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.
Did you do any pre-production for In Prism?
AB: We usually record here in the practice space. Brian has a good recording setup. We'll practice and everyone can leave with a CD. I do demos at home.
SP: We don't do any studio pre-production — we just "craft the song." Being able to record demos on our own has been a boon on many different levels though. We can send them to Dave. That's how we operate now.
Can you explain that — how Dave "ends up in practice" without actually attending?
SP: We can email him a song, or a few songs or even a loop of the chorus of "Song A." If it's more than that, we mail a disc.
AB: He and I communicate by email often. We make suggestions for each other's songs. It works well. These days, since we're spread out, we're forced to communicate more directly, I would say. In some ways the distance has helped. We have to focus harder.
Why did you decide to work with Brian Paulson for In Prism?
AB: He did an EP for us around 1994 [This Eclipse] and we liked the way it sounded. It wasn't the most well prepared for record we've done, but you could hear everything. It sounded good. We didn't have to negotiate about how loud everyone's parts should be — it's all there, just right, nothing else to say. Plus we're friends. I lived with him for a year. Also, he can function as a producer. He has ideas and can have an active role in how the record should sound.
Why did you choose Echo Mountain Recording to record at?
SP: Matt Gentling [Archers of Loaf] mentioned it to me years ago. His girlfriend, Jess Tomasin, is the manager there and he told me how great of a space it is. Years later when we got back together, I remembered that conversation. It was good to get out of town, and it really is a fabulous studio. Having friends in town made things easier. We got to stay at Matt's place, so we had the comforts of home although we were away.
AB: We did some Peel Sessions for the BBC, so of course that was nice. Asheville was very comfortable though. We were afraid we weren't going to get any work done at times! Echo Mountain was the nicest place we've worked, certainly in terms of amenities. On the first day we had some timpanis, wind chimes, tubular bells and gongs brought up.
So the tubular bells on the record are real? Were the synth sounds done there?
AB: That's my Casio MT-65 that I've had since I was 12. I've played it on every record.
Was it hard to resist the "kid in the candy store" urge?
AB: Again, we didn't have the time. I mean they have one of the prototype Marshalls there, and I didn't even plug into it. I'd love to be up there for a month though. We had our work cut out for us over those four days. It's like heaven there. It's an old church with stained glass and everything. I sat back and soaked it all in while the guys were running cables. Brian [Paulson] and Julian [Dreyer, engineer at Echo Mountain] made it easy to relax.
What was the set up?
AB: Our amps were isolated in separate rooms, and we sat in a circle around the drums. Everyone was in headphones. I used my Ampeg V4 for most of the songs. We sent the guitars through a Helios preamp to tape. I've used the same guitars since the second record with the exception of a Guild [S-300] that replaced an old Galanti that became unplayable. That one's tuned to D flat.
BQ: I had my big, '70s Ludwig kit. I brought a few snares, and we decided to use a 6.5-inch [Ludwig] Superphonic. I got a chance to use my concert toms too!
SP: I used my rig a little, but I mainly used their Fender Bassman with the folded 4 x 10.
AB: I wanted to use their Rhodes on one song, but that didn't work out. I...