Philly bare-bones punk crew Ma Jolie brings the heat on Polars
Philadelphia-based punk outfit Ma Jolie recorded two of the nine songs on their new record in 100-degree July heat, using guitarist Mark Broscoe’s living quarters at The Ox warehouse.
“[We did it] in 20 minutes, it was like the second take on both of them,” recalls bassist Frank Abruzzo. “And they happen to be my favorite songs on the record.”
But listening to the entirety of Polars, out today on Lame-O Records and streaming in full via Bandcamp, you’ll realize it’s hard to pinpoint any one song that doesn’t have a hot, fiery undertone —so raw and powerful that it makes you think you yourself are spiraling down into a wild, sweltering kind of craze.
Ma Jolie is one of a handful of up-and-coming Philly bands giving the city a reputation for churning out multi-dimensional and thought-provoking music that falls under the punk genre. Having played a number of notable tours and shows alongside bands like Cayetana and Plow United, and recently returned from a memorable trip to Gainesville, Florida’s Fest 12 playing alongside friends and for new fans, Ma Jolie is excited to release Polars at the height of their buzzworthy-ness to date.
“I feel like, with our band, we try to do something that’s very classic and very, I don’t want to say typical, but not mind-blowingly crazy,” says drummer Jeff Meyers. “The concept of our band is very bare bones. We play punk music. But we try to make it a little different.”
“I’ve heard a few people say that we kind of sound like the really good stuff going on in the ’90s,” adds Abruzzo. “I guess that’s because some of us were there living through that, and digging that as our favorite bands. So I think that, between us all, we kind of throw it into the pot and have a special mix of the punk rock that we love.”
Ma Jolie began with Meyers and frontman Kirk Malosh (who goes by this stage name to protect his real identity while working as a teacher). The two have known each other since high school, and were playing in indie pop band Frost Watson before it dissolved when the other members moved to Brooklyn. The two decided to start a new band that harkened back to their fast punk roots, and quickly added Broscoe and eventually found Abruzzo to round out the project. They released …Compared to Giants in April 2012. It was a collection of songs mostly brought into Ma Jolie from Broscoe, Meyers and Malosh’s other projects.
“When we first started this band, our first intentions before anything else was just like, ‘Man, we really need to play fast again.’” Says Meyers. “We were in this indie pop band and it was fun and it had its moments, but I just felt like this is what makes sense for us. This is where we belong, and not just that, but this is our community. The people that go to our shows are the people I click with. They’re friends, they’re people I can talk to about anything.”
The band calls Polars the first real Ma Jolie record because it was the first that everyone in the band had a hand in writing. Working as a unit, they enjoyed taking in each individual’s ideas, ripping them apart and reconstructing them in ways that no one member could have done by themselves.
“The first record came with really strong pop-punk mentality,” Malosh says. “We really tried to have those subtle hooks on this record. … I think we tried to challenge ourselves and challenge everybody else with it to get away from that Latterman, Iron Chic — that sound has been very defined by some really awesome bands. We tried to break away from that and add our own flavor to it.”
“I think there’s a lot of variety on this record, too,” adds Meyers. “You’re not going to hear the same song. I really feel like you’re going to hear nine songs, and they’re all going to have different character. There’s a couple things that are the same, but for the most part, I feel like each song has its own feel and you’re not going to like get the typical this is a mid-tempo song, this is another mid-temp song. We’ll go from doing a three-four, really slow song to the fastest song we’ve ever written.”
Joe Reinhart, the former Algernon Cadwallader guitarist turned owner of The Headroom Studio, recorded the seven songs not captured during that sweaty session in July. Having also recorded …Compared to Giants, the band knew Reinhart would understand the distinctive sound they were going for with Polars.
“We kept telling Joe we wanted it to sound like a Dillinger Four record,” says Meyers. “We wanted it to be muddy and kind of like dirty. All recordings nowadays are so polished and clean, and just boring. There’s no character to it. I have friends that are engineers that do that. They do great jobs, but not for what I want. I think we tried to make this record have character instead of it just being, like, booming drums and really good, crunchy bass.
“We wanted to have it be like, ‘Woah, this sounds kind of fucking strange.’”
The band says Lame-O Records founder Eric Osman came to their second show, and kept in touch until offering to release Polars on the label. Despite what the modern idea of working with a label might mean for bands, Ma Jolie feels that the small, Philadelphia-based Lame-O believes in their artists to the point that they care about the music as much as the bands themselves.
“That’s the beauty of it,” says Meyers. “That’s why it works and that’s why it makes us feel good. I think we’re really motivated guys and it’s really helpful to have motivated people around us, helping us with this.”
“They’re not in it at all for the business of it. They’re in it because they love music and they love just being a part of music,” adds Malosh. “It’s like they’re in the band. They just want to do what’s coolest, They’re not trying to find the easiest way to make money off the record. … Anytime anyone puts that much of an investment into your music, it’s unbelievable.”
Alongside label mates like Modern Baseball, Ma Jolie doesn’t mind being lumped in with other prominent Philadelphia punk bands. In fact, they love it.
“Other bands put out these amazing records, and it just makes you want to write better music,” says Malosh. “It’s really motivating when you play with other people who are doing such an amazing job. I just want to do my best to write something that lives up to what our friends are writing.”