They started back in 2003, with one honorable intention — to help bring the rock music back to Philadelphia. Since then, with an 8-track EP and another album in the works, Polymer is helping bring back the rock scene, one show at a time. Taking some time out from recording, the band (Ben Weldon, Dan La Porta, Jon Aldinger, Candice Harris and Matt Fonda) chatted with me about meeting their goal, the Jersey music scene and umm… the mob.
Okay, so let’s start at the beginning. You formed back sometime in the year 2003, with the intention of “bringing rock music back to Philadelphia” as noted on your website. What was the music scene like at the time and since then, how has it evolved? How has Polymer helped in the evolution?
Ben: Hmm… Well, back in 2003, the music scene in Philadelphia was a barren wasteland of seedy bars, in which aging thirty-something bands wearing leather pants and similarly ridiculous Eighties rock frippery played to a handful of overweight men in hunting hats, who would repeatedly yell, “Play some Skynyrd!!” and then snicker uncontrollably. Since our inception into the music scene, Polymer has turned this city around. Philly bars began hanging our signs that read “Please Leave All Leather At The Door” and “We Don’t Bring Our Guitars To Your Woods, So Don’t Bring Your Hats To Our Bar.” Polymer’s crowd is usually hand-selected by our street team at local malls, where our street team members set up kiosks inside the trendiest clothing stores. No one without pre-ripped jeans or freakishly high cheekbones is admitted to any of our shows. During a Polymer show, you will find only Polymer-approved bartenders, who make drinks the way you like them, in Super Big Gulp cups with a wide variety of bendy straws provided by our good friends at Straws, Twigs, and Other Big Bad Wolf Supported Products, Inc. Other improvements are on their way but for marketing reasons, I can’t reveal them now — I’m sure you understand. But I do have one word for you: waterslides.
Ahhh, what a way to start an interview — I can’t believe the rest of the band keeps letting me respond to these. Anyway, when we started the band, we had a number of goals in mind. We wanted to be a band that earns the attention we get. It’s not enough for us to be just another rock band. Philadelphia, much like any city, has hundreds if not thousands of bands trying to be successful in the music industry. We wanted to up the ante though and take everything we do to another level. From our live show to our lyrics to our interaction with the fans, we wanted to make sure that we pushed ourselves to go beyond what your average Philadelphia music fan expects from a band. When you come to a Polymer show, we want it to be an experience, something that you look forward to and can enjoy every time you come back.
Dan: Nice one, Ben.
Matt: When we started playing, hardcore was the only thriving scene. I’ve always been a fan of metalcore and the like, which is where I think we’ve derived our high energy live show. I think we’ve shown our fans that any genre of music can and should be played with the fierceness of energetic music, because if you’re not going to rock out playing your own tunes, go home, and take your Barbra Streisand records with you.
With Jersey being big on the rock scene and a lot of bands making it pretty big over there, do you think that the Philly rock scene has been drastically underestimated? What can we fans do to help revive it?
Ben: Jersey does have an excellent scene and often times we find ourselves on the banks of the Delaware staring longingly into the Garden State with its rock scene and its cheap gas prices and its amusement-filled boardwalks, wondering aloud, “Why couldn’t we have been from New Jersey?” Honestly, I don’t have the answer as to why Philly’s music scene is in the state that it’s in. We’ve heard every explanation you could think of: “There aren’t enough venues,” “Cover bands are the only thing that makes money,” “Record labels aren’t interested in Philadelphia bands.” I would say that there’s probably a little truth to all of these complaints. I can say that there are certainly plenty of talented bands in Philadelphia. In general, when we started playing, there was a weird emotion that seemed to settle in among the fans at Philly shows — a kind of emotion that you don’t see in other cities. There was always a lot of poker faces and crossed arms, and just a general feeling of apathy that made it seem like fans weren’t necessarily unhappy to be at a rock show but they would be just as pleased anywhere else. We made it our goal and our responsibility to get people enjoying themselves at our shows. We want the fans to be a part of the fun we are having doing what we’re doing and if in the process we help to create a “scene” in Philadelphia, then bully for us (I’m not British, I just like using the word “bully” as a verb).
Matt: If you want rock in your neighborhood you have to set up shows. That is the lifeblood of a local music. If that doesn’t work, find a defibrillator, prime it to 100V, secure the paddles to your butt and yell “clear!” really loud. If that doesn’t cause a scene, I don’t know what will.
You say that you would rather push aside labels and instead concentrate on the music (awesome philosophy). Have you noticed that that has helped Polymer’s career? What kind of stuff have you been labeled?
Ben: Ha — when I first read this question I thought you mean that we push aside record labels — upon which I immediately got concerned that we had mistakenly written somewhere on our website that we have no interest in getting signed to a record label, which is incorrect. Upon reading the next sentence in your question, I realized you meant labels like “slow” and “dimwitted” which is how I felt as soon as I figured out what you actually meant. What we mean by ignoring labels is that there is a trend among bands these days to listen to a specific genre of music and subsequently adopt that style as their own, without venturing into other types of music. As a band we listen to almost every type of music that we can get our hands on and from the beginning, we did not want to confine ourselves musically to a specific style. A lot of names get thrown around these days like “pop-punk” and “emo” and “alternative” — it’s hard to know where the lines are drawn these days so we generally go with just Positive Rock, which communicates our general concept and not so much a confined musical style. As far as labels that other people have given us, the usual response from our fans is that we don’t really fall into a category. Just due to human nature, people always want to put you into a category in some way so they generally say that we are a cross between Band A and Band B. Luckily for us, whatever two bands replace the A and the B are usually bands that we appreciate and usually they don’t sound anything like each other.
So to reiterate: Record Label: Good.Record Label that doesn’t want to take our lunch money: Better. Label referring to specific genre or style: Bad.
You released the EP, These Mediums, back in 2004, and as I recall, Ben mentioned that you would be back in the studio at the end of this month. What are the plans for the new album to set it apart from the previous one? What should fans expect of this album?
Ben: With These Mediums, we recorded and mixed the entire project in a studio in New York where we had all the time in the world (as long as that time was between 5pm and 8am on the weekends only, as that is the only time that the studio let us in). We pretty much just recorded all the songs that we hadn’t gotten sick of yet. These Mediums was more a collection of songs than it was a complete album. The EP had 8 songs on it, which is ludicrous since most EPs have 6 songs at most. It ended up selling over a thousand copies which is why we can’t wait to get this new album finished and out there so fans have something fresh to listen to. Because of the success of These Mediums , we were able to enlist the help of a Philadelphia producer, Phil Nicolo, who has worked with some of the best bands in the country (Aerosmith, Anthrax, Incubus). We wanted to take a step away from the recording/production end of things so that we could just concentrate on the performance and Phil seemed like the perfect person to hand the reigns over to. We are excited about this album because of the amount of time we’ve put into the song-writing. We wanted a high-energy album but we wanted to make sure that each song got a reaction from people beyond just “Hey that’s catchy.” For that reason, we spent an equal amount of time on the lyrics as we did the music. Just like with everything else we do, we wanted to make sure that this album goes above and beyond what people are expecting. We did not want to settle on having 4 or 5 good songs and a bunch of songs that you just skip over. We wanted to create the type of album that you always come back to as a staple in your album rotation. We also put a $100 check in each CD case so you’re definitely going to want to pick one up.
Please note: Checks will not be honored.
Matt: They should expect a CD that they’ll have in their music rotation for weeks. If you can’t listen to a CD more than once with out it going stale, it means the CD isn’t that good, you probably paid too much for it and you should throw it away.
So let’s see…the definition of polymer, as provided to me by dictionary.com is stated as follows: Any of numerous natural and synthetic compounds of usually high molecular weight consisting of up to millions of repeated linked units, each a relatively light and simple molecule. I was never one for science… anyway — what’s the story behind the band name then? What was the driving force behind picking “polymer” and not some other name?
Ben: Haha…we just can’t survive an interview without this question. Well, what I’d like to say about the name Polymer is that we wanted to have a name that indicated the combination of different influences and ideas as that is what we felt was our biggest asset when the band started. That’s what I’d like to say about the name Polymer.
Unfortunately, what actually happened was that when we were looking for a band name, we came across the word Polymer in a song by a band called Bluetip, on D.C.’s Dischord label. We all thought the word had a catchy ring to it so that’s what we named the band. Later we found out what it meant and tried to apply the meaning to our band so as not to sound uninteresting in interviews. We’re awesome.
If you guys weren’t in a band at this point in your life, what exactly would you be doing right now?
Matt: Working at boring day jobs for the rest of our lives… not that there’s anything wrong with that. We just like the idea of stiffing the status quo and making our music.
Ben: We’d be working as low-level enforcers for the mob. Candice assures us that there is good money in that sort of thing.
Candice: Shhhh! That was supposed to be a secret, Ben! I can’t speak for everyone, but it’s hard to picture myself not being in a band. I would definitely still be playing and studying drums, and possibly guitar and piano as well. Aside from that, just working to support my CD-buying addiction and trying to spend majority of my time doing something music-related.
Jon: Definitely mob. But probably a nerd mob. I don’t think I’m cool/scary enough to be in your standard issue mob. I’m not sure what we’d enforce, but it would definitely be a lucrative organization.
Fill in the blank: This one time, Polymer ___________________.
Jon: Got lost going into and coming out of New Jersey. Went swimming in the ocean at night in October, fully clothed. Ran wildly in a curious circle around an unsuspecting couple making out inconspicuously in a lifeguard stand. Was invited (collectively) to partake in wild sexual escapades with a BOTB judge. (We respectfully declined, and then lost to a hardcore band with a singer sporting a crown of thorns and some type of loin cloth.) Agreed to drive a crazy woman emerging from the shadows home under the strict condition that she had no weapons and/or an intent to kill us.
And so that was at show number 28.
Matt: Entered a crowded house-warming party with no pants on and proceeded to coax the entire 30 person party into the bathroom. Yes, we all fit.
I noticed that you guys have played a lot of shows in Philly and as far as NY. So let me ask — what makes the Philly crowd stand apart from other audiences you play for? Is there a different vibe in the hometown area?
Matt: Yes. The people are alive. They move and dance and sometimes have fun!
Ben: Hmmm — I would say the distance is the thing that makes Philly crowds stand apart from the New York crowds. I mean I guess the two crowds could meet somewhere in the middle and stand together but then I think they’d be considered a Jersey crowd… maybe that’s how that state got such a rockin’ scene.
Jon: That’s hilarious.
I found out about you through The Medium, a Jersey band. I also noticed that you show some love to music locals, Jealousy Curve, Head and Outset among others. Do you guys feel any connection to these bands in your goal to bring the rock music back to Philly?
Ben: Absolutely. We always feel a sort of pride when a band from our hometown does well. Jealousy Curve, for example, won the Zippo Hot Tour and played a bunch of dates with the All-American Rejects. I don’t believe for a second that Philly does not have some amazing bands. We do whatever we can to help support the other bands that we play with. If your readers are interested in checking out some of the best music Philly has to offer, they can go to our website and click on the “Links” tab.
What’s been the best show to date for you? Anything extremely memorable?
Ben: Best show to date for me was our 100th show, celebrated at the Grape Street Pub on June 3rd. We wanted to give back to our fans everything they have given us over the past couple years and all parties consulted on the matter agreed that it was one of the defining moments in Polymer’s history.
Candice: Yea, the June 3rd show was AMAZZZING! There were so many people who came out to see us — family, friends, old fans, new fans, and even one from California (thanks myspace.com)!!!! It’s one of the best feelings in the world when you look out into a crowd of all those smiling faces, knowing that those people made time in their busy schedules to come see us rock our hearts out for 35 minutes… it really means a lot. We were all extra-pumped up because it had been a couple of weeks since our last show at Drexel University’s Spring Jam. We got the opportunity to open for New Found Glory at that show and it was an awesome show so we were already looking forward to making our next show even better, as usual. And that’s exactly what we did at the June 3rd Grape Street show. The energy on the stage was ridiculous!!! It was definitely one of the best nights of my life, by far.
What’s a typical Saturday night for you guys?
Ben: Why? Are you asking us on a date? Cause don’t think you’re getting lucky just cause of this interview. I don’t know what you’ve heard about us, but we expect a nice dinner and some decent conversation if you want to take us home with you.
Jon: And he means us. We’re a package deal. Candice, too.
As I try to snag myself a date with the band, you should be heading on over to their myspace and adding them as friends. Seriously, right now. You can also check out music and info at their website.