Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Chris Polecat Interview(originally published on August 27th,2013 with updates)

There are many names I think of when considering songwriters that have touched  my life. Chris Polecat is one that means a lot to me. He's someone who represents a very special time in music being present to help shape the Italian pop punk movement during the mid 90's as a founding member of the very well known Stinking Polecats. Over a decade later and nearing almost two now since his journey first started in punk rock, his presence remains strong with his band Tough today. He has a uniqueness that definitely separates him from the others, possessing a voice that is unmistakeable, powerful, and amazing. The songs he writes deeply connect to me with a quickness while maintaining such an easy simplicity that is beautiful. Also giving him a such a strong place in my world of favored songwriters is his humble approach. He writes and lets the music speak. Those are just a few qualities that make him completely invaluable to me and getting to witness his talent in person during a 2013 visit to Italy made me even more of a believer in who he is, so I asked for the honor of his presence in an interview. These present times mark a lot of great achievements for him with a wonderful full length LP "4", and most recently a very well received 7" "Obey The Ramones" from Tough, so I decided to share this and add in a few updated questions for him to give us a look at what's happening in the moment. I'm very glad he agreed to do it!

Sara: Hi Chris and thanks for taking a moment to speak with us!

Chris Polecat: Thank you guys! It's always a pleasure for me.

S: You certainly are no stranger to the Italian punk rock scene. Tell us a bit about your start. What led you to wanting to become a musician initially and eventually forming the Stinking Polecats?

CP: Ok, I'll try to summarize! I started playing in April of 1994 thanks to Luca Miccetta and Ciccio (future drummer for the Polecats), when I was called to sing in their  group. I agreed, and we went on for two years. Then I don't know why, I left and I formed a band in February of '96 with Simone and Blanka (current drummer for Cripple Bastards) the Stinking Polecats. We recorded a demo tape after a very short time and at the end of the year, our first 7". Blanka didn't last long in the band, then  Miccetta and Ciccio were added in to complete what I consider the true lineup of the Polecats. We went on for 10 years, then for problems both personal and related to music we disbanded in 2006.

S: As a diehard Ramones fan, I am so enamored with the way you compose a song.I'd like to know who is Chris Polecat as far as personal convictions in music. As a songwriter, what are the main influences that shape your direct and meaningful approach? Tell us about your very first song.

CP: Oh my God! And who remembers what was the first song... Anyway, let's say that I don't decide to write the songs... They usually come to my mind while I'm doing something else, and I whistle to myself on the phone's voice recorder. For me, music must be simple and immediate, something that you whistle all day because the song impressed you. And the influences, obviously the Ramones, and then the whole punk rock of Lookout in the 90's. After all the Stinking Polecats were born due to our boundless love for Screeching Weasel.

S: Ever since the start with your time in the Stinking Polecats and beyond, you've toured with many bands from outside of Italy playing both there and around Europe. Out of those experiences, who were the peers you bonded with most?

CP: In nearly 20 years of activity I was lucky enough to play with almost all of my favorite bands, and I have to tell you that more or less we have always gotten along well with everyone. I could give you some names, but I wouldn't be wrong to none. I'll just tell you that I was amazed by the organization and the way it is to go on a tour with Joe King. It's really an impressive tour-machine.

S: As a veteran of the road with so many nights passed watching punk rock grow and change, what year/part of decade do you think has been the best so far?

CP: Eh Eh! Obviously the second half of the 90's! In those years the scene was really nice, every Saturday there was a good concert, the audience was certainly much larger and  the venues were ran very well. The trend has now reversed, fashion has changed, people listen other music and there's more effort to organize cool events. But we are not discouraged, and we enjoy staying the same as we were before. Of course if there was a Delorean I'd be happy to use it...

    Chris in the beginning: on stage with the Stinking Polecats
S: There was quite a significant change in sound as you transitioned from the dissolving of Stinking Polecats to Tough, creating music that was much more powerful and gritty. Was this something you were already working on/having more of a desire to do for before the break?

CP: In the last Polecats period I can say that I felt a bit frustrated. I wrote two minute songs that were always turned into much longer ones. We all were taking different directions that led nowhere. And to try to please everyone, in the end we have misrepresented what the Stinking Polecats were born for. I have always felt disgusted with arrangements that are too heavy. That's why it's over, and that's why I want to do Tough's material even easier. Let's say that we are a natural evolution of the Stinking Polecats. Anyway, no, the Tough were not already scheduled during the last Polecats period. I can't have more than one band. I have to focus on just one.

S: After Miccetta's initial participation and departure in the beginning, Stefanino came all the way from Palermo to fill the position, and was a big asset to Tough's overall sound. With his recent parting ways from the band, Robi, a longtime member of Italy's scene from Milan has joined the ranks, definitely proving he belongs through his performance at numerous shows with the Monster Zero Mash in Bergamo last July and your most recent tour through Spain as a couple examples. For those who may not be familiar, please tell a bit about this new guitarist and now that there's been several months passed since he joined Tough, what can we expect from this new formation?

CP: I asked Robi to join the band in March. We had started to have logistic problems with Stefanino and he became too busy to work with us on a steady basis. I have a great desire to practice as much as possible. I'm no longer twenty years old and need the training, especially with my voice as much as possible so we decided to make the change from Stefanino. I have to say that he's still my brother. We don't play together at the moment but Biso and I will never forget how important he was for Tough to keep us alive in a very difficult moment. 
So from that point I asked Robi to join us and not as a replacement, but fully as a member of Tough. He accepted the invitation with happiness and in a month's time, learned our entire setlist and conditioned himself to play live as we do with more speed than the records and no breaks in between songs. At this point I'm very relaxed because we can practice once a week and I think you can see it on stage. Eight months have passed by since his first day in the band and he's fucking perfect now. A very tough machine, but I think it's very simple for such a talented guy like him to do. 

    Tough in present day: Biso, Chris, and Robi

S: In spite of all the changes, 2013 and now 2014 have been quite productive for Tough! You've got three releases. The split with Agent Pazz, a wonderful full length "Four", and an extremely successful 7", "Obey The Ramones" just recently. There were two songs left from that last session. Are there any plans to use them? 

CP: Oh yes there is! We gave those last two songs to Paco and Marta from Rufus Recordings for what I think will be a six band split! I'm really happy to work with them because they are so nice and sweet. True punk rock lovers and supporters too. They are one of the reasons I love Spain!

S: As a pioneer of the 90's, I'm sure you've seen the changes America's version of pop punk has went through. More often than not, it's nowhere near what we knew in our younger years. Is it the same way for Italy or do you feel there's more of that beginning spirit surviving there? If so why do you think it is?

CP: Certainly many things have changed. In America as in Italy. I state that it is only a matter of chronological luck, but the fact is that the 90's were the golden era of pop punk for us that we were in and we have contributed to the scene in a very active way. The new generations can't understand it, and it is for this reason that they don't come out with so many good bands anymore. Now everyone wants to sound like Teenage Bottlerocket, which for God sake, are a great band, but I think it is useless to want to play like them and maybe do not know bands like the Huntingtons or Boris The Sprinkler. I think a bit, it's a lack of desire to know what's behind it, why it all started. Many people do not know that Green Day should thank bands like Screeching Weasel and the Queers for every gig they have ....

S:  In our friendship I've definitely found out right from the start that we  both love the Ramones as way of life. Their influence on who you are is evident, even just watching from the outside having no personal knowledge. What are your first  memories of hearing them and what made you decide that this would be a lifetime philosophy for you and especially in Tough with your motto being "Obey The Ramones"?

CP: It's been 20 years that I've listened to the Ramones. Every day. For this I must thank Miccetta and the tapes that he would make for me with Ramones and Bad Religion. The first song I listened to of the Ramones was "I Wanna Be Sedated", and it was love at first sight. Since then I have really become a fanatic and I feel really lucky to have seen them live.

S: Do you think our generation is the last group of people to actually "get" the Ramones?

CP: Well, as I said before, it's simply a matter of luck, being in the right place at the right time. The guys who listen to the Ramones now will surely have different motivations from our own. It is already a fortune that Cj is still around and Marky before he became unhinged had done great things with the Intruders ....

S: You wrote a song for Kill That Girl which is a band that Andrea Manges produced a following album for. Being someone who is also a pillar in your music community and possessing a wonderful ear for sound too as I witnessed in my own observation while visiting, do you think you'd ever try your hand as producer if requested?

CP: Ahahahah!!!! I sincerely feel like I'm only a cretin who writes songs. The collaboration with KTG was born thanks to the friendship that I have with Leo. He simply asked me if I wanted to write a song for them and I couldn't say no. But I would never act as a producer for someone in the studio. I can give advice, but I don't feel I would want to tell a band what to do.

S: Something else I admire about you very much outside of your musical career is your just as defined role as tattoo artist with a strong dedication to the traditional style. When did you get your start leading up to the beautiful shop "Infrangible Tattoo" that you now own with your wife Valentina? Which artists have the most influence on your interpretation of traditional style?  

CP: I do not consider myself an artist. I just love tattoos and have always been a fan of them. My first tattoo dates back to '95, the Weasel of course! When I met Valentina we ended up having the desire to start tattooing in common. We spent three years locked in the house to do experiments on ourselves and our friends, the circle gradually widened and then we were "forced" to open the studio. Now it's almost 4 years that we have been open and we are really happy how things are going. I personally have so many artists that I like very much. Let's say that I love simple tattoos with bold lines and a lot of black. A bit like the music I make in fact. Simple things but with great impact.

S: Ok, let's close this out with a few questions just for fun! What is your personal musical taste like at home and in the shop as far as what you like to listen to? Do you see any newer bands coming up in punk rock that you enjoy?

CP: I come into the studio, turn on the iPod in random mode and listen to punk rock all day. Mostly punk rock from '90s, but if I get some new record that I like, I just put it on. The newer records I have put on are the new Leeches one which is a blast and last recording of Deecracks. Currently if I have to say what my favorite newer bands are, I'd choose them.

S: I mentioned a little about this earlier in my question about the new lineup. After the "Obey The Ramones" 7" came out, you went on a tour in support of it through mostly Spain. Tell me, what do you like about their scene? What should someone know about it that's never been there before?

CP: I really don't know where to begin with talking about Spain. It was amazing. In every single city we found a lot of fans and supporters, almost were completely sold out of the merch we brought, and there were the craziest afterparties ever! Especially in Oviedo, where we learned how to drink cider in the right way at four am and also in Bilbao with some of the most crazy drunk, social people we met during the tour. We will probably go back in the Spring and will be happy to do it. They are very passionate people and to play for them is a great pleasure!

S: Now I'd like to thank you greatly for your time once again Chris and deliver the last question of tradition with my interviews. This is one that was really intended for you since I first started to ask it!! You can choose from any of the following categories: top five songs, albums, lyrics, moments, or memories of your choosing related to the Ramones! What is your top five?

 1. Commando
 2. Havana Affair
 3. I Wanna Be Sedated
 4. Poison Heart
 5. Wart Hog
 1. Rocket to Russia
 2. Ramones
 3. Leave Home
 4. Mondo Bizarro
 5Pleasant Dreams
 1. Listening to I Wanna Be Sedated for the first time.
 2. Seeing the Ramones live.
 3. Seeing Dee Dee Ramone live.
 4. Opening for Cj.
 5. Opening for Marky (he's still a Ramone).

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