People always want change in the world or try new things, but when it comes to changing, evolving or taking them out of their comfort zone, few can actually get it right.
07/01/2015, Pascal VERLOOVE
Polar Dust is a chilly name for a South African band born in Iceland and just having released its thrilling debut album Into the Burning Water at the dusk of 2014. It is a gem that will certainly not remain hidden for a very long time! Mixing lots of very different musical influences, they have crafted an intense sound that should thrust them into the forefront in 2015. And just before the butterfly leaves his chrysalis, Sara “X” Eksteen, the band's front woman (composer, singer and guitar player) has kindly answered all our questions about their debut album and the band’s outlook.
Hello Sara, let’s start with a typical question: Polar Dust - could you tell us where this name comes from? This moniker is rather surprising for a band that comes from South Africa, don’t you think?
Sara: I was living in Iceland when I started the group. We came up with another description for “snow”. As a South African, being quite overwhelmed with cold winters and long nights in the arctic, snow was something that always cheered me up in the darkness. It is the way it catches the light, bright white during the day and blue during the night.
So, your band was originally created in Iceland where you lived for seven years. What led you to this country and how did you create a rock band there?
Sara: I have actually first lived and worked in London for a year. There, I met a Norwegian based in Iceland, and we eventually decided to move to Reykjavik together, where I pride myself to have learned to speak both Icelandic and Norwegian. I have always admired Icelandic artists, purely because they make music exactly how they want to, often ignoring classic arrangements and structures. It is different from mainstream and definitely does not conform to any genre. It is purely a musical expression from the heart, unique to the artist.
Since its inception, Polar Dust has seen some member changes. Could you briefly tell us who was part of the first line-up in Iceland, who were the four members playing on Into the Burning Water, and what about the current line-up?
Sara: We started out as three friends, just wanting to play together. It was myself, Ellen Augland (drums) & Guðrún Sif Eldon (bass). We played at quite a few venues in Iceland such as a side venue at the eastern Icelandic festival Lung-A, Batteríið and Bar11. Later we had Reynir Baldursson on bass, for a short while, before I eventually moved back to South Africa. The musicians playing on the debut album are Mark Trafankowski on drums, Alexia Cocolas (aka Darla Dark) on bass and Gerhard van der Merwe on guitar at a later stage. We spent quite some time crafting the album and the music videos. The new 2015 line-up is a bit different, there is myself on guitar, programming & vocals, Yelena Calavera on cello and Mark Trafankowski on drums [this gives us some hints on the new Polar Dust sound! – ed.].
You describe your music as “electronic rock”. Could you explain why that “electronic” dimension seems important to you? When listening to your album, what is striking is the power of the “traditional” instruments (your voice, the drums, bass and guitar) and you do not sound so electronic after all.
Sara: When people hear about our band, we often first get asked what genre we play, and we usually answer that it is rock but with electronic elements. That kind of just became the norm to answer! We don’t actually know what to classify ourselves under.
Into the Burning Water sounds like a live recording, in the sense that it shows an incredible energy that a band generally delivers when it plays live in front of an audience. Did you work consciously to create such a sound?
Sara: The whole idea behind creating this specific sound was to fuse together certain genres that would normally clash, like “metal and techno” or “rock and house”. I was very homesick at moments in Reykjavik, and I pulled a lot of jazz and South African kwaito influences. There are elements of jazz and kwaito which I like, rhythm wise, and we started out playing with an electronic drum kit that kind of carried the “electro” side of the music. But we switched to acoustic drums later, just because it has a more powerful energy. I wanted to create something that involves both analogue and digital sounds, but still functions as one entity, with each instrument still earning its individual place.
Your album shows a very high degree of coherence, of strength and maturity for a debut album. Is it the result of a selection and fine-tuning of songs you have written over many years?
Sara: Yes, unfortunately, and an artist’s work is never done, there is always something you feel you can add or do better. As independent artists, we are, of course, self-funded and we worked when we had time and the funds to do it. We started recording in 2011 and then took the whole of 2012 to shoot our trilogy of music videos, and then we carried on recording and mixing during 2013 and 2014. We have worked with a couple of producers which didn’t go to well and stalled the process. We then met Jon Buckley who shared the same vision as we do and he helped us finish the album. For me it is important to work with a producer who can sing himself ;-)
Dose of My Darkside, My Own Enemy, Man Down, Forgive but Not Forget: there is a lot of darkness in your songs – are you pessimist people? And what/who do you want to throw into the burning water?
Sara: All our songs are just based on everyday difficulties and emotions that people do go through. It is mostly about contrast. I saw an oil spill on television and what it had done to the environment, and the destructive influence we, as humans, have on the earth, destroying our own home as well as the animals, hence the title “Into the Burning Water”. Dose of my Dark Side is just about how we can hold on to a bad experience when it is long gone already. My Own Enemy is about how you can stand in the way of your own happiness, Man Down is about how many people are bullied, then end up on prescription meds and eventually kill themselves or others. Forgive but not forget is about forgiving but not disregarding the experience because our experiences shape us, this is also the only song in my mother language, Afrikaans. I guess by facing the darkness we reach enlightenment.
Your album is available in digital format, but you also wanted to create a “hard copy”, in the form of an audio cassette hiding a USB flash drive holding the album. It’s a very nice idea, mixing the past and the present in a way. Why was it so important for you to have a physical device? And why in that form first?
Sara: It’s about the contrast “old-school vs new-school”, acknowledging the past and embracing the future. I guess it is just celebrating what once was, and what we are today. It invokes a childhood memory in some and is a gimmick to others. Even hipsters love it!
Unless I am wrong, the digital and the USB-cassette releases have been completely self-managed and self-funded, is it correct? Are you now looking for a label to release Into the Burning Water on CD and/or vinyl?
Sara: Yes, everything was self-funded and a completely independent release. We are hunting around to see if there are people interested in helping with further distribution. If the deal is good, for sure!
Let’s put the music aside for a moment, I have been struck by the apparent “low-key” promotion of your album and the very high professionalism and quality that you have put in the imagery. You wanted a beautiful album cover, the cassettes, the superb band pictures, the videos (two already released, one more to come). Could you explain why you wanted to put so much focus (and money, I guess) on the imagery?
Sara: I have met some great people, like photographers Rikki Hibbert & Conley van der Westhuizen, during the making of the imagery, and it’s rare to find likeminded people to work with on concepts. So, when you find them, you must use the opportunity. It was just about creating something together and I got an idea in my head and I had to make it. It is about the creative process, it has its ups and downs but it is about doing the things you dream of. The Rorschach [on the album cover – ed.] was of course connected to the music, about the states of mind we experience in life: what you see is your truth, what someone else sees is their truth… Take a moment and think :-) People always want change in the world or try new things, but when it comes to changing, evolving or taking them out of their comfort zone, few can actually get it right. Our listeners must feel like they have acquired something special. It isn’t always possible to download the album artwork with digital downloads, and I personally feel it’s important to give the listener an image while listening to the music, which is after all what we want from music or art, is to feel something.
Your bio mentions musical influences that go from Nine Inch Nails to trip-hop, acid jazz, hip hop or South African kwaito music. So, I suppose by “influences” you mean the variety of things you (have) listen(ed) to, because these are not really the influences I would cite while listening to your music!
Sara: I like to keep an open mind about music. Every genre has its place in this world. I have listened to it to see what it makes me feel and what part I could relate to in it, and channeled that as an idea into what we do, to create a significant different sounding experience. Many might think that using an influence is to copy what has been done before, but I like to experiment with different things that take me out of my comfort zone and fusing them into one entity.
What is the popular music in South Africa nowadays? Is Polar Dust finding a big audience in your home country or do you feel that things would be easier for you if you were in New York, London or Berlin?
Sara: I do believe we might appeal to a bigger audience in Europe or the US once we get our promotion going in 2015, although setting out to conquer the world has never been easy! Especially for an independent band.
Any chance to see you play some gigs in Europe in 2015? When I listen to the album, I really feel that this music needs to be lived!
Sara: We don’t have anything set in stone yet, but it is definitely the plan to visit Europe this year and play some shows. We won’t be the exact same line-up of musicians that played on the album, but we have a few surprises in store for our future live act.
What is next? I suppose you will be working for some time on the promotion of your album, but are you already working on new material?
Sara: We are working on brand new material which we will be performing live as well, when we start travelling.
2014 was the year when you album was released, after several years of work, what do you wish for Polar Dust for 2015?
Sara: After everything we have learned during the process of creating “Into the Burning Water”, everything won’t take as long as before. We hope to be recording the new material soon, so we can hopefully release another album in 2016.
Something else you’d like to add to make sure more people are sent to your Bandcamp page?
Sara: We are currently working on some extra merchandise to sell on our Bandcamp page such as T-shirts with the art work as well as the USB Flash Tapes. Keep watching the space!
Many thanks Sara, and a long life to Polar Dust!
KINDEREN VAN MOEDER AARDE • The inspiration to write music comes completely from spending a lot of time within Mother Nature in her various dimensions.
SHE PAST AWAY • And, finally, at the end of the day, the night emerged…
EMPUSAE • I can just completely let go when I'm alone with my muses and my instruments.
BORGHESIA • Today we live in a smart world where every kid has studio in his smart phone. More than 90% of top chart music is electronic. But there is still a place for innovative music.
TYSKE LUDDER • Our roots are more in the 70/80th wave and goth music than in the Oldschool Electro-classics.
COCKSURE • I would like to think people see the humour in what I write
CUÉLEBRE • We are very excited about Trolls et Légendes and the people we will meet!
PER-INGVAR TOMREN (DIRECTOR) • Much sicker stuff could have tumbled out of my head, but I wanted to make something that I could show my grandparents without being embarrassed.
OSLAVA • Assertive music is my thing
DER KLINKE • You can create music that’s inspired by someone else, or you can create something that inspires others. I think the last is very important.