When David Novak and John-Henry Pajak came together as Polish Club midway through the last decade, their aims were clear: to beat the shit out of their instruments and encourage a great deal of body thrashing from their audiences. They played loud and fast garage blues-punk in the mould of The Dirtbombs and Hanni El Khatib and defied the limitations of their two-piece constitution.
The Sydney duo’s self-titled EP grabbed the attention of triple j in 2015, after which things began moving quickly. Polish Club signed a record deal and grew mighty familiar with the Hume and Pacific Highways. They had no trouble bashing out album one, 2017’s Alright Already, with help from producer Wade Keighran (Wolf & Cub, ex-The Scare). But when their label and management started pushing for a follow-up, everything started to feel a bit serious, a bit professional.
Novak and Pajak were naturally inclined towards artistic expansion, but they weren’t sure what direction to take. As a result, they demoed close to 100 songs for album two, frequently tearing their hair out along the way. The difficulty surrounding the album’s creation even gave rise to the Sophomore Slump podcast, on which Novak and Pajak examined the implications of the show’s title.
With help again from Keighran, the pair eventually settled on 12 songs, which they released as Iguana via Island Records in June 2019. But while the album’s creation may have been a headache, the public response was anything but. Iguana not only became Polish Club’s second consecutive triple j feature album, but lead single ‘Clarity’ landed at #76 in that year’s Hottest 100.
Having learnt from their sophomore jitters, Novak and Pajak got back in the studio earlier this year to work on album three. We received our first taste of their efforts last month in the form of ‘Just Talking’, a breezy surf-rock song that hearkens back to the 1960s while also presenting Polish Club’s most refined pop hooks to date. The video for which has also landed today.
Ahead of four single launch shows at Sydney’s Factory Theatre later this month, Music Feeds spoke to Novak and Pajak about COVID-safe gigs, ‘Just Talking’, working with producer Scott Horscroft and what they took away from the Iguana experience.
Music Feeds: You’re launching ‘Just Talking’ at four shows over two nights at the Factory Theatre. You played a similar double-header at the Vanguard in July. How’d you adapt to the socially distanced gig dynamic?
John-Henry Pajak: We just talked more, I think.
David Novak: It’s easy. We’ve played to no one before, so this is a piece of piss. I don’t really care if people are dancing or sitting or standing. It’s still easy to tell if they’re having fun or not and enjoying it. We always enjoy playing to or even writing to a brief, like within constraints. So if you give us a certain set of boundaries it’s always fun to work out how you can make that still be fun and genuine and not super gimmicky.
MF: Scott Horscroft produced ‘Just Talking’. Did you record it at The Grove?
DN: We did a whole album with Scott. Two weeks with Scott in The Grove, locked up.
MF: So ‘Just Talking’ is the first taste of your third album?
DN: We hope so. It’s not in the press release. We recorded an album and we haven’t hid that from anyone and with everyone having to be pragmatic and malleable with their plans, we’re just taking it song by song at the moment. I mean obviously everything we record we want to release, but in terms of announcements, “this is our newest song” is what we’re going with for now.
JHP: The rest of it hasn’t been mixed yet. That’s because every band in New South Wales has been recording at The Grove because no one can go overseas or interstate.
DN: And because The Grove is great. It’s the best studio in Australia, maybe the world [laughs].
MF: So you knocked out the whole album in two weeks, aside from mixing?
JHP: We had a couple of days to spare at the end and we were like, “I guess we’re done – what do we do?”
DN: There was a point where one day I didn’t have the best voice capabilities. We had maybe four days left and Scott was like, “maybe we should see if we can reschedule your rental car return so you can stay an extra night, because we’ve really gotta get these vocal takes down.” And I’m like, “Scott, we’ve got four days. We’ve got at least two whole days for me to sing the one whole song and one chorus of another song. I think we’ll be fine.” And sure enough we had two days completely spare.
MF: Wade Keighran produced your first two records and he’s also been your touring bass player. Why’d you give him the flick this time in favour of Scott, who’s worked with people like Birds of Tokyo and DMA’s?
JHP: Wade got a job on that Elvis film, he’s doing sound on the Elvis film, and because of the lockdowns he couldn’t come and go.
DN: He’s got a real job and couldn’t produce our record. It obviously is always going to work out really well if you have Scott as the person you come crawling to. Once we got there, it super made sense. The album we were making and the songs we were recording, like [‘Just Talking’], ended up making a whole lot more sense with Scott than it did with just me and John.
MF: What did Scott bring to the new songs?
JHP: It just ended up sounding a lot more poppy and clean and tidy than what it was originally going to be.
DN: With John and I, our yardsticks are kind of the same and our frame of references are kind of caught up in each other. So sometimes when you put yourself in a room with a third person and if that’s someone Scott, who is comfortable throwing the kitchen sink production-wise and instrumentation-wise, like on ‘Just Talking’, adding a bunch of acoustic and electric guitars and heaps of backing vocals – stuff that would be traditional on a pop song or a normal straight down the line rock song is usually stuff that we wouldn’t be sure about adding.
MF: There’s some great bass playing in this song as well.
JHP: That was something we added in the studio. Originally it was a real stripped-back kind of song, real lazy, a bit of a nothing song. And that’s one of the interesting things when you’ve got time in a studio with a pretty pop producer, they’re always looking for how to bring it into something that’s more radio [friendly].
DN: That bass line is fucked. I was trying to figure it out so that I could teach Dan who’s playing bass with us live and I was just like, I have no idea. And I fucking played it.
MF: You had difficult making your second album, Iguana, which inspired you to make the Sophomore Slump podcast. Smashing through this album in under two weeks, is it fair to assume the process was more relaxed?
JHP: [Making Iguana] was a tricky time. Also, a second album, you just doubt everything and you don’t know what exactly you’re meant to be doing.
DN: I feel like we eventually embraced the cliché. We were like, “yeah, it’s really hard.” And that’s not to say that the writing process for this one was easy. I think this particular song was super easy to come up with.
JHP: It’s still been tricky in similar ways. But me and Dave had bust-ups and slamming doors and shit for the last album, but I just think we’re slightly more comfortable with the awkward situation of writing a record for a committee. Because we’re on a big label and we’ve got this team, you can’t just write music for yourself; you have to have all these people buy into it.
DN: We’re getting better at narrowing down music we’re invested in that gets over the line with anyone else that might have to also be invested in it. But having been through that process in a pretty shit, unpleasant way last time and reaching an end where everyone was pretty satisfied with the outcome, I think this time, even if some circumstances are the same and they might be difficult, knowing that we’ve done it before and that we could still make stuff that’s worth making, it makes it heaps less unpleasant.
Polish Club will perform a handful of hometown shows at the Factory Theatre in Marrickville for next month, supported by Johnny Hunter. Check out those dates – only one of which isn’t currently sold out – below.
Polish Club – ‘Live, Laugh, Live’ Sydney shows
Tuesday, 17th November
Factory Theatre, Sydney – early show (SOLD OUT) + late show
Tickets: Factory Theatre
Wednesday, 18th November
Factory Theatre, Sydney – early (SOLD OUT) + late show (SOLD OUT)
Tickets: Factory Theatre