The first thing Ryan Pollie tells me about when we start chatting is his girl problems. He’s been seeing someone and now she’s not taking his calls or texting him back. He asks me what he should do. I’m taken by surprise for a second — I’ve done a lot of interviews and the first few minutes are always spent feeling each other out and establishing unspoken boundaries. Rarely is anyone ever that upfront. But it’s indicative of the guy behind Los Angeles Police Department and the music he makes, which is as confessional and open as Pollie is candid.
Pollie’s debut album is mostly about a girl, albeit a different one, and over 11 tracks, he bears his soul in an intimate and thoroughly charismatic way. Los Angeles Police Department is built on regret, on making mistakes, or perhaps the even greater pain of not doing anything at all. There’s talk of caving too soon, of letting go, of biding time. It plays like a scabbed wound, gently picking away at every edge until the soft and tender skin underneath is the only thing left. It’s not without moments of levity — Pollie’s words are serious, but they’re never self-important. There’s a sense of playfulness to the instrumentation that betrays his personality and helps lighten the mood. “Interluden” sounds like an old Austrian folk song filtered through an ice cream truck siren and, as dark as the subject matter of “She Came Through (Again)” is, lush guitar work keeps it bobbing along at a satisfying pace. The album is never a chore to listen to, as some albums born out of sadness can be — in fact, the boldfaced emotional punch it packs is pleasant … cathartic, even.
Pollie recorded the album alone in his bedroom, with every effort made to create the illusion of a full band, and that insular nature is what makes it so successful. The album is a singular vision and, for all its specificity, it’s instantly relatable and heartrending. The emotions expressed are sometimes ugly: He often puts the blame on others before himself. It can be selfish at times, compassionate to a fault at others, but it’s never dishonest.
I talked to Pollie about the inspiration behind his debut album. We’re also premiering the video for “She Came Through (Again),” which is a beautifully composed montage directed by Linnea Nugent that’s every bit as melancholy and entrancing as the song itself.
RYAN POLLIE: I’m kind of bad at romance sometimes. And “playing it cool.” The record is actually a lot about that, and this one girl that I was seeing for a summer. Basically all of the first seven songs on the album, minus “Enough Is Enough,” which is a party song. It kind of follows the same relationship and just different subject matter. But the same girl was in my head the whole time.
STEREOGUM: Yeah, I was going to say that everything sounds like it’s about one person and really makes sense together.
POLLIE: I had this group of like 30 songs and when I was paring the tracks down, I gave them to my roommates and my friend Jake, who was living in Alaska. Me and the guys had this Skype session where we all picked our favorites and it just so happened that it became more of a guitar album and a lot of the synth/organ tracks fell out. It became very conceptual musically and it just so happened that all of the tracks about the girl made it on. “Bishop’s Road” is probably the oldest track on there, and the only organ one that made it on, mostly because my friend Chris loved it so much.
STEREOGUM: It’s interesting that it kind of became a concept album by accident. What did you have in mind for the album before it turned out that way?
POLLIE: Nothing. I didn’t think I had a record. I was making songs just because making music is what I do for fun and it keeps me happy. Writing and recording is not a chore for me when I do it by myself. It’s total escapism. So they were all done in my room and I just kept recording and recording. My friends were always like, “Yeah, these are really great, but when are you gonna pay and go into a studio?” Some people were like, “So, are you gonna mix these properly?” It was all about getting my confidence together and being like, fuck it, I’m going to try to put an album together even if it’s just about putting it online for my friends to all hear and not just the four people I send them to.
You have to understand: my friends and I … don’t listen to lo-fi music. So the past two years of putting this record together, we had no idea that people were paying attention to musicians who were making shit with no money. It just never crossed my mind until a certain point that there was a community of listeners for it. But it wasn’t finding other lo-fi or bedroom artists that gave me the confidence, and I’m happy to say I only found them after I was able to be happy with my art and have the confidence to release it. ‘Cause to all of us, it wasn’t that they sounded lo-fi, it was that they sounded unprofessional, like demos. But, to me, I’m happy to say it sounds like an album. I hope.
STEREOGUM: I’d say it does. Been listening to a lot recently, actually.
POLLIE: Oh yeah? That’s rad.
STEREOGUM: So you were surprised by how much of a reaction “She Came Through (Again)” got online?
POLLIE: Uhhh, yeah. I mean, I always do the same thing. I just e-mail all of the blogs I’ve ever read and heard and respect. And I’ve put out only a couple of songs, but I have no idea why this song got written about and made people respond so positively. I mean, it’s such a trip to have people respond to your music and write about it. And the best thing is a lot of people have been writing about how the reason they’re posting the song is how good it makes them feel or about the emotive response you get from it. I think a lot of artists are like, “That’s what art is about, man! I write music for the fans and for them to love it.” But I’ve never really had that approach. As selfish as it is, I’ve always just written for myself and to make myself happy. There’s been a lot of moments when I’m alone in my room recording, just maniacally laughing about a part I just recorded or crying about a verse I just wrote about my dad. Well, not a lot of moments about my dad, but a lot of crying moments. And then it’s really cool to see people respond to it.
STEREOGUM: So how long have you been writing music? And what made you decide that now was the time to make it into some sort of cohesive project?
POLLIE: I owe my obsession with songwriting to my mom. She made me take piano lessons because it’s like this huge moral thing for her that she wanted all of her kids to have music in their life. And I was such an ADD kid and such a little rebellious douche that I didn’t want to practice what my piano teacher was making me do, so I’d sit at the piano for an hour each day or whatever — and my mom, thank god, didn’t care as long as I was playing something — so instead of doing my assignments, I’d just write and make shit up. It was so fun. And then every week, I’d get in trouble at my piano lesson. I remember writing a song about Maya Angelou’s Caged Bird when I was 12 or 13 and I played it in front of my class.
Then, I was in the same band with my best friends from the 7th grade ’til senior year of high school and wrote tunes all throughout that. And it just kind of morphed from a pop punk band because we loved Blink and Weezer in 7th and 8th grade and became a stoner classic rock band with solid harmonies and shit. ‘Cause in high school I discovered pot and the Who. In college, I wrote an electronic pop album and then after college, I moved here and started on this stuff. It’s the first stuff I’ve ever had released to the outside world in this kind of way. I guess once I realized that the music I was making by myself without a band was making me most happy, that was when this project really started. And now I still get to play with a live band made up of all my friends who are amazing musicians, but I write and record by myself.
STEREOGUM: Do you like the performing side of things? I feel like a lot of artists who record alone can sometimes be apprehensive about going up in front of a lot of people.
POLLIE: I love it! It’s crazy — I see a lot of shows where the bands are so worried about how cool they look, but having been in bands forever, and especially with my friend Justin who is in my band now and was in my middle/high school band, we’ve always just acted so goofy and had so much fun with it. And we DO NOT look cool. But the live show rocks. It’s really fun. I saw Mac DeMarco and he has a great time. They do a Limp Bizkit cover and he makes out with his bassist and they crack each other up on stage. I don’t have stage fright. The bedroom thing isn’t because I want to always be alone and I hate the world. It’s just a matter of circumstance, ’cause I don’t have the cash to go into the studio. I can’t wait for people to see us live. It sounds pretty different from the record.
STEREOGUM: When are you planning on touring?
POLLIE: Whenever it makes sense. I’ve never done a huge tour before. We have some things in the works and hope to get on the road soon. But for now, having house parties at our house and having all of our friends come over — that’s been the best.
STEREOGUM: What’s the L.A. music scene like?
POLLIE: It’s really spread out. I have a lot of friends in bands that I love, but there’s not a huge sense of community or any DIY scene that I feel like I belong to. So many great musicians, but I don’t feel like I have a scene or anything.
STEREOGUM: You’re not originally from L.A., right? Why’d you decide to move there?
POLLIE: I’m from outside Philly and I moved out here to make music. My friend Justin and I talked about it and he knew this, like, wunderkind Brendan from college and he passed me some of his tunes. And I was like … ok, these guys are moving to L.A. and they want to make music and movies and stuff and, like, why would I not do that? So I packed up my shit and left. I knew that no matter where I was or what I was doing, I’d be making music so it’d be cool to have people around to do that with that were so damn talented. Brendan’s in the live band, too. He’s better than all of us at guitar but he plays drums. And then my buddy from college moved out here with his brother, who happens to be an amazing guitarist and writer too and he’s also in the band. It’s pretty great to show up to band practice and all your friends are there. Just an amazing group of guys.
STEREOGUM: So obviously L.A. means a lot to you. Why’d you decide to sort of name your project after the city?
POLLIE: I decided on the name when I was still pretty shaky on whether or not I would even release the music. Just still figuring things out and needed something to call it. I wanted to name it SHARA, which is my mom’s name, but I wanted it to sound like a band. I was so obsessed with creating what sounded like a band in a room. And I’ve always loved those long ass names from the ’60s and ’70s, like Creedence and Sgt. Peppers. Anyway, we were recording a cover of this band Good Luck Bear, who live out in L.A. It was me, Justin, and my good friend Jake from Avid Dancer and we were just talking about band names. I live across from 7-Eleven, which is where the Los Angeles Police Department hang out the most, so I was joking about how funny it would be if you saw a marquee at a club that read LOS ANGELES POLICE DEPARTMENT TONIGHT! And what that would put in your head if you didn’t know the band.
STEREOGUM: So there’s no huge political statement behind it? I feel like a lot of people are trying to make some kind of connection there.
POLLIE: No, not at all. I think that would be really stupid. Again, I want to have some sense of humor. That’s why the Who are the greatest band of all time. Well, not why, but part of why is because they never took themselves too seriously and there was always a wink. I just think it’s a funny name and people will remember it. Or maybe listen to the first ten seconds of my song because of it before they turn it off.
STEREOGUM: So do you think bands take themselves too seriously sometimes? And is that a bad thing?
POLLIE: Yes and yes. Like, nobody smiles. Everybody acts like they aren’t enjoying themselves and the audience doesn’t either. Everyone in the audience and on stage is trying to be cool and nobody has a good time because of it.
STEREOGUM: Yeah, one thing I hate about a lot of Brooklyn shows is that everyone is so jaded.
POLLIE: Jaded is a great word for it. Like the Aerosmith song. That’s not the type of show I wanna put on. I’m not cool enough for it. I’m not Zachary Cole Smith or Jonathan Taylor Thomas. I’m kind of a goofball, so it doesn’t really work.
STEREOGUM: How do you separate not taking everything so seriously while still having people take your music seriously? Your songs are pretty emotional and earnest, so there needs to be some sense of seriousness there. Does that make sense?
POLLIE: It totally does. When I’m by myself in my room recording, that’s when the sad happens and the serious happens. It’s a really personal and emotional experience for me, writing and recording, which usually happen at the same time. But on stage, at band practice, I’m not gonna drag the band through a breakup and a first love over and over and make them feel that and cry or something. They just want to have fun and they like the tunes, so we play them and have a good time with it, which in turn makes the songs rock a bit more and sound a bit more fun. And when people listen to the album in their headphones, it’ll be more of a personal thing. It’s a very personal record. I can’t imagine people listening to it at a party or whatever. But at the show, hopefully they’ll be surprised at how social and fun we can try and make it. Haha, as if it’s some forced thing. It’s not, it’s just naturally fun, I promise.
STEREOGUM: So let’s talk a little bit more about the album as a whole. You said a lot of it ended up being about the same girl. What do you think your mindset going into cutting down the songs for the record was?
POLLIE: I kind of zone out when I write music, so I don’t think I set out to do anything with the songs. But mindset in general: I was seeing a girl who I was falling for, and fast, but she was leaving for NYC soon and we both knew it. So it was this awful thing where seeing her was so amazing and made me so happy, but there was just so much impending dread and doom because we weren’t going to stay together. The funny thing was I didn’t date her for that long, but after she left, I visited her and then she came back to L.A., so there was four months where I was just writing about her.
STEREOGUM: Has she heard the album?
POLLIE: When I wrote them, she couldn’t really listen to them at the time ’cause it was this whole sad thing for both of us. Very dramatic, haha. So listening to the songs made her sad. At some point she asked me for the lyrics to a bunch of them. I forget if I sent them. But now it’s probably awkward.
STEREOGUM: Is it weird having something so personal out there in the world?
POLLIE: Very weird. But to everyone else, it’s a love song. Especially “She Came Through (Again).” “I let her go and I was wrong/ Now all at once I wait so long.” Like, that means something really kind of painful to me, but I think to everyone else it’s mostly just a pop song. But like I said before, some people kind of catch onto the emotion of it and what I was going through at the time. And it’s not like so painful that I can’t listen to the tune or anything, haha. I’m fine! I swear!
STEREOGUM: Does it bother you when people misinterpret the song or have a different reaction than what you intended?
POLLIE: Hmm. It hasn’t really happened yet. People either write fluff or write stuff that makes me happy. I think if someone wrote a review and got it completely wrong, I’d think it was funny and not get mad or anything. Like I said, the song was written without thinking there would ever be an audience so it’s all just new and strange and I can’t take anything anyone says personally. When it comes to sharing my music, I made a big boy decision to put it out so I’ll live with whatever crap I get for it.
STEREOGUM: Let’s go through the process of actually putting out the music. How’d you hook up with Forged Artifacts and ChillMegaChill?
POLLIE: One of my favorite blogs, Yvynyl, featured this essay Matt [Linden] from Forged Artifacts wrote about being a small label and putting out smaller bands. It was amazing. I read that while I was e-mailing Mark [Schoneveld, founder of Yvynyl] about the first song I put out called “The Only One.” Matt happened to love the song, I loved what Matt said about his label, and we both loved Yvynyl so we kept in touch and I gave him the record and when it was time to release it, I wanted to do it with him. He’s a great guy. All I wanted was vinyl, to hold my first album as a record and to work with someone who cared and he more than cared. The dude is like my biggest fan. He’s the sweetest guy. ChillMegaChill hit me up after I signed with Matt about doing a split and Matt and I both love CMC and the dudes behind it, so it was fun to expand the fam a little bit.
STEREOGUM: How’d you get set up with Warren [Hildebrand, of Foxes and Fictions]?
POLLIE: Through a mutual friend who had worked with Warren before. I was looking for someone to master the record for vinyl because we didn’t really know what we were doing there, so it was great to link up. Warren is very talented in a lot of ways and he happens to master a record for vinyl really well also. He’s a really good dude and it was really fun working with him and chatting about the record. And the guy who mastered the digital, Mike [Post], is incredible and a dear friend.
STEREOGUM: So what’s going through your mind now that you’re just a month away from the album actually coming out?
POLLIE: Whether this girl is going to text me back or if I’m just never gonna talk to her again. And she’s just ok with that, I guess? She treats me like crap, man. I dunno, I was talking to a friend recently who just tours and lives in this house on the same lake that my family has property on in Vermont. He writes music there for a couple months and then goes on tour and then, like, sees friends or whatever. I never thought it could happen, but that’s a fantasy of mine. Being able to write records and then go play them, and then see friends. I’ve always lived in that fantasy in my head, but it’s been getting a bit more intense recently.
STEREOGUM: I assume you’re still writing a lot?
POLLIE: Not as much, actually. For record one, I was recording every weekend but ever since I stopped smoking pot, I’ve been changing what I’ve been doing a bit. I write more tunes and work on them for a bit before laying them down. It’s very strange. I need to start smoking again, sheesh. Got more done. But I still write all the time, I just record less.
STEREOGUM: What do you think is different about not smoking?
POLLIE: I’m less likely to go down the rabbit hole. And I get more hung up on the lyrics, making sure they tell a story. Everything gets worked out a bit more and I don’t let go as much, which is both a good and a bad thing.
STEREOGUM: Is the stuff you’re working on now any different from what’s on the album?
POLLIE: Yeah, it’s a little more in the direction of classic rock. It’s less hazy, a little more risky. A lot more folk stuff, too. I hate country music but a lot of it is “western,” I guess. I have like 20 new songs already, 15 done — not finished, but the songs are done and at least put down.
STEREOGUM: Do you think you have it in the back of your mind somewhere that you could end up going into a studio and recording with a full band at some point down the road? Or do you want to keep doing the bedroom thing?
POLLIE: That kind of scares me. Because the music may not sound the best, but it’s the most honest shit I’ve ever done. Because when I go into the studio, it’s about being perfect and laying down the best take and it doesn’t allow a lot for imperfections and happy accidents. But I really like playing with a band, and I like stuff that sounds good, so maybe I can strike a balance and just kind of track the same way I always do but with better equipment. That would be the most ideal: do it all myself in my room with dope ass recording shit.
STEREOGUM: What’s the next few months look like for you besides the album release?
POLLIE: Just gonna keep writing, hanging with friends, and kind of let whatever happens happen. I have my goals and stuff, but nothing that I can say will happen in a couple months. But who knows… This whole process is really surprising and strange. If I think about any of it too hard my head hurts so I think I’ll just try and write music and hang.