Early in the afternoon at a small café in West Hollywood, CA is when and where I meet Eric Stang and Mario Cerutti of the Los Angeles duo, Polarcode, and Eric is putting the final killing strokes on his salad. The kind of salad that he ordered is irrelevant (arugula, if you really must know), what’s important is the fact that said salad contains his weakness: goat cheese. He seems quite content with his choice.
Polarcode are something of an unconventional outfit: you have Eric and Mario (two musicians learned in the arts of classical percussion and jazz via DePaul University in Chicago) who orbit around the world of alternative and indie pop in order to create singular musical experiences brought to life by and through a distinct vocal presence. It’s an endeavor (and adventure) that requires seeking out and recruiting from a fairly specific pool of talent, preferably LA-based.
“Generally, we’re looking at singers who are playing shows in LA, who are active, who are generally solo artists.” Eric explained. “We just listen for artists who seem to have really good creative song writing, who fit into our world of indie pop. So if they’re a great singer but they’re writing very mainstream pop songs, probably not for us. If they’re a great singer but they’re kind of country or something: not for us. We’re just trying to find great singers with a strong voice who fit our style.”
What style is that, exactly? Of late their collaborations have yielded results that range from the soulful groove of “Don’t Spare My Heart” (feat. Desi Valentine) to the sensually emotive and smooth jazz-flavored “I Crave You” and “Nowhere Fast,” both featuring human musical firework, Lauren Ruth Ward.
Eric accurately described her “one of a kind” because with Lauren in front of a camera, very little else is required.
Eric: “In black and white and just simplistic, but stunning. You want it stunning and simple and black and white, and it worked out amazingly.”
Mario: “You just put her in front of the camera and you press record and then we just sit there. She’s a spectacular performer.”
We concur. Then there’s also the pop funk feel that you can’t help but shake a body part or two to, “Cut You Loose” with NBC’s The Voice finalist, Taylor John Williams.
Impossible to sit still, wasn’t it? I know. So, about that video…
Eric: “A director we worked with before, Caleb des Cognets, directed it and we somehow managed to get a ton of people in there in eight hours and film an entire video that should have been shot in three days…”
Mario: “…the whole thing was done in eight hours…”
Eric: “…we have no idea how it got finished, because halfway through they were like, oh, this is just not going to happen. We’re not going to be able to finish this thing. It worked out and we also were able to add a bunch of really cool effects to the video, as well. Lucas Paisley did the effects in the video and just made it really this crazy, awesome experience with the dream sequence where this guy is in this bar. Things are ordinary and boring and then he – all of sudden – slips into this dream world where he’s in this crazy bar with all these crazy people. He’s lost in this world, he doesn’t understand and, eventually, finds himself on stage with the band.”
Mario: “That was all Caleb – he and his little team he assembled came up with all that and we just went with the flow. It was amazing that they got that done in one day. It was extremely impressive.”
Eric: “So we come up with instrumentals, and we have a vast array of them. Different groups, different tempos, different styles, but still within what we do. Then we’ll go to the singer and say, ‘What do you think?’ Most go, ‘I like this one.’ They come in either with a little bit of an idea, singing it or we write together on it. I’m a co-writer of lyrics and melodies, so there’s times I get more involved and write as much of the song as they do. There’s times they’ve come and written more of the song. It’s really just then turning that into something that works and changing it and finding out where the truth of it is, and where it ends up resting. Some are a lot different than where it started, but it always starts with that first initial instrumental.”
Mario: “It’s never like we send an instrumental and they send us something back. We’re always in the room together, talking about it, writing together…it’s a very collaborative thing. We try…every time we have a new singer, we form a new band with that person. We don’t want to be two producers who just have some singer come in and crank out a song. We like it to be a little more personal than that.”
Eric: “Yeah. We become a band with that person for that moment…”
Mario: “…then we kick them out (laughs). We could very easily come up with a really great song with someone and never see them and they could live in Japan. But we purposely look for people that live in LA because…it just makes such a big difference just to look the person in the face.”
One particularly charming thing about sitting between Eric and Mario is how complementary they are: conversationally, they tend to bounce off of one another like an old couple…or a couple of very like-minded musicians. Both have a definite and healthy appreciation for life in LA compared to Chicago.
Eric: “It’s a beautiful place, incredible weather. Everyone here is really excited to be in music.”
Mario: “I did not really enjoy living in Chicago, for the most part. I also despise cold weather with every ounce of my being. The second you eliminate that, I’m immediately like every day is great. I wake up and it’s sunny. Thank you very much.”
Music such as theirs – songs with such distinct personalities and emotional temperatures – makes Polarcode perfect for the world of syncs and licensing – a road which they are more than happy to tread upon. You can find “Nowhere Fast” in the Disney Channel original movie, The Swap and damned if “Cut You Loose” doesn’t feel as if it could be splendidly at home in a car commercial. And while they’ve mainly focused on working with locally based artists in the up-and-coming range, if Eric and Mario could have their pick of artists across the country to work with, who would be on that bucket list?
Mario: “It’d be nice to do a song with Eddie Vedder. Probably someone like BØRNS.”
Eric: “We’re like crazy fans of Twenty One Pilots. Tyler, come on, hang out with us.”
Aim high, gentlemen, for LA is known for making magic happen. And now that they have put it out into the Universe, perhaps it’s only a matter of time.
While we wait for that magical Polarcode/Eddie Vedder/Twenty One Pilots/BØRNS jam to manifest, Eric and Mario went another round with Taylor John Williams for the song, “Devices” which Mario described as “dark” and “cinematic”:
Mario: “It’s nothing like ‘Cut You Loose.’ He’s such a good singer and he has such a versatile voice. He’s just such a good singer that it all sounds good no matter what.”
Let’s switch a few words around: Polarcode are such talented musicians that it all sounds good no matter what.