The Polydogs did not gather one dark evening to conspire in a shadowy basement. They did not unite with the goal of world domination or come together to take over Fort Worth. The four members most certainly did not seek out one another to form what one may call a “supergroup.” They’re cool with that label, though, in case you were wondering.
“Some people have thrown that word around, but I don’t mind being super,” said drummer Matt Mabe in conversation recently with his bandmates and me.
“As long as they don’t call us Cream, I’m fine with it,” said frontman Matt Tedder.
The new Fort Worth band is a group of friends who just so happen to be well-known and highly regarded in their own right. Led by blues guitar virtuoso Tedder, the Polydogs – drummer Mabe, formerly of Big Mike’s Box of Rock and the Quaker City Night Hawks; bassist Kris Luther from the Hanna Barbarians and many other bands; and the latest addition, Nick Tittle of Arenda Light, playing rhythm guitar and supplying backup vocals – will release their self-titled 10-track debut album on Saturday, April 6, and celebrate with a show at Shipping & Receiving Bar.
That performance will be only their third as a full group, and the Polydogs are still experimenting with their sound. Listeners can hear that experimentation on the album, a mishmash of styles and influences. There’s a surf song, a country tune, and sounds that Tedder and the gang claim are influenced by everyone from George Harrison to Alice in Chains. Producer Taylor Tatsch (Garrett Owen, Sam Mason, Jetta in the Ghost Tree) said Tedder brought in a “weird Asian instrument, like a sitar meets banjo” for one song, and on another, Mabe drummed on Tatsch’s son’s toy drumkit. Like more than a few sounds on the record, that musical choice was inspired by ample imbibing.
“Memories of this one are a bit fuzzy,” Tedder said. “There was a lot of drinking. And some tripping, too.”
Regardless of the influences – musical and otherwise – the guys are confident in their record.
“I don’t care what Tedder says,” Mabe countered when asked about the toy drums. “That’s the coolest drum sound on the whole album.”
The band was initially called the Matt Tedder Trio. Tedder and Mabe have known each other for 10 years and played with each other on various projects before. Tedder, a former contestant on The Voice, invited Mabe to be a part of the debut EP he made when he returned to Fort Worth from Nashville, where he had relocated from his hometown of Fort Worth six years earlier. Mabe found it easy to say yes to a collaboration with the young, talented musician.
“I remember Tedder opening for Quaker City years ago and just blowing everyone away,” Mabe said. “I went up to talk to him after the show, and I saw X’s on his hands. He was 16.”
The feeling was mutual.
“I’d have my dad drag me out to Big Mike’s Box of Rock shows just to see Mabe,” Tedder said. “He was the guy I wanted.”
Many years and collaborations later, Tedder and Mabe enlisted the help of bassist Luther to form the trio. They had previously employed the help of many hired guns on bass but wanted someone full time. Luther, a frequent gig mate, came highly recommended and was a natural fit.
“We all just get along really well, so I’m glad he can also play a little music,” Tedder said.
With their unholy triumvirate now complete, the band began to write songs together, bouncing ideas off one another as each brought his distinctive background to the table. The trio wrote a trove of songs and headed south to producer Tatsch’s AudioStyles, a so-called “recording retreat” located in remote Dripping Springs, in spring 2018. Once there, the band quickly defied Tatsch’s expectations.
“What started out as recording a bunch of badass blues musicians turned into me recording something way more than I thought,” the producer said. “It was apparent we were recording an album that has something to say.”
Tatsch was struck by what he calls a “lyrically deep” record and one that took little time to master. Some tracks took only three cuts to perfect, even as the musicians experimented with their sound.
“Mabe really took the lead on experimentation,” Tatsch said. “He was drawing from everyone from Queen to Steely Dan, and he wanted to use the studio as an instrument to create these really big sounds.”
The now famous toy drumkit experiment can be heard on the track “Toast,” which Mabe cites as his favorite.
“I wanted to create this massive drum sound, like something you’d hear from Stone Temple Pilots,” Mabe said. “I didn’t think that would come from a kid’s kit, but, hey, it worked.”
Tedder is confident that that experimentation created a kind of sonic whiplash, an album where you can never predict what might come next.
“This record can’t be set in any genre,” he said. ‘AK48’ is a balls-to-the-wall rock song, while ‘The Movie’ is a psychedelic trip, and ‘Aimlessly’ is a blues song. Other times you may get a George Harrison feel or a Radiohead vibe.”
However, sound wasn’t the only thing with which some members of the band were experimenting. Before writing and recording the album, Tedder experimented with acid for the first time and developed the habit of playing his guitar mid-trip. He said those experiences refined his love for a trade he’s been plying most of his young life.
“There always comes a time with doing anything that long that it’s hard to find the excitement you had in it as a kid,” he said. “But during those first couple of trips, I felt like a kid again. I got this new outlook on the guitar that I never thought I’d have. You realize everything this instrument has given to you and the people it’s allowed you to meet.”
Luther joined Tedder on one of his trips during a getaway to Galveston, and the bandmates tripped from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. They spent the whole night laughing on the beach. Even though he never wrote while on acid, Tedder traces many of the songs on the band’s debut album back to his psychedelic trips. His trips wouldn’t allow him to focus on one thing for too long, he said. He floated from one idea to the next, never thinking about the same thing for more than a few minutes at a time. The album plays much the same way.
“I think my songwriting brain changed a little bit during those trips,” Tedder said. “I wanted to explore some new avenues and get a little more universal.”
That intent – and Tedder’s psychedelic influences – are evident throughout the album. It fluctuates from high energy to calm, soothing ballads, and many of the melodies have a floating, trippy feel. Tedder points to “We’ll Be Alright” as one track that was heavily influenced by his trips.
“Something in me decided to get political about this record, and that song is a kind of hopeful lament for what we’ve become,” Tedder said. “I tried to write a love song for a divided people. We’ve been alright before, and maybe we can be alright again.”
Luther calls the album a “stamp in time,” a reflection of the musicians as they are in this moment.
“It may not make sense stylistically,” he said, “but it’s not supposed to.”
As they crafted their debut release, the bassist found it easy to forget he was playing alongside a 23-year-old.
“We would not think about how young Tedder is for a little bit until someone made a ’90s reference,” Luther said. “Then we’d have to explain it to him, and we’d remember, ‘Oh, yeah. You were 4 when that was a thing.’”
Cultural gaps aside, Luther was consistently impressed by Tedder.
“People think he’s just going to be this blues guitar player kid, but this record is him coming into his own,” Luther said. “And he’s still the most mature one out of all of us.”
Throughout the recording, the band was cognizant of the expectations that fans and critics have of each of them. While they didn’t actively try to create a record that cut against the grain, Luther admits those expectations were always in the back of their minds.
“We recorded one song that we ultimately left off there because it’s too similar to stuff Tedder has already put out,” he said. “We were sitting there listening to it, and we all thought the same thing: ‘No, we did that already. Let’s move on.’ ”
Intentional or not, the Polydogs have allowed each artist a space to explore his artistry outside of his usual gigs.
“We have an opportunity to experiment, explore, and do what we want,” Luther said. “It’s just a baby right now, so let’s see how it grows up. Is it going to be a pain-in-the-ass kid or something to be proud of?”
After five days at AudioStyles, the Polydogs’ first record was complete. They returned to Fort Worth, played shows as the Matt Tedder Trio, and contemplated their next move. As they thought about the songs they produced in Dripping Springs, they realized something was missing. To get the sound they wanted, they needed a fourth dog.
“I couldn’t see us playing these songs live without another guitarist, and that’s where Nick came in,” Tedder said.
For a time, Tittle was Tedder’s boss at the School of Rock in Fort Worth. Tedder walked into the music school one day looking for work, and Tittle jumped at the opportunity to help out a friend.
“Get him on immediately,” Tittle told the team at School of Rock. “This guy would be great.”
It took a similarly brief amount of time for Tedder, Luther, and Mabe to decide Tittle was the right man to complete the Polydogs.
“He’s goofy, dumb, and funny,” Tedder said. “And he puts up with us.”
Tittle has earned his stripes in the music scene but was still starstruck when he was invited to join the Polydogs.
“I was terrified,” Tittle said. “I’ve always loved each of these guys individually, so my first thought was, ‘How do I not fuck this up?’ ”
He didn’t get much time to practice not fucking it up. In true Polydogs fashion, the band didn’t rehearse as a quartet before their first show together. That’s partly by design.
“We like to fuck things up a little differently each time we’re on stage,” Tedder said. “If it works, we celebrate. I can’t remember our shows very well, so I guess it’s worked.”
Their talent and collective experience must play a factor, but Tedder believes there’s something special about this group. At times, he insists they can read one another’s minds. He calls it “telepathy,” a “spark” he struggles to put into words. Luther just calls it “chemistry.”
As for the supergroup label? They’ll leave it up to the listeners to make that judgment.
“If we were to have some sort of secret underground meeting, we would just end up drinking and playing riffs the whole time,” Tedder said. “If that’s super, then we’ll take it.”
Polydogs album release show
Sat, Apr 6, at Shipping & Receiving Bar, 201 S Calhoun St, FW. $15-80. 817-887-9313.