There are a hundred ways to make your name these days, but there are few more meaningful than watching a band grow before you in real time.
And, having honed their craft over the past five years, moving from their first single to now as they stand on the cusp of their forthcoming debut album ‘A Place Between States’, Polo are a band who’ve earned every success that’s rightfully come to them.
Three friends from college, vocalist Kat McHugh, synth and keys player Luke Lount and drummer Daniel Edgell came together musically as the decade ticked over into its second half, releasing debut track ‘Visions of Fortune’ at the tail end of 2015. Since then, through 2017 debut EP ‘Alice’ and beyond, the songwriting trio have shown that a high-end approach towards production and presentation, and a resolutely self-sufficient DIY spirit can go hand in hand. “I feel the DIY label is only ever used for artists of a very particular genre – punk or hardcore,” explains Luke. “Our genre is normally validated by enormous financial support, clean-cut marketing and pristine digital media, but we bring that energy just as well between ourselves.”
Bonding over a shared attitude just as much as their shared musical interests, it’s this spirit of determination and a willingness to break the mould that infiltrates both their ethos and their output as a band. Yes, Polo want to show that you can craft sonically-rich, nuanced synth-pop while keeping a self-produced, independent mindset (see the minimal, simmering beats of recent single ‘Witch Hunt’ by way of example), but they also want to extend that out to the messages they’re writing about, too. “I feel empowered when I see something that is changed for the better by a human being or as a result of a group of human beings,” says Kat. “There’s a lot that needs to change and I want to do my bit; a part of that is telling stories through my music and doing that whilst being my truest self.
“I’m influenced by strong women, by LGBTQ+ culture, cultures around the world, nature and passion,” she continues. “I love experiencing little things that make me burst into tears for an unexplained reason like Thom Yorke’s ‘Anima’ video, because then you know it’s a message you needed to see. I’m an empath who takes on a lot of emotion, so my lyrics are always from when I’ve been made to really feel something.”
The forthcoming debut album finds Polo seamlessly traversing the electronic pop sphere. Opener ‘ERASE YOU’ is a twisted industrial dipped track with a vocal air of iio’s ‘Rapture’, elsewhere ‘CLUBLIGHT’ takes aim straight for the dancefloor with a hypnotic pulsing beat, seductive vocals and pumping bass.
There’s beautiful sparse moments as found on ‘A SOBERING THOUGHT’, ‘A PLACE BETWEEN STATES’ and ‘WE RECOVER’, which get as close as you can to a ballad on a Polo record while breakout electronic synth explosions are never too far away. This is demonstrated in the warped, chaotic yet ultimately composed pop tracks ‘SPOTLIGHT’ and ‘VISUAL HEART’ reminiscent of the likes of Arca.
Across their releases to date, these ideas have gained the trio a host of support from like-minded people and organisations. Ahead of recording the ‘Alice’ EP, the band received funding from the PRS Women Make Music Fund, while the following year in 2018, PRS continued their backing, awarding them the Open Fund in order to help with the release of a trio of singles and two UK tours. This year, meanwhile, the band received both the PPL Momentum Music Fund and the Leeds City College Arts Fund in order to help with the creation of their debut album, which is currently in the works. “It’s meant that we have complete control over the entire process. We can commit to this project without financial limitation (which always begets creative limitation),” explains Luke. “We have full faith in what we do, and to receive both those funds in a short period of time offered support when we needed it most. It’s validation.”
Having earned critical plaudits from the likes of Noisey, Wonderland and Stereogum, plays on BBC 6Music and BBC Radio 1, and notable festival appearances at Reading and Leeds, The Great Escape, Live at Leeds and more, the validation for Polo’s self-made first steps has been coming from all directions. Exuding a strong, independent, feminist spirit, and surrounding it with technical precision and layered, evocative atmospheres, the trio admit that they’ve “become songwriters over time”, gradually tapping into each other’s strengths and fine-tuning their dynamic. But, heading into their debut, they’re in their strongest position yet, with a solid support network propping up their dynamically DIY core to help them.
“The album has given us the breathing space to explore ideas and concepts we’ve not yet been able to when releasing singles; we finally have space be ourselves as a band without limitations,” says Luke of their hopes for the forthcoming release. “Every band is defined by their first album; this is us establishing who we are.”