Purveyors of: Psychedelic tunes that venture into straightforward pop, focusing on musical experience.
File next to: Yes, The Zombies, The Animals, Pink Floyd, Ziggy-era David Bowie
Playing: WL821, Saturday Oct. 23 @ 918 Bathurst Centre for Culture, Arts, Media & Education.
Metamorphosis is the name of the game for Polite Society.
But some fans might know them as Hollow Earth.
And if you look closely, you might see The Phantastic Prayerbook.
Polite Society originally was known as Hollow Earth, back when Gaven Dianda (also of Flashing Lights) and Amy Bowles (of Pony da Look), got things started with Jim Bravo, Sean Kennedy (Blood Ceremony) and Christopher Norman. When Dianda and, later, Bowles left to pursue their other artistic interests, James Scott (of Heavy Ethics) joined in, as did Paul Kehayas.
The current lineup — Scott, Kehayas, Bravo and Norman — have played under the name of Polite Society for about a year, timed with the release of their first album, self-titled as Polite Society.
The album is a proggy, psychedelic journey with peaks and valleys that will have listeners picking up notes of Bowie, Skip Bifferty, maybe a little bit of the Animals and the Zombies with a touch of Mick Ronson’s wizardry.
When asked how he’d describe Polite Society’s sound, Kehayas says, initially, “we wanted to be King Crimson but got waylaid at the bar and became The Who.” Bravo prefers to simplify, saying “With so many genres bandied about these days, I simply tell people we play rock music, because that is the basic truth. What people make of it is often really surprising so it’s useless to set it up.”
“You can’t tell anyone what it sounds like because they’re hearing what they’re going to hear,” Norman adds. The psychedelic feel is intentional, he says, as it’s an era and sound all four members of the band enjoy and gravitate to, but they’re not limiting themselves to one single genre or feel.
“Paul and I bonded on realizing we both like Yes a lot, especially the early years,” he says. The prog and psychedelic influence is “something that’s lurking in the background of at least three of us in the band,” but they also try to keep it under control: “We try not to — we have like three epics on there,” he says of the three songs longer than five-and-a-half-minutes on the 11-track album.
But that doesn’t mean the show will be a series of long spacey jams with lots of twists, turns, and extended solos or riffs.
“We don’t do a ton of stretching out,” Norman says. “There’s one defined freakout section in ‘Orson Welles & His Ilk.’ Sometimes it gets uncomfortably close to a parody of ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ by Pink Floyd. It’s just so much fun to do that, it’s hard to resist.”
All four members of the band contribute to the songwriting process, focusing more on the musical idea and feel to a song instead of making the lyrics the centrepieces.
Bravo says he will “relentlessly throw ideas for songs and artwork at the others, the old Art College hangover. Musically, my role is perhaps to rein things in a bit, along with a refusal to sound bottomless and without soul.”
The song “Pudding Plains” is another good example of this — Normal says Kehayas had written a few separate pieces and wanted to find a way to bring them together. “I created all these little bridge movements to get one of his sections to the next and laid that out in a demo and came back to him. He was quite pleased to realize that this material had been fleshed out.”
The collaborative spirit will be on full display at the 918 Bathurst Centre for Culture, Arts, Media & Education. To say the members of Polite Society are primed and ready to go is an understatement.
“We will be loud,” Norman says. “Jim (Bravo) is a pretty powerful drummer and he’s got this amazing kit he bought a couple of years ago that he likes to use to the full extent. I expect it will be quite powerful.”
Kehayas is ready to get the guys back together on stage. “Putting the record out was great, but actually playing it to an audience who, by this time, might even know the titles or some words and will respond to it, is everything — the reason why I got into this mess in the first place.”
Bravo says he’s most looking forward to “the psychological aspect to performing during a pandemic and to the archiving of the performance for the same reason.”
The show is also, in many ways, the band’s official rebirth: as Polite Society, as a band that stayed together through a pandemic, as a way of reclaiming the ability for people to go out and see a band in the first place.
Relaunching as part of a Wavelength show — something members did a number of times in previous outfits — adds to the magic.
“It’s always really exciting to play one of those shows,” Norman says. “Everyone who’s there really wants to hear the music. It’s always a really committed, generous audience in my experience.”
Polite Society is sharing a bill with Montreal-based Bodywash on Oct. 23 at the 918 Bathurst Centre for Culture, Arts, Media & Education, with doors at 7pm. More information is available here.
Amber Healy is a Canadian music lover trapped on the wrong side of the lake, based in Buffalo, NY. She is homesick for Toronto, despite never living there, in ways most people don’t understand. You can find her on Twitter @ambermhealy or on Instagram @phfyrebyrd. She thinks Spotify is the devil.