Three years is a fairly typical length of time for a band to spend between albums. With touring cycles, writing, recording and the inevitable setbacks, most artists would admit they’d want four or even five years—an eternity in an age of instant gratification. For some reason, the span between Polyenso’s One Big Particular Loop and forthcoming record, Pure in the Plastic, feels like ages.
Before Polyenso, Alex Schultz, Denny Agosto and Brennan Taulbee, played in Oceana, your garden-variety, late aughts “screamo” band. Maybe the clean break from pallid post-hardcore to an amalgamation of neo-soul, indie, hip-hop and progressive was what made the wait feel so long.
One Big Particular Loop whet listeners’ appetites, but 13 tracks were not enough. Comment sections of Facebook and YouTube seemed to shout: “This is what these guys were capable of this whole time? Dammit, give us more. Now!”
Pure in the Plastic is finally here. I spoke with band about the process of creating it as well as what inspires them to write music that is so refreshing.
In the past, people have compared you to Radiohead, but I’m picking up a lot of Flying Lotus on this new record. What were you guys listening to while you recorded Pure in the Plastic?
Alex: I think that there’s this unspoken genre of music that gets created in our minds around the three of us. Like, we’ll listen to Flying Lotus, we’ll listen to Paul Simon, Sufjan Stevens and we’ll listen to a Tribe Called Quest. Those are four artists that have almost no relation. We listen to them constantly.
How soon after One Big Particular Loop came out did you start writing Pure in the Plastic?
Denny: We were kind of already writing.
Brennan: We were already writing while we were kind of touring and still promoting One Big Particular Loop. I wouldn’t say that we’re impatient people—we just love writing music so we started as soon as we possibly could without overwhelming ourselves.
It feels like it’s taken a while for the record to finally get here. Were there setbacks?
Alex: Yeah, you could say that, but it wasn’t really about the setbacks, because the setbacks in the grand scheme of things didn’t really compare to the situation we were in.
What was the situation you were in?
Alex: We were presented with a really unique opportunity. A couple years ago some friends of ours brought us into this beautiful million dollar studio in the middle of town, just in a weird location, and introduced us to this producer, Jason, and he ended up loving our sound and we loved his energy and we all clicked. We got in the studio a month later and started recording and we ended up being in there for two years. He’s the owner’s brother-in-law. He pretty much gave us unlimited access to this studio, which is of course an artist’s dream and we just milked it for everything it was worth.
What is the big difference in recording this record versus the last?
Brennan: I would say at least 80 percent of the record was written in studio. It’s very much a studio album.
What was the writing process like?
Alex: We would demo stuff out at home on either an iMachine on the phone or on Garage Band, but mostly someone would come with a chord progression or a beat or something and lay it down. We would all just go in either at the same time or different days and just start stacking on top of it and structuring.
Like Brennan said, it was all written in the studio, which was something we’d never done before in itself. So not only was the music something we’d never explored, but also the writing style was completely different from anything we’d ever done before.
What are some of the challenges you guys had during the process of creating the record?
Denny: I think one big challenge was to get a cohesive idea writing the songs this way. You come to the studio and sometimes you feel one way or the other. You have to find the continuity that makes everything kind of come together because it’s not all made with the same vibe.
Would you guys just jam in the studio off the vibe you were feeling that day?
Alex: It was rare that we were all there at the same time, actually. Everyone at the studio was like, “Oh my god, you’re all here today.” So one person would go in and lay something down and work on it all day and then the next day the next person would come in or we’d have the engineer bounce it and email it so everyone could listen to it and get inspired. Then the next person would go in and do their thing.
Where did the themes of the record come from?
Alex: We went into the studio and we did “Soda Pop Fiction” first, then “17 New Years” and followed with darker, more intense, moody tracks. But in the midst of all those dark tracks there was “Moona Festival”, which was this little glimmer of light. Even though that song’s super melancholy, it was comparatively the light amongst the darkness.
And that’s probably one of your more popular tracks on social media.
Alex: Exactly, we released it and we got crazy response from it. The song makes us feel amazing. It invokes some kind of really special feeling —not that the other songs don’t—but we were getting great feedback from it. Apparently it’s giving other people that feeling too. We thought maybe we should focus on writing some songs like it.
After making these moodier tracks, you guys made a conscious effort to make “lighter” music?
Alex: It was still natural, but we were kind of stuck in this moody vibe so we tried to force ourselves out of that and that’s where the kind of light and dark theme came in for “Osaka Son”, “Every Single Time” and that other half of the record. It’s still somehow cohesive. It’s still us. With Brennan singing over the top of it it’s going to be us.
Were there other art forms that you drew from in writing the record?
Alex: If you follow us on social media you see that we’re big foodies. So the visual art in that and relating those two things and seeing our chef friends make beautiful things inspires us to keep doing what we’re doing.
Also, visual art. I remember I took a trip to Art Basel and that was one of the most inspirational things I’ve done in a long time, even more than going to a music festival and seeing a bunch of bands. Going and seeing a different type of medium, seeing these sculptures and paintings and stuff like that, is incredible.
What about inspiration outside of art?
Brennan: Even things as simple as waking up and feeling refreshed. Sometimes you’ll wake up and you have that feeling like, “yeah rock on, everything’s really cool today,” and that alone is inspiring. I think I take inspiration from everything that Alex and Denny do as well as things in my personal life.
Alex: I think—and this kind of sounds corny—but my biggest inspiration is Brennan and Denny. When one of them comes to me with a chord progression or a song idea or a beat I can’t help but think, “God this is great. This is why I do this with these guys.” That’s why I love it.
How does the creative process work for you guys?
Alex: We’ve lived together almost seven years. So there’s already this unspoken thing in the air and I think it’s happening all the time. When I’m showing Denny a Paul Simon song that I think is absolutely incredible and we both hear this part, we both feel it and we look at each other and just know. And then we’ll blend that with the J Dilla track that he’s showing me or the Aphex Twin song that Brennan’s showing me and it creates this thing before we even sit down to put pen to pad or write a progression.
Denny: Which is why it’s so hard to answer that classic question of “what kind of music do you guy’s play?” And I’m always stuck trying to say, “it’s a little this and a little that,” and I try to relate it to something they would know and…
Alex: It always comes back to Radiohead.
by Kevin Sterne
Kevin Sterne is a writer and journalist with a passion for music, art and creative perspectives. He lives in Chicago and is earning an M.A. in Writing but mostly thinks the English cannon is for douches. The best concert he’s been to was Sufjan Stevens at Eaux Claires. Follow him on Twitter @kevinsterne or read more of his work here: www.kevinsterne.com