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|Origin||Chapel Hill, North Carolina, United States|
Touch And Go
Kitchen Puff Records
|Past members||Eddie Watkins
Polvo is an American indie noise rock band from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The band, formed in 1990, is fronted by guitarists/vocalists Ash Bowie and Dave Brylawski. Brian Quast plays drums, and Steve Popson plays bass guitar. Eddie Watkins was the band's original drummer, but did not rejoin the band upon its reunion in 2008.
Polvo is widely considered to be standard bearer of a genre which came to be known as math rock, although in interviews the band disavowed that categorization. Their sound was defined by complex and dissonant guitar harmonies and driving rhythm, complementing cryptic, often surrealist lyrics. Their sound was so unpredictable and angular that the band's guitarists were often accused of failing to play with correctly tuned guitars. Polvo's songs and artwork frequently featured Asian/"exotic" themes and references. The band's name means "octopus" in Portuguese and "powder" or "dust" in Spanish; in Spain it also is a slang word for sex.
The band was critically acclaimed from the outset, at least among those critics who were into nontraditional/ underground rock. Additionally, their music had a pronounced Eastern feel that came not only from the Indian and Middle Eastern-style drones in their compositions, but actual Eastern instruments like the sitar as well.
Formation and early releases
Polvo formed in 1990 in Chapel Hill, NC. Their original lineup consisted of vocalists/guitarists Ash Bowie and Dave Brylawski, bassist Steve Popson and drummer Eddie Watkins. Bowie and Brylawski met in a Spanish class at the University of North Carolina and shared an affinity for music released by SST Records and local rock band Let's Active. Polvo's first recording was Can I Ride, a double 7" single released on the band's Kitchen Puff Records label in 1991. It was later re-released on CD as the Polvo EP on micro-indie Jesus Christ Records. The band then released two full-length albums, two EPs, and several 7"s on Merge Records, a label run by Superchunk's Mac McCaughan, a high-school classmate of Brylawski and Popson. Merge Records issued their debut album, Cor-Crane Secret, in 1992. Today's Active Lifestyles followed in 1993, refining the group's approach, and it was followed in turn by two EPs, 1994's Celebrate the New Dark Age and 1995's This Eclipse. Today's Active Lifestyles was later reissued with an alternative cover without the lion image on it, because of a copyright lawsuit brought by the painter of the album.
Wider reach, dispersion and break-up
Polvo toured North America numerous times, including outings with Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, Pavement, Superchunk, Pipe, Sonic Youth, Unwound, Trumans Water, Sleepyhead, Trans Am, Dungbeetle, and Spatula. They toured twice in the UK and once in Europe, playing with Sebadoh, Babes in Toyland, and Superchunk.
Two albums were released after the band signed to the larger label Touch and Go Records. Their debut for the label was 1996's double-length Exploded Drawing, an eclectic, progressive effort that began to delve more explicitly into the guitarists' fascination with Asian music. Drummer Watkins amicably left the band afterward to pursue career and family interests. The rest of the group was beginning to drift apart as well. Brylawski moved to New York City to attend graduate school and also traveled to India, while Bowie had already relocated to Boston by 1994 to join then-girlfriend, Helium frontwoman Mary Timony. Polvo reconvened in 1997 to record Shapes with new drummer Brian Walsby. Both Touch and Go releases featured a darker, more progressive rock-oriented sound instead of their earlier, post-punk influenced style. Rumors that it would be their final album proved true when they amicably disbanded later that year, ending their farewell US tour with a two-night stand at hometown club Cat's Cradle.
Hiatus and other projects
In 2000 Bowie released an album of home recordings on the Tiger Style label, called Yesterday...and Tomorrow's Shells under the name Libraness. He has since appeared with (current Polvo drummer Brian Quast's band) the BQ's and recorded and toured with Fan Modine. Bowie and Quast had also been working on tracks for a new Libraness album. Brylawski later played in the North Carolina-based Indonesian music-influenced band Idyll Swords, which released two albums on Communion, and currently is a member of The Black Taj, as is Steve Popson. Watkins currently plays drums in Dr. Powerful, as well as Durham outfit, Stranger In The Valley of The Kings.
Polvo reformed with new drummer Brian Quast, formerly of Vanilla Trainwreck and the Cherry Valence, after being invited to appear at All Tomorrow's Parties 2008 and the Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona, Spain. They also played several shows in the US, including the Northwest Music Fest in Portland, OR . A full live set from a benefit show at Cat's Cradle in August of 2008, featuring new songs and reworked versions of old songs, is available to purchase online. This album benefits the Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University, in memory of Cy Rawls.
In 2009, Polvo re-signed to Merge Records and released In Prism, their first studio album in 12 years. In 2013, they released their sixth album, Siberia. The album's release coincided with Merge Records' 20th anniversary, and Polvo were featured at a concert to honor the label at the Cat's Cradle in July.
In 2010 the band toured with Versus. Polvo's last live performance to date was in 2011, and although they released the album Siberia in 2013, the band did not undertake any promotion for its release.
- Cor-Crane Secret LP/CD (Merge, 1992)
- Today's Active Lifestyles LP/CD (Merge, 1993)
- Exploded Drawing CD/2xLP (Touch & Go, 1996)
- Shapes LP/CD (Touch & Go, 1997)
- In Prism LP/CD (Merge, 2009)
- Siberia LP/CD (Merge, 2013)
- Celebrate the New Dark Age (EP/ mini album) CD/3x7" box set (Merge, 1994)
- Polvo CD (reissue of "Can I Ride" double 7"; Jesus Christ, 1995)
- This Eclipse CD EP (Merge, 1995)
- "Can I Ride" 2x7" (Kitchen Puff, 1991)
- "Vibracobra" 7" (Rockville, 1991)
- "El Cid" split 7" (with Erectus Monotone; Merge, 1992)
- "Tilebreaker" 7" (Merge, 1993)
- "Two Fists/All The Cliches Under Broadway" split 7" (with New Radiant Storm King; Penny Farthing, 1994)
- "Heavy Detour" 7" (Merge, 2011)
- "Mexican Radio" (originally by Wall of Voodoo) on the Planned Parenthood benefit CD Tannis Root Presents: Freedom of Choice (Tannis Root, 1992)
- "Watch The Nail" on Rows of Teeth (Merge Records, 1994)
- "Reverse Migraine" on Music From The Motion Picture Reach The Rock (Hefty Records, 1998)
- What is Math Rock? Catch Polvo and Find Out | Listening Post from Wired.com
- You can call Polvo math rock, but the numbers just don't add up | Atlanta|Music|Feature