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What's Up! Magazine's September Pin-Up: Polecat
Polecat: Serving Up More Stomping Hits
Polecat is a model for what most bands strive (or should strive) to be. Sitting together in Boundary Bay Brewery, front man Aaron Guest and company share a beer before Guest heads into the bar for his weekly piano gig serenading the brewery’s patrons. “I just came in every week and bugged them until they let me start playing here,” says Guest.
The reason we sit in Boundary Bay is simple: Guest’s persistence and the good graces of this bar helped give birth to one of the hardest working bands in Bellingham.
The five-piece bluegrass outfit premiered on March 1, 2010 with a weekly Monday night slot, building a strong foundation and expansive musical repertoire. They also happen to be experts on the menu and seasonal beer selection. “Just can’t get away from the lamb burger,” says electric guitarist Jeremy Elliott. “You should try it.”
Polecat has been remarkably busy and will be celebrating their 100th show in just over one year as a band on St. Patrick’s Day at the Wild Buffalo. “Of course, 75 of those shows have been here (at Boundary),” jokes Elliott. “Well, we all used the connections we’ve made over the years in Bellingham,” explains Guest. “We really hit the ground running with this project.”
Each member is a Bellingham music scene veteran, playing in one or more projects around town while devoting a huge amount of time to constant regional touring. With a series of weekend tours around central Washington and the San Juan Islands, Polecat is spreading the good word and good feelings of their unique brand of bluegrass.
“We busk on all the ferries,” Guest says about their travels to their gigs in the islands. “They love it…sometimes we can make our ferry money back.” Elliott adds that there have been several impromptu ferry gigs that have been more productive than the actual gig they were going to. “They can’t go anywhere, they’re stuck, so it’s a really big novelty for passengers,” says drummer Karl Olson.
Guest (12 string guitar/vocals) and Elliott are joined by drummer/percussionist Karl Olson, upright bassist Richard Reeves and fiddle player Caley Schmid. Each bringing a series of different influences, Polecat comes together to create an unparalleled approach to bluegrass music. “We’re really proud of what we’ve done,” says Guest. “But I think a lot of folk and bluegrass musicians may get mad at that classification. We’re a rock band that plays fast.”
“I guess we’re really just trying to straddle that genre of being a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll,” adds Olson.
Brainchild of Guest, Polecat has evolved and continues to change their sound since their inception. Guest initially envisioned an all-string classic bluegrass band, which is what enticed Elliott to join in the first place. Once they got together and started working on the songs, they began to take on a life of their own, inspiring Elliott to pick up the electric instead of acoustic guitar. Shortly after the project took shape and all members were in place, the band went into the Fairhaven studios to record an EP.
“With the EP, we just added the first thing that came to mind to fit with Aaron’s original song,” says fiddle player Caley Schmid. But as time went by and they began writing their follow up record, things began to take shape in a different way. “A lot more thought goes into what we’re playing and how we’re doing it now.” She says Guest will bring songs to the band, which they’ll play with for a while, but things have changed a bit. “If it doesn’t sound like a Polecat song, we won’t do it.” Guest jokes, “Before it was like a dictatorship, but not anymore.”
Olson attributes much of their success to band’s instrumentation. “A lot of people don’t see an upright bass, or even a violin, so just seeing that can be amazing and something new for people. We try to have a simple setup but drive as hard as you can.”
“When it’s a five piece band, I feel it drives harder,” agrees bassist Richard Reeves. “It’s like a wall of sound that most bluegrass bands don’t usually bring.” Guest says they approach their music with the same tenacity and energy as, say, a polecat.
Inspiration for the band’s unofficial mascot and namesake came from Reeves. “I was in Arlington in this guy’s log cabin and he had a bunch of skins on his wall…and this guy’s alright, he’s not that weird. One I didn’t recognize, stripe down its back, and he’s like, ‘That’s a polecat’.” After researching the weasel-like creature (and the various other meanings that ‘polecat’ has), the name was chosen.
“Our first album was very basic as far as instrumentation,” says Olson. “On this one, we’ve got a basic foundation, but the parts are a lot more calculated.”
When Polecat recorded their EP, they were meeting each other for the first time and learning to work with one another. The band has been writing and honing these songs for months until they have gotten to the place they are now. “We’ve grown a ton,” says Elliott.
The upcoming album has several songwriting voices featured, including Schmid and Elliott. “It’s nice to have Caley as a different sound for the lead,” says Guest. “But we don’t sound like an Irish band backing her.”
Schmid has devoted much of her life to Irish music and dance. “When I’m writing, that’s what I hear,” she says. “So it’s cool, all of a sudden it becomes a different song.”
Once the album is complete, Polecat will be holding a CD release show at the American Museum of Radio & Electricity on Friday, April 8. “We are going to play several sets of our most stomping hits,” says Guest, adding the band wants to showcase the new album in a unique venue.”
“We like to try to create something that’s different for our fans, everywhere we’ve gone so far,” adds Elliott. “Polecat’s doing something that not a lot of others around are doing.”
- Adam Bates 3/15/11
Polecat: Music to Your Monday Night Ears
Officially assembled about two months back, Polecat has been playing consistently at Boundary Bay Brewery Monday nights. This is mostly thanks to Aaron Guest, who plays piano at the food and beer establishment every Wednesday. He approached the owner Ed Bennett about doing a weekly gig with the new band. “It’s the band I’ve wanted for a long time,” admitted Aaron. He started making headway toward his dream project by cranking out some basic bluegrass song structures, ready to be refined and eventually evolve into what Polecat is today.
The assemblage of a Polecat was a hodge-podge of musical inspiration and identities. The band wanted to push themselves to take all of their musical inspirations and adapt them into a full-blown bluegrass ensemble. Aaron, who does vocals and plays 12-string guitar, had already dabbled in bluegrass before in 20 String Band but wanted to incorporate some fresh perspective. Cayley Shrid, originally from celtic band Giants Causeway, contributed her fiddle-playing skills and Richard Reeves (20 String Band) added his upright bass. Drummer Karl Olson’s (formerly of Lumpkins) affinity for multi-cultural music made for an interesting addition to the group. He also regularly accompanies modern dance classes at Western.
“Karl can play (bluegrass) even though he doesn’t even own a bluegrass record,” remarked guitarist Jeremy Elliot. Elliot is the band’s “purest” member, mostly due to his southern upbringing. He grew up in a family of musicians and his earliest memories were watching live bluegrass and listening to his father’s old blues records.
Every individual has their own unique musical taste, making for a fresh interpretation of the bluegrass genre. “That’s why I wanted these guys to play with me,” explains Aaron, “I trust their playing and they fit. We feed off each other.”
Although our music scene is for the most part very diverse and ever-changing, many musicians are confined to a certain “type;” electronica pop-alt has saturated the city’s music scene to it’s very core.Perhaps that’s why Polecat has been so well-received. They’re a much-needed breath of fresh air for those who just want to sit and enjoy a drink. They try to stay true to their genre; simple set-up, small amps and no extra fancy pedals. That’s because there’s more substance between the music than distortion effects and theatrics. It’s a pure, unwavering connection with the audience that makes the band so successful and they make a point of it being about the audience. “As a musician there’s nothing better than seeing them happy,” explained Elliot.
The core audience of Polecat is, well, everybody. They try not to take themselves too seriously and let the music speak for itself, making it more approachable. The age group of the fledgling band is as wide as it is diverse. “All ages, families, and everybody in between. We bounce around,” says Olson.
There’s a sense of mass appeal attached to Polecat for its unique take on bluegrass as well an acknowledged respect for their honest approach to their genre. Their first show in Seattle, a city whose musical culture leaves a much different taste than Bellingham’s, was surprisingly successful. And now with a planned mini-tour this month they want to take that success even further.
In the recording realm, things have been going smoothly. The EP, produced by Chris Vita, is selling well and they are planning on producing a second pressing and recording even more new material. They’ve already begun work on a second wave of new songs. “It’s been a rewarding, organic experience,” says Guest, “It just happens with us. The songs just come out the way they are.”
The ease at which Polecat’s members create work is a sign of the band’s cohesiveness as a group, which in turn gives them strength when performing. Guest adds that “things have been happening really fast,” but the pace and positive reinforcement has only boosted the team morale.
-Haylee Nighbert 6/14/10
Polecat at Boundary Bay
Three simple words: GO SEE POLECAT!
For the past month, I have been meaning to see the five piece blue grass band, Polecat, who plays every Monday in Boundary Bay’s tap room. I finally went and by the end of the show realized how stupid I was for not attending any of their other performances. By the beginning of their first set, every seat in the place was filled, which only meant great things were to come, especially for how early it still was. Once those first chords were strummed, you could feel the excitement in the room grow and everyone started dancing in their seats.
Polecat’s first set was mainly low-key, intimate songs, such as “Lonesome Cowboy.” All five memebers harmonize and blend together, then they would break down into a beautiful solo, by one or two members, before the crescendo back into the song. One thing I absolutely loved was that even though all members would blend together, each instrument also stands out. When say, all members were playing a melody, and Cayley’s fiddle starting playing something different, you could hear her, even though it still went perfectly with the rest of the song. It became a fun little game for your ears.
After playing for about an hour, Polecat started their second set with, “Go Out Dancing.” This made for a completely different mood in the room. The songs were more upbeat, the riffs were harder, louder and more serious. Within a couple songs, Boundary’s tap room was standing room only and everyone was clapping and stomping their feet. The blue-grass Polecat was slamming down was so infectious that you just had to dance! The place was burning up and people actually starting dancing on the sidewalk outside of Boundary. At the end of their set, the band played a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” that had the whole crowd singing along with Aaron. That, however, didn’t satisfy the crowd as everyone started chanting “one more song, one more song!” Luckily, the band was more than happy to oblige.
-Jen Castaldo 5/16/10
Another Rainy Saturday's Bumbershoot Day One review - read it HERE
One of 'Bumbershoot's Most Anticipated Acts' from Sound on the Sound - read it HERE
We love Keegan Prosser! Check out her review on her blog HERE
A review by Concert Confessions - read it HERE
A photo essay by Daniel Ahrendt - read it HERE
Thanks to Jeff for his review:
"Discovered a very good young country-rock-Americana-roots (yeah, that genre) band from Bellingham on Saturday. Polecat. They're uptempo, driven by small drums and the ubiquitous standup bass that has become quite popular, and colored with a fiddle and Stratocaster. Take the Paperboys or Clumsy Lovers, lose the whistles and banjo, and add a really good lead guitarist. Or take Spoonshine and add an impressive girl fiddler. Or how about the Waterboys and just add that lead Strat player, Jeremy Elliott. He reminded me of Vince Gill - fast, precise, articulate, with a pleasing tone. I've seen him with the jazzy trio, Vaughn Kreestoe, but much prefer his style with Polecat. He also added some harmonies to singer-writer Aaron Guest's authoritative vocals, but more voices would really round them out. They bill themselves as "bluegrass", but I wasn't hearing much of that. Keep an eye out for them. Also enjoyed the polished blues-rock of Kim Field And The Mighty Titans Of Tone."
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