Polar Bear Club Interview with Erik “Goose” Henning
Perhaps I missed the boat a bit, but Polar Bear Club seemed to go from regional punk act to international sensation virtually overnight. Looking further into it, the 5-piece from Rochester/Syracuse, NY have pounded pavement harder than some truck drivers, and continue to do so with their constant touring.
Topping year-end “Best of…” lists is a norm for the group, and their records, live shows, and growing fan base are proof that hard work, message boards, and dedication can pay off in a big way. While some groups try to mimic what they hear, others manage to find a way of creating their own unique sound and flow, transcending the boundaries of exclusivity inherent in specific genres. The cream always rises to the top, and Polar Bear Club play some rocking, heartfelt jams.
Tapped to perform at Warped Tour (again) after providing direct support for The Wonder Years on the GLAMOUR KILLS Tour, I caught up with PBC’s Bass player Eric “Goose” Henning via email, right before their very intimate hometown show at Rochester, NY mainstay, The Bug Jar. Informative and slightly comedic, I look forward to checking them out this Summer!
G- What’s up and how are you guys doing? You guys have been road-dogging for quite a while… How is the road treating you? Do you ever take a moment to get some sleep? What is the going rate on a new set of Firestone’s for the van these days?
E- We are all doing really well. We actually are just wrapping up having a real nice chunk of time off at home. I think we have been home since Thanksgiving and done nothing except take a break. We recorded a cover and that is really it. It’s been real nice, but I think I can say we are all really excited about getting back on the road. Everyone had to get jobs to hold us over and everyone is over doing that for a bit. Just got new tires on the van. 1200 bucks… No fun.
G- You recently released “Clash Battle Guilt Pride” on Bridge 9 Records. Tell me a bit about the songs? How was the writing process for this album? Was it different from your previous releases, and how so?
E- Writing for this album was a little different. Everyone lived about 6 hours away from each other at the point and it wasn’t like we could just together every single night. So we would write parts, record them, email them to each other, let everyone chew on it for a bit, and then get together over weekend and write as much as we could.
Then, when it actually came time to go to Baltimore and record with Brian McTernan, we had two weeks of pre-production with him before we recorded anything. This was real different for us and I think made a world of difference. It’s amazing what an outside ear that you respect can do for a song. Its not like we tore apart everything we wrote, but he would do something, like, recommend a verse actually be the chorus and the chorus be the verse, and it would make perfect sense.
G- You recently lost your original drummer (Emmett Menke) to adulthood, and it appears you’ve replaced his replacement (Tyler Mahurin)… Can you tell us a bit about the new drummer? How is he fitting is with the group musically?
E- Yeah, we have had quite cluster fuck of a drumming situation recently. But Steve Port, who has drummed from Another Breath and Off With Their Heads, is going to be doing this next tour with us, and hopefully it works out. Steve is from the same world as us, has the same friends, and is less jaded then all of us so I think it;s going to work out great. If not, we will leave him in Mexico.
G- You guys were tapped to perform at Soundwave in Australia a few years ago… Tell us about your experience down there.
E- Soundwave is not real life… That’s the best way to explain it. It is a fantasy tour where you play with bands you wouldn’t dream of, and all of your friends at the same time. A variety of bands from Terror, Fucked Up, Gaslight Anthem, Slayer, Iron Maiden and Ill Nino haha! We would go from hanging out with our friends, to sharing a sauna with the guys in Devil Driver. Just so many worlds coming together on one tour, but no one is miserable because you are in Australia and it’s the best. True story…I made Slash laugh on this tour by acting like an idiot. I assume he just thought it was honestly funny or if he laughed because he thinks of me as a peasant. Either way, it happened!
G- You’ve garnered quite a few fans across the pond, selling out venues in London and making noise all over Europe. How does the UK/European scene differ from the US in your opinion? Any comparisons that you care to offer our readers?
E- UK/Europeans appreciate bands a lot more. When you’re in Germany, you don’t get 30 tweets asking for guest list or people asking for free merch, but there is also this thing known as “German Honesty” where they will tell you exactly what they thought of your set. It’s real strange to get such an honest opinion. You know, they will say something like “You guys played such a better set last time. This time? Eh… only ok.” But I don’t understand half of what they are saying, so I nod my head and usually say thanks haha. But they always come out and see us next time we are in town. Alot of loyalty.
In the US, people are very fickle. People will listen to 10 seconds of the first song of a new record and make sure to post on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or whatever and let the world know how much something sucks even though they have barely given it a chance. That’s what I think bums me out most about people downloading free music. It’s not so much the stealing of it… It’s more that they are getting robbed of an experience. I remember buying a CD at the mall, and hating it on first listen. But, because I spent $13 on it, I made myself give it a second and third chance. And some of those records are my favorites of all time. Those are what I like to call “slow burners.”
That all being said, I would much rather tour the USA. USA 4 EVER!!!
G- Scene politics and “selling out” have long plagued the independent scene… It seems the underground community is just not comfortable with musicians making money. Why do you think that is, and have you noticed it as PBC has grown? Do you see a change in the attitudes from your fans based on your success?
E- You see fans’ attitudes change with success for sure. You’ve just got to ignore it. People think things like ‘Polar Bear Club played Warped Tour? Man, that band is huge now… That sucks.’ But the reality is, we did Warped Tour and lost a ton of money.
A lot of people don’t understand the reality of being in a band, and that is okay. I don’t expect them too. But it is pretty amusing how many people want you to be stagnant and not do anything new. As soon as I get home from tour, I start working my job as a waiter. Almost the day I get home, every time for the last three years. Real Rock $tar haha!!
G- Can you give us a small glimpse of what it’s like on the road with PBC? What do you guys to during your downtime when you aren’t performing?
E- We are a pretty relaxed group of guys on the road. We love going to the movies. Any chance there is to see a movie, we’ll usually take it. We got a couple drinkers, but nothing crazy. Lots of goofs, just constantly making fun of someone or getting made fun of. Everyone in PBC has had serious girlfriends for 4 years or more, so a lot of time on the phone… A LOT of time!
G- You have performed with some very notable acts, and toured all over the place… What is the best tour you’ve ever been on? Who were you on tour with, and what made it special?
E- Our favorite bands to tour with are all going to be on Warped Tour this Summer with us. Fireworks, Four Year Strong, Every Time I Die, Living With Lions, etc. All of our best friends all summer… That’s how it was the first time we did Warped and it was the incredible. Even though, as I mentioned before, we lost a lot of money on that tour, it still was the best time. You get to watch your favorite bands (Face to Face, Alkaline Trio) and then BBQ with all your buddies… Every. Single. Day!
G- Are there any places PBC has not been to yet that you are trying to make happen? What would your dream tour consist of, and where would you go?
E- We would love to go to Japan, Brazil, and Russia. Trying to currently make all that happen.
G- Lastly, can you give the young kids and up and coming bands out there a bit of advice if they want to make it in the music business? What tips can you give to help them find their way.
E- I think it’s about touring smart and not touring hard. Bring baby wipes on tour. And baby powder.
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Thanks, man! Lots more coming!