One guitar. One voice. One drum kit — frequently bloodied, sometimes broken. The modest tools can only begin to tell the story of Polish Club, the sweat-soaked Aussie soul-punk duo with a heart-wringing knack for ass-kicking rock tunes and a gift for burning down every room they play.
“I think our strength is in the limitations of the two-piece band,” says the keeper of the aforementioned drums, John Henry. “When you’ve only got guitar and drums, you can’t just… play. You’ve got to give more. Physically.”
As the blood on his knuckles attests, that’s the way it goes when he and singer-guitarist Novak hit the decks. That’s both on stage, where they’ve left a simmering throng of devotees dripping and spent across their home continent, and on the prolific run of pulse-palpitating singles that have kicked holes in polite company since “Able” and “Beeping” announced a garage revolution.
“I knew he was a drummer and I think he knew I could sing,” Novak says of his formative musical conversations with an occasional drinking acquaintance around Sydney’s north shore. “It was his idea: ‘Hey, how about we just book a room for three hours and see if we can play together?’ That was about it.”
The result — the savage swing of vintage rock’n’roll colliding with the pleading pitch of classic, gravel-gargling soul — was “just about playing to the strength of the people involved,” John Henry shrugs.
“We play hard and fast and loud with kinda simple guitar lines, and Novak has a voice that manages to push a lot of air. We probably sound so big because his voice is actually physically very loud. Like, if he sings without a mic in a room, you can’t talk to the person next to you.”
Like you’d want to. Polish Club’s combined energy simply defies belief, testament to a chemistry that’s maybe one part plan and nine parts feeling. Yes, for those with a literal bent, there is a Polish connection binding their respective backstories. But the duo is better understood in terms of explosion than exposition.
“People have this assumption that we were good mates for 10 years and that we bonded over a kindred spirit of music,” Novak says. “Honestly, that could not be further from the truth. It’s very much a serendipitous thing that happened. Now, sure, we bond over music but our tastes are quite different.
“Writing is the best part for me; that’s the thrill,” adds John Henry. “We write really quickly, and heaps. Everything we write is just us two. So it’s all ready to go once we get to the stage.”
Early tours opening for the likes of Courtney Barnett and Gang of Youths were loaded with a dangerous sense of portent. “A gritty garage rock two-piece unafraid to throw themselves into the action,” the AU Review observed.
“People were … literally blown away by an absolute musical reckoning,” reported themusic.com.au.
Come 2017, the duo were selling out their own shows and running ragged rings around the sprawling festival circuit of the great southern land. “Able”, “Beeping” and “Did Somebody Tell Me” evinced an ever-tightening telepathic intensity and searing soul chemistry.
But hey. We could bang on like this all day. But like any strangely thrilling encounter with a hyperactive stranger in a darkened room, the proof of Polish Club is mostly physical. Like being slammed sideways against the nearest wall, and liking it.
“We both agree on where we’re going, so it doesn’t really matter how we get there,” says Novak. “Fortunately, we don’t have to think about that or reflect on it.”