Polaris: Interview with Jamie Hails

I connected with Polaris frontman Jamie Hails on the phone when he was driving home from work. The situation sparked my first thought and question about the band; that they indeed have day jobs despite making brilliant music and travelling the world. “Yeah. Gotta make money. When we’re not touring, we’re still writing all the time and rehearsing, but we all have daytime jobs as well.”

In case you live under a rock, Polaris are one of the biggest names in Australian metalcore/melodic hardcore, featuring Jamie Hails (vocals), Jake Steinhauser (bass, vocals), Rick Schneider (guitar), Ryan Siew (guitar), and Daniel Furnari (drums). In preparation for my chat with Jamie, I took a moment to cast my eye over the last eighteen months or so for Polaris. This research hit home the sheer whirlwind of activity that the band have been through since mid 2017.

In May 2017, the Sydneysiders took themselves away to Mollymook (on the south coast of New South Wales) to record The Mortal Coil, with a hand from Grant McFarland and Carson Slovak. The Pennsylvania based duo are behind Atrium Audio and have engineered, produced, and mixed music for many names in the world of rock and metal (including August Burns Red, who earned a Grammy nomination for their Phantom Anthem album that the pair produced, engineered, and mixed).

(Birthing The Mortal Coil. Polaris with Grant McFarland and Carson Slovak – Image by Mitchell Harley)

The world got the first taste of new Polaris music with the July release of “Consume”. It was then the premiere and release of “The Remedy” in late August when The Mortal Coil was announced for upcoming release. This seemed to spark a flurry of activity for the band over the months that followed, seeing them feature at Bigsound, AM/PM with Northlane, sign with SharpTone Records for the album release globally, kick off on The Remedy tour of Australia, as well as grace magazine covers for Mixdown Magazine, The Music, and The Brag.

With the release of The Mortal Coil on 3rd November, it was all on. In amongst the high praise for the eleven tracks, the album became Triple J’s feature album, and debuted at #6 on the ARIA Album Charts. The Polaris social media feed in late 2017 through to early 2018 was then flush with tour or show announcements; including Polaris’ first European tour with the Impericon ‘Never Say Die’ tour, the Parkway Drive ‘A Decade Of Horizons’ tour, Unify Gathering 2018, Impericon Festival in Germany, a second European tour with Alazka, We Came As Romans, and The Plot In You, as well as the The Mortal Coil headline tour of Australia.

Without so much as taking a breath, the band are lined up to be part of Yours & Owls festival, and Dead Of Winter festival. They also have North America in their sights, with joining Parkway Drive on tour with August Burns Red, The Devil Wears Prada, and The Plot In You, and some ‘up close and personal’ shows with Gideon, Varial, Nothing Left, and Chamber. They’ll also give some festival love to North America with the Envol et Macadam Festival in Quebec, Canada.

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(Polaris on stage at Unify Gathering 2018, shot by Rowan Donohue)

I’m exhausted just tracking down all of those dates and details, and can’t imagine what it might be like to be living in the thick of it, as well as working day jobs. Jamie sums it up with a laugh:

“It’s been a busy year, I guess you could say!”

He elaborates on this to talk about the growth of the band and the extra activity in their schedule. “It’s been very progressive. Up until April last year we were doing give-or-take three to four tours around Australia every year. That’s all we were used to. After April last year, we recorded our album, and then from that point on we did two runs and then over to Europe in November for the ‘Never Say Die’ tour.”

Pulling over his car to the side of the road so that he can concentrate, Jamie continues to share this continuous journey that the band have been going through in terms of growth. “Ever since then it kind of just has been one thing after another, as you said. But it’s been very gradual. We went back to Europe again just recently, in between that time we toured in January with Parkway and we did our own tour for our album. I guess with releasing the album as well, it’s become a bit more full on, the band. Especially touring-wise. As I said before, we’ve only been used to doing four tours a year around Australia. But now, introducing the rest of the world, going over to Europe now twice in six months and going over to America in a couple of weeks, it’s obviously adding a lot more tours to the year and making our schedules a lot busier.”

Jamie seems tense momentarily as he says “It’s been a bit full on to tackle and to adjust. I’m not saying we’re adjusted to it, but are slowly adjusting to”, before lightening again and saying, “At the same time it’s very exciting. We’re playing to people that have wanted to see us for a very long time. Like, we’ve had people that have been following our band for as long as the band have been together and stuff, so it’s been really awesome to slowly get busier with the band and do what we’ve really been dreaming to do.”

Kel: “Like international fans of the band finally getting to see you?”

Jamie: “Yeah! We kind of get used to going around Australia and people saying ‘We’ve been following you since Dichotomy’. We’ve had that a few times over the years. But when you go to the other side of the world, and you have someone say they’ve been following you since the very first thing you ever released, it’s very like ‘wow!’. Like ‘I’m literally on the other side of the world and someone cares about our music like that’. It’s really overwhelming! [laughs]”

 

Kel: “Yeah wow. How do you react to that?”

Jamie: “With a big old smile on my face [laughs]. Nah, I think it was the first show we played over in Europe, in Hamburg last November. And I believe there was a person at that show that had been following us since Dichotomy, and a couple others who’d been following us since The Guilt & The Grief which is still a decent two years, and Dichotomy three to four years. It just hit me, like ‘Wow, you’ve actually been waiting to see us play for a solid three to four years. That is actually cool’. And that whole tour we had people say they came out just to see our band. Like they were staying, but they mainly came to see us play. It was really awesome to hear. [laughs] Something very special, yeah.”

“We write music that we want to hear.”

In the process of the band bringing The Mortal Coil to life, Polaris gave insight to their high standards and a sense of being ‘fussy’ in creating their art. For this reason as well as the band’s obvious surge in popularity, I had to wonder whether there was a lot of pressure now upon them in whatever new music they’d be creating.

In Jamie’s words: “Of course the pressure is there. There more than ever, in honesty. We did put a lot of high expectations and pressure on ourselves with the album, and now that the album is doing a lot better than we thought it would. We’re now gearing up to start writing for the next album and it’s like ‘Wow, we need to top that’. And even at the time we weren’t expecting it to do half as well as it did and we’re like ‘Crap, we’ve got to one up on ourselves now!’. The pressure’s still there, and with becoming a lot more well known and especially being a lot more well known worldwide now, as we’re becoming known overseas, it’s a bit more daunting having to follow up an album like that and keep the standard of what we’re about, where we’re going, and what we want to do. Not only to please our fans, but also to please ourselves. We write music that we want to hear. Obviously what fans want to hear, but what we want to hear as well.”

 

With increase in popularity and activity for the band, it seems like time alone to regroup would be important. Jamie feels that getting back into the routine of his day job, listening to music, and spending time with family are what keeps him grounded and adjusting after coming back from the ‘home away from home’ of touring. He says “I like to catch up with my family a bit because I don’t talk to them as much when I’m on the road. The time zones don’t usually work out and it’s usually just a message here or there, barely a phone call. When I’m home I like to spend a lot more time with the family and catch up and everything.”

I couldn’t resist asking Jamie about the kind of music he listens to. “Mainly heavy heavy kind of music,” he says. “But it’s all over the place. I can go from listening to really heavy bands like Oceano and Thy Art Is Murder and all that, to electronic artists and acoustic artists. My main kind of music that I do listen to is heavy music from really heavy or even metalcore bands like Bring Me The Horizon. I do like my bit of electronic music here and there or chillout music as well.”

The music of Polaris is the product of multiple influences, with the five members of the band having different tastes in what they enjoy listening to. Given that they seek to create the music they want to hear, I wondered how the band navigated the minefield of determining whose ideas they’d go with. “We try to please everyone’s not so much needs but wants out of a song. I think Rick and myself are the main heavy heavy music listeners in the band and we also listen to rocky, hardcorey stuff, Rick mainly. When we’re writing it, we’ll want it to be sounding like that, but also want to add other elements to make sure everyone’s pleased and happy where the song goes and everything. Obviously we choose to have the heavier songs more than the lighter songs, but it is a mission for everyone to agree on where a song goes. We’re all so hands-on with the music”

Picturing a heated discussion in my head in the songwriting process, I said: “Individually passionate, then?”

Jamie: “Bigtime, bigtime.”

 

Following Polaris on social media makes it abundantly obvious that the band are very supportive of other bands in the scene, such as Tapestry, Belle Haven, and Deadlights. Given this public backing of other bands seems like a relatively uncommon thing for a band of their size, I asked Jamie about the feeling behind it, whether they wanting to ‘pay it forward’, so to speak?

“It’s more like we appreciate good music when we see it and when we hear it. And not only that. A lot of these bands are our friends and it’s almost like a ‘Hey check out my friends band’ kind of thing. Like ‘These guys just released a banger track. We like it, we think you’ll like it too!’ kind of thing.

Over the years even on my personal account whenever I’ve heard music, whether it be like a friend’s band in the Australian music scene, or just bands in general; I’ve shared it on Facebook. It’s kind of that same thing. I guess it’s a bit different when you’re sharing it as a band, and I guess the level that we’re at, people pay attention to what the bands will share.

It’s mainly like, we appreciate good music when we hear it, and from touring the many many times that we have around Australia over the years, we’ve made a lot of friends who just happen to be in good bands writing good music. When they release new material and new music videos, of course we’re going to give it a share. Likewise they’ve done it to us when we’ve released new stuff as well.”

 

Given that at most every show I’ve been at in Melbourne of late, I’ve seen headliner bands in the crowd watching the support bands’ sets, I acknowledged how great it is to witness the cross-band support in the scene. Jamie agreed, saying “It’s awesome”, before circling back to the power of social media with this support, and elaborating on how important all gestures of support are for a band. “Even with the scene over the years, I have noticed that the Australian music scene has become a bit more supportive. People have understood that even just one person, and they don’t even have to be in a band or whatever, just one person sharing a band’s music video or tour post, people understand how much that actually helps out. One share on a post exposes it to a couple of hundred people, or depending on however many friends they have on Facebook.. a couple hundred, a couple thousand, and then a couple of people might like that and then share it or tell their friends.  The music scene has over the years grown to understand when a band announces a new album, releases a new music video, or new single, when it gets shared around how important that is in getting the band’s name out there. That’s how you gain new fans these days. Everything is online. Everything is a click away and a simple share goes a long way, more than people understand sometimes. So yeah, it’s been cool to see the music scene and bands doing that over the years. It does help out a lot. It’s awesome because of the music community being welcoming.”

 

I had some burning questions about The Mortal Coil by way of its cover art, themes, lyrics, and meaning, but Jamie confirmed that Daniel Furnari is the band’s main lyricist and the one I’d need to quiz about that. “When I joined the band, he was the lyricist. I was like ‘That’s cool, I’m not the best lyricist myself’. We came to the agreement that I would never sing about something I can’t relate to, or can’t connect with. Because then I really am just reading off someone else’s lyrics and singing about something I don’t really care about or can’t relate to and I don’t want to do that. So with Daniel being our main lyricist, we do work together and I do understand where he’s coming from. All of our lyrics I can relate to or draw the emotion from a real place instead of a piece of paper and just guessing what I should do with my voice kind of thing.”

Polaris are gearing up for another run around Australia this month, more regional than metropolitan. The “Dusk To Day” tour seems to reiterate the band’s current theme of broadening their reach, whether that’s going overseas or taking their music to new areas in Australia. “We never have done a regional run. We’ve played in Newcastle and Canberra a couple of times here and there, but that’s mainly it. We usually hit the main cities Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, that’s about it over the years of touring. It’s not like a big big regional run. If you actually look at the places we’re playing, they’re not too far out from the main cities, but we just wanted to branch out a little bit, start covering a bit more ground and get out there a bit more in Australia and playing to places that we haven’t really been to. Especially Newcastle and Canberra. I don’t think we’ve played a show there for about two years, so we’re excited to get back to there. We’ve never been to Hobart. Never been to Tasmania, so we’re excited to get down there. In the future we want to get out a lot more into a lot more rural regional Australia. We wanted to get out there to a lot of fans that have probably never had the chance to see us before, or not for a long time, so we’re really excited.”

Catch Polaris with Justice For The Damned and some very impressive supports, by grabbing a ticket at www.polarisaus.oztix.com.au. You don’t want to miss seeing these guys live.

 

Kel Burch

Creator and caretaker of Depth Mag, Kel uses her superpowers of empathy, word-weaving, and feeling everything deeply, to immerse herself in music before returning to reality to write about her experience with it.

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