Pollyn – How Small We Are
Los Angeles-based trio Pollyn have been turning heads within the indie scene due to their atmospheric music influenced by down-tempo, new wave, funk, world and traditional pop. Consisting of vocalist Genevieve Artadi, guitarist Anthony Cava and beat maker/percussionist Adam Jay Weissman, the band’s debut album, 2009’s This Little Night, offers a great exhibition of sample-based, ’90s electronica-influenced music. Now, Pollyn is gearing up to release their sophomore offering, Living in Patterns, which relies on using live percussion as compared to its predecessor. The video for the first single, “How Small We Are,” is premiering here on Hypebeast. Directed by Weissman himself, the visual captures the unique music style and the band’s energy adequately. We sat down with Pollyn and talked about their new release as well as balancing their day jobs with their passion for music.
What came first among the lot: music, art or directing?
ADAM – Music was first. I was really into music at a young age, and I think I went to my first concert at age two. Billy Joel. I liked the piano.
You were recently signed to Chris Williams’ Robot Film as a director, what are your thoughts on this?
I want to direct on a larger scale, and Robot provides the opportunity to do that. Chris and I had been meeting up for the last couple years after we both did the Nike 3 x 3 project and talked about doing something at his company. It’s still a relatively new thing; we’ll see what comes out of it.
Directionally speaking, do you think that there’s a shared aesthetic or value through both your video and art direction?
I have a thing for hand-drawn/hand-created stuff. The people I’m drawn to working with have that quality. I like happy accidents and at least for me, it’s easier to mess stuff up when you’re using your hands. Also, a hand-created look makes it more timeless and classic. I think a lot of the stuff I do have a style, whether it’s to look fucked and shitty like old video or trippy and hypnotic, those are all style choices. I try not to stick to one style. But I also don’t like something too clean.
How did you guys all meet?
Anthony and I met in college. After recording a bunch of songs with another female singer, who moved away, Anthony suggested his cousin Genevieve be our new singer.
What aspects of your respective personalities make for a cohesive musical unit?
I think the key is to collectively be focused. Everyone needs to be on the same page or else the group won’t function. We all have jobs within the group and as long as we’re all doing those jobs, the music comes out sounding good.
What is the concept behind the latest video “How Small We Are”?
We wanted to make a video that captured the funky and playfulness of the song. We toyed with a bunch of ideas that were story-based, but eventually realized a good-looking video of us performing the song would be the best thing. Shooting black and white, in front of the white seamless gave me the opportunity to play with the empty space, moving people around in the frame, animating people getting larger and smaller in post. Jorge Oswaldo, who works with me at Stussy, did all the animated projections. My wife Gabrielle did all the animated fonts. Jody Barton did all the stick figure animations. I’d worked with Jody on Stussy stuff before, and was really into the Paul Barman video he did a little while ago. Everything fell into place.
How do you go about conceptualizing music and songs?
GENEVIEVE – On Living in Patterns, we were heavily influenced by performing live. We were thinking more rhythmically and wanted to add more live instruments to our electronic sound.
ADAM – I tried to approach it the same way I work with an artist or when I make films. You have references that you give to the people you collaborate with. Before we really got into recording I burned everyone CDs of songs that inspired me. They all had a similar vibe to them. Talking Heads, ESG, The Creatures, Jorge Ben, a lot of Analog Africa stuff. I did that instead of making a bunch of beats for Genevieve to write to. It helped to focus the album.
GENEVIEVE – Sometimes the songs started with a beat by Adam that I wrote lyrics and melodies to, and sometimes I started with a demo I made in Garage Band, but the majority of them came from Adam and I in the studio. Me on bass and him on drums. We’d start with a concept and bounce ideas off each other until we got something that we both liked. After the song was formed, Anthony would come in and add guitar to complete the process.
(Assuming you guys all have full-time jobs) What’s it like to have a full-time job alongside being in a band? In what aspects is it positive/negative?
ADAM – The biggest issue is time, but you make it work. Music is fun. It’s work, but it’s a different kind of work.
GENEVIEVE – The positive side to working a day job is that I have a better ability to communicate to different types of people and not just other musicians, which is a skill I’m grateful for.
Knowing that Adam has a background in directing, what does this mean for your visual identity and your videos?
ANTHONY – We trust Adam and his taste. I don’t think he would allow us to do anything that visually didn’t fit with our music. At the same time, Genevieve and I aren’t shy about sharing our thoughts if we didn’t think his ideas were good, but he’s got a pretty good track record thus far. It’s also fun listening to Adam bark orders at us.
ADAM – For being a director, we don’t have a lot of videos. It’s kind of sad. I’ve realized, not every video needs to be a big production. It’s more about creating a mood and showing the band. At the end of the day, everyone only wants to see Genevieve, and that’s cool with me.
How’s the recording been going on your forthcoming full-length?
ADAM – The album is finished, mixed and mastered. The super awesome Kate Gibb did the artwork. It’ll be out in September. It’s a looser, faster process and incorporated more of our live band. We did a song with Sal Principato from Liquid Liquid, one of my favorite groups of all time. We recorded a few songs with a choir. I wanted to make an album that catches you off guard. I hate being labeled as a downtempo band, and that was what inspired the switch up in our sound.
What does the album title Living in Patterns mean to you guys? And how did that come about?
GENEVIEVE – A major theme throughout the album is breaking free from repetitiveness. Life becomes boring if it’s the same, and you have to make a conscious effort to do things differently. We tried to do this musically by including new concepts, grooves and sounds.
Some of your earlier works were primarily sample-based, how was the transition from using samples onto now using live percussion? Why the change and which do you prefer?
GENEVIEVE – The transition was natural and mostly easy since we’d played a good number of shows with live musicians. Also at the time we just happened to be in love with the early eighties New York bands and some Afrobeat, as well as Brazilian stuff so the change felt organic. I wouldn’t say we prefer one over the other. I can see us making records that are heavily electronic in the future.
Your sound is hard to categorize. It draws influences from new wave, funk, world and traditional pop. How did you come up with this unique blend of sounds? What are your musical inspirations?
ANTHONY – It’s fun to hear people describe our sound because nobody’s answer is ever the same. I think that’s pretty cool. To say our sound is unique is definitely a compliment, but all I hear in our music are the bands that we sought inspiration from or are trying to emulate so it’s weird.
ADAM – I’ve always been drawn to music that blurs the lines between genres. I remember “Tom’s Diner” was so fresh to me. Here was the folk singer over a break. Sinead O’Conner did it too on “Put Your Hands on Me.” A lot of stuff like that really stuck with me as a kid. I think that’s why I love mid-’90s electronic music like Portishead and Massive Attack so much.
How does your second album differ from your first offering This Little Night? And how would you outline its concept?
ADAM – Our first album was a collection of songs we had worked on three years prior that we decided to finish. We didn’t set out to make an album. We had recorded 30 songs and picked 11. The new album, we set out to write an album from scratch.
GENEVIEVE – I was more involved in the instrumental side of the new album, and with my background including jazz, the influence of the concept of rhythmic interaction between instruments as well as some harmonic exploration was there. Also with the album, we figured out a writing process that worked for all of us, which not only felt good but also led to a stronger sound overall.
ADAM – I like albums that have a very specific sound throughout. Talking Heads’ Remain in Light, Beck’s Sea Change, Radiohead’s OK Computer, Air’s Moon Safari. They all create something that is unique to that album: an experience. That’s something we try to accomplish. The next album will probably have a different sound, but still sound like us. It’s part of the challenge.
Pollyn has remixed Gorillaz, Liquid Liquid, Buffalo Daughter and Health. Can we expect an expansion of your catalog in this field?
Definitely. We’ve done a few in the last year or so, nothing as high profile as Gorillaz. I like remixes. They are like practice. The single “How Small We Are” is out now on iTunes, Turntable Lab and other digital sites. It features their cover of Portishead’s Mysterons on the B-side. The new album, Living in Patterns, will be out in September. Pollyn will be playing the LA Zoo on Friday, July 15 as part of the Music in the L.A. Zoo program along with Abe Vigoda, Big Search, Hands, Allah Las, Kitten, Mini Mansions and HoneyHoney. More info at lazoo.org.