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Polyphia: ‘Our Taste, Style Is Always Changing’

The American eclectic rock band’s guitarist and founder Scott LePage on coming to India, standing out and how they plan to top songs like ‘G.O.A.T.’

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Anurag Tagat Feb 13, 2019

American rock band Polyphia will tour India in February 2019. Photo: Travis Poston

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At the recently held annual music trade event of National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) in California, the lead duo of Texas rock band Polyphia were served with a notice for being too loud at their demo booth and shut down. “I think it was funny enough for us to post about it,” guitarist Scott LePage says over the phone from Dallas.

The band ”“ who have been making lush, math-rock that borrows from prog, metal and hip-hop since 2010 ”“ have a certain humor about them that’s best evident if you head over to their Instagram account, which is where we found out about the NAMM incident. One user comments, “Sometimes I wonder if this is a band business page or a shitpost page.” The best reply says, “I mean, Polyphia is made up entirely of shitposters who play like hell, so why not both?”

Internet humor aside, playing like hell is exactly what has helped Polyphia become one of instrumental rock’s most important bands right now. Their latest album New Levels New Devils, which released in 2018, was widely hailed as one of the freshest sounds on the scene, featuring exuberant yet complex rhythm and melody that retained groove. They worked with hip-hop producers like Judge and Y2K on New Levels New Devils, which LePage calls a “really interesting process.” He adds, “It brings that new quality to the table. It helps us branch out into other genres and know how it works and we really get to know what we can do with a song. It’s possible to combine these two (elements) and make it sound badass.”

There’s a sense in Polyphia’s image that seems to borrow boastfulness but also strong self-belief from the rapper persona. After all, one of their newest and best known tracks to date is called “G.O.A.T.” (an abbreviation for Greatest of All Time, to those not clued in with millennial slang). LePage and co-founder Tim Henson even got it tattooed after the release of the album, including the exact number of copies it sold. In an interview with Rolling Stone India, LePage details their upcoming debut India tour, their song names and why they’re not so concerned about haters any longer. Excerpts:

You’re coming in straight from the U.K. tour to India ”“ it’s going to be a totally different change of scene, right?

Yeah for sure, definitely. But you know what, man? None of us have been to India before. We’ve only been to the U.K. once [in 2017] but that was cool. It’s kind of funny ”“ I just have a bag of coins from all these places. I had no idea what the fuck any of it is. It’s cool to go to all these places. It’s never what I expect, which is a good thing because everything’s a big ol’ fucking mystery and that’s fun.

It’s kind of funny, we get a lot of messages from people whenever we announce we’re coming to a new area. Even my girlfriend’s getting messages from people in India saying, ”˜Hey I’m so stoked to see your boy and I’m going to buy him a beer!’ I’m just like ”˜Holy shit’, it’s crazy. I’m so excited to meet everybody. It’s going to be fun.

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You’re playing one festival and just a handful of club shows. What do you do differently, if anything?

The only festival we’ve really played before was South By So What? And we did SXSW when I guess we were 19 years old. But we haven’t done a festival in so long that I don’t really know. I think it’s going to be a little different. We’re going to make the show as badass as we possibly can. We’re going to play the set that we’ve been playing on tour here, just because that’s our most edited and modified set, currently the most badass one that exists. We’re really excited to show people that.

It should be fun to do a real big festival in (laughs) not our hometown.

In 2013, the band had said that you knew “image sells.” What is Polyphia’s aesthetic? How would you describe it?

The image sells thing ”“ it’s not like we look a certain way just because we know image sells, but it’s more so just that we like to dress however we want and do whatever we want. We play the type of music we want to play and dress the way we want to dress.

People don’t like it when you’re different. That’s when they criticize you for wearing Jedi clothes. Nowadays it’s me wearing my all-gold outfits which are completely ridiculous, fur coats and shit. We think it’s fun. It’s like playing dress up for our jobs.

That kind of approach seems to extend to the humor of the band, especially while interacting on social media.

I think they [fans] watch us and follow us so closely because they know we’re going to be ourselves about a lot of things no matter what.

I don’t know about you, but I hate when bands get online and they’re just like, [soft voice] ”˜Hi everybody! We want to let you know we’re releasing a new album!’ I think it’s fucking boring. They [the fans] do want to know you’re releasing new music and stuff but they want you to be fun with it. I want to be fun with it!

The new album has a song called “Death Note” while Muse had a song on it called “James Franco” ”“ when you make instrumental music, do song titles just come about because ”˜I want to have a song and call it this’?

At the time, before James Franco got in some trouble ”“ I think he’d sexted a 17-year-old ”“ I don’t even remember, it was so long ago. We loved James Franco back in the day and when we get on stage now, (laughs), we don’t really do this much now, but I call the song “Dave Franco” instead. When we get up on stage, Clay says “This song is about respecting women.”

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When it comes to naming songs and stuff, we kind of go for the vibe for whatever the song sounds like it would be. Sometimes we have a theme planned in mind, we want to name a song like “Death Note” because we’ve all watched it and thought it was fucking badass. We thought, ”˜We should totally name a song Death Note, it’ll be badass.’ And then [Japanese guitarist] Ichika was on it ”“ and it was a really technical song that’s kind of like anime music.

How do you top a song like “G.O.A.T.”?

The goal for us has always been to write the style of music that we enjoy listening to. With “G.O.A.T.” the song was upbeat and we wrote the intro and sent it back and forth. It was one of the first new songs we had started for New Levels New Devils. It was fresh for getting into the zone. Our taste is always changing so our style is always changing too. The only way we can top it is if we evolve into something newer and fresher.

Clay mentioned in an interview that the Internet was hostile to your music early on ”“ calling you rich kids and things like that ”“ are there any other misconceptions you still have to keep clearing about Polyphia?

Actually, not really. We’re at this place where people just know what we are now. Everyone’s got haters and shit, but it’s pretty much whatever now. We have enough people backing us up and saying things like, ”˜Oh you must have not been here for a long time’ or ”˜You must be new here’. The people have been with us for a long time and watched us develop over the years and watch us not give a shit about what people say about us. (Laughs) We’ve always done our own thing, no matter what. People come in and say, ”˜What the fuck are these guys doing?’ And everyone else is just like, ”˜Yeah”¦ this is just kind of how it is.’

What else is coming up through 2019?    

We’ve got a few tours. We’re always writing new stuff. We’ve got new music coming in, probably not this year but that’s in terms of an album. But we’ll probably release a single or something this year. We have some pretty cool surprises coming up and I think we’re going to make a lot of people happy with the plans we have for 2019 and 2020. It’s going to be great for us, I can say that.

Bohemian Live presents Polyphia India Tour

February 16th/17th ”“ Mahalakshmi Lawns, Pune (Vh1 Supersonic) (buy tickets here)

February 18th ”“ National Institute of Technology, Silchar (Thundermarch)

February 21st ”“ Fandom at Gilly’s Redefined, Bengaluru w/Sitar Metal (buy tickets here)

February 22nd ”“ Dakart at Agenc Colab, Dhan Mill Compound, New Delhi w/Sitar Metal (buy tickets here)

February 24th ”“ G-Shock Fireballat Shilpgram, Guwahati (buy tickets here)

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