It’s a lovely Saturday afternoon in September when I meet Penguins Kill Polar Bears at Edinburgh’s Southern Cross cafe.
Although drummer Kieran McGuckian is missing, the rest of the band – bassist Gavin Cormack, singer Ben Proudlock and new guitarist Fraser Sanaghan, and manager Murray Reid (AKA Manky Bastard) join me for a coffee-fulled hour or so at the back of the cafe.
There’s much chuckling about the poor gag that I once started one early feature on them (a bad joke involving polar bears and penguins -if you haven’t heard it, it’s really not that funny). However, it transpires that this isn’t the first time that they’ve been in a band named after an animal. Ben admits that the band PKPB emerged out of were called the Peacocks. Who did they sound like? “Um, Kings Of Leon and the Red Hot Chili Peppers!” However, when their bassist left, Gavin joined and they became Penguins Kill Polar Bears. At the time they were all still at school at Linlithgow Academy (apart from Fraser – the most recent member to join and previously a member of Lions.Chase.Tigers). Though the recent, excellent Dawn EP is their first release proper, an early release called ‘We All Got Saved’ was sold at school gigs.
And if you’ve heard said EP, then you’ll know it’s not the likes of Kings Of Leon and the Red Hot Chili Peppers that PKPB evoke now, but rather the sound of a Scottish band mining their own wonderful post-rock sound. They’re quite proud of the fact that one notable alumnus of Linlithgow Academy is Iain Cooke from Aereogramme, who they definitely cite as an influence. They’re now based in Edinburgh, but feel that there’s a cliquey-ness in the music scene here, with a bias towards folk music. They are, however, too polite to name names! Ben particularly states that he would rather see a band “outside a scene”.
There are of course those acts that it’s fair to say are fellow travellers. They’ve mainly had coverage from blogs rather than the radio but there’s also been bands tipping each other off about them. Frightened Rabbit for example tipped off There Will be fireworks about them They will be recording their debut album at The Mill theatre in Strathaven, which is where There Will Be Fireworks recorded their debut album. Other bands that they’ve shared stages with include the likes of the Twilight Sad, the Gothenburg Address and Pensioner. However, they are trying to break out of the same circle – “there’s a risk of playing the same gigs with same people everytime,” they note, sagely.
Their gigs both north and south of the border have elicited praise but also some weird behaviour. In Dundee one local nutter turned up and started to attack the merchandise stand whilst the band were playing. And then there was the guy who turned up with a taser in Stirling… still, I have to laugh with them at their description of Edinburgh’s Electric Circus venue as being “like a strip-club out of Bladerunner.
Having played south of the border as well, I ask how they feel they go down there. Discussing the notion of Scottish bands and how they’re portrayed down south, Gavin is quite philosophical on this issue. “There is a hype about the Scottish accent, maybe in England it doesn’t go down so well,” he says, thoughtfully. “I’ve gone off bands that sing with an American accent. Sing with your own accent!” he adds, forcefully.
Although they describe themselves as being “9-5 slaves to the wage” they have been writing and touring throughout the course of the year. There’s no fixed plans for an album as yet, though there is some talk about writing 15 songs and selecting 10. There’s another ten gigs scheduled between now and the end of November, but the plan is that come December and January they’d like to focus on studio work.
“Dawn’s a collection of songs that we’d written over two years,” explains Gavin. “We’ve always tried to do something a bit different from other bands. We wrote ‘Sandcastles’ two guitarists ago!”
The aim is for the album to be a complete piece from start to finish, and it’s going to be the next chapter in the band’s history. However – perhaps indicative of the age we are in both financially and independently – they are not looking for a record deal to put their album out. “We can make enough press for ourselves,” they reason. “The major benefit of a label is them putting the money in – but you then have to pay them back.” Murray adds: “Money’s not the most important thing. As long as we get petrol.”
Progressing like they are, I’m sure they’ll more than get their travel costs paid!