A Young Band with a Plan
Polka Wars' Session in Brooklyn, NY.
by Ken Jenie
“We acted like a group of sleazy dudes, Billy bought 5kgs of rice plus some beef floss, Karaeng even bought a new rice cooker,” Giovanni Rahmadeva exclaims. “When we used it to cook in our apartment there, the four of us found out that we bought the wrong device (the one which has 220 V, instead of the 110 V that fits to the United States system). We had to wait for 2 solid hours to get the rice fully cooked.” He adds with a smile. This kind of narrative sounds like a typical story from a tourist in the States, except the fact that these boys aren’t there for small-fries. Giovanni Rahmadeva is the drummer/vocalist of Polka Wars, alongside with Billy Aulia Saleh (guitar/vocal), Xandega Tahajuansya (bass) and Karaeng Adjie (guitar/vocal) the four of them are the winners of 2014’s Converse Rubber Tracks, and they are there to claim their prize: recording at Converse Rubber Tracks studio in Brooklyn, New York.
Polka Wars traveled to Williamsburg, New York on 02-16 May 2015 and they spent four days recording on Converse Rubber Tracks Studio. “On our first day, we got pretty nervous, we woke up super early, cooked ourselves some breakfast, ending up arriving too early at the studio. Do you know the anxious feeling at the first day of an exam? That is exactly what we felt that day.” Billy said. Fortunately, this anxiety disappeared by the time they entered the building. Located in the hyped and artistically vibrant Brooklyn neighborhood, the studio is a 5,200-square-foot warehouse that includes an office, coffee/snack spot, mini stage, rehearsal studio, and a recording studio. Some corners of the building are wrapped in artworks by Jeremyville, Mr. Ewok, and Shepard Fairey, crowning the studio as an ideal spot to be creative.
In a Billboard magazine article, Geoff Cottrill, Converse’s VP-General Manager of Brand and Segments said that the main idea of the Converse Rubber Tracks is to pay back to the people who are loyal to the brand, “The brand doesn’t belong to us, it belongs to the people. This is just an opportunity for us to facilitate that. The more that we don’t speak, the stronger and better we are.” He said. The will of Geoff Cottrill can be felt by Polka Wars’ members when they entered the recording room. The room is spacious and has just the right ambiance to be productive. Bringing nothing but themselves and some guitar pedals to the studio, Billy, Deva, Dega and Karaeng experienced the commitment of the Rubber Tracks’ team asthey provided them with the best possible option of the musical instruments that they were going to use.
Soon after the band picked up their preferred instruments and amps, Aaron Bastinelli, the recording engineer of Converse Rubber Tracks NY, set the position of each instrument alongside with the cable and channel routing for the recording. This time, the setup process is quite important because it will last for three days for Polka Wars’ recording session. Quite special treatment from the studio to the band knowing that usually the winner of the Rubber Tracks competitions only gets one day, “We gave you more days because you guys have come from all the way from the other side of the world”, Aaron said.
The jitters from the band loosened up when they recorded their first song. Having been a song that they played often in live performances, Polka Wars decided to do the song “Obese Elves” on a live recording. Surprisingly, Polka Wars managed to finish their song on the first day on the studio though they spent quite some hours to set the equipment and preparation. “All this time, Billy as the composer of this song, was never quite satisfied with how the song was done. He said that there was always something missing from the song. When we finished recording it that day, Billy said that he was finally delighted with the way the song turned out” Deva said.
The positive energy continued on the second day. The band planned to record a new song with Indonesian lyrics, “Rangkum”. This time Deva is the composer. The help from Converse Rubber Tracks Studio’s crew accommodates the recording progress. Aaron and Tonny’s efficient ethos bolster Polka Wars’ recording pace. Not only did they assist the band by being professional recording operators, they also helped the band to work on a productive and efficient manner. “The reason why our first album took a lot of time to finish is because we were always pampered when we did our recording process in Jakarta. Hopefully, with this experience in the Rubber Tracks’ studio we will be able to work on our future releases with a more constructive pace”, Deva said. On the second day, they were also able to record their third song, “Long for the Night”. Made by Karaeng, the band experimented with a new method in recording the song. With the suggestions from the engineer, the band jammed out on the song’s closing. Resulting in a fresh and interesting outlook to the output of the recording. The band completed the third and the fourth day of the recording with overdubs and mixing sessions.
Between studio sessions, the band also managed to do some interesting activities at their leisure. Knowing that they were visiting one of the most creative neighborhoods the world’s busiest city, the band spent some of their time watching concerts, watching performances by Cults, POP ETC (formerly known as The Morning Benders) Cloud Nothings to Acid Mothers Temple. An experience that still lingers to them to this day. “Watching Acid Mothers was a crazy experience. At first, you’ll be amazed by the way the band performs. They have some catchy riffs and amazing stage act. But they also play with a really loud volume – really loud! I had to rest my ears outside of the venue after a couple of minutes! But if you could really listen to their song, we can see how magnificent their song structure was.” Billy said.
For Polka Wars, New York City is an interesting place. Xandega, who spent most of his time visiting the city’s cultural spots, said that visiting New York grew some insight for him. Beside the fact that the city has the right atmosphere to get creative, he sees that it is really possible for Indonesian bands to develop their career in the city as well. “We see some international names that perform not as good as their reputes, and I know that most of the bands in Jakarta could play better than them,” he said. With that thought in mind, he utilizes his time there to build connections and networks that could help the band in the future. And though the band also experienced some less than reassuring moments in this trip, like when they deal with their Airbnb mishap that made them stay in a house with unprofessional owner (the band had to take care of the house’s dog, including taking the dog to walk and cleaning up the dog’s pee and poo on their bed), they won’t hesitate to go to see and experience New York City once again. “It’s an easy question to answer, I mean like who doesn’t want to go to New York?”, Dega said.
The future looks bright for Polka Wars. With a full-album on the go for release this August, they have the time to decide what to do with three of their Rubber Tracks song. Until then, Polka Wars is more than ready to deliver their very first full length to the public with a set of plans. “We will assure you that the Rubber Track’s song got a proper treatment and we’re planning to release it before the end of 2015, soon after our first album’s marketing plan done.” Deva closes.