Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #133. Subscribe to our print edition here!
Everyone knows the key to a good sequel is excess – take what everyone loved about the first one, and crank it up to 100. With the equally slick and sweaty Iguana, that's exactly what Polish Club have done.
Words by Matt Doria. Photos by Tom Wilkinson and Benson Keers.
The leap from sketchy, sticky-floored dive bars to sold out inner-city theatres is one that Polish Club were destined for. Amidst a clutter of mundane mumble-rap and painfully soulless pop, the Sydney duo’s rough and rugged, ‘50s flavoured punk’n’roll stood out like a sore (albeit deliriously catchy) thumb.
Triple J crowds fell head over heels for the sultry strums of David Novak’s hallmark Epiphone Sheraton – not to mention his whiskered howls, or the seizure-esque drumming of bandmate John-Henry Pajak – and before long, the local legends graduated from opening slots at daylong festivals to stages otherwise reserved for international superstars.
Where 2017’s Alright Already was a product of the band’s loose and lowkey origins, its follow-up – the bigger, brighter and more unashamedly brash Iguana – feels right at home in those opulent concert halls. It’s a frenzied celebration of reckless pop-rock extravagance, from the roaring, synth-slathered lead lines on “Moonlighting”, to the razor-sharp production that makes “Clarity” feel like it could soundtrack a blockbuster action movie’s ultra-climactic fight sequence.
It almost angles Polish Club as a “serious” band (don’t worry – they’re still the laugh-a-minute beer fiends they’ve always been), and as Novak explains to us, that was very much the point. Because if the band is going to triple their scope in crowd size, why shouldn’t they do the same with their idiosyncratic sound?
So the album’s called Iguana, in part as a tribute to the iconic Kings Cross watering hole. What is it about those homely halls that holds such a personal significance to you both?
Back when we were in our late teens and early 20s, we were the kind of weird young kids that would frequent that area between Bayswater Road and Victoria Street, and just get absolutely smashed, try to meet people and have unfruitful evenings, and sometimes, end up at Iguana Bar doing... Ill-advised things, for lack of a better term. So when we went to write the album, a lot of it was informed by our recent night outs and the obvious juxtaposition between those and the more precarious nights out of our youth, and how much or how little has changed – mostly how little – and how we’re still just kind of destroying ourselves in a carefree haze; trying to find some meaning in that. It definitely wasn’t a conscious narrative from the get-go – it became apparent somewhere around six to 12 months into the writing process, where we were like, "Shit, all these songs are kind of neatly packaged into a night out!"
As far as the musicality of it goes, Iguana offers a much slicker, more meticulous sound from Polish Club. Like, as much as I adore Alright Already, the leap between that record and this one is like going from a pre-teen’s YouTube skit to a Hollywood blockbuster.
It’s like if the Marvel movies were made by absolute shitheads [laughs]. I guess we could only do the DIY, kind of cheapo-rock thing for so long. We probably would’ve been fine with doing it again; there wouldn’t be any problems from us, or I assume from the fans, if we went for that kind of vibe again – lord knows we find it natural and organic – but it just wouldn’t have been as meaningful to us or as satisfying for this record.
We have the same instrumentation and the same kind of songwriting approach, but I think once we really honed in on the subject matter and the meaning of the songs, and what informed them, it kind of necessitated us to expand our sound – y’know, add the odd overdub of a cheesy synth or a funky bassline. And we’re at a place where that doesn’t feel disingenuous; we can put those parts in the live show and play them with Wade [Keighran, producer and touring bassist] and have a bit more production in the set. Because our MO has always been that we’re never going to write anything we can’t play.
That’s an interesting tidbit with this release: when Alright Already came out, you were playing in venues like the Rad Bar and the Oxford Art Factory, where it’s very up-close-and-personal, and there’s this looser, more punk-oriented vibe about it. But now you’re packing out rooms like the Factory Theatre and the Metro, where there’s a more amplified sense of legitimacy. Did that factor into this record, knowing these songs are gonna come to life primarily in those environments?
Y’know, I was really at home in those small, dingy, intimate venues. We always enjoy those shows because we can just grip it and rip it, and not think too hard about anything. But we’ve had so much time between drinks now that we’re able to really shake up the set that we’ve been doing for, like, four years now. It’s a great set, and it’s super fun, but we have the chance to make something a lot more special now, which is exciting.
It’s fun to play bigger stages and be able to afford our own sound tech or lighting guy, or bring a third musician onstage with us – it’s all those little things that let us explore a bit more musically and not have to worry about, ‘Oh, how are we going to do this live?’ Because we have so many more moving parts that we didn’t have access to before.
My pet peeve is bands that go out onstage and act like they’re at a f***ing rehearsal, and don’t view it as an actual performance. I’m very much attracted to the idea of being like, ‘We’ve rehearsed this. We’ve thought about every single second of this hour, down to the transitions between the songs, the lighting, and all these little details that make going to a concert a meaningful experience.’ It all needs to feel like a live realisation of the album, sure, but there also needs to be an aesthetic in addition to that, which is cohesive and adds something new to the music.
What guitars were you shredding on in the studio for Iguana? Are you still all about that Epiphone Sheraton life?
No! I did use it for a lot of stuff – usually as an additional guitar when there’s all that big, barre chord stuff going on – but because this record is more single-note and a bit riff-ier, I needed something that cuts through a little bit more, and has a bit more of a bite to it. There’s a lot of interplay between the guitars and the bass [on Iguana] – the guitar is part of a bigger puzzle now, rather than the bed to a track that’s just establishing a chord progression. The Sheraton is amazing for that stuff, but it’s not as slight as I needed it to be for this record; it’s way too muddy to play nicely with all the other elements.
Fortunately, I tried out a Duesenberg Starplayer TV earlier last year, and just immediately fell in love with it – which is hilarious, because I mean, we just plug and play; I’m not a massive gear guy, and I’m quite intimidated by f***ing with what works, but I was just so into the Duesenberg. It’s like a semi-hollow; it’s got the shape of a Les Paul – slightly bigger, so it’s loud as f*** – and it’s just the easiest and most satisfying guitar to play. It was expensive as shit, but I don’t buy that many guitars, so it was worth the investment. And it just sounds awesome. So I used that on every single track as the main guitar, I used the Sheraton sometimes for barre chords, and then... F***, I would have used, like, ten different guitars on [Iguana]. For anything that needed an overdub, I would use a Telecaster or an SG.
There’s a f***ing acoustic guitar on one of the songs, which is hilarious, but I think it works quite well because there’s about 1,000 overdubs of electric guitar on top. I just wanted to get better as a player, soIdidasmuchasIcould–Imean,I’mnotdoing any face-melting solos or anything, but there’s, like, actual lead stuff in there, which I can play live now because we have a bassist! For me, it feels like a real satisfying progression. I’m just gonna have to try to work out how to tour with multiple guitars now.
Friday June 21st - Mojo’s Bar, Fremantle WA
Saturday June 22nd - Badlands, Perth WA
Sunday June 23rd - Prince Of Wales, Bunbury WA
Friday June 28th - 170 Russell, Melbourne VIC
Saturday June 29th - Barwon Club, Geelong VIC
Sunday June 30th - Karova Lounge, Ballarat VIC
Thursday July 4th - Lion Arts Factory, Adelaide SA
Friday July 5th - Brisbane Hotel, Hobart TAS
Wednesday July 10th - The Northern, Byron Bay NSW
Thursday July 11th - Miami Marketta, Gold Coast QLD
Friday July 12th - The Triffid, Brisbane QLD
Saturday July 13th - The Spotted Cow, Toowoomba QLD
Sunday July 14th - Solbar, Sunshine Coast QLD