Translation: "Damn spicy rock’n’roll" – which Sydney duo Polish Club deal in ravenous excess. Amidst a national tour on the back of their tooth-rattling debut album, we caught up with frontman and Sheraton fanboy David Novak.
By Matt Doria
Rarely does a band like Polish Club – and even more rarely does an album like their debut, Alright Already – make their and its way to the public eye. The duo rose seemingly from nowhere via relentless touring (and a meme-heavy social media presence) over a calamitous 2016, their spirited alloy of slick ‘50s Motown blues and blistering underground punk earning them a coveted spot at the top of the food chain. Anyone that’s witnessed one of their loose and livid live shows can agree that it’s not in the slightest undeserved, but given their niche sound and commercial abeyance, it is just a tad surprising.
“I’ve always told people that we’re completely irrelevant in the music we play,” says a blasé David Novak (guitar/vocals) between drags of his cigarette. “Think about the average person who listens to music on their commute home – they’re not listening to guitar-based music. And that’s fine! I’m not bemoaning that; it’s all cyclical, y’know? We’re seeing DMA’s and Violent Soho doing songs that sound tinged with ‘90s vibes, and before that there were bands like The Strokes and Interpol pulling elements of rock music from 20, 30 years ago. It was always going to come back around at some point, and by virtue of what we do well, we’ve come across a kind of rock that is very soul- and blues-based. I think we’re actually lucky that no-one’s really listening to that much guitar music anymore – because of that, we stand out. We are so far from reinventing the wheel that it’s ridiculous, but because we do it with conviction, people seem to like it.”
Their setup is one of primal simplicity: drummer John-Henery laying waste to skin and cymbal on one side, and Novak yelling sweet nothings with sweat pouring down his face from behind a weathered Epiphone Sheraton on the other. No more, no less, and with a large amount of focus always set on that goddamn beautiful Sheraton. The pitch black beauty has stuck with our protagonist from day one, found its way onto every cut on Alright Already and has, somehow, survived hundreds of those infamously barbarous live sets.
On the reason for his undying love of it, Novak cites the holy trinity of guitar characteristics: “It was cheap, it’s black, and it sounds good. It’s got a cheap and muddy texture, too, which I love. When we were in LA to record the album (note: the LA sessions were later scrapped and the album was finished in Leichhardt), Rob [Cavallo, almost-producer] had a truckload of gear and one of his guitars was a BB King Lucille, which is like the ‘fancy pants’ version of my guitar – I tried it, it sucked, and I ended up just using my own guitar. There’s something about it that I’m just comfortable with. It’s not super smooth and it’s not super easy to play with, but I feel like I’m just f***in’ belting it out when I play it.
“The one quote about guitars I’ll always remember is from Jack White, who said, ‘If you don’t feel like you’re in a constant battle when you’re playing the guitar, you’re not doing it right.’ And I’m like, ‘F*** yeah!’ If I don’t feel like my hands are about to fall off, or like I’m going at 100 percent – even though I’m just playing A, and then E, and then A in every single song – it just doesn’t feel… I can’t buy into it. I can’t sell the song.”
At the time of publication, Polish Club are in the midst of their biggest national touring stint yet, with dozens of gigs lined up around the corner as well. Alright Already is an album designed undividedly for the stage, but in spite of that, Novak says the shows are only easier now because of their previously hectic schedules.
“If I plotted it out on a graph,” he says, “I start way too hard, and then the slow jams kick in and I’m able to catch my breath, and then I usually find that happy medium by the end of it. Over time we’ve kind of gotten to a place where we’re at, for lack of a better term, autopilot. That’s not to say we’re not present and trying really hard, but we can do all of the physical stuff without feeling like it’s a total battle. And I think that’s just a matter of having done it repeatedly over time. It’s a f***ing struggle, man. It’s so much fun, but like, I’m not playing up the whole wank of, ‘Ugh, we, like, love to sweat, and it’s, like, really raw shit, ugh!’ No, I’m just super unfit [points to cigarette and then takes another drag] and it’s a real f***ing tightrope that we’re walking up there. I might pass out, and John might vomit… Which has happened before.”
Alas, that one is another story for another day.