know, after Lou left. And bands like Archers of Loaf and Small - you know, they played their songs, you knew what you were getting. They just seemed like 'songs,' as opposed to Polvo and the Thinking Fellers, and even to a certain degree Superchunk, who were just a lot hookier. They were very hooky. It seemed like you were going for something - whether you were going for it or not, you created something that just didn't sound like songs that had already come along. They weren't just A to E to D to A.

But that's more because we had those limitations; we just knew to do what we could do.

But that's why it still strikes a chord, I would think.

Possibly. That's not a question for me to answer. That'd be a question for someone who feels that way. It's just what we do. That's more taking a step - I can't take that step back.

But you must be able to tell by just listening to the weird stuff you're doing onstage. Unless you just relate it to Sonic Youth.

You mean about the interplay?

Yeah, the interplay and the string bending and the strange sounds.

Yeah, but to me it's just Steve, Ash and myself and Brian or Eddie or Brian Walsby - just us playing together. It's organic. It's impossible not to overthink it, but overthinking it doesn't do me any favors. It's just what happens. It's really organic, I guess. It's just what we sound like. I hope that's not evasive.

No, it's not. But when you say that Polvo was a '90s indie rock band, do you think that's any different than - like how do you see that as different than saying, "Ahh, The Beatles were just a '60s band. Why would you want to listen to The Beatles?"

Well, there are many differences between The Beatles and Polvo. First and foremost, talent.


No, there is a difference. I don't know that Polvo has necessarily transcended what we are. Like you're sort of implying that maybe we have somewhat. I don't see it. We're a '90s indie rock combo. Hey, I like it. We're good.

Maybe I'm too close to say.

Well, I don't know. I don't know. That really is more of an objective testament that I'm not willing or not able to give.

But you are at least meeting young people -

Yeah! Yeah, it's surprising.

That's good. Do you have a sense for when Polvo was at its most popular?

At its most popular?

Yeah. Or is it now? Because you're back -

I wouldn't say now, necessarily. I think it's all contextual. I think there was a time when we were newer -- when we were new to people's radar -- that we sort of took this big leap, where all of a sudden we went from just playing the Cradle to being able to go to New York City. For me, that was "Polvo's really big. Oh my God! We're really big!" Then we were able to go to California a couple times or whatever, and then I thought we were maybe big. I feel like it peaked maybe in the mid-90s, but then we did something that maybe not too many bands do, which was say, "We're gonna do one more album and one more tour" and do it. So on our last tour, everyone knew it was the last time. So those shows were all selling out, because people knew it was the last time they were gonna see us. So it's deceptive. And again, it's funny; I feel like Polvo's not very big. We're not a big band. Not that many people know about us. Maybe a lot of musicians know about us, and a lot of people who like music know about us, but it's all relative.

Do you have any inkling for how - 'inkling'? Do you have any idea how young people now - Do they find Polvo by like, "Oh I love Touch & Go bands. Here's a Touch & Go band!" Like that? Or is it like "Oh, I love those old Chapel Hill bands. Here's an old Chapel Hill band!" Do you have any idea?

No, I don't. I'm gonna assume it's the way a lot of kids learn about music - older brothers and sisters. So I think some of them came from that: "My older brother listened to Polvo." I really don't know how kids listen to music these days other than YouTube and iTunes. There's no MTV anymore. Radio sucks.

Are your records still in print?

Well, because of digital, they'll never go out of print! So yeah, they're still in print. The Merge and Touch & Go releases are in print.

Does the new album transcend '90s indie rock?

Yes. I would like to think so. Yeah, that's a good question! I don't think our new album sounds like '90s indie rock. It's hard to say what it is now. I haven't really listened to it enough. But I just think it's really cohesive, and we've been able to harness something that we weren't able to harness ten years ago. Power. Hopefully. I mean, I'm not trying to be self-aggrandizing here.

Okay. I hope that comes through in the recording. I guess it should come through in the recording. We're far enough now -

It's really good. Brian Paulson did it. He did "Spiderland." The shit sounds good.

Alright, the tape's about to end. Is there anything else we should know about you, Polvo, the future?

No, I'm good. We're just happy to get a second chance and happy to be here.

(speaks really loudly right into the mic, because when you're tipsy that sort of thing is hilarious) WELL, THANK YOU VERY MUCH, DAVE. Okay.

Reader Comments

Kevin Lo
Well I personally found out about Polvo from your site, Mark. I am so glad I did. A band like Polvo is what this world needs - that is, a group of intensely creative and talented (yes, talented despite what David may say about himself) pushing the boundaries of music ever so slightly. Making music that has not been done before.

And I want to do the same.

Cannot wait for the new album!

hey, thanks for transcribing this interview. It was a great and insightful read about a band that I love. I am truly on pins and needles about this new album. Though I've never met him I've always felt a weird kinship for Brylawski as a fellow polish guy from NC.
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