UTG INTERVIEW: Polyenso discuss their local scene and musical metamorphosis

Polyenso feature by James Lano.jpg

Despite the stronghold of pastel polos, bronzer, and Jimmy Buffet covers, St. Petersburg, Florida is slowly releasing its Miami Vice-grip to a hipper, more artistic population. The current music scene—if you want to call it that—is mostly bands and artists like Polyenso. They are remnants of the “screamo” wave that ruled the 2000s. Once known as Oceana, the former post-hardcore outfit turned urban indie progressive trio, Polyenso, lead an emerging scene of musicians, foodies, and visual artists putting their stamp on St. Petersburg.

“It’s definitely a strange spot, but it’s rapidly growing. A lot of artists are flocking here because it’s cheap to live and there’s a huge art community—like visual arts, music,” says Alex Schultz, a multi-instrumentalist and one third of the band at the front of the St. Petersburg transformation.

It’s common practice for artists to channel their social location into their work. Actually, it would be hard to imagine any art that isn’t in some way derived from its surroundings. But Schultz, singer and keyboardist, Brennan Taulbee, and drummer, Denny Agosto, are different. They’re proactive in cultivating an environment to influence art. “We try to mesh everything together,” says Taulbee of the surrounding artwork, music and food.

Schultz adds that the band plans to open up a music venue that’s attached to an artist’s loft. “It’s kind of like a warehouse but we’re moving in there to start unifying a little bit of the St. Pete music scene,” he says. “So we’ll see how that goes.”

Mainstream and underground music listeners might have a hard time pinning down artists from the Tampa area outside of A Day To Remember and Aaron Carter. “That’s been St. Pete for a while,” says Taulbee. “A lot of the music being played around this area was hardcore music. We know a lot of local musicians around the area—who also came from that background—starting new bands, doing newer styles.” But it’s been a slow transformation for the city which Underoath—the band that all but invented the “scene”—called home. Underoath disbanded in 2010, but its wake seems to have hit Florida last.

“It’s almost as if the kind of all-around experimental style—I guess “indie style” has come to St. Pete just a little bit later than other places in the country,” says Taulbee.

“Everything,” says Schultz, “always trickles down to us.” This makes Polyenso all the more impressive. While its peers are just getting started, Polyenso will release its second full-length album, Pure In The Plastic, on April 1.

Clairvoyant might be too lofty a word to define their ability to stay ahead of the curve. From talking to the three, you get the sense they’re the friends who know the right time to leave a party and hit another one. Maybe the beer is running low or someone just puked in a girl’s shoe. Pulling a complete 360 with your music—when it’s all you’ve played since you were 16 or 17—can be chalked up to a lot of things. Hearing them explain it, it sounds like they were tired of doing what everyone else was. No crystal ball. No come to Jesus moment. They were mostly just bored.

“Back in the day when we started playing the screamo hardcore stuff, it was simple, man,” says Schultz. “It was simple stuff. You listen to our albums The Tide or Birth.Eater and you’re like ‘Oh, my God, that riff…that riff is so technical.’ But it wasn’t. It really wasn’t challenging as a musician to play that kind of loud, crazy music.”

Taulbee explains that after several lineup changes, he and Schultz were given reins of the songwriting for Oceana. By then they had surpassed the need to use heavy music as an outlet for teen aggression. They were ready for something fresh and new, and their music tastes reflected that. “We were into Bright Eyes and Sufjan Stevens and Björk and all sorts of stuff,” says Taulbee. Obviously not the music you’d typically associate with a sweaty mosh pit.

“We started to become obsessed with subtleties,” say Schultz, “and how much more a little bleep and bloop makes you feel rather than this super hard-hitting breakdown.”

When you change your name from Oceana to Polyenso, the sky is the limit with subtleties. The name Polyenso breaks down into two parts: “poly” and “enso.” “Poly,” the prefix meaning “many,” captures the band’s obsession for layers of sound, and subtleties abound in their music. For example, an unreleased track from Pure In The Plastic, titled “I.W.W.I.T.I.W.,” includes the line “I’ll be going away for a little while, getting on a plane, thinking about not landing.” When Taulbee sings “getting on a plane,” Agosto added the ding of a seatbelt sign he recorded on an airplane, and when Taulbee sings “not landing,” he added a recording of a pilot saying “Enjoy your flight.”

The other part of the trio’s new moniker, “Enso,” is a Zen Buddhist symbol that is a circle drawn in a single brushstroke; never perfect, thicker and thinner in certain parts. It expresses the purity of a moment. This emphasis on a singular moment is no more evident than in the song “Cherry Life,” from their debut, One Big Particular Loop. Serving as the album’s most upbeat and simplest in terms of structure, with a poppy chorus and driving guitar line, the song bursts with instant gratification—like biting into a cherry.

But the song might not exist if not for the band’s environment. If you follow Polyenso on Instagram you’ll see they are big foodies. They all three work in restaurants and, as Schultz says, “strive to relate the visual art of food” into their music. “Seeing our chef friends make beautiful things inspires us to keep doing what we’re doing.” This amalgamation of artforms is refreshing. Rarely do you find individuals so self-aware of how they incorporate their surroundings into their work. For Polyenso it’s natural.

polyenso hugging by James Lano

| Interview written and conducted by Kevin Sterne |
| Photography courtesy of James Lano

Brian Leak
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