After taking a break for more than a decade, Polvo released In Prism on Merge Records at the end of 2009. Working with Brain Paulson at Echo Mountain Studios in Asheville, NC, they recorded an album that sounds familiar to fans of the band, but also shows their deep love of classic rock. At times it even grooves. New drummer Brain Quast has added a new dynamic to the band. I sat down to talk with him, guitarist/vocalist Ash Bowie and bassist Steve Popson about how the past 20 years has led up to the new record.
Good to have you back! Did Polvo break up or was it a hiatus?
SP: I'd say we ceased being a band
Were you active during the break?
AB: We all played in other bands and did records with them.
Do any of you have home studios?
BQ: I have some equipment at home. I use Adobe Audition. Also I have a Tascam 38 tape machine.
AB: I used to use a 4-track. Sometimes I miss it, but today I'm mainly using a Roland VS-1680 [workstation]. I've used that for about 10 years. It's good enough for demos. I've only used a computer for editing. I have the software, but I haven't gotten very far with it.
What was your first recording experience?
SP: It was with Dave [Brylawski, Polvo's other guitarist]. He had a solo project prior to Polvo around 1986. He had a 4-track. That was the first time I ever put music to tape. Dave, me and my roommate at the time — Jeff — put one mic on the drums, one on the bass and one on the guitars.
AB: For me it was also with Dave, since he owned a 4-track. We were living together and made a tape of a few songs. He was on bass, and I played guitar. I figured out that you could record over what you just recorded. We did some backwards stuff, which was a revelation.
Before that did you know how it all worked?
BQ: My step mom told me about it! She used to travel for IBM. She sat next to some Nashville producer on a plane one time. When she came home she said, "Brian, did you know that they record everything at different times?" I was about 7 or 8. Then we moved and I couldn't play my drums anymore, so I learned to play guitar. I would go to where my drums were, record them to my boom box, go home, play that recording over the stereo, play guitar along with that and record that back to the jam box.
SP: You were multitracking!
AB: I did something like that as well.
It's amazing how many people figured out that trick on their own, as kids.
BQ: I still have all of it.
What records influenced how you wanted to sound?
AB: When we started I was really into [My Bloody Valentine's] Isn't Anything. I wanted to get that drone sound, only a little more aggressive. I'm not sure how well that translated. [laughs]
What was the first recording project as Polvo?
AB: We did a quick project with Jerry [Kee, with whom they would work with later], under the band name Rum, Tar, Lust. That band broke up after some rough gigs. Dave said he was retiring from music. It was all wall of noise. We took a break then got back together. We did a double 7-inch [Can I Ride] with Caleb Southern and Todd Goss at Lloyd Street Studio in Carrboro, NC. We did another single with them, got signed to Merge and then did the full length with Jerry in his house very quickly. We did the whole record in three days. There aren't really any overdubs other than the vocals. I doubled the guitars on "Vibracobra" and "Channel Changer."
SP: "I gotta have my tea!"
AB: He drinks a lot of iced tea, that's for sure. He was very patient with us. I guess he was used to it because he was working with a lot of bands back then. [author's note: Jerry was a key player in recording Chapel Hill bands over the years, including Archers of Loaf, Superchunk, Tift Merritt, Kingsbury Manx and The Connells.]
He's the unsung hero of the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill scene. Someone needs to do a documentary on him.
AB: It's true. He was easy to work with.
You used to use cheap guitars and unconventional gear. Did that create any recording challenges?
AB: I didn't really think about it — I wasn't much of a gear head. Now we use better equipment, intonate our instruments and use tuners. That wasn't for recording's sake though.
SP: Reliability and playability.
Tell me about your studio, Brian
BQ: Well, it's not much of a studio — just some things cobbled together. I did more of that in the past. I think I'm learning more now that I get to hear myself recorded so often though. I did work on a project recently for a band called The Magic Babies. I did one song ["Damascus"] for Black Taj [Popson's other band].