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Polvo playing in Greenpoint, New York in 2010
Polvo playing in Greenpoint, New York in 2010
Background information
OriginChapel Hill, North Carolina, U.S.
Years active1990–1998, 2008–present
Associated actsHelium
MembersAsh Bowie
Dave Brylawski
Steve Popson
Brian Quast
Past membersEddie Watkins
Brian Walsby

Polvo is an American indie rock band from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The band formed in 1990 and is fronted by guitarists/vocalists Ash Bowie and Dave Brylawski, with Steve Popson playing bass guitar and Brian Quast playing drums. Eddie Watkins was the band's original drummer, but did not rejoin the band upon its reunion in 2008, after breaking up in 1998.

Polvo is widely considered to be a standard bearer of a genre which came to be known as math rock,[1] although in interviews the band disavowed that categorization.[2] Their sound was defined by complex and dissonant guitar harmonies and driving rhythm, complementing cryptic, often surrealist lyrics. Their sound was so unpredictable and angular that the band's guitarists were often accused of failing to play with correctly tuned guitars. Polvo's songs and artwork frequently featured Asian/"exotic" themes and references. Additionally, their music had a pronounced Eastern feel that came not only from the Indian and Middle Eastern-style drones in their compositions, but actual Eastern instruments like the sitar as well.

The band was critically acclaimed from the outset, at least among those critics who were into non-traditional/underground rock. The band's name means "octopus" in Portuguese and "powder" or "dust" in Spanish; in Spain it also is a slang word for sex.


Formation and early releases[edit]

Polvo formed in 1990 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, United States. Their original lineup consisted of vocalists/guitarists Ash Bowie and Dave Brylawski, bassist Steve Popson, and drummer Eddie Watkins. Bowie and Brylawski met in a Spanish class at the University of North Carolina and shared an affinity for music released by SST Records and local rock band Let's Active. Polvo's first recording was Can I Ride, a double 7" single released on the band's Kitchen Puff Records label in 1991. It was later re-released on CD as the Polvo EP on micro-indie Jesus Christ Records. The band then released two full-length albums, two EPs, and several 7"s on Merge Records, a label run by Superchunk's Mac McCaughan, a high-school classmate of Brylawski and Popson. Merge Records issued their debut album, Cor-Crane Secret, in 1992. Today's Active Lifestyles followed in 1993, refining the group's approach, and it was followed in turn by two EPs, 1994's Celebrate the New Dark Age and 1995's This Eclipse. Today's Active Lifestyles was later reissued with an alternative cover without the lion image on it, because of a copyright lawsuit brought by the painter of the album.

The band also made an appearance in the 1994 cult road movie Half-cocked.

Wider reach, dispersion and break-up[edit]

Polvo toured North America numerous times, including outings with Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, Pavement, Superchunk, Pipe, Sonic Youth, Unwound, Trumans Water, Sleepyhead, Trans Am, Dungbeetle, and Spatula. They toured twice in the UK and once in Europe, playing with Sebadoh, Babes in Toyland, and Superchunk.

Two albums were released after the band signed to the larger label Touch and Go Records. Their debut for the label was 1996's double-length Exploded Drawing, an eclectic, progressive effort that began to delve more explicitly into the guitarists' fascination with Asian music. Drummer Watkins amicably left the band afterward to pursue career and family interests. The rest of the group was beginning to drift apart as well. Brylawski moved to New York City to attend graduate school and also traveled to India, while Bowie had already relocated to Boston by 1994 to join then-girlfriend, Helium frontwoman Mary Timony. Polvo reconvened in 1997 to record Shapes with new drummer Brian Walsby. Both Touch and Go releases featured a darker, more progressive rock-oriented sound instead of their earlier, post-punk influenced style. Rumors that it would be their final album proved true when they amicably disbanded later that year, ending their farewell US tour with a two-night stand at hometown club Cat's Cradle.

Hiatus and other projects[edit]

In 2000 Bowie released an album of home recordings on the Tiger Style label, called Yesterday...and Tomorrow's Shells under the name Libraness. He has since appeared with (current Polvo drummer Brian Quast's band) the BQ's and recorded and toured with Fan Modine. Bowie and Quast had also been working on tracks for a new Libraness album. Brylawski later played in the North Carolina-based Indonesian music-influenced band Idyll Swords, which released two albums on Communion, and currently is a member of Black Taj, as is Steve Popson. Watkins played drums in Dr. Powerful, as well as Durham outfit Stranger In The Valley of The Kings.


Polvo reformed with new drummer Brian Quast, formerly of Vanilla Trainwreck and The Cherry Valence, after being invited to appear at All Tomorrow's Parties 2008 and the Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona, Spain.[3] They also played several shows in the US, including the Northwest Music Fest in Portland, OR [1]. A full live set from a benefit show at Cat's Cradle in August 2008, featuring new songs and reworked versions of old songs, is available to purchase online.[4] This album benefits the Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University, in memory of Cy Rawls.

In 2009, Polvo re-signed to Merge Records and released In Prism, their first studio album in 12 years.[5] The album's release coincided with Merge Records' 20th anniversary, and Polvo were featured at a concert to honor the label at the Cat's Cradle in July.

In 2010 the band toured with Versus. In 2013, they released their sixth album, Siberia.[6] The band did not undertake any promotion for its release. Polvo's last live performance to date was in 2011.

Original drummer Eddie Watkins died on April 24th, 2016, at the age of forty-seven.[7]

On February 20th, 2020 two members of tthe band sat down with Sadie Dupuis of the band Speedy Ortiz for the Talkhouse. Resulting in an article that is a long form, deep dive into their catalog. With bassist Steve Popson saying:

"We were just a band, one of a thousand really good bands at that time, that played shows. We were stoked that people actually liked listening to what we did. It still is shocking to me 30 years later. The reissue, I have no idea if it’s 40-year-old people, 50-year-old people restocking this stuff. Or if there are 18-year-old people out there buying it. I’d be shocked if it’s the latter. But I just don’t know. " [8]





Compilation appearances[edit]


  1. ^ "What is Math Rock? Catch Polvo and Find Out | WIRED". Blog.wired.com. 2008-08-20. Retrieved 2016-04-08.
  2. ^ Horowitz, Hal. "You can call Polvo math rock, but the numbers just don't add up | Music Feature | Creative Loafing Atlanta". Clatl.com. Retrieved 2016-04-08.
  3. ^ Amy Phillips (2007-11-09). "Polvo Reunite for All Tomorrow's Parties | News". Pitchfork. Retrieved 2016-04-08.
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on December 15, 2008. Retrieved March 1, 2009.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ Tom Breihan (2009-06-03). "Polvo Sign to Merge for Reunion Album | News". Pitchfork. Retrieved 2016-04-08.
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on September 25, 2013. Retrieved October 8, 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ Hooley, Danny (2016-04-27). "Friends, Bandmates Remember Original Polvo Drummer Eddie Watkins". indyweek.com. INDY Week. Retrieved 2020-04-11.
  8. ^ "Polvo Finally Appreciates Their Own Music — Sort Of Sadie Dupuis (Speedy Ortiz) digs deep into the band's two new reissues with Ash Bowie and Steve Popson". talkhouse.com. Retrieved 27 June 2020.


External links[edit]