St. Petersburg band Polyenso details new album ahead of Tampa release show

The band plays The Attic in Ybor City on January 18.

click to enlarge (L-R) Denny Agosto, Brennan Taulbee and Alex Schultz, of Polyenso, which plays The Attic at Rock Brothers Brewing in Ybor City, Florida on January 18, 2019. - c/o Let's Go Publicity
c/o Let's Go Publicity
(L-R) Denny Agosto, Brennan Taulbee and Alex Schultz, of Polyenso, which plays The Attic at Rock Brothers Brewing in Ybor City, Florida on January 18, 2019.

Right out of the gate, Polyenso’s new EP signals that something is wrong. On “Neon Mirror,” a pair of piano chords alternate anxiously, the same way someone’s legs might rock to the left and then right while sitting inside of a doctor’s office or courtroom. The skittering guitar and glitchy production are restless; the uneasiness is tangible. Then the song’s opening verse speaks, literally, to the arrangement’s sonic disquietude.

Lyrics wonder where all the people went, and they ask why crossed-hatched humans keep mingling through a conduit of mirrors. Half of it is lethal if you listen to the protagonist, and the whole of these “pictures, projections and reflections of neon-colored sections” are ruining our affections. The sonics brighten on the next track, but “Bastard” — born in the days after the 2016 presidential election — is anchored in anger directed at this nation’s new master. The track declares that “the world is in a new disaster,” but a bold defiance in the face of a shit situation is what buoys the song.

“All is not lost and art is not lost — you could never change us bastard,” the song says. And that’s where Alex Schultz, multi-instrumentalist for the St. Petersburg trio, chimes in.

“It’s not just about the Trump administration. It’s about any asshole,” he explains, adding that he’ll never be able to fully understand what it’s really like to be a victim of policies that affect immigrants and other marginalized communities. “When his term is over and he’s long gone, there is always going to be that person in somebody’s life. That cold person that seems almost inhuman.”

Schultz, 28, moved to New York City nine months ago, but he’s back in town to rehearse with his bandmates — Brennan Taulbee and Denny Agosto — ahead of Polyenso’s upcoming release show for Year Of the Dog, the band’s first collection of new music since 2016’s Pure In the Plastic. When CL catches up with Schultz, he is joined by Taulbee, who was the driving force behind another one of Dog’s brooding, anxious and painfully honest meditations, ironically titled “Happy.”

“I know it’s about myself, but at the same time it is also about someone who I was with, triggering a lot of feelings. There is a lot of anxiousness in that track,” Taulbee, 28, says, adding that there’s also a sense of angst in “I Go You Go,” a song about the band’s movements throughout its six-year existence. “But there’s also so much clarity.”

For all of the agonizing on Year Of the Dog, it is clarity — and a sense of hopefulness — that emanates from Schultz and Taulbee. The songs are strays from Plastic, but they’re devoid of the tinkerer’s spirit that left the band’s 2016 full-length littered with what felt like a million little sounds. Instead of running with the freedom that comes with producing songs without time limits, the band wanted to focus on what it was truly trying to express during a song’s inception. The results are still colored by the multi-textured aesthetic that landed Polyenso high-profile sets at festivals like Bonnaroo, but the tracks feel more complete and self-assured than anything else the group has released. Schultz admits that some of Dog’s tracks were perhaps too ambitious or formidable for Polyenso’s Pure In the Plastic sessions.

“They were an idea, maybe a thing that was happening. You could tell it was cool, but maybe it was too sophisticated for what we were trying to do,” Schultz explains. “I would like to think that this is a graduation.”

It is, and Year Of the Dog is also a gateway to what could be a flood of new music from Polyenso. Taulbee and Schultz estimate that the band has 18-40 song fragments in its Dropbox (not uncommon for groups where every member is a songwriter). Polyenso, however, has always been deliberate with releases.

“We want them to have an impact. We don’t want to just digitally release them and have them sitting untouched in an album folder on Spotify,” Taulbee says. Schultz very plainly says that if things go well, Year Of the Dog could be one of three new releases from Polyenso; Taulbee clarifies that the releases could also sound very different from each other.

“I can definitely tell you that the more aggressive, darker, electronic Polyenso stuff will definitely be leaning more on the societal and political side of things — all the uncomfortable and weird stuff that’s going on,” Taulbee explains. “The organic record leads to more purity and a lot of emotion — more relatable things.”

One of those relatable things could end up being how members of Polyenso leave St. Petersburg due to practical and creative matters. Taulbee — who lives near downtown’s Mirror Lake — experienced a rent increase and can’t find a place that’s even $100 less expensive; Agosto has been touring with other bands and has talked about moving. Schultz, who’s returned just for the show, can feel how everything has changed not just in town, but in his band.

“Even just hanging out with these guys for the short time I’ve been back, I can tell that they’re different. Their minds are somewhere else,” Schultz says, adding that geographical and cognitive separation is not a bad thing. The song fragments are expressions, and as Schultz, Taulbee and Agosto grow, there’s less and less pressure to turn the parts into what the band thinks a Polyenso song is supposed to sound like.

“It’s more about, ‘Let’s honor the expression because it’s special,’” Schultz says. “I think that’s a new era for us.”

Press materials for Polyenso’s new EP contain an anecdote about three-legged dogs Schultz sees around New York City; the narrative alludes to the animals' aloofness about their handicap and the extra effort they must exert to continue moving forward. For Schultz, the dogs are a symbol of the zeitgeist and a physical manifestation of strength in the face of adversity.

“The [release] just touches on how hard this year has been for a lot of people and how growing up in 2018 involves realizing that you don’t know shit,” Schultz says. “It’s kind of scary.”

There most definitely is a certain level of disquietude in the air these days, but some of us refuse to stand by and be quiet about it. Schultz, Taulbee and Agosto, for their parts, turned the noise into song. 

Polyenso EP Release w/Millennium Youth/Fr33dback/Sea Cycles. Fri. Jan. 18, 7 p.m. $12-$18. The Attic at Rock Brothers Brewing, 1510 E, 8th Ave., Ybor City. Read a full Q&A below.

You’re a band that has always been proud to be from St. Petersburg, but the recording process presented some geographical challenges and also found you starting at home before teaming up with Andy LeMaster in Athens, which was probably great considering the band’s affinity for Conor Oberst — could you explain where members live these days?

Schultz: Brennan and Denny are living in St. Petersburg, downtown. I'm living in Brooklyn, I've been there for nine months. We did the holiday thing, and we're getting ready for rehearsal this afternoon and evening.

Assuming this is happening at Paper Crane?


Which St. Pete studio you were in for Pure?

We did some stuff at Paper Crane, but the studio was Big3.

And for Year of the Dog — how did self-imposing technical limitations and working with Andy change this record?

Schultz: Some of these songs are almost three years old. We started "Neon Mirror" and "I Go You Go" more than three years ago.

Taulbee: What about "Bastard"? — that should've started the week after the election, recorded at Big3, started and Big3 and then put on the pedestal while other songs were being worked on. "Bastard" got finished at Big3 on the recording and tracking side of things, and then picked back up with Andy, right?

Schultz: Yeah, like finished, mixed and mastered. Andy didn't have that much to do with the record. He mixed "Bastard" and "I Go You Go" and added parts, production value, harmonies on those tracks. Most of them were done in the style of Pure In the Plastic where we were in Big3, we had finished Pure In the Plastic — it was about to come out or was already out. We were kind of in a new headspace. Like you were saying, we put some limitations on ourselves. We thought we should probably focus more on the blend of electronic and organic. With Pure In the Plastic we were really exploring this new idea of being producers and songwriters. For this, I think the limitations you're talking about are us not thinking so much about the production elements and more on the tracks themselves. Where the song is coming from, where the lyrics are coming from. Obviously we've grown a little bit.

We started them all T Big3, and years went by. It's not super easy to release stuff independently and have it make an impact. You can release it, throw it out there, feel good about it and nobody hears it. We didn't want to do that with these tracks, so we were like, "How the fuck do we make this happen without a label?" But we got approached by Other People Records who we've been talking to forever. They've been visiting and they've been trying to collaborate with us for so long, and it finally worked out. They cut us an amazing deal. They were very modest and just fans of our music, so they were willing to work with us — they were super-malleable. So they hit us up, and were like, "What do you guys got?," and we said, "Well we've got all these songs that we started and have put on the backburner."

Then we picked them back up with Andy. I was recording in New York, at a studio called Studio G — and we finished them, finally. I don't know how long it was.

Taulbee: Cleaning up those last bits, that's when everything was sprawled out picking up the last little pieces. I think "Happy" was the one that was the most untouched or true to its original state.

Schultz: It's also the track with the least elements. The other ones are in our regular style, very layered.

Just to put a loose number on how much potential new music is out there...

Taulbee: I think there could be about 18-40 song starts in the Dropbox.

Cool, didn't know these were leftover tracks, per se. — not in a bad way.

Taulbee: Exactly. There are so many different circumstances that don't let the songs come out. Things like us wanting them to really make an impact. We weren't just gonna put them out for the sake of putting them out. We didn't want to just digitally release them and have them sitting in an album folder on Spotify, untouched, for however long.

Schultz: Yeah, most bands I talk to release music that way. Obviously bands release B-side records, and stuff, which is cool, but I think a lot of bands — especially when there is more than one writing member — everyone has all of these really cool starts. I guess it just depends on where everyone is at, which ones are inspiring. The other ones usually have their moments; they come back, and sometimes you even get ahead of yourself.

I think some of these tracks were ambitious for us while we were writing Pure In the Plastic — they seemed kind of formidable. They were an idea, maybe a thing that was happening; you could tell it was cool, but maybe it was too sophisticated for what we were trying to do. I would like to think that this is a graduation from Pure In the Plastic — that's subjective of course.

Thinking about "Bastard," since it is an older song, we've all kind of lived and grown through whatever "that bastard" has...

Taulbee: It's still going on.

Right. How does the song change, in your head as each new net of current events unfolds? Every day, each news report is something fresh to react to. But it also speaks to that addiction to technology in "Neon Mirror," where I assume you're referencing the phone — how do you balance songs like these as you move from their inception to completion and to this tour?

Taulbee: The thing about those songs, "I Go You Go" and "Happy" — those are very personal songs; they're more about us. "I Go You Go" is entirely about the band. It's a band song about the band — I always wanted to write a band song. "To Be the Best Of Friends" was a band song, I was saying, "Cheers" to my friends. "I Go You Go" is the same thing; we're all separated in different places, doing this — I'm going, you're going. "Happy" was more like, "Eh, I'm not feeling so hot right now." Then you have "Bastard" and "Neon Mirror," and we're trying to touch an all around feeling that other people can feel, too, so they can relate to something relevant. We're not just giving people songs that they can't understand at all.

Schultz: Most of our tracks are pretty cryptic, but it was definitely a conscious effort to try and write something that doesn't necessarily pander to the times or try to be lyrically current, but definitely something that tries something that we hadn't done before or speaks about something that's really bothering all of us.

Taulbee: Yeah, with "Bastard" I was genuinely upset. I knew the day when I woke up after the election. The lyrics are pretty much exactly how I — and how everybody — felt waking up to the surprise. Waking up, it's a brand new day and then, "Holy shit, what the hell is going to happen?" That still sticks with me now. Now that the song is out you can listen to it on iTunes, so I'll throw it on every now and then only to find that it is still so relevant. It's not going to be not relevant, probably, ever.

Yeah, we don't really know what the future may even look like.

Schultz: Yeah, and it's not just about the Trump administration. It's about any asshole. I think when his term is over and he's long gone, that there is always going to be that person in somebody's life. That, kind of, cold person that seems almost inhuman. I think that "Bastard" will be relevant forever, so playing it live is going to feel good. Especially knowing that at least 99-percent of our demographic agrees with us. Whether they feel that strongly about it or not, they certainly agree.

Taulbee: I don't think we're gonna have too many Trump supporters at the show.

So on that song you follow, “The world is in a new disaster" with, "Well all is not lost and art is not lost… you could never change us bastard” — what does perseverance look like for Polyenso in 2019?

Taulbee: Hmm, that's a good one. For Polyenso in 2019? Well to have our release in the beginning of the year is a super good thing for us. It makes me super excited. January 18, the album release party, that in itself, since we are a smaller group that isn't releasing a lot of material right now, it is a really nice start for us. The ball is getting rolling right at the beginning of the year and could potentially allow us to take a lot of these other, older, tracks — all the material we've recorded that no one knows about — that could potentially be molded into a couple of LPs.

Schultz: We all of that material that we did with Andy, which is some of the best stuff that we've ever done — it's just kind of on ice right now. Like we said, we don't want it to just sit there after release. We want it to make a splash. I think we've set ourselves up. Going back to how everybody feels about political and societal things right now, it is a huge bummer if you think the way we think. But "All is not lost" and "Art is not lost" is the main theme of the track. I think it's the theme of how we go about living. Although that has really caused people trouble that we won't ever, really be able to understand especially being the type of people that we are and coming from where we come from. We're not immigrants, we're not feeling the effects the way other people are feeling them, but we are super empathic. Everybody is so connected now. You feel it. It's palpable, all the time. I think the point I am trying to make is that we were so frustrated, everybody was so frustrated, but, as shitty as it is, if all goes according to plan, we're going to release an album that is more organic-leaning. One that we tracked at Andy's studio, together, last year. We've also got an album that is much more aggressive and electronic leaning. So I think that's what 2019 is going to look like; I think three records, including Year of the Dog.

Taulbee: Three records that are polar opposite in feelings. Definitely some different statements. I can definitely tell you that the more aggressive, darker, electronic Polyenso stuff will definitely be leaning more on the societal and political side of things — all the uncomfortable stuff, all the weird stuff that's going on. The organic record leads to more purity and a lot of emotion — more relatable things, I guess.

Schultz: Interpersonal relationships.

Taulbee: Right, things like that.

From the last album, “Osaka Son” was this song about indulging one’s mind and soul, head versus heart — I don't know if there's a lot of hand wringing on this EP, but am I safe to say that there's an anxiousness? Or is that inaccurate?

Schultz: Anxiousness?

Taulbee: I think so. In certain areas. "Happy" is incredibly anxious — it's definitely a song about someone. I don't know who it is. I know it's about myself, always, but at the same time it is also about someone who I was with, triggering a lot of feelings. There is a lot of anxiousness in that track. "I Go You Go" has certain anxiousness, but there's also so much clarity. You'll feel slight anxiousness for a second, but then you'll be like, "Oh, it's so clear. It all makes sense." In that song I make it like, "We were doing thing, but now we're doing this," and it feels great.

“I Go You Go” is about this journey that the band has been on, but it also feels like you’re starting to feel like St. Pete changed in a way that made it feel overwhelming or different to you — is that true?

Taulbee: I think, in that song I really was talking about how we were doing a lot at the time. We were gonna go play this House of Blues show in Chicago — that was a huge deal for us. Always being on the smaller scale and not really playing large, popular venues like that made that really exciting, so I was like, "Oh we're gonna go play in Chicago, and it's gonna be different from any time that we've ever played."

I think we used to have this concept in our heads when we would go on tour as young gentlemen. We would be out there just owning it; it was our town — we could've never been there before and we would be running around like we owned the place. Then, the older we got, it kind of got more complicated. We started to realize that we don't know shit. Like, we do, but we don't — we're still learning and have so much to learn. Even going on this tour; we know what to do, but there's always these obstacles and there's always these things. The song just talks about us being in these different cities, being together, making sure that we're having a good time.

Schultz: Going back to the St. Pete thing. Coming back after being away for nine months, you can definitely feel how much everything has changed. Even just hanging out with these guys for the short time I've been back, I can tell that they're different. Their minds are somewhere else. Brennan was even talking about moving up to New York at the end of his lease, which is coming up. Denny is touring with other band and talking about moving as well. Those types of feelings have been going on since that song was created. It's definitely a restlessness. St. Pete is absolutely beautiful, and it's wonderful, and it's supported us so well.

Taulbee: It's where we started and now that the separation is starting to happen it's kind of like nobody really needs to be here.

Schultz: It's our hometown in the sense that this is where the band started, but really the older we get you just realize that you don't have to be here, you can just go anywhere. If you have the money to move...

People should feel free to explore. Just because you leave your hometown doesn't mean it's not your hometown.

Taulbee: Yeah, and it's hard to escape sometimes or convince yourself that, "I can do this. I'm gonna be OK. Honestly, in our hometown, it's always a good turnout, and it's always a good time with our friends and family — the people we've known for years. We aren't overly exposed in this town. There aren’t posters of us hanging around. Our name's not on the marquee, maybe once or twice a year it is. I wouldn't really consider it an extremely musical town. Not like Athens, New York obviously, Austin, but I think with that being said, it did let us create a spot for ourselves. We earned respect from people, and we make sure we don't just sit here and rob them of their money or constantly play out all the time. Like, "Come see us play. You just saw us last week, we want your money."

Right. I can see what you're saying.

Taulbee: I understand that local bands need to grow and what not, but it is a strange town for us.

The energy around your band feels propulsive, there's not an uncertainty, which is interesting because in the press materials Alex talks about the three-legged dog anecdote and how it doesn’t know that it’s handicapped. Specifically the quote talks about how much extra energy the must exert to keep going. I was gonna ask if the band feels like that, but it kind of sounds like you guys feel like you're in a good place. I mean 18-40 song starts feels like you're being shot out of a cannon.

Taulbee: Yeah, it feels like the ball is about to be loaded in the cannon, but right now we're the guy carrying the ball, slowly, to the cannon.

OK. So you do feel like the dog in that sense.

Schultz: I think the dog is more of a symbol of strength in the face of adversity. It symbolized the times. The album is Year Of the Dog, I think it just touches on how hard this year has been for a lot of people and how growing up in 2018 finds us growing up, and the more you do that — like Brennan was saying — the more you realize you don't know shit. It's kind of scary. Like I said, we can't even begin to imagine the kind of adversity that people have had to face this past year, but it's all relative. We just wanted to express how we were feeling. It's really as simple as that.

How old are you guys?

Taulbee: We're all 28.

I wanted to get some technical stuff out of the way. Alex, you went to St. Petersburg high school, and Denny went to Bayside. Brennan did you go to high school here, too?

Taulbee: No, I went to high school in Celebration, Florida.

Oh, right on. Ha.

Taulbee: Have you ever heard of that place?

Yeah, basically, I guess you don't want to call it Orlando, but basically it's — to my understanding — kind of this manufactured Disney town.

Taulbee: That's exactly what it was. That's what it started as and then about 10 years ago they sold it to a company called Lexin [Capital]. Basically Lexin is corporate bullshit, an asshole company that ruined the town and took the happiness away.

Yeah, it's a very oxymoronic name for a town.

Taulbee: It truly is like Pleasantville, and growing up there — I moved there when I was 10 years old and left when I was 17 or 18 — was definitely cool since you could run around like a wild child, but talk about all of the hidden problems inside of the perfection. They've created this little town that looks perfect, but inside every home it is screwed up. They don't allow people to broadcast live television in Celebration.


Taulbee: The news doesn't touch the town. There was an ax murder in the town, two blocks away from where I lived. This guy got axed to death, which is pretty gnarly, but it wasn't broadcast on the news. Just like Disney — if someone gets killed on the monorail — they're not gonna broadcast on television because they're not allowed.

I think you may have touched on this when you mentioned all of the different sounds that the other albums were gonna have, so if you feel like it's redundant don't feel like you need to answer it. Alex, you mentioned the songs having to be true to yourselves… they can’t lean too far towards our experimental side, or too far towards our more pop structured side. It’s about trying to find what’s genuine for the band. Some artists would be happy to record and release the polar extremes of their sound, which is what I feel you may do a little of on some of the upcoming stuff —  why is balance important for Polyenso? It feels like a core value for this record, sonically, but overall is it a core value for the band? It feels like it's going to be an exploration of more sounds going forward.

Schultz: I think that's true. I think up until this point it has been. Even when we do release these polar albums, we're coupling it with the ying and the yang, so we wouldn't release a heavy electronic album without having some really soulful, organic stuff to compliment it. I don't know that we talked about it, it was more like, what are we going to do with these organic songs? What about the electronic ones? Do we not release them? Or do we work super hard to blend them together and compromise what made the song special to us in the first place? These tracks on Year Of the Dog just kind of happened that way. We set out with limitations, like we said, not wanting to go too far in one direction, but as far as how the songs came organically, we didn't fuck with them too much. We didn't have to try to do that. We set the intention, and that was that.

So we have these new starts, but with us growing plus being more separated than we've ever been, we're not talking as much. We're not on the same page as we were before, but not in a bad way. These starts, this Dropbox full of tracks — they're expressions. Growing up, we feel less like we have to make them into Polyenso songs; it's more about, "Let's honor the expression because it's special."

I think that's a new era for us, which I think will be cool. I think some people, maybe, won't like it. Sufjan Stevens, when he releases an electronic album he's gonna have a certain amount of backlash because people just want to hear the same shit over and over again — that's not necessarily true, but you know what I'm saying.

I get what you're saying. Some people are like that, but people seem to go back to Sufjan because he's an artist that they need in their life because he is true to his creative impulses. He follows them, and he does it well.

Schultz: Yeah, and hopefully we can take something from that as well. Like, Bjork who is another one of our favorite artists. She does not give a shit. She honors the expression. Sometimes the album is conceptual, most of the time I guess, but either way she honors exactly what she's feeling in the moment, and she doesn't try and make it something it's not. That hasn't been what we've done, but it's something we're trying to avoid doing in general. So that may be where that polarity is going to come into play.

Should we talk about the show at The Attic? Your concerts have always been much different from the typical thing, and the Attic is a great listening space, but it is not gigantic...

Schultz: It's going to be intimate. We have Matt Resinger of Fr33dback who designed our lights, which is going to be great, but he's been really impressing us. He's making a really cool impact — he's one of the people in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, and no offense to the area, but he's destined for bigger things. He's going on the whole tour for us, running the lights and well as opening. Millenium Youth is my side project with my fiancé, Courtney — Denny is going to be playing drums with us on that. Sea Cycle is a label mate of ours. It'll be more of an experience as far as the entire lineup goes. I think it's gonna feel like one big set. We're all sharing gear. People will be coming on stage, playing with different artists. Courtney will be playing Polyenso, Denny is gonna play, maybe, with Matt. We'll see how it goes, we'll improvise in the moment. It's hard to say. It'll feel like a family affair.

And on a side note, you were talking about bands and the frequency with which they play, but I've always appreciated knocking J.T. Brown's philosophy on gigging around my head. He’s moving out of the Paper Crane space to start a new chapter of his life — things like this happen all the time, but can you speak about what's going to happen with that space and venue?

Schultz: When we were there we were mostly just around. We didn't do a lot of shows because we were busy with Polyenso stuff and our own lives. We tried to do what we could, but the people in there now are killing it. They're doing at least one show a week...

Taulbee: They've cleaned the place out.

Schultz: For sure, and they've got a new system in there; it's really impressive. I think everybody that moves towards that place gets in and finds that there's been some groundwork that another person has invested in it. For us, it was Tony Casoria who owned The Attic. I was in there with him five or six years ago just busting down walls and painting shit. Then his office moved out, so we went in, but he laid groundwork. When we left — I mean we put so much blood, sweat and tears into that place — these guys are doing the exact same thing. It's exciting to watch it grow. I hope that it lasts forever.

Taulbee: Yeah, I hope it keeps getting passed on to responsible people who want to do something with that space because year by year it gets curated into an even more special of a spot, so you can imagine that within a couple more years — if the city doesn't try to tear that building down — then it is gonna be a cool place for people to go in the midst of all this bullshit.

Schultz: Yeah, it's very true. It's getting very bright and plastic-y down here.

It is.

Schultz: It's different.

Yeah, I might be wrong, but I feel like people can't afford to live in St. Pete anymore.

Taulbee: My rent just went up, and I live downtown by Mirror Lake. I'm looking for other places, seeing if there are cheaper places — even $100 bucks cheaper — but, nope, not even in Tampa. The expectations of standard living are seeming impossible.

Well, thank you guys so much.

Alex: Thanks for letting us ramble.

Not rambling, I appreciate everything you've done and the example that you've set. Polyenso emerged from Oceana at a time when the music industry was really starting to change fast, so it's been cool to watch you grow.

About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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