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The story of how Chasing Hamburg got its name gets to the essence of what's important to Polar Bear Club. In a 2009 Express Night Out interview, vocalist Jimmy Stadt explained that the title of their sophomore record references a spontaneous and particularly satisfying show they played in Hamburg, Germany. The band were on tour with fellow heartfelt-punk purveyors the Gaslight Anthem and Frank Turner when Gaslight's singer had a dental issue that delayed their set, forcing Turner to extend his. The folksy singer/songwriter fleshed out his time with covers, and as Stadt remembers, "by the end, everybody was onstage singing along." Speaking to Turner post-show, Stadt said, "Man, tonight was crystal clear to me that I should be in bands," thus chasing that memory—that feeling—of Hamburg has become something that fuels Stadt and, by proxy, the rest of the band.
While no reasonable musician turns down putting on a memorable performance everyone enjoys, titling an entire record in tribute to such a moment exemplifies the down-to-earth sensibility of Polar Bear Club. The Syracuse band's approach is rooted in acknowledging music as an extension of their real lives, and their melody-smitten hardcore/pop-punk fails or succeeds based on the authenticity of that earnestness. If these guys wrote about their van breaking down in Iowa, and the story turned out to be bullshit, the effectiveness would take quite the hit.
Based on what Stadt has revealed so far, their third record, Clash Battle Guilt Pride, will deal with tapping into another side of that earnestness. The five-piece just wrapped up six weeks in a Baltimore studio with producer Brian McTernan, who has previously worked with such groups as Thrice, the Movielife and Hot Water Music. "It's going to sound big and loud and dirty," says Stadt of the record. "It's going to sound professional, for sure, but it's not overproduced. We really like our guitars in your face. We layered a lot more, guitar-wise, and even threw in some piano and vibraphone. The vocals are gritty and huge."
In characterizing the album's sound, the vocalist mentions such '90s emo bands who were experts at tapping into teen angst as Elliott, Sunny Day Real Estate, Texas Is the Reason and early Jimmy Eat World. "Those bands were our bands," he says. "We're '90s emo dudes, and Brian is, too. To me, [that style is] so raw and small but huge. Anyone can do it. It just really hits me."
While Stadt is cagey about revealing what Clash Battle's title means, chances are good it's a nod to what life in the band is like. As a lyricist, Stadt has devoted himself to publicly sorting through the issues of a guy caught in perpetual transit, focusing on subjects such as home, nostalgia and what it means to find your place in the world. The album delves further into such topics, he says, adding that it's "a lot about ambition and relationship stuff."
If you need one last instance of the band's desire to be meaningful in a real-world way, consider that Stadt cites "that soulful twinge" as the most necessary ingredient to making a good PBC song. "It doesn't matter what style of song it is, it doesn't matter what the sound is," he says, "[but] does it hit you on an emotional human level? That's all we're looking for."
This article appeared in print as "The Importance of Being Earnest: Polar Bear Club aim to wring the most from real-world moments."