“We had our one heavy night, ‘cus we’re playing on Saturday morning. We know that today we’ve gotta take it easy. That said – what time is it? Like 4’oclock? How many shots have you had?”
I’m sat backstage at ArcTanGent with Brighton trio Poly-Math, and bassist Joe is grinning at Tim, the band’s guitarist. This is the general vibe amongst most band’s playing the three day festival. Whilst it’s a great opportunity to perform to thousands of like-minded individuals and catch some of the hidden gems littered throughout the math-rock/post-rock/fuck-rock/genre-rock scene, it’s also one massive piss-up where pretty much everyone knows each other.
Poly-Math were one of the hidden gems I was thankful to discover at the very first ArcTanGent. Funnily enough, their slot at this year’s festival was the very same they’d played two years ago – first on at the Bixler.
“I love the Bixler stage,” beams Joe. “I like it just because it is a little bit more intimate. I guess that is what all smaller bands say [laughs] ‘cus they can’t get on the bigger stages! But I do really like the Bixler, because it’s like a big festival, but it still feels like everyone’s right there – right in front of you”
As is often the case with festivals like this, popping into a tent on a whim could have you discovering your new favourite band. This is one of the great things about ArcTanGent, with that very first year being unreal for discoveries. The response came as a slight shock to Poly-Math.
“We were surprised at that. We were expecting to play to no one really, because no one had heard of us. We hadn’t released anything and we’d probably played about four gigs” remarks Tim.
“We didn’t have anything released, nothing physical,” adds Joe, continuing “so we went down there with 500 download codes that we’d printed out – What was virtually a live recording that we’d put together in a day”
With a small stock of shirts, fistfuls of download codes and not much else, Poly-Math rocked up to Fernhill Farm with pretty clear intentions, as Joe continued
“…we were like – what we’ll do is, we’ll play to no one because no one knows who we are, then we can spend the rest of the festival basically flyering it to try and get our name out there. But we’d got through all of the download codes straight after the gig… We weren’t even on the merch stand, I think we had our ‘WAGS’ [laughs] selling the t-shirts in the crowd.”
This year, a flurry of banana related antics on social media (Joe “Potassium’s important”) helped shape their plans for ArcTanGent, with a cryptic photo appearing on Facebook preceding their arrival. “We’ve got thirty one metre long inflatable bananas that we’re going to be distributing into the crowd, along with squeezy bottles of tequila…” smiled Joe, “We’re playing at 11:30, so the idea is that hopefully we can in some way get people going on more than…”
“Try to create a bit of an atmosphere I think,” adds Tim “…We’ll be playing one new track off an EP we’ve just recorded, our new EP. So we’re playing one track off that just to let people know what they’re in for [laughs] A little taster”
Said new track is taken from an upcoming EP from the trio called ‘Melancholia‘, recorded with Lee McMahon, who was behind their last record ‘Reptiles.’ This time around, Poly-Math are stretching the length of the record, opting for longer songs in lieu of the number of tracks being recorded. Another change comes in exactly what is going into the record, as Tim explains “In this one, we’ve recorded stuff that we probably won’t play live as well… More creative interludes as such, but constructed interludes, so there’s not just free-form, there’s points to it. Things that we wouldn’t necessarily play live but would add to a record as you’re listening to it, as you go from start to finish. I think that’s what we’ve tried to make different and progress from the last record”
“We always try and do concept records, in as much as an instrumental record can be concept,” remarks Joe. “The last one was all based on Escher artwork or lithographs by Escher, and all the tracks and the title of the EP are titled appropriately for that, as is the artwork tied in with that. This time round, we’ve not only gone to the same producer but the same artist as well, Sam Hall, who’s doing us some new art. This time we’re basing it on Durer’s artwork, in particular his piece of work ‘Melancholia I’ which is the title of the EP”
“I think, because you don’t have lyrics or anything like that, you kind of need to have a theme,” adds Tim, continuing “That’s kind of how we try to base things around things we like, things we enjoy. It all ties it together I think, as the music all ties together. We’ve done it so one song rolls into another and another – that’s how it’s intended to be listened to. I think [laughs]”
“It’s probably all wank” grins Joe.
Whilst not quite replicating the legendary studio antics of the likes of soft-rock cocaine enthusiasts Fleetwood Mac, Tim did almost take on the role of Lindsey Buckingham, as he jokes “…We’ve lost all perspective. As you come to the end of the recording session, you go – was that full week utter shite?”
“One of the tracks has fifty-five guitars on it at one point.” Joe adds, with drummer Chris nodding in agreement “It’s big.”
“Lee was constantly trying to make it sound a bit different,” confirms Tim “I quite agree with that. He was like – right, we’ve got to make this bigger and better. From that approach, it just ended up more guitars [laughs]”
Not content with the equipment at hand, experimentation in the studio also extended to seeking out other gadgets and methods. Whilst one instance of recording drum takes involved taping a guitar to the front of Chris’ kick drum, other methods were not so complex.
“There’s Iphone on this one as well, isn’t there,” reflects Joe “We wanted a Mellotron on it, but of course a Mellotron is about five grand. So we downloaded a free Mellotron app, plugged it through your pedal board and…”
“We wanted to experiment a bit more, even if it was through a phone. I don’t care, it sounded alright!” says Tim.
Melancholia will also feature vocals – a first for the band. Spoken word will appear on the new EP, as Joe excitedly explains “A friend of ours called Peter Young, who’s a German feller who works with Chaos Theory (who are a really great London based promoter,) I contacted him saying ‘because we’re doing Durer, it’s a German artist; I’d like to get some German spoken word describing some of his artwork.’ As it happened, Peter was in Germany, in a studio recording another band. So he not only recorded it for us, he also got – to have something different – the lead singer in the band he was recording, who was a girl, to record it again. So we had a girl and a guy vocal, which was great”
“That adds another texture to the record. I think we’re trying to just not make the same record again; it’s quite easy to fall into a rut.” Confirms Tim, continuing “Fair enough, there’s lots of similar bits to it ‘cus it’s the band, but we try to push it a bit”
Sensing the opportunity for a dig, a grinning Joe dives in “Tim’s a really two-dimensional guitarist, so anything we can get to…” which Tim, quite rightly, rises to with a laugh “Can I just tell you… the reason that there are so many guitars on it, is because Joe’s bass had to be muted, because he couldn’t play it properly. I had to play through so many octave pedals and bass sixes to actually drown him out…”
The opportunity to get back in the studio and work with Lee again, comes in part from the response to their recent Kickstarter campaign. Back in April of last year, before it became all the rage, the trio put together a campaign to help fund the production costs behind their debut full length EP Reptiles. Being unrepresented at the time, and with a desire for the record to come out on vinyl (who can blame them), they put up half the costs themselves, with the rest of the funds coming from supporters. The response was overwhelming, with 71 backers digging deep and helping the band out with the costs.
“It was a great idea, because again I thought, no one’s really heard of us,” admits Tim. “I think we only raised thirteen hundred quid, we only asked for maybe twelve or something like that. We were thinking – right, if we get five hundred quid, it’s something towards it. Didn’t expect to even hit the target, which was amazing. Recording’s expensive, so any little helps. Us giving CD’s and records away is just part of it; if people want to pay for it that’s amazing. We didn’t realise we had that many people that were interested to be honest”
Unfortunately, the original date for release had to be pushed back, something which the band were gutted about.
“We did feel bad about keeping them waiting essentially a year…” laments Joe. Chris and Tim nod in agreement, with Tim adding “…The release date and everything like that, it just all got put back and put back. We tried to keep updating people, and I felt by the time it got released we felt very guilty for it not actually coming out. You’re getting people going ‘when’s it coming out?’…I really wish I knew. We do feel guilty about that. So we apologise [laughs]”
The staggering support for the debut EP has really lit a fire under the band, allowing them to not only get back in the studio to focus on the new record, but also to get out and play more shows. Another hand in this comes from their recent signing to Tone MGMT under the tutelage of artist manager Joe Danher, which will no doubt do wonders for them.
New material has already begun to creep into sets. But whilst they would like to have the new EP out as soon as possible, they admit the prospect might not be too realistic. The finishing touches are set to be added over the coming months, and they’ve made a decision to not release it over the Christmas period, citing it as being a slightly dead period (definitely not because they’re miserable bastards!)
Even whilst work carries on with Melancholia, the three-piece have already got their sights on its follow up. “We wanna do the next one, we’ve already got ideas for the next one, and we wanna start playing it,” confirms Tim “If we start playing it and no one can hear it…then you get bored of playing it as well, ‘cus you wanna play your new stuff”
“We’re trying one track. The problem is, with each new record we write we try different tuning – which is obviously fine for Chris,” adds Joe with a smirk. “Chris doesn’t have to do anything differently other than hit those four or five things that he has to hit…’Cus we choose different tunings for each EP it’s going to get complicated, ‘cus they’re not normal tunings that we can switch between on one guitar, so at the moment we have two guitar changeovers”
The guitar changeover is a scenario which is only going to get more complicated, as the boys joke of their continuous changes in tuning. “…There’ll be more guitar changes than there are songs” smirks Joe.
“That’s true,” adds Tim with a laugh, continuing “‘cus our songs are so long, we only play about two per set…We’ve got a half hour slot, and we were timing it thinking – right we can play these songs. It was like, that’s half an hour already – that’s four songs. This is a proper prog band now isn’t it [laughs]”