Interview: Pollen

Pollen
Photo by Jim Steinfeldt

Pollen was a power pop band originally hailing from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but later becoming a mainstay of Arizona’s music scene when they relocated to Mesa, Arizona in 1995. They released four albums and two split records over their eight years together, including 1997’s ‘Peach Tree’ on Wind-up Records and 2000’s ‘Chip’ on Fueled By Ramen. Over the years, Pollen toured extensively with bands like The Ataris, Descendents, Less Than Jake, The Stereo, Armchair Martian, River City High, Suicide Machines, One Man Army, Cooter, Scrimmage Heroes, and Co-Ed. Pollen even played a show with Weezer – with just two bands on the bill, Pollen and Weezer. The band has recently announced a Crescent vinyl reissue via Double Helix Records, so I spoke with Dan and Bob about everything. Enjoy!


Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions! 

Dan: You got it!

How have you been?

Dan: Meh. Actually, I’m good considering the state of… uh, everything in the world.

Bob: I’m holding up ok, all things considered.  The last 5-6 years have not been humanity’s finest hourbut apart from the world being mostly on fire, I’ve been doing all right.  

It has been 27 years since you released Crescent. Now, Double Helix Records is re-releasing it on a vinyl record? Who initiated the idea?

Bob: During the earliest months of the pandemic, my studio was closed to the public, essentially, and I had gotten to thinking about Pollen.  I had some time on my hands, so I started remastering some of our older demos and things, and as I have become an avid vinyl collector in the last 6-7 years, I thought it would be cool to put out Peach Tree (my personal favorite batch of songs) on vinyl.  

That seemed to do well, and there was enthusiasm for doing some of our other records, so I set about starting the remastering process on some of the others. The original Crescent CD sounded kind of terrible, even though the mixes sounded terrific (thanks to Stephen Egerton). There was a mishap during mastering and they just came out super small and midrange-y sounding, no low end, very quiet, and muddy. So of these three reissues we’ve done in the past couple of years, I can safely say that Crescent is the most transformed and revelatory of the three.

It is your second full-length if I remember correctly. What does this album mean to you? Is there any background story why Crescent is getting such a treatment besides your other releases?

Bob: Actually, we’ve released two of our other albums on vinyl prior to this – Peach Tree (our third LP) and Chip (our fourth).  

But this album is kind of special to me, as it was a special time for the band.  We had self-recorded the first album, and it had gotten a lot of great reviews and was really positively received.  And of course, now a label was paying for us to record with guys from ALL!  So there was a real sense of “hey, we can actually do this!  we’re actually kind of good?!!”

It was our first time really working with a real producer on album (though we had demoed some stuff with Bill and Stephen in a previous incarnation of the band) – it was my first time drumming to a metronome!  And learning drum tuning from Stephen – just a lot of formative experiences.  

Do you remember the songwriting/composing process? How did you work on these songs back then, and what was the most challenging thing while working on these songs?

Bob: I wrote a lot of the music and lyrics, and I sort of had a system, albeit a weird one.  All of the songs I’ve ever written for Pollen have been written on piano, and then transcribed for guitar (yes, that’s why the chords and structures are so weird and un-guitar player-y). 

I had a cassette 4-track, and would demo them as left piano (left guitar), right piano (right guitar), bass piano, and then vocals.  Then I would use those to show the band (as well as show them the appropriate notes on a little keyboard).  

I didn’t have a piano in my house at the time so I think most of these were written on my little Casio, but I would go over to a family member’s house who had a piano to do the demos (because the Casio was just too laughable).  

But I was really going through a lot emotionally at the time I wrote all of these, and you can kind of hear that all over the album, for better or worse.  I love how sincere it is, but some of those lyrics are kinda too much for me today. 

How did the crowd react to the album back then?

Dan: Critics: Hey, this is really good. Crowd: This is fine.

Bob: It was first released right around the time the label, Grass, was purchased by a major label, and they basically made everything out of print immediately.  I think it was only available for about a week before it was out of print.  So really, almost no one heard it, and no one could get it, though I do recall getting some feedback that it was terrible.  Haha.  I like to think they meant the mastering and sound quality.  But it was definitely a very different record from the first one in a lot of ways – more complicated musically, darker, definitely a lot sadder.  So I wouldn’t begrudge anyone who loved the first one who didn’t love this one.  

What few reviews I have seen of the record were positive though.

Someone offered you a time-traveling machine to go back and change some things on the album. What would it be?

Dan: Thankfully, that essentially happened since we were able to remaster.  

Bob: It’s kind of a snapshot of a very specific time in my life, so I’m not sure how much I would change, again – for better or worse.  I’m kind of embarrassed by how much of an emotional train wreck I was at the time, but at least it was honest.  

I guess I would change the mastering – which I did!  Haha.

I can hear some late seventies punk rock and power pop in your numbers. Early Descendents and ALL full-lengths come to mind at first. What bands inspired you the most?

Bob: I was definitely influenced a lot by ALL at the time – especially the more emotional parts of ALL, like “Scary Sad” or “Birthday IOU,” stuff like that.  “Sum” was another favorite of mine, plus all of the jazzy Scott songs.  But I had a lot of other influences at the time as well that were kinda different from that stuff – I was and am a giant fan of all of those Boston bands, especially Dinosaur Jr and Juliana Hatfield (especially Juliana, lyrically).  Buffalo Tom, Big Dipper, that kind of stuff.  Then I was also super obsessed with Fastbacks and Flop, and I really loved the weirdness and complexity of the 2nd Flop album, “Whenever You’re Ready,” which I just realized was probably an influence on this record too.  Complicated arrangements in that vein, for sure. 

I heard the rumors that Stephen Egerton of Descendents/ALL produced/engineered the album. How are you satisfied with the result?

Bob: He’s credited on the back jacket, so it’s not just a rumor!  Haha.  

Stephen co-produced with me and he engineered the whole thing because while I had lots of ideas, I didn’t really have any studio savvy at the time. 

But Stephen really made this record sound amazing, and it’s a rare example where I can say that the album sounded pretty much exactly like what I had pictured it sounding like in my brain.  (At least in this new master.)  I’m totally thrilled with what we were able to do in such a short time – recorded and mixed in 6 days!! 

Plus he brought the snare Bill used on Percolater for me to use, and I can hear that 100% every time I listen to it.  I think the record came out the way it was supposed to come out at that time.  

What was it like working with Stephen? Has he changed some things while producing the album, or do the arrangements remain intact?

Bob: I wish he had been able to change arrangements!  It probably could have used more changes. 

We had very little time to do this, so he never heard a song until we came into the studio and started recording.  At that point it was a little hard to change arrangement stuff (we were recording to tape anyway).  But I remember discussing making some changes while we were mixing, and I loaded some of the songs into some primitive DAW that someone I knew had and we cut down 2 songs, as I think Stephen had suggested.  There’s almost a whole other song we cut out of “Butterworth” – 3 whole other musical progressions/sections that no one has ever heard!  Haha. 

I had to redo these edits for the remaster and boy was I able to do a better job this time.  

When we did Peach Tree, Bill changed three or four arrangements (for the better) but most of them got left alone.  

Who else contributed to this re-issue?

Bob: Jason Livermore took the remaster I did and made it even better.  I can’t say enough about how much Jason brought to the table on all of these vinyl remasters.  He is a wizard.

Jeff and Emiley at Double Helix have been amazing and supportive to work with, and we couldn’t be happier about working with them.   

It’s been more than two decades since you released your last record. What’s happening with the band right now? Do you plan to play some shows in the future or maybe work on some new material?

Dan: It’s pretty unlikely that we’ll play live or record new material, but both ideas have been floated.

Bob: We’re all a little spread out – one guy is in LA or NY, two of us are still in AZ, two others are back in PA.  So the concept of doing anything new is really hard, just geographically.  We all still get along great and I know we’d all love to do something down the road at some point, but the pandemic is continuing to quash any touring plans we’ve discussed.  

I’ve thought about new material but again, it’s a geographic challenge, because I’m stubborn and don’t want to make a record unless we can do it the way we used to – no remote recording or anything like that. 

Which makes it a little harder for the guys who would have to travel here.  We’re getting a little old and everyone has lives and it’s hard to be like “brb, just going to AZ for 2 weeks”. 

I definitely hope we get to play some shows – one nice big tour would be great, so folks who never saw us play back in the day could get to see us.  If the pandemic ever ends, it’s something I’m really excited to do.  *looks harshly at society from behind my KF94*

That’s pretty much it. Thank you so much for your time. Anything to say to our readers at the end of this interview?

Bob: Thank YOU for the questions!

And thanks to anyone who cared enough about our little band to even want to read this interview. 


Pollen - Crescent

Today, Pollen shares their re-released sophomore album, ‘Crescent,’ for the first time ever on vinyl, out now via Double Helix Records.

Originally released on Grass Records in 1995, Pollen’s second full-length album, ‘Crescent’ is finally making its debut on vinyl, out via Double Helix Records, which is distributing the record.

Produced by Stephen Egerton (ALL, DESCENDENTS, FLAG) and Bob Hoag (THE FORMAT, DEAR AND THE HEADLIGHTS, THE ATARIS), the original CD sounded fairly lo-fi, thanks to a mastering mistake.

Jason Livermore (THE BLASTING ROOM) and Bob Hoag have meticulously remastered ‘Crescent’ from the original mixes, finally bringing some never-before-heard clarity, power, and fidelity to this little-heard sophomore effort.

STORE / FACEBOOK / INSTAGRAM / DOUBLE HELIX RECORDS

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