The inventive Melbourne band, Polo Club, consists of Dylan Thomas and Cam Chapman, who have been blurring genres since their original creation as an electro duo and releasing the bold hip-hop album, The 13. Adding new members Adam Fitzgerald and Aidan Mclaren and a layer of different influences, as well as growing into their sound, they now create some of the most unique music coming out of Australia, defying labels and genres. ACCLAIM talks to Dyl about all things Polo Club, the changing shape of their music and wearing animal costumes on stage.
The first time I heard of Polo Club was in 2008, and you guys were an ‘electro duo’ – how did Polo Club originally get started?
I used to play in a band, that I’d been in for a few years, and Cam – the other guy that started Polo Club – used to come to some of our gigs and check it out. We went to school together too, he was a couple of years older than me so I never really knew him. He used to come check us out, and one night he gave me a CD of a remix he’d done of Lyrics Born and was like ‘take this home and let me know what you think’, so I went home and had a listen and it was pretty crazy – it had a sound to it that I hadn’t heard anyone producing locally – and it kind of kicked off from there. We had some time at a studio and started making beats and Cam showed me some songs he’d written. We made a few tracks and didn’t really know what we were going to do with it, so we booked some shows and it started growing from that.
You’ve expanded and added two more members to the line up – Adam and Aiden – what was the reasoning behind becoming more of a ‘band’?
When it was just me and Cam, we’d started to do heaps of shows, like Good Vibes Festival and Parklife and a few other festivals and we just wanted to be able to expand the live shows. It’s really hard just to fill a stage when there are just two of you and not many people know you (laughs) it’s different when you’re massive and you can bring that energy.
When you’re playing those festivals [of that size], it’s hard to get a vibe going, despite the music. So we thought we’d bring more shit on stage, so we’d bring more equipment in when we were touring and stuff like that. We toured the album for about a year and a half, and in that time we decided to write completely different music to what we were doing originally, and it started to change and merge into stuff we could do live.
The addition of Aiden on the drums, he’s Cam’s cousin, and he’s always played in rock bands, so Cam and I got the idea to expand, that we’d still be electronic, but when we play live have instruments to bring the vibe – have a four piece – to bring the energy. It makes it a lot bigger stage presence.
And Adam, the other singer, has started to write songs too, and is heavily into the creative and writing side. We first met him doing some stuff with MTV, and he was working solo – doing the Muscles-type thing, but a bit more indie, and we sort of nabbed him up and got him to come to the studio. So we played him some tracks that he seemed to really like, and we asked him if he wanted to be a part of it. So it’s been over a year with them now.
She Will Never Know has gone in a different direction from your debut The 13. More of a ‘beat’ and melodic sound than your earlier music that was described as sounding like The Presets and MIA… how do you think your music has changed from your first album?
I think having the other guys on board really helped. Also just the way Cam and me are – even when it was just us – when we had were writing The 13 we were listening to more indie music, and nu-school rap. I was showing him music to listen to, and he was showing me, and we were just naturally inspired by random stuff.
We sat down and said, you know, we want to write more songy-songs, not just club-bangers and have every new song on the album still Polo Club, but completely different. But having the other guys on board definitely helped us, and headed us down a more ‘indie’ style – and made us sound more distinct and more rooted in that scene. So it was heaps of different things, but mainly just Cam and I listening to a lot of music, and really pushing the boundaries of our usual sound.
The 13 was mastered by Stones Throw Records, how did that come about and did it change your sound at all?
Definitely when you put it on, we got a guy who works for Stones Throw, who masters all of the work that comes from them, anyway. And at the time we really liked the sound of the music he was working with, so I don’t think it changed the polished sound at all, but it helped us with the mixing and gave it a more international feel, I suppose.
Do you consider your music as a part of ‘Aussie’ hip-hop or do you like to distance yourself from that genre?
(Laughs) That’s a funny question. I suppose, because we haven’t really released much for the last two years, and now we’ve moved, with She Will Never Know, away from that ‘Aussie hip-hop’ scene. But before that, with The 13, people definitely labelled us in that genre. I think that label has its own qualities – a distinctive sound, and I don’t think we totally fit in that, not for good or bad reasons, but with the new music, I’d say definitely not. But then again, I wouldn’t know what to call it.
So you don’t really have a label you guys like to call yourselves yet? There’s so many sub-genres of hip hop now!
No not really, I sort of leave that to other people, if someone wants to come up with something to label us, hopefully they’ll let me know (laughs) ‘cos I don’t have a clue!
I think I read ‘genre-blending’ when I was reading up on you guys-
‘Genre-blenders’ could be good –I mean Cam’s background is different to mine: he grew up listening to a lot of rock and a lot of early techno, dance and dubstep, even. And I grew up listening to hip-hop and soul, but as you get older you sort of end up listening to everything and I think that definitely comes through in the sound.
Your video for She Will Never Know really defies the traditional ‘Aussie hip-hop’ video, shot in black and white, with quirky illustration and a darker vibe – did you have much input to the way it was made?
Yes, I mean the idea behind it came from Cam and I. Mostly Cam, who had a really clear view of what he wanted it to look like, and we’d been talking about it for a long time and he was pretty adamant about the certain angles and shots he wanted to go for. The guy we worked with, Louis Mitchell, and the rest of the team did an amazing job and brought out what we had in our heads, the actors too. Everyone brought it to life and it turned out exactly how we had envisioned.
It seems to bring out your music’s aesthetic too…
Yeah, with the little illustrations, the little bits of ‘quirkiness’, you can almost say that’s the Polo Club-ness of it, right there. Even on a subliminal level, there’s a little bit of weirdness coming through. But the video gives the song more meaning, in a way.
Your mixtape from 2011 Don’t Believe the Hyper Colour completely dominated the internet – what was the decision behind releasing a mixtape?
Well, we’d had a lot of songs written for the new album, but it wasn’t quite done yet. People had been asking us when the new stuff was coming out, because we’d been playing the new music at shows and people had been buying the album and going, ‘where was that track?’ So we wanted to put something out that was a bit of fun, that people could blog about, and that sampled a little bit of what the Polo Club is about. Cam did most of the work with that, and I’m a little biased, but it’s one of my favourite mixtapes ever.
It’s definitely for partying to…
Yeah it’s good for the summer! It’s what you want to hear banging in clubs.
You’ve supported the likes of Theophilus London, Das Racist and Hudson Mohawk, how did the crowds for international acts differ from the local gigs you play? Do you find you need to edit the music you play?
We do tend to differ our sets for different gigs. When people come to see just us play, they want to hear the older tracks and the old album. But playing with Theophilus London, since he’s pretty left of centre in the rap world, we’d play 80’s mash-up types, or just whatever we wanted. The crowd was really good. It’s always a good response when we play, and I think we’ve come into our own now that we’ve built up confidence for playing live, we can just smash it out.
You guys are known for lively and crazy shows – including, I heard, dressing up as superheros – what can the audience expect from a Polo Club show?
We’ve done all types of things! (laughs) There’s this festival out in Gippsland, The Hill’s are Alive we’re playing there again on March 24th, but we’ve played there every year for four years. And every time we get pretty crazy – one year we dressed up like Mortal Kombat characters, and at another we brought these Japanese animation, animal-style outfits from Japan. But normally, we just try and put on a bangin’ show. We just enjoy being up there and I think it rubs off, there’s nothing worse than watching people on stage who aren’t having fun themselves. It sucks, really. We just love playing for people and I think that’s what it’s about – having fun.
You’ve also played big shows, like Parklife and Good Vibrations – do you enjoy playing festivals, or do you prefer smaller gigs?
I like them all. At the smaller, more intimate gigs you end up being more spontaneous because you’re close to people; and when you’re on a big stage the energy is a bit more exciting, it just feels awesome to be up there. I’d do gigs anywhere, I don’t mind!
You guys talk a lot to your fans online; do you think it’s important to have that relationship?
Definitely, I think in this day and age, you have to; it’s part of the whole ‘thing’. It can be hard to get people to hear your music when everyone can just download torrents for free. So the more present you are, and the more you keep them informed, the more people know about you, really. I think you have to find more ways of connecting with people than just selling CDs. I think the Internet’s awesome for music, and we’ve got a lot better at it over the years. I used to be pretty bad at just sitting on Facebook, I thought it just sort of happened for you. We’re trying to post something every Wednesday – just a video of us doing something, or a cover of a song we’ve done. We’ve been posting stuff by other artists too, like The Weeknd, Danny Brown, and Rustie – he does some crazy shit.
What’s next for Polo Club?
We’re trying to get our new album out, hopefully this year. And keep touring. We’re going to try and make film clips for as many of the songs we can – we’ve just got so many creative people around us who wanna help us out – so we’re actually bringing out two more film clips soon, and we’re just figuring out when we’re going to drop them. It’s looking good. Touring, writing and loving life.
Polo Club’s video for Hold On dropped earlier today, which you can check out right here or in the gallery above. For all the latest Polo Club news, check their website at poloclubmusic.com, Twitter, Facebook and Soundcloud pages.