Many bands try to work for that perfect goal of marketability: a defined sound, a defined style, and defined licks. Music that people expect, easily squished into some category or another. Not so for Rochester’s Polar Bear Club, which intentionally shoots for ambiguity. The band plays what it wants to play, sounds how it wants to sound, and hopes that listeners are able to meet it halfway and fill in the rest.
Even its name aims for the mysterious plane somewhere between the unknown and malleable. “It didn’t sound like any other band name we’d heard before,” says vocalist Jimmy Stadt. “We could make it its own thing. We were going to decide and build what Polar Bear Club was going to mean to people without it already sounding like any certain type of band name.”
And, no, none of the band members have ever joined a cold-water diving club.
Polar Bear Club got together in 2005, the majority of its members already established in the Rochester music scene. Members shuffled a bit over the years, with the line-up now including Tyler Mahurin on drums, Nate Morris( former member of Marathon) and Chris Browne (formerly of Achilles and Tamiroff) on guitar, Erik “Goose” Henning on bass, and Stadt (the Disster, the Avram, Tamiroff) on vocals. Back then, the band was only part time, touring on weekends and summers when members could make schedules work. Stadt had finished his degree in acting from SUNY Fredonia before moving to Rochester to work for RG&E as the band continued fell into place.
The band went full-time in 2008, releasing its first full length album and going out on even fuller tours with acts like Gaslight Anthem and Frank Turner. A stint on 2010’s Vans Warped Tour soon followed, keeping the band on the road a pavement-friendly nine or so months out of the year.
The band recently released its third full length, “Clash Battle Guilt Pride,” on September 13 via Bridge Nine Records. But to the band, it really seems like that it started playing together only yesterday.
“I guess I never really thought too much about where we would be in five years. Now that’s it’s here…it feels like five days. The last couple of years have just flown by,” Stadt says.
For “Clash Battle Guilt Pride” the band went into the studio after two weeks of preproduction, with 14 songs all ready to go, a first for the group. This allowed it to take more risks and experiment, but also to not feel the under the gun. The band was ready to go by the time it ever stepped foot in the studio, bringing demos and more songs than ever before. The result is “the most cohesive album we’ve made to date,” Stadt says.
As for the album title, the band stuck with its theme of having the music define itself. “It doesn’t sound like it’s going to be a specific type of record, and that was important to us. Because now, it can grow into its own thing,” Stadt says.
But, if everything is so indescribable, so unable to pinpoint into one word, how would Stadt describe the Polar Bear Club sound? “I would just say it’s rock. Just sort of alternative rock. And I would let [the listener] fill in all the other gaps. I hate the labeling of our band. There are elements of punk and hardcore in our band, but that’s not all we are… I would label it as plainly as I could, and let everyone fill in the gaps as they saw fit.”
And while Stadt has moved from Rochester, the band hasn’t forgotten its local roots. PBC recorded a live acoustic set at Montage Music Hall earlier this year, which was offered as a bonus 7” for preordering the new record, with a complete release for the recording being discussed. The idea behind the acoustic project: conquer another medium that once scared the crap out of the band.
The band, which frequently had been asked to do acoustic sets in stores, almost always turned the opportunities down, since it wasn’t used to performing acoustically. And for Polar Bear Club, the best way to get over it was to go out and do an hour-long set and record it.
“I love it, I’m really glad we did it. We never really practiced it before, and I think that was a big part of why were we so uncomfortable with it…acoustically you’re really vulnerable up there in that setting. And I think that we’ll never do anything more nerve wracking than that, and everything else sort of doesn’t seem so scary anymore. We wanted to push ourselves a little bit,” Stadt says.
The band, hitting six years together, keeps pushing itself to wherever its seemingly indescribable mash-up of styles will take it. Even its members aren’t exactly sure where that will ultimately be or where they originally hoped it would be.
“I think really, and even to this day, we’re such a day-by-day set of people. Really a go-with-the-flow type of band, that I don’t know if we ever thought too much about our future. I think loosely our goal was to never be treading water, to never not be moving forward. And I think we’ve achieved that, and still achieving that with a lot of room to go. So in terms of that I guess we’re right on track,” Stadt says.
Depending on who you ask — or when you ask the question — you'll get a variety of explanations of what the Sound ExChange Project really is: A local contemporary classical ensemble; a chamber group; an artist collective; composers; curators; educators; community-investors.