Polaris Get Real About Mental Health, Australia’s Heavy Music Revival & The Pressures Of Dropping Their Debut AlbumWritten by Sam Bauermeister on November 6, 2017
In early 2016, Sydney’s Polaris had a landmark moment in their careers. The release of their sophomore EP The Guilt & The Grief changed their lives forever, both as a band and as individuals, all while placing them on a global stage as an up-and-coming metal band that no one could miss.
Following its release, the band saw both commercial and critical success, earning places both on the ARIA and AIR charts across Australia in a moment that truly launched their careers as musicians.
Fast-forward one year later and Polaris are ready to unleash their debut album The Mortal Coil; a collection of brutal and crushing songs that place it as one of the most memorable Australian metal releases of recent memory. With the help of Grammy-nominated producers Carson Slovak and Grant McFarland, Polaris have managed to secure themselves a place as a band who will put Australian heavy music on a global map.
Calling in from his home in Sydney, Music Feeds caught up with vocalist Jamie Hails to chat about the pressures of following-up The Guilt & The Grief, the struggles of the heavy music scene and mental illness.
MUSIC FEEDS: I just want to start off by giving you boys massive congrats on The Mortal Coil. This year has been absolutely huge for Australian heavy music but you guys have made something that really sets you apart from anything else being made down here. I’m really keen to hear more about the writing process that was involved after following up The Guilt & the Grief and how everything got started.
JAMIE HAILS: We took a bit more of a different approach than what we’ve done in the past, which was essentially writing an EP, which is something like six tracks each time. You kind of smash out some bangers and try to get a nice decent flow, but with an album, you’re trying to establish a flow while keeping it interesting throughout an entire album of songs. That’s something we haven’t really done before, but we had been wanting to do it for a while, it was pretty scary at first.
We’d lock ourselves in our guitarist Rick’s spare room that he has downstairs which is Polaris’ little headquarters, which is kind of our own private studio. So writing would consist of passing around a guitar, playing a bunch of riffs, see what works and what doesn’t and flesh out some structural ideas and motifs. From there we’d decide on what we’d all agree on would suit each song best.
I guess you could call us fussy [laughs]. It’s so hard to please all five of us at the same time. Even the night before we started recording, we’d be making tweaks and major changes and some of us came out of the studio a little hesitant at first. Once we left it had kind of sunk and we started getting our first mixes back we felt we’d made all the right choices.
MF: The Guilt & the Grief was a really big moment for you all. After huge success on the ARIA and AIR charts, I can imagine that you would’ve been feeling some pressure following up such a significant release in your career.
JH: 100% man. Just before we started the rollout of The Guilt & the Grief, I was insanely nervous. We first dropped ‘Unfamiliar’ which acted as a standalone single, we never really planned it to be a part of some hype-up of the EP, we just really wanted to get a song out. After that we released ‘Regress’ and I remember feeling nervous because that was such a different direction from our previous EP before that, Dichotomy. After we dropped ‘Regress’ I remember feeling so overwhelmed by its response and then to follow-up that up by releasing The Guilt & the Grief in its entirety was insane. The response we got from that made us feel as though we’d released something like a full-length album, we’d started touring extensively, playing heaps of shows and it got to the point where every show in every city and every state had been bigger and better every single time. It had done so much more than we ever thought it would.
So the period leading up to writing an album we sat back and said to ourselves “…well shit, we really need to up our game now”, we just had no idea it’d be as successful as it was. So preparing for the album, we really felt that we had to up our game even more. Us being the perfectionists that we are, we had a really high standard to maintain and improve Polaris, which proved to be somewhat stressful [laughs]. That being said, as soon as we released the first two singles from The Mortal Coil, the response had been outstanding that we’re so stoked with everything so far.
MF: The Mortal Coil saw you all partnering up with Grammy-nominated producers Carson Slovak and Grant McFarland. Why did these two stick out for Polaris and what did they bring to the table when it came to recording?
JH: When we were first recording ‘Unfamiliar’ we knew we were going to track everything with Gosford’s Sonny Truelove from STL Studios and we wanted to get it all mixed and mastered from someone different from who we had for Dichotomy. Rick pulled us aside and suggested us to check out Carson and Grant’s stuff because we were really jamming the new I, the Breather and Texas In July records which all came out around the same time we were planning it. We were talking about how huge the production was and decided this was the quality that we wanted out of our own material. We felt like we were kind of similar, in a way, and that they’d be able to make us sound bigger than we’d ever been.
So we decided to test the waters with them by doing the mixing and mastering for ‘Unfamiliar’ and we loved it and then asked them to do the same for The Guilt & the Grief. Then it was time for The Mortal Coil and we felt like we really had to step it up and the next logical step was to actually record with these guys. Originally we wanted to go overseas to their studio but it just wasn’t feasible for us, like, we couldn’t sort out visas in time and just flying a whole band to the States with all our gear and organising accommodation just really wasn’t going to work out.
We then proposed the idea to those guys and asked if they’d be interested in us flying them down here. At the same time we started looking at different studios but then our bassist and other vocalist Jake and our drummer Daniel came across the idea of finding some massive house that was going to work for us to turn into a studio. Grant and Carson loved the idea and brought all their gear down and it worked out way better than we expected.
In that kind of environment, it’s just completely different as well. Being in a studio from nine-to-five you get in this almost business routine each day. With us working and sleeping inside the same place, it allowed us to be totally flexible in terms of when we started or when we wanted to finish each day. There were times where we’d wrapped up and then late at night we’d come up with some new riffs or vocal melodies that we’d be able to track whenever we wanted. It was also the first time Grant and Carson had done something like that and they adapted to it so well. Ever since we’ve been working with those two, they’ve been so receptive to the way we want to work all while adding their own flair to it all. It’s some of the best production I’ve heard and I’m just so stoked with how it turned out.
MF: From a lyrical point of view, it seems like a collection of songs that act as a form of self-reflection personally and culturally. I’ve always been interested in how writing and playing music is a form of self-therapy in a way. Do you feel like Polaris has helped shape you into the person you are today and how you view things?
JH: Definitely, man. Daniel is our main lyricist and when I first came into the band I told the guys that I wasn’t that confident as a lyricist. So me and him established, very quickly, a kind of connection with what we wanted to talk about and convey in our songs. We can relate to a lot of things that we’ve both experienced and things that we haven’t. I never wanted to sing something that I have never been able to relate to or things I don’t believe in because then I’m just directly singing someone else’s music with no emotion, just something I wouldn’t be able to connect to with emotion.
Over the years that we’ve grown as a band, I’ve gone through my own personal issues and Polaris has helped me to vent and express my emotions and get it all out. Getting up on stage and performing our songs and literally screaming my heart out to a couple hundred kids in a room really lets me deal with my issues. It’s just really helped me get over some major things in my life, and I still have my own issues but it’s just helped me deal with it in a very, very healthy way and shaped me into a lot more positive person. Especially when our lyrics can be very dark at times, they’re really self-reflective and come from a dark place with issues like depression and mental illness. It’s been a really great and healthy way to get those things off my chest.
Mental illness is a massive, massive thing in our lives and people need to be aware of that. People need to learn that it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to open up to your friends and that’s what we’re all here for at the end of the day. I have a lot of people who reach out to me online and say they’re having a shitty day and I try my best to be there for them to vent when they don’t want a response. It’s been really awesome to be there for people and for them to be there for me.
MF: We’re currently in the middle of what I’m viewing as this Australian heavy music revival. This is something that we haven’t really seen since bands like your Parkway Drives, Carpathians and Break Evens – in regard to heavy music’s popularity. With the rise of bands like Justice For The Damned, Cursed Earth and Polaris, the scene is definitely starting to flourish again, but at the same time, we’re seeing stacks of venues close resulting in heavy bands having fewer places to play. I’d love to gauge how you view the scene at the moment and the direction it’s going.
JH: We came up as a band at a time where the scene was, I guess, deteriorating in a sense. When we started playing shows, we were playing about fifty or sixty shows in our first year. Five years later, we now play four or five tours a year, which consist of like 25 shows across all of Australia. I used to go to quite a lot of local shows to support the local scene, and now looking at where we’re at, there just aren’t that many shows going on because kids haven’t been showing interest.
It used to be all about not only going out to check out a bunch of bands on a bill but going out and hanging with your mates because you knew they were going to be there. I guess people over the years have not really been doing that.
I’ve noticed in the past year or so, fans have realised how important social media and the internet is for bands. It’s just become so important to help share tour flyers or new music videos or new artwork. It’s gotten to the point where I see bands that have just gotten started all over my newsfeed which I never would’ve seen two years ago. Fans have become understanding with how they can get their favourite bands further and help them do what they’re trying to achieve which at the end of the day is trying to make a living off something that they’re insanely passionate about. It’s really awesome to see that change and it’s amazing to see that it’s ‘cool’ to be going to shows again and it’s ‘cool’ to be listening to heavy music and being open about it too. It’s slow little baby steps but it’s getting there and I’m so interested to see where it’s at in the next few years. It’ll be awesome to see brand new bands emerge that are the future and are even sicker than anything going around at the moment, I honestly can’t wait.
Polaris’s new album ‘The Mortal Coil’ is out now.