Seventeen Evergreen Tells the Story Behind That Dazzling Video for "Polarity Song"
Seventeen Evergreen's Nephi Evans and Caleb Pate in the video for "Polarity Song"
You've heard of yarn-bombing, yes? Well, in Seventeen Evergreen's video for the single "Polarity Song," an entire store full of people get yarn-bombed into one fantastical psychedelic universe. It's a capitvating entry point for this S.F. electronic rock duo, which made noises with a self-released debut back in 2005 and is now getting back onto the scene after along hiatus. Seventeen Evergreen will release its new Psyentist EP tomorrow, Dec. 6; it features a bass-heavy mix of electronic beats, synth textures, and live instruments and vocals, recalling both the rhythmic minimalism of Krautrock and newer indie rock like MGMT.
Ahead of the band's show tonight at Cafe Du Nord, and its new album (which is due in February), we spoke with Seventeen Evergreen's Caleb Pate about making the dazzling video for "Polarity Song," which involved taking over a giant thrift store in West Oakland. For more Seventeen Evergreen, check out "Angels," a track off the new EP that premiered on Rolling Stone last week.
Tell me a bit about how the band got started and what you're doing now.
In about 2005, we self-released a record and then somehow that got over to the U.K., and we got a bunch of offers from indie labels. Two-thousand-seven is when we really started making things seriously. We went over to Europe and toured a couple of times. Then we got super side-tracked with the kind of flotsam and jetsam of life and took a little too long of a period off.
We had toured Europe and we had four and five people. We evolved and wrote this record as if we were going to be a two-piece possibly, so the music naturally took more of an electronic angle. We've always had one foot in that world and one foot in songwriting and sort of rock 'n' roll arrangements. We ended up upping the tempos a lot, experimenting with different vibes compared with the previous record we'd made, which was a sort of slow, spacey record.
Were there some musical touchstones that you were triangulating in between?
We sort of bonded initially over everything from early 4AD music -- Cocteau Twins and kind of textural art rock. Over the years, [we] got super into psychedelia in all its many shapes and sizes, and then we definitely spent some years heavily into dance music and electronic music and hip-hop. But lately we've been kind of bonding over kind of future ethnomusicological tripped-out music -- Sublime Frequencies and various Syrian artists and things like that. We thought we were making a record sort of with that flavor, but it ended up just sounding like us as per usual. There's definitely a lot less guitar on this record.
What's behind the band name?
It comes from an old song by Giles Giles and Fripp. It's just a nice sounding group of words, and then it just sort of became our band name. We thought we outgrew it, and then we tried to get something else, and then we always kept coming back to this name.
So you have a new EP out and an album coming in February?
The record was finished for quite a while and it just was taking us an extremely tedious long amount of time to figure out how it was being released and who was distributing it. But we were still feeling really creative, so we wrote a bunch more songs. Then we were going to expand the record into this really long thing. We decided to just make two pieces of it.
"Polarity Song" is a really strong single, and of course you guys have gotten a lot of attention for that video. Did you know you would have a hit with that one?
A hit at this point in the game is about of course radio play and stuff like that, but also publishing and who picks it up. We've had songs in TV shows and movies and stuff before. I don't know if I would consider ["Polarity Song"] a hit yet, but it's definitely been kind of an Internet hit, and we've definitely got a ton of traffic on that video and an amazing response. People really seem to be feeling this one.
Tell me how you did the video.
It was mostly the brainchild of Terri Timely, which is an amazing duo from the East Bay. They made really great short film called Synesthesia that we were a fan of. So about a year ago, on a super rainy night, Ian and Corey, the two masterminds of Terri Timely, met with Nephi and me. And we sat and talked about sort of this textile-inspired approached, which was a collaboration with a Mills College MFA who had focused in textile work. Her name's Sarah Applebaum, she's amazing.
In the video what you see -- a lot of people assume it's just a bunch of CGI, there's no way somebody could have hand-knit all this stuff together. But they basically created this dream world, a sort of parallel psychedelic textile world of contrasting fabrics and beautiful patterns. That thing was 50 feet wide by 25 feet high. The stuff where you see the choreographed dance parts and then the live performance where we're there singing to this little congregation of tripped out dancers, that part was all done in their studio. The other parts were done in a giant thrift store in West Oakland.
So Applebaum knit all that stuff herself?
She didn't do it all herself. She had the prototypes, which were mostly our main costumes, and then she had the sort of core of that set, but then there was a really amazing art department that was assembled around her work, that worked directly with her to create everything else. You see a basketball, suddenly it becomes embroidered, or this bizarre massage device becomes embroidered ... it's pretty amazing, the sort of transformation. It embodied for us the power of music and how you can get sucked into more of a dreamy world that would take you out of your normal reality. It wasn't supposed to be a big, dark, abducting into some horrible thing. It was more being abducted into something amazing, a rebirth.