At Home In The Tundra

Even in sun-drenched states and perfect climates, Erik “Goose” Henning misses the sullen skies of upstate New York while on the road.

“You don’t think you would miss this,” Henning said, smiling up at the slate of grey clouds and drizzle through his black, thick-framed glasses. “All this gloomy, bullshit weather and South Salina Street, but you really do. Just being here, it honestly feels really good.”

Henning got to spend just a few hours at his home in Eastwood, right down the street from The Lost Horizon on Friday where his band, Polar Bear Club, played to a sweaty mass packed inside its confined walls. Fireworks, Balance and Composure, Such Gold and the opener, Summer People, accompanied them on the second-to-last stop on tour, the hometown of half the headlining band.

And, as Henning points out, upstate New York has helped shape the band into what they are today.

“Both of our guitar players are from Rochester and they have a certain style of playing that is definitely ‘Rochester,’” Henning said. “I don’t really know how to put that into real works, but it comes from some of those bands like The Disaster, Marathon and Breaking Project; there’s some kind of style about the way those kids play guitar and about the way they write, it just shines.”

Singer Jimmy Stadt said his mind “goes places in those long winters” characteristic of the region.

“Our influences are largely bands not from this area, but the specificity of our voice couldn’t come from anywhere else,” Stadt said. “We’re from a little big town, a city with out a face, you know?”

From sweaty basements listening to awful hardcore music to just hanging around friends in local bands, Henning said the band has picked up influence from their experiences, not just a list of big names. He pointed at one local musician he shared the stage with Friday, Brandon Musa, formerly of “Fire When Ready,” a punk band Henning listened to before he ever picked up an instrument.

“When you talk about influences, you can say, ‘Oh, my biggest influence is Led Zeppelin,’ but, cool dude, no it’s not,” Henning said. “Your biggest influences are the people you’re surrounded by and your friends, and the bands you grew up with.”

Henning’s also learned from the bands he’s toured with recently, and strives to better himself as a musician and as a human being.

“We just love music, that’s what drives us,” Henning said outside of his rusted, disheveled tour van. “We love a good harmony, and a good hook. We’ll be listening to bands like Bad Rabbits, this R&B, hip-hop, ‘90s, Bell Biv Devoe type shit, and I’ll crank it and be paying attention to every single hook, every little lead.”

Musical and personal growth is what drives Henning and Polar Bear Club, but that hasn’t been indicative of every band they’ve toured with. Henning recounts a recent tour with Christian metalcore juggernauts August Burns Red, who are devoutly faith-based, and a conversation he had with their drummer, Matt Greiner about religion.

“They have a very interesting take on things,” Henning said. “Their drummer was talking about how this one really small change in his life, that that had to do with the speech and the way he talked, that he was embarrassed about his whole life just stopped one day. If that was me, and I had a stutter, and I woke up and it was gone, I would seriously not think twice about it. But I was talking to him about it and he was like, ‘This is a miracle.’ I thought, how cool to look at like like that.”

Stadt also described the perceived rift between touring bands who use religion as a platform to preach beliefs and secular bands trying to grasp the concept.

“We’ve toured with a lot of these bands and they’re great people, but I’m an Atheist,” Stadt said. “I’m always down to discuss it with these people, but we end the discussion with a weird taste in our mouths and understandably so. Music has always been about sharing ideas and I’m all for that if it’s presented with a voice of doubt and questioning.”

Henning said he isn’t a religious person and that Polar Bear Club isn’t a very religious band in general. Speaking personally, he believes Jesus is about as real as Santa Claus.

But he’s not against the idea of religion and it’s inspiring potential. The only thing Henning doesn’t stand for is being negative.

“I do not hate on religion at all, I hate on the negativity, the wars and things like the Westboro Baptist Church, that crazy next-level bullshit. But I think the idea of something looking out for you is pretty cool,” he said.

And he doesn’t like to tell people what to think, either. Even the name of the band’s new record released on September 13, Clash Battle Guilt Pride, is intentionally ambiguous and meant for each listener to take away their own unique, deeply personal experience.

“A song could mean something totally different to you than it does to us,” Henning said. “You could like the song just because it’s upbeat, but I hate to be the one to tell you that it’s about something you disagree with.”

For Henning and Polar Bear Club, it’s hard to contain their personal drive. With three full-lengths and an EP already under their belt, they’re already looking to better themselves and put out another incredible product— under their own power.

“That’s definitely what drives us, to always want to do something better than the last one,” Henning said. “We want to start writing a new record already, because we can keep churning these ones out. I definitely don’t think there’s some superior being that makes us want to write music, but it’s just about wanting to better ourselves as musicians and people.”

 

By Chris Ballard