"Up until now we've been a bit like a baby marsupial in its mother's pouch. You have to know when the time is right to hop out into the wide world, and we want to do that fully grown."
It's a lovely sunny winter's day in London, and I'm walking through St.
Giles, on the way to a friend's wedding. And you can rightly deduct from reading that last sentence that I'm in an extremely good mood. I do have an additional reason to be cheerful though, for I am reliably informed that all the members of the elusive UK act The Polaroids will be attending too. This is a rare occurrence, as this band rarely speak to anyone. You could say that they have a difficult reputation. They rarely return my calls. Apart from a some very underground East London live appearances last year and an art gallery gig last May in, of all places, Leiden, 2004 saw them batten down the hatches to write and record tracks in readiness for an onslaught of EPs this year, the first of which "Urban Fox" is released this week on Maximum Volume Records.
As I enter the Clerkenwell pub where the reception is to be held, I see the four core members chatting away to other guests. We agree to talk once everyone has "relaxed". Below is a transcript of what we said once we had, indeed, all "relaxed" sufficiently.
IN; Okay, Polaroids, you are going to have to be less shy with your adoring public. I want each of you in turn to name the two artists you secretly see yourself as a cross between and tell me why you rate your choices.
[Lots of laughter and arguing]
Mark Headley (singer): Thurston Moore/Julian Cope. Underground pop fanatics wearing their hearts on their sleeves.
Richard Slinger (lead guitarist, effects): Will Sargeant/Michael Karoli (Can). Mysterious, no egos, fluid.
Sara Hamalainen (vox/keyboards): Nico/Kim Deal (Pixies). Dark folk and spangly glam, all at the same time, please!
Chris Gibson (effects/laptop): Brian Eno/Gibby Haynes. Laptops, leopardskin, petrol fumes, ability to stalk REM.
Michael Robinson (drums): Reni/Bobby Gillespie (when Mary Chain drummer). Stealthy minimalist punkadelic hip hop.
Jonny Whittle (bass): John Entwistle (The Who)/John Deacon (Queen). Precision violence, stadium rock, afro.
IN; To the outside world, you present a mysterious image. You close ranks. Your name even has a monosyllabic, autistic feel to it. Yet that's not the case at all is it?
MH: Yeah that's not the case at all, the name "The Polaroids" does indeed feature more than one syllable! I know what you mean though about our early stuff being autistic – it's like "Blue Monday" by New Order. It just exists like a rock on a beach. Having said that, I reckon a lot of our early mystery came from basic incompetence. We were so busy trying to work out how to write and play songs no one could work out what we were up to!
SH: I'm gonna fly the flag for monosyllabic and autistic! Silence is much underrated!
RS: We're not deliberately trying to be secretive or inaccessible. I think we're easy to listen to, but hard to grasp fully. I think that if you want to make something special then sometimes you need to take your time. We want people to come to love us, but we want to get to that stage on our own terms, even if that means it happens a bit slower. We never planned to be playing in some dodgy toilet pub every Tuesday night, just cos we could. Instead we're at the stage now where people are coming to us, rather than us looking for them.
IN; Why are there so many contributors passing through your ranks? I mean it's not as if you sell yourselves as a big, sprawling gang, like the Polyphonic Spree...
CG: The Polaroids are always on the lookout for ways to bring people into our world. When we meet new, interesting people we always want to introduce them to the rest of the group and we try to figure out ways that we can involve them in what we do. Sometimes that doesn't work out, so they move on. They decide that they've got different priorities...
MH: Or we boot them out first!
IN; How does this affect your music?
CG: Every new person seems to add a new facet to the music, making it catch your ear in a whole new way. An obvious example is when we started working with Michael (the drummer) for the first time, and the effect on the whole sound was amazing.
RS: It gives us a breadth of style and means anything is possible. We've worked with minimalist techno producers, teenage Bernard Butler wannabees, middle aged keyboard wizards. We are totally open minded to trying stuff out. That's not to say it always works!
MH: Most of the people in The Polaroids are mates from childhood or mates of mates since childhood. It's great for new people to come in to the mix and knock us sideways. Everyone brings something unique to the party.
IN; I could accuse you of wanting to have your cake and eat it, musically. Do you refute this? Do you think you can go too far?
CG: I think the main song writing force of the band is an excellent team, but there's no doubting that they're perfectionists. I, for one, would like to try sometimes to get them to say "that song is finished" and let it loose into the world.
MH: I think that's fair comment. This year the priority is to get stuff out there. I love that Krautrock thing of taking music back to its fundamentals then seeing where it goes. That does mean sometimes we can accidentally end up trying to reinvent the wheel!
IN; And yet you are a very accessible poppy band at times.
CG: Yes. We will lure them in them in through pop to broaden their minds to other sounds. Iron fist in a velvet glove!
MH: I love bands who can do great singles as well as albums, like The Kinks, TRex, The Fall, The Smiths, very early Pink Floyd etc. I see singles as totally different to album tracks. The form makes you have to create a universe in as concise and accessible a way a possible.
IN; Tell us about the new release. Why EP's? Aren't they irrelevant in the days of digital downloads, iPods and so on?
MH: Nah, EP's are totally relevant. We are deliberately releasing EP's with the intention that every track can stand up on its own merits, like the early Oasis EP's. I am so pleased that the democracy of downloading is obliterating lazy filler bollox!
RS: Each track on the new EP is totally different. "Urban Fox" is a punky disco pop song – it's like Sonic Youth jamming with Dee-lite. Quite fun and throwaway. "You Shape the Flow Time" is an old-ish song that totally changed when we played it live with the new expanded line up. We were like, "This is actually a big anthem – we could play this in some mad Japanese stadium – we must totally re-record it". So we did!
SH: "Sunbeam Moto-Cyklist" is quite cartoony. It's based on a sculpture we saw in this amazing old Soviet style modern art museum in Prague. We took a photo of it then had to run away from these old female museum guards – they were like Olympic shot putters left over from the 1970's!
IN; I can't get this idea of defining you out of my head. You do seem to be in a world of your own...
RS: Up until now we've been a bit like a baby marsupial in its mother's pouch. You have to know when the time is right to hop out into the wide world, and we want to do that fully grown.
CG: I've always been contrary, so I'm very happy to be here. Not that I'm exclusive: come and join the party. And bring your mates!
SH: I've always been in my own world and I have no plans to change that for anyone!
IN; Plans for 2005. Let's hear them.
RS: To hop out of that pouch!
MH: Lots of EP's. Very special live events. A "proper" album. Top of the Pops in September.
IN; What the hell do you all want?
CG: To raise a few eyebrows.
SH: To skip a few heartbeats.
The Polaroids brand new EP "Urban Fox" is out now on Maximum Volume Records.
You can listen to it at