When I was in college, listening to Animal Collective’s track “Bees” felt like a revolution in sound. It was the first time I was really confronted with challenging music, music that took me out of my norm and landed me in a universe unexplored. Likewise, NYC-based duo Pollens craft a sound that engages (and often confounds) the ear. Their new EP Mr. Manufacture explores the buzz, crash, and timbre of the city.
From its opening, Mr. Manufacture promises to provoke. There’s a playful, childlike quality to Jeff Aaron Bryant and Elizabeth “EMay” May’s voices; it’s a startling mix when laid against a metallic, rhythm-based background. Songs like “J Train” so perfectly describe the robotic, humorous morning that is a Brooklyn commute: bodies rushing past one another only to stand in close formation on a moving bullet. My mind filled with images, movies, pieces of my own life in NYC while listening to this EP; it’s a strange soundtrack to wake up to, yet I’ve found myself coming back to it in the morning, steeling my mind against the day.
We talked with Bryant about navigating a shifting band lineup and what writing a song for Pollens really looks like. You can stream Mr. Manufacture exclusively below.
AF: You’re a Seattle band, now based in Brooklyn. Has living in New York changed any of the themes or sounds you gravitate toward in Pollens?
JB: New York is trash and media images and lots of humans. I feel like we indulge a kind of ‘edge’ that’s not super encouraged on the West coast. Like, it’s kinda spiky here. I feel like the West coast vibe is more concerned with beauty than performativity or being weird.
AF: The band has gone through a lot of iterations since 2008. Do you find the writing process more challenging with fewer band members? Or is it streamlined?
JB: When Pollens was a larger ensemble, there was sometimes this burden of finding something for everyone to do. A big band wants a big sound, even if the idea is small or stupid. With a tiny band, we’re totally free to explore sparse, dumb, over-committed ideas without a lot of risk or investment.
AF: And when it comes to performing live, do you find a lot changes when you’re down to fewer members?
JB: Yeah. Making records is cool, but EMay and I love performing. When we’re working on new material, we’re not thinking about songs, we’re thinking about situations, bodies, talking. EMay is an actor and is super comfortable taking up space and being engaged and talking to humans. Sharing the stage with EMay, I’m learning that being antic and outgoing are not the same thing. We’ll maybe try other ensembles in the future, but our shows are so fun right now, and it feels like a big factor is having the whole stage to run around and be silly.
AF: Can you give us some background on the song “Dinosaurs”? The lyrics are funny
[“I don’t believe in the ocean floor (no, I don’t) / There’s nothing down there / Don’t try to show me (I won’t even look at it)”], but the cadence in which you both deliver the words really adds to the effect.
JB: “Dinosaurs” is just us being dumb and flirting with points of view. I think we both have a lot of time for magical, conspiratorial, prankish ideas… and like, what’s the difference between clowning and willful ignorance? And how can play disrupt unhelpful ideas like ‘progress’?
AF: There’s a really stripped down feel to this record; the vocals are straightforward, even monotone at times, with the percussion pulsing and consistent throughout. How did the songs for this record begin to take shape? Did you start with lyrics or build from a beat?
JB: We’re pretty focused on text lately… words first. We usually work from lists. We’ll put on whatever beat, who cares, and then take turns reciting items in the list. A certain rhythmic feeling will emerge from saying things in funny voices. Like, if it makes us laugh then [we say] wait, that’s silly, we should do that. And once it feels like we’re on to something, we start trying it against different drum patterns.
AF: Question speed round! Record you can’t stop listening to right now.
JB: Talking Heads, Remain in Light.
AF: Favorite NYC music venue.
JB: The Glove.
AF: Favorite quiet place in the city.
JB: That exists? I hope not.
AF: What do you want people take away from listening to Mr. Manufacture?
JB: We just want folks to feel cool when they’re drying dishes or brushing their teeth. Maybe your bus is late. Maybe you’re working out or making lunch. Whatever. Humanoids, we support you.
Pollens new EP Mr. Manufacture is out tomorrow (Friday, October 27); it will be available for FREE on Bandcamp. The band will be giving away limited edition cassette tapes at their record release celebration show on November 16 at Secret Project Robot in NYC. They’ll be joined by Operator Music Band, Salt People and a special guest (to be announced); full details on Facebook HERE.