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“We’re Going For The Long Haul”: Polish Club On What It’s Really Like To Make An Album

Stretch out those hamstrings and shine up your dancing shoes because Polish Club’s new record Now We’re Cookin’ is a poppy pearler.

Between appeasing their record label and fine-tuning their many, many demos, the Sydney duo finessed 10 tracks of all killer, no filler. It took a couple of cracks to get there, but by the end of the process, singer slash guitarist Dave Novak and drummer John-Henry Pajak were pumping out straight hits. We’re talking good ol’ fashion pop hooks, fresh R&B references and irresistible melodies that are made to move dancefloors. Now, if only they’d open up again.

Rather than rinse and repeat their last two records, Now We’re Cookin’ takes us on stylistic twists and turns. It bursts out of the gate with the groovin’ ‘Stop For A Minute’, which uses an earworm chorus to comment on toxic behaviour in the music industry. Then we’re served toe-tapping percussion, playful guitar riffs and Novak’s fierce falsetto on ‘New Age’. Polish Club purists need fear not, the boys make many nods to their garage rock roots on tracks like the fuzzy ‘Whack’, pop-rock infused ‘Just Talking’ and the croony tongue-in-cheek closer ‘Fuck Off & Die’.

If Australia can get its shit together in time, Polish Club will take Now We’re Cookin’ on the road for nine shows in October, November and December. The boys are bringing their mates Kirsty and Dan along for the ride, which we’ve been told will mean an even bigger sound and helluva saxophone solo.

Although the release date has been pushed back a few times, (cheers, COVID) you can get a taste of Now We’re Cookin’ today. Over Zoom and in the midst of Sydney’s latest lockdown, we caught up with Novak and JH to chat about the gruelling creative process, perfecting pop hits and what we can expect from the live shows.

Music Feeds: You’ve said that you had some second album syndrome when recording Iguana. What was it like creating Now We’re Cookin’?

John-Henry Pajak: It’s still a real awkward process like Iguana but I feel like we were kind of already beaten to a pulp that we couldn’t feel anything. We couldn’t feel the hits anymore (laughs). You know like in high school and you get so many dead arms that it just stops working? We were ready for it. I think there’s also less terrible things happening in our personal lives as well, which made it super hard last time.

Dave Novak: I think we were ready for that process that we went through. So if we have a concept and the songs and they (the record label) go “No” then you go “Ok, what about this?” at least within your own head. You’re not pulling a ScoMo and putting all of your eggs in one basket. You’re like “Well, I’ve got this and this. We can go this direction or we could do this.”

MF: Is that something you learnt from the first two records?

JHP: The first time we didn’t really get any pushback from anyone. There were no expectations or anything. And on the second one, we started getting pushback and lots of “No, this is wrong” and stuff like that. And that kind of flipped us out. But now we’re kind of comfortable with it, I guess.

DN: I think with our first one, it was all the songs that we had. They were the same kind of songs. And the question was not “What kind of record do we get these guys to make?”, it’s “Do we get these guys to make a record or not?”. [The record label says:] “So as soon as we want to, we want you to make a record”, then it’s like, “Oh, obviously, it’s going to be this kind of music”. But then when you get another shot, they’re like, “Well, you can do whatever you want to do. You can do anything.. But you can’t. You have to do something that I’m okay with.” It’s a fun game we all play.

JHP: Yeah, that happened again, they were like, “Just take your time, do whatever you want”. And we’re like “No, no, we don’t want to. Time is like running out right now.” A label doesn’t need us to constantly put records out because we’re not making a shitload of money. It’s kind of like extra work for them or something (laughs). Like most artists and musicians, we want to constantly be putting stuff out, you know?

MF: That sounds intense. How did that impact how Now We’re Cookin’ turned out?

DN: Yeah, we also realised that’s a good thing, when you just add to the repertoire, you’re not redefining everything. You’re just adding to everything that’s already there. Whereas there’s so much pressure on the label to get results and do whatever. And there’s a very limited budget in there, from their perspective. Because no one pays for music, really. So it’s two different ways of having to work. I think we’ve always been quite good at finding the middle ground. Because at the end of the day, we all have the same goal. We like our music to be heard by and enjoyed by as many people as possible. And I think we have confidence in ourselves to write music that we are invested in and really like, but that also pleases other people. It’s a shitty process, but it’s necessary.

JHP: I think the way that people consume music now has kind of changed. It used to be that you kind of needed to build up to a record, and then build the hype and sell lots of CDs and get people to go into the shops with a campaign. But now I feel like the way that people just cherry pick songs out of a catalogue of an artist, you kind of just need to keep topping it up and everything’s like a slow burn. When you’re not like Tones And I who needs to put out huge billion-streaming songs. A band like us, we’re going for the long haul and we want to kind of keep building our catalogue.

MF: You worked on around 90 songs ahead of Now We’re Cookin’. What was that creative process like and how did you narrow it down to the final 10?

DN: Well, they’re all just sketches and ideas. I think we had like 40 finished demos. And it’s like 90 ideas recorded on voice memo on my phone.

JHP: Then we bothered to properly record like 40 to 50.

DN: We went in three times to do a bunch of actual full demos that were more or less fully fleshed songs. That’s the process we have to go through because we don’t like to slave over songs.

JHP: I remember the first 12 demos, I was pretty much like this is the album that we’ve done. We’ve completed it.

DN: I said, quote unquote, “we could release this tomorrow and I’d be satisfied”.

JHP: Yeah, we were like, “The actual recordings of these four songs are good to go”. And then our whole team was like, “There’s nothing good here at all”.

MF: That’s heartbreaking. What were those second and third sessions like after receiving that feedback? Did you two ever disagree on which songs would make the final cut?

JHP: I think in the second batch of songs, the label liked one song from us. Then in the last batch, that was like six or something. And then they just didn’t care with the last couple. The last batch, we really brought it home as we were coming up to the deadline for recording. We really got to deliver in this last bunch of demos.

DN: We’ve learned how to effectively, within ourselves, come to terms or find a way to take all of the songs that are commonly liked by everyone and make them make sense within each other. So there’s never really in my memory, a moment where John and I were like, “Oh, I like this one or I like this one or this one”. And we’re happy to sub out whichever ones and make them work within the general idea of the album. So once we were like “I guess we’re writing a poppier rock album”, we just have to focus on melodies and hooks and make sure it’s all as immediate as possible. When you’re in that mindset it’s like, “I can drop this one. I can take this one.”

JHP: Yeah, I think ‘Fuck Off & Die’ was meant to be a secret track at the end of the album. You know those ones that are just attached to the end of the last song? But then I didn’t like one of the songs we recorded, so I was like, “Let’s just make that a full song and ditch this other one.”

MF: I’m glad you did. Because it’s probably the best song title on the whole album.

JHP: Yeah (laughs). It’s worth it to make it a full song just to have the title written somewhere on Spotify.

DN: We had to get “Fuck” in there somewhere. People love it.

MF: You’ve said that by the third session you were focused on pumping out straight hits. What qualifies as a hit song for Polish Club?

DN: I think once you hone in and get a better idea of what is connecting with the team, it’s a lot easier to be like, “Alright, how do we recontextualize everything in that kind of approach.”

JHP: We’re not really precious and we can pump out songs really quickly. If we get together for three hours, we’ll have 10 to 12 ideas for songs that we can pull out. So we kind of rely on our management and label to tell us what to finish. So it’s kind of tough when they don’t like any of it.

DN: It has always been about finding good melodies that work. And the simple things that cut through.

JHP: Yeah, we kept taking what songs they liked and that kind of shaped the remainder of it. It’s kind of a weird process when I think about it. Kind of like a reverse brief or something.

MF: You experimented with more like pop and R&B styles on this record. Were there any artists or eras that you were particularly inspired by?

JHP: A lot of contemporary pop. Like The Weeknd and stuff like that, that kind of space of R&B pop. Dave’s a huge R&B guy anyway and we’ve kind of always dabbled in that.

DN: To me, it’s always melodies that are fun to sing. And that’s why I think a lot of 90s R&B cuts through with me because they write melodies and vocal lines that are really satisfying to sing in a physical sense.

JHP: I try to encourage you on this as well, to do more of that kind of speaky kind of stuff.

DN: Yeah, it’s the complete opposite of what I’m naturally comfortable doing (laughs).

JHP: Yeah, it’s almost impossible for you to perform something without singing anything with a melody. You find it really hard to just go real monotone.

DN: I’ve discovered that I have a weird, vague American accent. Everything I say can be flipped. Like I can flip a switch and talk a different way, right? There’s no natural way of like, “Oh, don’t super sing this line. Like don’t think about it, just do it naturally.” It’s always a choice of performance. So I find it hard to not not do that.

JHP: And listening back to those moments, you’re still kind of still singing (laughs).

DN: It’s impossible not to! [He sings] I’ve got a song in my heart. It’s the Filipino in me and everything turns into a fucking Broadway musical even if you’re at the shops.

JHP: Yes. And the song that we did the song that we ditched from the album, it was actually kind of rappy, for lack of a better word (laughs).

MF: Oh my god. Please resurface that. The world needs to hear this.

JHP: The recording didn’t sound weird enough for me. It sounded too normal. But yeah, look out for Polish Club’s rap album coming out [laughs].

MF: I love how Now We’re Cookin’ is super danceable, especially after months of limited dancefloors and live shows. Was that something you were thinking about when creating the record?

JHP: We just love to dance.

DN: I’ve just got a song in my heart and a beat in my step! But I don’t think we really thought of the outside world when we were doing this. You get very consumed with like, “Can we just fucking write some songs that people like?”.

JHP: I think because we were looking for inspiration in current pop and stuff, it’s all very dancey. It’s all very danceable because of TikTok. So I guess it just, by chance, a lot of it became dancey, which I think we haven’t thought about.

DN: I think it also makes sense because we always write songs that we want to be able to do live and work well live. Making it danceable and fun and songs that make you want to move, they’re the ones that will translate well live. It’s a happy coincidence, I think.

MF: Yeah, totally. And speaking of, you have a big Australian tour coming up and fingers crossed it will still go ahead as planned. Are there any tracks that you’re especially excited to play live?

DN: ‘Whack’!

JHP: Oh, really? I’m not looking forward to that one.

DN: Oh, yeah, that’s gonna be tough for you. I say that cuz it’s gonna be easy for me. I don’t have to do anything. The bass is doing all the heavy lifting.

JHP: I’m looking forward to playing that ‘New Age’ song because I’m interested to see if Novak’s falsetto works on tour. Because on tour, the falsetto goes within the second gig.

DN: I literally wrote in another interview yesterday that that’s probably the first one that’s going to fall off the setlist because like after fucking three, four sets a week, there’s no way I’m going to stroll on stage and sing that.

MF: I love that both of you have put forward songs that neither of you want to play.

JHP: If it’s a pain in the ass for one of us, it’ll be fine. It’s always like that, isn’t it?

DN: Yeah. I think you have to balance the pain. I’m just looking forward to figuring out which ones work live because we haven’t had the chance to sit down with Kirsty and Dan and go through the ones we haven’t done yet. So it’s very much TBC.

MF: You’re hitting the road as a four-piece for the Now We’re Cookin’ tour, right? What else can we expect from those shows with a bigger band in tow?

JHP: Yeah, it just makes it easier for you to sing and stuff doesn’t it, Dave? Because you’d have to fucking keep it keep chugging along on the guitar.

DN: Yeah, a million times easier. When we play as a two-piece I can’t stop. If I stop, it’s just drums and it sounds like the song has ground to a halt. So it’s nice just to have support to allow us to fill out space rather than be the whole song.

JHP: The best thing about it is that Kirsty does a ripping sax solo in one song, and it’s like literally the best part of the set.

DN: When we were writing this song, Kirsty would be there for a couple days and we had it very much in our minds that we had a bit more of a group to play off and that would probably be possible live as well. So we can add stuff to tracks that we can faithfully reproduce live with a four-piece. So it’s nice to free ourselves to do other things.

Polish Club’s third LP ‘Now We’re Cookin’’ is out today. Their national tour is set to kick off this October. Dates and details here.

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