It was an unusually warm October night in Detroit. While a good portion of the city was huddled in sports bars and around flat-screen televisions to watch the eventual elimination of the New York Yankees by the hometown Tigers, another group of people were lined up outside The Magic Stick to watch the Clash Battle Guilt Pride Tour roll through town. Supported by the likes of Fireworks, Balance & Composure and Such Gold, the tour featured a somewhat foreign headliner – Polar Bear Club.
“We only headlined on Chasing Hamburg for I believe 11 days,” says Polar Bear Club vocalist Jimmy Stadt. Those familiar with the band and their legacy would no doubt be able to recall the long list of support lineups the band has been a part of since the release of 2009’s Chasing Hamburg, including this year’s Take Action Tour and last year’s AP Fall Ball. It’s a road the band is familiar with, one that they have their reasons for being passionate travelers of over the years. “It’s a little bit of a sense of play to new people, we’d be idiots if we didn’t recognize that, but also to a sense of we think that this type of music is for everyone,” says Stadt.
But this time around, Stadt and company, guitarists Chris Browne and Nate Morris, bassist Erik Henning and drummer Tyler Mahurin, want to stand up and prove their worth, not only to themselves but to their fans as well. “A lot of people in our camp were not for it. They were like ‘You need to go out and support, support, support,’ but we’ve been supporting for a year and a half now. We’re not going to be pegged as a support band. This is Polar Bear Club – we’re a headlining band. We’re worthy of that, and we’re going to show you this tour that you should believe that too.”
Touring in support of their newest record Clash Battle Guilt Pride, they seem to be riding a wave of unapologetic confidence and sheer pride in the work they’ve done this time around. Heading to Salad Days Studio to team up with hot-handed producer Brian McTernan, the band’s journey through the writing and recording process lends itself more to a notion of fulfillment and friendship than obligations and pressure.
“All the bands I loved were going to Salad Days Studio,” says Stadt, speaking of his earlier years when many of the bands he grew up on where taking their recordings to McTernan. “The Explosion, Bane, Majority Rule, Cave In, Hot Water Music, Thrice, Texas is the Reason – all these awesome bands were going to the same studio. Not only were they going there, they were going back again for a second record. So we were like, there’s something to this place we would like to be a part of.” While it was like a dream for Polar Bear Club to step foot in Salad Days, it was their relationship with Fireworks, who recorded this year’s Gospel in the same studio, that cemented their decision to visit and record with McTernan.
The process was organic according to Stadt, with the band writing two versions of every song before going into the studio. “We could just let the pieces fall into place a lot more than we ever had,” says Stadt about the time spent with McTernan. “Tracking vocals with him was the best vocal-tracking experience I’ve ever had. I felt so comfortable in there. I mean, I’ve had nervous breakdowns before, I’ve locked myself in the bathroom and just sat, you know? This time around, I wanted to be in there. We just got each other, and I think this was key – he was excited about doing it, and he expressed that to us from day one.”
The result? A record rooted in classic Polar Bear Club sound that explores the darker, yet driven lyrical ideas of life on the road. “We like that contrast, like for example the song ‘Bottled Wind’ is pretty poppy. But the lyrics are pretty dark, and we like that play, that give and take. I wanted it to be about the desperate, lonely and dark times of touring as opposed to the good times that everyone thinks it’s about. Touring is some dire stuff sometimes. You know, we’ve been really lucky on this tour because some of those shows have been really good. Lawrence was great, Boise was great, but some of those not so great cities, it’s great to look around and see that you have twenty other guys who are there for you and feeling it as well. It keeps you from getting too depressed.”
Working with McTernan produced even more meaningful results than writing a great record, as the band have a renewed confidence from their recording experience. “We always have written songs from our guts, and we’ve always followed our instincts, and we’ve never tried to write a song to please anyone but ourselves. But all was said and done with Chasing Hamburg and Sometimes Things Just Disappear, it was a little twinge of ‘Are people gonna like this? And my god, what if they don’t?’ Through experience and the way we did it this time around, it gave me the confidence to personally say fuck everyone else.”
But in reality, there were still people to play for – people who have been supporting the band since its original incarnation in 2005. And regardless of the locale, whether it be Detroit, Michigan or Boise, Idaho, those fans are into Clash Battle Guilt Pride. “We appreciate good reviews. The true test is are the people at the shows into it. And we’ve been playing new songs live, and they’ve been going over great. There’s this big venue in Boise called The Venue that is really nice, could probably hold about 500 people, but typically you only get like 40-80 there. The thing that’s great about it is that all the kids are really stoked and it’s actually a good show. We’re in Boise and they wouldn’t shut up about us playing “Pawner,” they just were asking for it. We really didn’t feel ready to play it, but we we’re like let’s do it and we busted it out. And everyone was singing along and it was sort of like a little stamp of approval by the fans that they were into the new record in Boise, Idaho. That meant a little more to me than a good review.”
But at this point in their career, Stadt is willing to put it all on the line for the band, whether it means staying the course or hopping off the bandwagon completely. “With this record, we need to bust the doors open. People need to see our posters in the venue, with our name in the big print, no matter if there’s five people or five hundred people at the shows,” says Stadt. “I just think we’re done with pressure. We’ve been there and it didn’t do us any good. We all have some more grays and lost some more hair over it, and that’s about it. I’m just glad to have the record out, we’re just at a point were take us or leave us. We’re going to do our thing, jump on or jump off.”