As part of the release of Digcast X, the third installment of my NYC music series, I'm posting on each band in the podcast. We continue with David Pollack.
Follow the link above to listen to David discuss "What Do I Do?," his favorite place to busk, and some other places he loves in NYC.
The first time I met David Pollack, he was helping me out of a jam. I was putting on the very first Those Who Dig showcase last November. I had a few commitments but I was short of what I wanted and running out of time. Annie from Oh! My Blackbird suggested her buddy David could join and without even listening to him, I said "Sure." I'm glad I did. Not only did he start the night off in style with a great set and a captivating stage presence, but he's a good guy that has been enjoyable to get to know.
As I learned in our interview, he's only been performing solo since last fall, but he's really hit the ground running and is wasting no time developing as an artist. Just a few weeks ago, he released the first in a series of three singles/EPs. This "Blue" edition features "What Do I Do?" that you can hear in the podcast, plus its b-side "Balloon," a reworking of an older song in his back catalog called "Why Not Now?" and a live version of "What Do I Do?" The future releases will follow a similar pattern, have their own color, and lead us to a full length. He is playing around NYC and the region quite frequently – be sure to see him tomorrow night at Pipin's Pub – and I'm confident he's going to be active in the music scene for many years to come.
Like I said, he's a great performer, very comfortable on stage, with a strong voice, and friendly demeanor. His music is typically tight and upbeat and catchy, "What Do I Do?" is a perfect example. Yet, don't think it's too light; the story captures the tough concept of divergent viewpoints on a relationship and how that difference can have a big negative impact. Then, a song like "Balloon" reveals he can handle something with a more of a slow build and dynamism quite well. I think after hearing a lot of his other songs, this one felt more intense to me. It still is driven by an excellent vocal performance, one which really cuts loose as the song gathers steam. I think the reggae-inflected "Why Not Now?" is a real jam. It has a spectacular groove – something David finds very important – and again, it has a cool message. It's good to be reminded that things we might want are worth pursuing and that we don't have unlimited time to do so.
You can check out David's website once again here. Like him on Facebook here and follow on Twitter here. He also has a cool YouTube channel with a lot of live videos and fun covers. Oh, and definitely buy the new release on Bandcamp and look out for the rest of them. And why not check out a live version of "What Do I Do?" now too?
David and I met at Waverly Restaurant in the West Village. We had a nice discussion about his musical background, which includes bands, busking, and a kick ass summer camp, his future plans, the differences between being a producer and being a performer, and more.
Steve: One thing I wanted to ask you about to start, you had your 2010 EP Out the Other Side and then you've been releasing singles. Do you have plans for a full length any time?
David: Well, we're releasing three singles/EPs about maybe 6 weeks from each other. It's a three pack, there are three different colors. It's going to be a collection. The first [which is blue] came out March 8th. We're really excited about it. We'll release another 6 weeks later, and then another 6 weeks later. The third one should be the beginning of June. This will lead to a full length, which is expected to come out in early September.
S: Ok. Will any of the songs from the singles be on there?
D: They all will be on there, with a couple of new things. Half stuff will be the singles, half will be new, but all of it will be remixed and remastered to fit the album. It's really exciting.
S: You do some of your recording at Mama Coco's Funky Kitchen, right?
D: Yeah, on the three singles, I recorded four of the songs at Mama Coco's Funky Kitchen. I recorded "What Do I Do?," "Hot Love," "Balloon," and "Undress the Dead" there.
S: And you've done recording elsewhere, too?
D: Yes. What the singles are going to have are…I'll just talk about the first one for "What Do I Do?" It has the single, it's has the b-side, which is "Balloon." Then there's an extra track "Why Not Now?" which is an older song I used to play with my band Bridges, who broke up. That's a remix of the version that I recorded that was on recorded for the Ground Work EP by Bridges. Then, we also have a live version of "What Do I Do?" It's going to be four songs each EP. It's kind of interesting. The live version is from the Bitter End.
S: And "Hot Love" that you had sent me was from the Bitter End.
D: Right. But we're going to have a studio version of "Hot Love," which will also be the second single. It'll also be a studio and live combo, plus two other songs.
S: "Why Not Now?" I think is a really cool song. I listened to that track from 2010 and how it's evolved.
D: It really has evolved, it's incredible.
S: I like the reggae feel of it, which was in the original, but it's more fleshed out. Who do you perform with and record with? Is it a constant group?
D: My backing band now is mainly friends and people I know. Usually I have Steele Kratt play drums, I'm known him for ages and been playing with a long time. He was in Bridges. He's usually there but everyone else will be different guys. "Why Not Now?" was first recorded in Burlington with my band out there, The Walk. That was like a yearlong thing. Then it got re-recorded with Bridges.
S: So it's been recorded three times or more.
D: It's been recorded a few times, yeah. It's a song I wrote about a girl that I never actually even talked to. It was in Burlington, I was sitting in the grass and I remember seeing this girl who I thought was attractive. I just started writing the song, I got the first verse just looking at her and then went home and got the second verse sitting on my couch in my dorm room. That was in 2009. It's an old song for me.
S: The way that it's evolved, how has that happened? New ideas who've had or people you're playing with?
D: Definitely people I'm playing with. Everybody that I'm playing with gives it a different vibe. Steel gives it a different vibe than Jamie MacLeish would, who was my drummer in The Walk in Burlington. That's what so great about playing with different backing bands, you get totally different colors and different texture and a different song even for every time. It's interesting.
S: Another interesting thing about that song, there's this sense of urgency about it but there's also this feeling of maybe people are bored and trying to overcome that. The flow of the music has gotten more powerful, so I think the urgency has come through more. It's more "Why NOT now?" It's cool to hear how that changed. I did want to ask a little about Mama Coco's because it seems that a lot of bands I'm discovering are tied to there somehow. It seems like a really cool community and scene. What was your connection to that?
D: I went to camp with Oliver Ignatius, summer camp when we were in high school. That's how I know him. Also, Michael Goodman…
S: I just heard him, he's really good.
D: Yeah. Who else, Lyla and Ezra Miller are in Sons of an Illustrious Father, they went to Buck's Rock. And later I heard about what Oliver was doing and I reconnected with him, "Let's do it." But the camp was Buck's Rock Creative Arts camp and it was the greatest place ever.
S: It was a summer camp? How long was it?
D: Eight weeks. The full summer.
S: You were a participant in it. You didn't work there?
D: I participated and I worked there later. It was great. I met the greatest people ever at that camp.
S: It seems like everyone I know that's done the summer camp thing, whether working or participating, it's a big deal. It's a powerful thing. You have a lot of fun, you meet a lot of interesting people, it's a lot of craziness.
D: You grow up together, it's right when you're going through puberty and everything. High school. You go through it together. I can't be a bigger advocate for summer camp.
S: It's cool that it had a creative arts element, too. What did that mean?
D: It was a very progressive camp. You'd wake up and there would be two segments of shop hours. They had different shops around the camp. There was a wood-making shop, a recording studio, a music shop, ceramics, whatever. You had the freedom to go wherever you wanted but you had to be out of the bunks, you had to be somewhere. It was cool, you made your own decision. It kinda helped you grow up.
S: What age were you when you first went?
D: I started going when I was 14.
S: And then you eventually worked at it. Cool. Anyways, a lot of stuff is coming out.
D: I'm really busy, but it's like a rejuvenation. I was in the band for a little bit and then September came around and I decided to go solo and everything started picking up and I got more and more serious about it. Now that I'm going to graduate, I really want to go pro with it. I'm making a lot of moves and investing money and really going at it?
S: How do you balance that with school?
D: I don't know. I do, I make it happen. Spark Notes (laughs).
S: Are you looking forward to being done and being able to devote more time to music?
D: Yeah. Definitely.
S: Do you do music for school?
D: I study Communications. I don't really study music there. I'm talking one music class, it's about the Enlightenment era, which is cool. But I don't really study music there. I do work at the radio station, WFUV, 90.7 FM. This is at Fordham University. It's cool.
S: I did college radio, I loved it.
D: It's great, I love it. There are bands that come in all the time. The Lumineers were there a few weeks ago, that was really cool.
S: You're family is from here, right? You grew up in New York?
S: Are you planning on sticking around? Or do you ever want to go somewhere else?
D: I want to go to Seattle some time down the road. I have a love affair with that city. I want to go as many places as I can, I'd love to live on the road for awhile. I will probably end up here in the end. But I don't know. In the near future, I don't think I'll be here extensively once I graduate.
S: Are you going to have to find a job?
D: I don't know. I have to make some money somehow. You know what I do for some cash? I busk, I play in the streets. It's probably not sustainable but it's like $20 to $30 an hour. I also want to go into producing. I've produced a few artists before and I want to do that. Hopefully make some money off it, also teach guitar lessons.
S: There are a lot of options.
D: I have to figure it out, but most likely in the beginning I will have to get some sort of job. I got to provide for myself somehow. The busking is good part-time money but I can't live in the city doing that. It's not going to happen.
S: What I wanted to say about that was, the first time I saw you play was when you played our show. I feel like busking must be great experience for building that presence as performer. You seemed to be able to connect with the crowd really easily and had a lot of confidence. Sometimes a solo performer by themselves isn't always engaging the whole time, but you had that going. Which I would think comes from playing a lot in all these crazy places.
D: I got to tell you, it's the greatest practice you could ever do. Even if you don't make a dime, you still got to practice. The world is your stage. It's an open stage to try out new material, you can do whatever you want. You can play as long as you want.
S: Do you remember the first time you busked?
D: I started busking at UVM when I was in Burlington. Went down to Church Street, started with a daily permit, eventually got a monthly permit. Then I came back here and started over the summer, figured it out as I went.
S: Do you need permits here?
D: No, you don't.
S: Can they make you stop?
D: Sometimes policemen make you stop for disturbing the peace or some shit like that. It's legal, it's freedom of speech, it's public squares. But you can't busk on private property. You can busk on the subways, on the streets. There are a few public spaces that are designated quiet spaces by the Mayor. Times Square is one, which is kind of funny. It's illegal to play there. Union Square is regulated, you can't play there, it's illegal. Yoko Ono made Strawberry Field a quiet space, but the rest of Central Park is ok.
S: Well, there's a lot of it.
D: There are little loopholes but most of New York is fair game. My favorite is Bethesda Fountain.
S: It seems like a great opportunity to learn. Was it ever intimidating for you?
D: Yeah, it was in the beginning. And then the more you do it, the more you get in the groove. But in the beginning, you don't know if you're disturbing people or not. Then you get to the point where it's like "They'll move if they want to."
S: You mentioned the producing. Right after the show you played for us, your friend from Israel contacted me about her music. I thought at first maybe it was somebody that was there, but then I realized she was obviously not in America. She sent me some of the music and you produced. Tell me a little about that.
D: Inbal is Israeli. She had a visa in New York last summer. She went out with my best friend Tim. I started playing with her and then she commissioned me to produce one of her tracks, "Baby Blue." I did it out of my apartment, I sent her the files and she sang on it in Israel, then I mixed it and it was ready to go.
S: So she was already back there?
D: Yeah. I also did some tracks for my best friend Tim too.
S: As a producer, what do you like about that versus writing your own stuff? What's the appeal?
D: I love it, I love it. I like to organize other people's songs. I like to hear little pieces that they haven't heard. Instrumentation. I just love being part of that team. I almost love it more than writing myself.
S: Interesting. Do you have any favorite producers?
D: I like Butch Vig a lot, he did Garbage, he's my favorite.
S: Yeah, he did several of my favorite Smashing Pumpkins records. You're sharing a lot of covers online. I think that's cool. What makes you select what you select?
D: It's a Cover of the Week campaign on YouTube. I am strongly for people suggesting covers. Some guy from London gave me a Neutral Milk Hotel song, so I did that.
S: I saw that, it was cool. It's a great song.
D: Suggestions are greatly appreciated but it's just fun for me and again, it's good practice. And the more covers I learn, the more I can play them outside. It's great.
S: When you play out busking, is it covers or originals?
D: I'd say 70% covers, 30% originals.
S: I saw you have that "No One Else" video in the park, that's really cool.
D: That's probably my favorite song to play, ever.
S: "No One Else," by Weezer? Really? It's great.
D: I love it, I adore that song.
S: When we did that little pre-show interview, you mentioned that Weezer was maybe one of your favorite shows that you'd ever seen.
D: I saw Weezer when I was 14, right when they came out with Make Believe, they were doing that tour. I saw Weezer at Roseland Ballroom, and I remember the W came down and they played "Tired Of Sex" and that was it. I love that stuff so much. I love Weezer.
S: Yeah, they're great. Though I don't know about all their stuff.
D: No. Weezer pre-2001 is great. I saw the Blue/Pinkerton tour, that was fun. That was also Roseland Ballroom. I think I see the best shows there. It's nice, it's huge.
S: One of your interesting choices was the song you said would forever stay was "Dreams" by either Fleetwood Mac or Cranberries. You said you'd get rid of "Baby" by Justin Bieber. This was for the one song to survive all of history, the other to be erased and never remembered. What is it about "Dreams" you love so much?
D: Oh man. It's got the best groove. Both of them. They are so loose and so tight. Yeah, the groove. The Fleetwood Mac, you can't listen to that first snare hit that comes in without going (starts to groove, then sings) "Now here you go again…" That's one of my favorite tracks. The groove, the simpleness. Also, both vocal performances are great. It's one of the best records of all time, the Fleetwood Mac version, everyone can agree on that. The Cranberries is one of the greatest tracks of the 90s. Definitely the groove.
S: And that seems to be something you channel in your own playing. Having a rhythm, there is a looseness from constant live playing, and also, they're good pop songs.
D: Definitely the Fleetwood Mac has influenced me. They make two chords sound so interesting. That song is just F and G, but it's all about groove. That hard snare. I can't emphasize how important groove is.
S: Has producing helped you as a writer on your own?
D: Yes, it has. Definitely. Any writer or artist, it's good to have an editor or someone to look at your stuff. If I busk, that's my audience, that's my editor. I'll try new songs, the reaction is a critique. If I'm producing someone else, I do that. As a songwriter, it's good to work with a producer, but sometimes I get a little fickle. I'm a huge perfectionist. So I'm hard to work with. I'll be the first to admit that.
S: When did you first start playing music?
D: I've been singing since I was 9, took lessons. I got a guitar for my Bar Mitzvah when I turned 13. I started talking lessons at Buck's Rock and there I was playing constantly, starting to get pretty good. Started a band in high school and played every day. Then I went to college, had a band. Had a band here, and now it's me.
S: That's interesting that you started with the vocals first. But you're a very good singer, so I'm not surprised. Is your family really into music?
D: My dad is into music. He played a lot in college, he was in a band. Growing up, he'd play at barbeques and stuff over the summer. He does folk music, stuff like that. He's good. My mom doesn't play.
S: They're probably still into what you're doing.
D: Yeah, they're really into it. They're very supportive.