FOCUS // Poly-Math discuss prog, the UK scene and the hyphen

Whether it was through intense labour or good omens, life has been good to Brighton’s math/prog/jazz/whatever trio Poly-Math (aka Polymath). Following a lucky spot on the 2013 ArcTanGent bill, the band have gone on to release a string of singles, EPs and albums, including their most recent epic Melencolia. The couple of times we’ve been able to catch them live, it has been nothing short of a frenzied pantomime. Guitars are swung in all directions. Snares are bashed to the point of puncture. Sweat is perspired in copious amounts. If the instruments were weapons it would be nothing short of a bloodbath. This month, we decided to fling some questions at the trio to get their perspective on their sound, and get an idea of their mission statement.

FB: To start, can you tell us a bit of band background, where you come from, and who’s in the band?

Joe Branton: Poly-Math started about three years ago as a side project for our guitarist Tim. He is primarily a drummer and was playing in the ambient Post-Rock band, Monsters Build Mean Robots. The band really started as nothing serious, but after a surprise booking at the first ever ATG festival we kind of went from strength to strength. We’re a three piece Tim Laulik-Walters on guitars, Chrispy Woollison on drums and Joe Branton on bass. We’re pretty traditional if you look at it that way.

FB: Last year you went through a minor name change, adding a hyphen to Polymath to make your name Poly-Math. Can you briefly go into the reasons for adding the hyphen, and do you think it has helped you in anyway with reaching new fans or without internet traction?

Joe: Ha…yeah, we tried to keep that on the down low. It wasn’t an especially big deal… Although, that said we did have an extremely long band meeting where we went through about a hundred different names adjustments from Polymathematics to Monomath. The only reason we were changing our name slightly was because as it turns out there a small Scottish DJ called Polymath and Spotify was throwing us all into the same search results.

To be honest even that didn’t bother us too much, it was only when ArcTanGent managed to add the DJ Polymath to their playlist two years in a row… We figured it might be a little damaging.

FB: Melencolia has been described as a “mini-album” instead of an EP, is that how you view the release? Do you have a definition for a “mini-album” as opposed to an EP?

Joe: It comes down to length as much as anything else. ‘Melencolia’ comes in at around 35 minutes, which would be quite long for an EP. More than anything else we chose the term mini album because the record is all part of an ongoing concept. We released two additional live tracks, ‘Knight, Death and The Devil’ all part of the Melencolia cannon. We intend for those tracks to all tie in with the next record as well, so it all fits together in a slightly more thought out manner than an EP.

FB: You released Reptiles last year, and the songs on Reptiles more concentrated in their arrangements and more of a straight forward post-rock / math-rock approach compared to the longer song lengths and expansive arrangements found on Melencolia. Was this contrast in releases deliberate or just organically how the songs developed?

Joe: It was a bit of both really. We were always aware of how full on Reptiles was, in retrospect we felt it lacked any light and shade. We were trying to punch out a set of songs that showcased us in under 20 minutes.

Melencolia is more in line with what we want to create. We’re trying not to stick to an expected route. Math and Post-Rock can be a bit of a truncated genre, we’re trying to expand what we do in different ways. Who knows what we’ll do next, but it definitely won’t sound anything like Melencolia or Reptiles.

FB: Can you talk about your musical influences while writing Melencolia? With 3 tracks totaling 35 minutes, at first glance it kind of reminds me of classic prog albums like Relayer by Yes, Lizard by King Crimson, and Tarkus by Emerson, Lake, & Palmer which all featured few tracks and had songs that took up entire album sides. Was there any intention with the number of tracks and song lengths on Melencolia to make it seem like a modern throwback to classic prog albums?

Joe: Well you’ve guessed our influences almost completely. We were virtually exclusively listening to Classic Prog the whole way through the Melencolia writing and recording sessions. Yes and King Crimson are also probably two of the most influential bands for us in general, and so I guess it’s not surprising that we’ve moved in that direction as far as song length is concerned. Although the change in track length has felt very organic. We were heavily influenced by a lot of Robert Fripp’s techniques and tuning, and even included a Mellotron on the new record.

Outside of Prog, Tim is quite heavily involved in scoring film music for a number of Spanish films, we included a classical guitar piece in a Spanish folk style on the intro and outro of Melencolia, and I think that sort of thing is something we’ll continue to evolve in our new material.

FB: There are a lot of different musical genres and elements found in your music, and it feels like calling you just a post-rock band or math-rock band doesn’t really do the music justice. How would you define the sound of your music?

Joe: Haha! This is always the question that bands claim they can’t answer, so I’ll give it a go…

We’ve never really thought of ourselves as a math band or a post rock band. We certainly don’t feel that we share the same major scale party energy of Math nor the sombre reverb drowned space of Post-Rock.

We are a Prog band at heart, but Prog has become a name for your Dad’s music and so people tend to lump us with more contemporary names like Math and Post-Rock. Of course we’re hardly a young band, Tim our guitarist is pushing 40!

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FB: What do you want listeners to get out of Melencolia?

Joe: We hoped it could be closer to a complete movement of music rather than a collection of songs. We tried to give the album a rounded beginning and end to complete the journey of the record.

It’s easy for instrumental music to just be a collection of riffs. We’re trying to make this into more of a coherent path or story. We intend to continue this on our records to come.

FB: Can you talk about your upcoming shows in support of the release and how long you’ll be out on the road?

Joe: We’re out on the road a lot this year. We’ve played a few great little shows with our friends Vasa, Cleft, Body Hound and AMTP.

We’re heading back out with Let’s Talk Daggers in late April and we’ve booked up a load of festivals throughout the summer. We’re very proud to be heading back to ATG this year to play on the Thursday as one of this year’s returning bands… We’re trying to think of some sort of plan to top the 30 giant inflatable bananas we threw into the audience last year.

FB: Being touring veterans, and having played at ArcTanGent music festival last year, can you describe the current state of the music scene in the UK? Do you feel a difference in the scene now compared to when the band formed?

Joe: The scene has definitely developed. I think in a wholly positive way. The Math/Post scene in the UK at the moment is vibrant, close knit, well supported, friendly. It’s everything you could possibly want from an underground mini-genre.

All probably due to ATG and the massive impact it’s had on smaller UK bands. It’s brought people together, provided a platform and soap box for bands that would never otherwise get out of their home towns. It’s changed everything… It’s more or less responsible for Poly-Math even getting out of a rehearsal room.

FB: What’s next for Poly-Math???

Joe: We’ll be heading back into the studio very soon. We are currently writing a sequel record to Melencolia – we are trying to put a few other Easter eggs together for next year. Who knows, maybe an ambient album, maybe a traditional Spanish EP. Maybe a slew of weird singles written on pan pipes. Whatever it is, it’ll be as mental and unexpected as we can make it.

You can stream and download Polymath’s catalogue via their bandcamp page. You can also connect with the band via Facebook.