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Polar Bear: Raw and Spontaneous

By Published: February 8, 2010
So, how do the musicians prioritize their commitments? Both Rochford and Herbert laugh briefly before the bassist responds. "I don't know, really," he says. "I guess for me it's about creating space to focus on Polar Bear and The Invisible. The difference between the two for me is that The Invisible is a less established band. With Polar Bear, it's not ideal if I have to dep a gig out, but at least I know that the band can still function without me. ... With The Invisible, I don't feel like I can get a dep. Polar Bear's music is more open to interpretation, but The Invisible's music is more part-specific, so it's harder for that reason, rather than a question of priorities. It's never a comfortable feeling, having to dep out a Polar Bear gig, because it does feel so personal with the playing and this combination of musicians. I know when I do a Polar Bear gig and Mark or Pete can't make it, then it changes the whole dynamic. Sometimes that will be a really creative and positive thing ... but sometimes when you get the whole band back together, you realize that there is that relationship there, things that are unspoken."

This relationship has been forged over a history of playing together. Does this mean, then, that Polar Bear doesn't rehearse? Again, both musicians laugh before one of them, Rochford in this case, answers. "We don't rehearse a lot. We rehearse when I've got new tunes, but I'm lucky in that everyone memorizes the music, so we can let the music develop," he says. "We generally rehearse if Seb has new stuff, or if we have a big concert coming up." Herbert adds: "Sometimes it's good to rehearse just to dust off the cobwebs, iron out a few inconsistencies."

With such an approach, and with four albums recorded, how much of the Polar Bear repertoire can the band call on for any given performance? Rochford is confident in him answer. "You'd have to ask Tom, Pete or Mark," he says. "I can do all of it, but then I don't have to remember the actual notes or the keys." Herbert is happy to take a spontaneous approach to the set list from time to time, if audience requests arise. "There are the occasional gigs when someone will shout something out ... 'Beartown' and 'Argumentative' are two tunes that get called out quite a lot," Herbert says. "Yeah," adds Rochford. "We played 'Argumentative' a while ago when we hadn't played it for ages because someone shouted out for it and everybody remembered how it went." Herbert takes up the theme again, emphasizing that responding to requests isn't always the best thing to do. "On a gig, we work the set out, and we get a shape for the set. It can really disrupt things if you throw in a different tune—it breaks up the rhythm. .. There are certain tunes that we'll work toward because they fulfill a certain function for the audience," he says.

Like most contemporary bands, Polar Bear plays many different types of venues. Each one creates a different vibe, which the musicians recognize and exploit. Herbert doesn't declare a preference. "The interesting thing for me is that it really affects the way we play," he says. "I quite like it when we play to an audience that's sitting down because it creates an atmosphere in the room that's very different from where people are all standing up and close together and right up near the stage and it's hot. I enjoy the contrasts the different environments bring out in the music."

With the release of Peepers, Polar Bear will spend much of the first half of 2010 touring. Rochford has longer term plans for the band, but prefers to keep them to himself. "I don't really like talking about that. Sometimes, when you talk about your plan, you don't do it. I have got some ideas about what I want to do, but I feel that to say them might actually stop me from doing them. I wouldn't want to say them and then not do them," Rochford says. Herbert and Rochford both laugh, but the bassist makes no attempt to get Rochford to reveal his plans, and talk turns to the new album.

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