In the last year Polar Bear Club has made the transition to a full-time band, signed to one of the biggest hardcore labels around, and toured the globe. Scene Point Blank spoke with vocalist Jimmy Stadt about the growth of the band, how his theatre background has helped his music career, and the importance of ambiguity in his lyrics.
Scene Point Blank: You guys recently did some shows with The Gaslight Anthem in Europe. Was that the first time you had been over there as a band?
Jimmy Stadt: Yeah, it was. We did a lot of England, a lot of Germany, The Netherlands, some Scandinavia, and a day in Italy. I think we did nine countries total.
Scene Point Blank: Playing with that band is a little different than playing with a band like Have Heart. How have the crowds reacted to you?
Jimmy Stadt: It's weird. We went from touring with Cancer Bats, to touring with The Gaslight Anthem, to now touring with Have Heart. I think it's kind of a testament to our band that we can kind of style hop like that. It's interesting because on The Gaslight Anthem tour we're the tough guys and on the Have Heart tour we're the wusses. We toured with The Gaslight Anthem in the States before doing the European dates. In the States the crowds were similar. The punks kids were still coming out to those shows and they were into us. They're kind of a bit bigger in England, so while there are still the punk kids that come and see them there are adults and younger kids, too.
Scene Point Blank: I'm going to guess it was still better than the Third Eye Blind gig?
Jimmy Stadt: In some ways it was similar. That was the biggest gig we ever played. There were three thousand people and a barricade and all that. On the Gaslight tour, we had a barricade almost every night, and they didn't get up to three thousand people, but in London they did two thousand. It was pretty fucking cool, but we played pretty shortly after doors. Everyone wasn't always in to see is, but that's fine we're the opening band. Some people really appreciated the diversity of the three separate acts from us to Frank Turner to Gaslight, and some people just didn't really care to see us.
Scene Point Blank: Looking through a lot of old interviews you expressed that Polar Bear Club might never end up as a full-time band. Obviously you've changed your mind about that. When did that switch happen? How did you decide?
Jimmy Stadt: We became a full-time band in August 2008, so pretty recently. We had been a band for about three years before that. I was in school. Chris, our guitar player, was in school. Nate was in school and had a pretty good job, and our drummer had a really good job, too. We just did weekends. It was super fun and super kind of casual. We just started getting all this attention. Suddenly Alternative Press was phoning us up and Myspace?we had featured artist for a week, and a full page in Alternative Press as a part time band. We did our most recent full-length as a part time band and in order to give it a fair shot we had to either stop being a band or go full time. We all had enough faith in it to try. It was a last minute decision because it was completely different than anything we had planned. We all just said "Fuck It. Let's do it."
Scene Point Blank: Well at the time you had been working in a daycare center?
Jimmy Stadt: When I was in high school I was working in preschools, and I did it all through out collage as well. When I was in collage I did it as well. I got my degree in acting. My plan was to hang around my hometown for a little bit than move somewhere where I could do that. I started assistant teaching at a really nice school, always knowing I was going to be leaving to go do acting?and then I was leaving to be in a full-time band.
Scene Point Blank: I'm currently studying acting, as well. What had pushed you to pursue that at an academic level?
Jimmy Stadt: It's weird. There are not a lot of people like us in punk and hardcore. When I tell people that I'm really into theatre I usually get a weird look.
Scene Point Blank: Well you quoted Long Day's Journey into Night in one of your songs?
Jimmy Stadt: Yeah. That play is fucking amazing. I could watch the three-hour film version of that play over and over. It moves me to tears every time at the end there. I got into theatre in high school. I was doing improv comedy stuff and then I got into plays. I had a really amazing theatre teacher. Philip Seymour Hoffman went to my high school and had the same teacher. She was great. Most schools were doing the standard musicals while we were doing Shakespeare. We'd still do the musicals but with two shows a year and in the fall we'd do like a Moliere. By the time I went to collage I had got into bands, but I couldn't major in bands, so I could either major in recording or theatre. I just kind of haphazardly chose theater and through that I began to love it and understand what it could be. It almost breaks my heart when people in punk and hardcore dismiss it because they don't know how much like punk it really could be.
Scene Point Blank: With like Artaud and stuff?
Jimmy Stadt: Right. They think of theatre like Guys and Dolls and it's not. It's Eugene O'Neil and it's Ibsen. That's the theatre that really resounds with me. It's interesting. Not a lot of punk rock people are into theatre.
Scene Point Blank: I'm usually pretty sheepish to admit it.
Jimmy Stadt: It's almost like a physical education degree, where people just kind of write it off, but it's actually really powerful stuff.
Scene Point Blank: Do you think your training has helped you with what you're doing on stage?
Jimmy Stadt: Yeah. Definitely with my comfort level. Playing a forty-five minute to an hour set of my own material and words I wrote is so much less nerve racking than performing two hours of a play. I'm really comfortable because of my background. It helps with my mentality and just being seen. If there is a heckler I don't freak out because I know what I'm doing and can embrace any kind of improv situation.