Polly Mackey, Polly Mackey & The Pleasure Principle
Bill Cummings 16/06/2010
Imagine opening the Welsh delegates welcome dinner at this year's SXSW ? That's what happened to intelligent alt rockers Polly Mackey and The Pleasure Principle from Wrexham in Austin Texas earlier this year. The phrase 'One to watch' is thrown around sometimes with reckless abandon by music media at large, but Polly Mackey and the Pleasure principle really are an act to keep your eyes and ears on, chosen from over 2,000 bands appearing at SXSW 2010 to officially open the festival by performing at the Delegates Welcome Dinner. Six other strong SXSW performances (both stripped back and amped up) this year showcased their powerful, anthemic, but also dark, guitar pop sound that's thrown into sharp personal focus by front-girl Polly Mackey's smart sharply personal lyrics and soulful, inspiring vocals that are impressively way beyond her tender nineteen years. It was the band's second year at SXSW festival, the place the music industry descends on to mine for musical gold every spring. Talking to Polly Mackey today she's really enthusiastic about the whole SXSW experience: 'Yeah is a great thing to do we played like eight or nine gigs” Polly reckons 'Its like a crash course in playing live. We thrive off it, we really love constantly playing. We got to see The XX, the Dum Dum girls and The Drums so that was really cool getting to actually see bands we like as well!'
Polly Mackey is frightening precocious nineteen year old she won a song writing award (Make it Break it judged by music industry big wigs including previous winner Chris Martin) a few years ago she possesses a unique voice, indeed starting as a solo artist allowed her time to develop her own voice before the rest of her band was formed: 'I start gigging when I was just fifteen or sixteen on my own, just getting used to playing live. I was getting a bit bored of the sound just me and a guitar could make, so there's a really good local scene where I live so I just headed to the few people I knew in bands and asked them if they wanted to join me.' Gathering her new musical comrades behind her: Tomas Hassall on guitar, Paul Bates playing bass, Tom Ryan on synths and keys and Adam Valentine manning the Drums, they were daubed with the name of one of Polly's favourite Gay Numan albums' and a psychoanalytical theory 'The Pleasure Principle'. And so with a neat bit of alliteration Polly Mackey and the pleasure principle was born. Finding her band has given Polly much more scope creatively but crucially her heart shuddering songs still retain an immediacy, that indefinable ability to plunge you in the apex of a moment in time or inside her head that characterised her solo work but now it stands tall amongst the Pleasure Principle's huge guitar hooks, sweeping synth lines and melodic pop song choruses: "You're a lot more exposed when your a solo artist people get to hear the lyrics more when you're in a band people are a lot more blasé about it but because I've come from doing it solo I've put a lot more thought into it.' Polly admits, but thinks its a good thing that now she can be helped by her band mates to transfer the sounds in her head onto record and stage 'Instead of writing for solo performance, I'm writing for a band performance which frees me up creatively.'
Not afraid of hard work that it takes to really make an impression these days Polly Mackey and the Pleasure Principle have been honing their craft live playing a host of live shows in the last few years, and a slew of festivals. At the start of the year they played HMV's The Next Big Thing festival in London and recent shows at The Great Sscape, an acoustic performance at the Itunes festival and taking part in a few fringe events at local venues during Radio One's big weekend in Bangor have further shone the spotlight on their sound. In July, Polly and the band will be appearing at this year's Wakestock Festival on the beautiful Lleyn Peninsular in North Wales. Sharing the main stage on Sunday July 4th with The Ting Tings, The Futureheads and Band of Skulls. "We do our own headline gigs quite a lot. But at the level we're at now Festivals are good to capture new audiences but we're all about getting a bigger fan base getting as many people to hear our music as possible hopefully we'll get to the stage were people are buying tickets to come and see us and we're selling out venues because we really thrith off the live show.” Polly enthuses, indeed their festival appearances have even allowed the band to rub shoulders with elder statesmen of music too “We played Benicassim last year Kings of Leon, Oasis and the Killers were playing, it was the biggest stage we ever played on and it was just amazing to have that size of stage, when you're a five piece band fitting on a tiny stage isn't always the easiest thing to do. We love playing live and jumping about a bit which is always difficult if you're hitting each other with guitars.”
The Welsh music scene is a strange beast sometimes fickle, sometimes incestuous, pockets of great creativity are sometimes ignored in the chase for who knows who or what the next big thing from Wales will be, I wondered what Polly's take was on it all "One of the things that bugs people in the North Wales area, we played the welsh party at SXSW(With Cate Le Bon) we were just representing the North Wales scene really because people usually assume Welsh bands are from South Wales.” She notes that there's sometimes a South Wales bias 'But its a shame because just in the town that we live in and our scene there's a hell of a lot of great bands such a vibrant scene there are some really great bands its a shame it gets over looked because its not the Capitol.'
Polly Mackey and the Pleasure Principle's sound has been compared to the alt pop suss of girl fronted bands like Metric and the defiant melodic blast of 'Celebrity Skin' era Hole but Polly has her own listening habits that are more of an influence on her bands ethos and how they approach the recording and live process than their actual sound: 'We listen to bands that are influences that we don't necessarily sound like. I like bands like Radiohead, Arcade fire, the Kills and recently I've been listening to P J Harvey and Bjork I wouldn't say we sound like them but I'm really influenced by how they go about the whole process of writing the music and how they play live. Once you're in a band and in a project I can never really answer it from an outsiders point of view.'
Unlike some 'alternative bands' cowering behind fringes and weedy guitars, Polly Mackey and her band aren't afraid of making music that has the ability to hook you in with a tune, but then pierce your heart with its message 'We've got songs that are very pop like 'Silent Film but we've got one on the myspace called 'Leave Me Out' that's not like that, I like to explore the whole darker side of it but I like having hooks in a song. It makes it a bit more accessible.' The band's song writing process seems to be quite collaborative, with the music coming first then the words, but Polly is still very much the person behind the words: 'I'm still the main songwriter but there's a lot of co-writing going on in the band, but its just me who does the lyrics that's because I wouldn't remember anyone else's lyrics (she laughs).”
But she warns against assuming that her intricately poetic first person lyrics are always based upon her own life, they could be character studies for instance 'A lot of people presume that when they're writing lyrics its always about them but I always use a lot of analogies. If someone's written a book its not an autobiography all of the time. I used to write poetry and English was my favourite subject at school.'
Despite the interest and plaudits the band are waiting their time, shunning the idea that it's a good idea to rush into bed with a record company, perhaps they have been taking notes from fellow female fronted Welsh rockers The Joy Formidable, concentrate on the music and the rest will take care of it self: "We're not really focussed on (signing with anyone) at the moment' Says Polly “We're just focussing on what will get us up to the next stage, we allow our manager to get on with things like that and we just concentrate on the music and get on with being in a band otherwise things get muddled up."
Their first release was recorded at Liverpool's Whitewood recording studios and produced in conjunction with Danny Woodward, a man making his own way in the industry himself, Polly sees the influence of an outside voice as a critical 'We've done some recording in the past our limited EP which is on our website with a Liverpool based producer Danny Woodward who is trying to work his way up the ranks he's worked with Ladytron and Hot Club De Paris so that was really good just to get our demo EP done.' This debut fan only E.P. contained the huge chiming pop immediacy of 'Silent Film' with its haunting refrains (“You can set me on fire/You can dose me in flames/You may call it sad times/See the truth on my face”) I first heard it on Adam Walton's excellent Wales music programme it also contains tunes like magisterial rock dynamics of 'The Wall', the superlative 'I Don't Mind', and the anthemic, heartbroken shimmer of 'Leave Me Out'… which is available as a free mp3 for a limited period if you subscribe to the band's Mailing List.
Polly Mackey & The Pleasure Principle - Summer 2010 EP by ThePlayground
Currently holed up writing new material the five piece are approaching producers with experience of distilling the sound of well known acts, with the intention of recording new material “We've been chatting to a guy in the States called Ryan Hadlock who is one of Transgressive producers he did The Gossip album and a few Strokes tracks and he seems keen to do something which would be really good. We're always recording. We're going to be releasing our proper single in October on Itunes. We're going to be recording and doing our video for our single in June, which we're going to do a national tour off the back of in October. But we're still deciding what it will be yet!"' With a beguiling well -crafted rock sound that will capture the hearts heads and bodies of everyone that hears it in the next few years, the long term is clearly going to burn bright for Polly Mackey and the Pleasure Principle!
Polly Mackey and the Pleasure Principle release their new single in October.