DOPE Interviews | Polecat

The Stomp Band of the Century


  • Facebook: @polecatband
  • Instagram: @polecatband
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  • Richard Reeves: Bass
  • Aaron Guest: Vocals/Guitar
  • Cayley Schmid: Fiddle
  • Karl Olson: Percussion
  • Jeremy Elliott: Guitar

DOPE Magazine will attend this year’s Summer Meltdown Festival in Darrington, Washington—our second excursion to the fabulous festival—and we want to get all our readers hyped about this incredible event! Polecat, a band with much of its roots in Bellingham, Washington, is one of many reasons to get your weekend passes for the 2018 Summer Meltdown Festival, starting August 2! Let’s meltdown, y’all!

DOPE Magazine: You’ve come to describe yourselves as a dance band. Why did you ultimately make this decision, and what does it mean to be a dance band?

POLECAT: We decided to just start calling it dance music because theendless subclassification of micro-genres of music is obnoxious, and really just for marketing. The goal of every show is to get the crowd moving, and each genre we play is meant to be relatable to dancers. Eventually we decided dance music was a better description than “Celtic-stomp-grass-reggae-arena-rock.”

All of the members of the band have so many projects going on, and from what I’ve read, it sounds like all of you have secondary jobs outside of music. How do you find the time to create new music, practice and tour as often as you do?

We all make our livings differently. I do music full-time, so when I’m not performing I teach private lessons to anyone who wants to learn. The other members teach as well, but also dip into the disciplines of carpentry, earthscaping, shipwrighting and whatever else they please. We have spent so much time writing, rehearsing, traveling and performing together over the years that now we can learn and arrange new music very quickly. Our roles in the band have become clearly defined and intuitive, so nowadays the music clicks almost instantly, even after time off.

You all mix a lot of sounds together that are unexpected. What would you say to those who feel that those sounds (such as bluegrass and heavy-hitting rock) don’t belong together? For example, the songs “Marmot” and “In the Cold.”

Music is like food — everyone has their own taste, and tastes change. We all have diverse music preferences, so we are never at a loss for opposing influences that occasionally meld perfectly to create something new and exciting. What we are not interested in is sounding just like another band. We pride ourselves on our ability to mix up inspiration, but it’s never done for its own sake. Each member adds their piece, and when it’s finished sometimes it’s an unexpected mélange of sounds, but as long as it swings, we’re happy.

You guys play a lot of gigs each year — upwards of 100. What is the selection process like? How do you decide collaboratively which gigs to say yes and no to?

We averaged 100 gigs a year for about six or seven years. I now reside in Seattle; our bassist, Richard, in San Juan Island, and our electric guitar player, Jeremy, lives part-time in Portland. Due to the band being spread out, we’ve focused our performances to a smaller number of higher-quality shows. Some of the factors that determine whether we book a gig is if we have a good relationship with the venue or festival, if it’s a market that responds well to us, or if it’s an exciting new opportunity. Towns like Bend and Missoula have been great to us over the years, so we try to return as often as possible.

How is your experience playing at a festival like Summer Meltdown different than some of the other gigs you play? What are the pros? Challenges?

Meltdown is very special to Polecat. We’ve been fortunate enough to return to the festival more times than any other band that isn’t directly involved with the planning or organization. The production has consistently improved year after year, and the energy has always been positive from the audience, as well as staff.  The venue, the Whitehorse Amphitheater, is incredible and perfect for an event of its size: plenty of parking, level camping, a handful of great stages and a river within a short walk. It’s hard to beat, and honestly, I’ve never played a festival anywhere else in the country that has found this golden ratio. Festivals can be overwhelming, and bigger isn’t always better, so we really appreciate what Meltdown has cultivated. The challenges of Meltdown are systemic to all festivals. Some people party too hard and lose the concept of respect for others, or themselves. Occasionally, the weather or logistics can be tricky. But out of all the festival horror stories I have, which are many, none of them involve Meltdown!

A career in the arts is not as encouraged in our country as it should be. What would you say to the budding/young musician looking to make a living as an artist?

Do not be afraid of learning. All great musicians are lifelong students and absorb information whenever available. Listen to lots of different kinds of music so you are aware of the limitless nature of music. Don’t chase trends, just play what you love. Realize that art and entertainment are not the same thing, even though they occasionally overlap. Know your worth and study [the] music business. Be diverse in what you are willing to try, and take on students once you are proficient. Play for free if you have no existing opportunities, and are fine with making a sacrifice to open a door … But once you have a presentable package, don’t fall for “exposure” as a form of remuneration. Many musicians at the end of the day will play a gig no matter what, because they truly love it, and it’s a calling. Unfortunately, there are many predators in the form of booking agents, talent buyers, promoters, etc., that are happy to take advantage of that passion to make a profit. The sad fact is that often musicians are the last to get paid off of their music. I wish I had a simple solution, but I don’t.

I heard you guys are playing a Renaissance Faire this year — is Cayley [the band’s fiddler] going to be making all of your costumes?

[Laughs]. We have played them in the past, but we don’t have one on the books … yet. Cayley made us all incredible Puffy Shirt costumes, and we rocked them with appropriate panache.

If Polecat had a billboard, what would it say?

“Hot diggity daaaaaaaaawg!”

Anything that I should’ve asked you that I didn’t?

“Sativa or Indica?” … Indica!

Polecat Tour Schedule

  • Thursday August 2-5, Summer Meltdown Festival | Darrington, WA
  • Friday August 10, Port of Anacortes Summer Concert Series | Anacortes, WA
  • Saturday August 11, Barkley Village Concert on the Green | Bellingham, WA
  • Saturday September 8, Skagit River Salmon Fest | Mount Vernon, WA
  • Saturday September 22, Marysville Opera House | Marysville, WA

Andrea Larson

Andrea is a Seattle native with a passion for the storytelling process. When she isn't curating content for DOPE she can be found binge listening to podcasts, skiing at a local PNW mountain or catching a drag show at Le Faux on Capitol Hill.

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