Turn on the radio right now and go to a pop music station. You’re probably hearing a song about love, or breaking up, or partying — or maybe all three. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — we all need a good sob song or Friday night hype song — but after a while, these musical tropes can start to feel a little overdone.
Story by Molly Much
Photos by Paula Horstman
Local dance-punk trio Pollen Rx understands that, and they combat this glut of similar songs by singing about the issues closest to their hearts, rather than just the people who make and break them.
The origins of Pollen RX trace back to Toronto, Canada, where singer/guitarist Ben Hirsch and singer/bassist Maud Morgan first met in college. The two began playing together in an acoustic band called Good Clean Feeling (GCF), where Hirsch played acoustic guitar and Morgan played ukulele. Upon graduating, the two ventured to Austin, ditching the acoustic sound after hearing an epiphany from a fellow GCF member. “Our bandmate Paul had a lucid dream that I had a bass that said ‘sick’ on it,” Morgan says. “And he woke up saying, ‘Maud, I just had this crazy dream!’ And I was like, OK, let’s go to the pawn shop. We’re gonna get a bass and we’re gonna go electric!”
Shortly after moving to Texas and deciding on a new sound, Morgan and Hirsch recruited drummer Andy Palmer, solidifying the lineup for Pollen, as the band was formerly known. “When we first met Andy, we didn’t really have anything together,” Hirsch says. “He was like, ‘I have a practice space. I have a drum set. I have a guitar amp you can use. I have a guitar you can use.’ We really wouldn’t be a band if it weren’t for Andy.” The trio quickly set out writing and recording demos, and shortly thereafter expanded their name to Pollex Rx.
On first listen, Pollen Rx’s songs are just catchy enough to be blasted through your car speakers. It’s only after a few plays that the social commentary and commercial critique in the lyrics reveal themselves. On their newest EP, 2015’s “Buyer’s,” the band focuses on modern consumer culture: “Organic from Ecuador/read it on a flyer/conflict moving back and forth/I am just the buyer,” Morgan sings on the tongue-in-cheek “Packaging.”
If consumerism seems like an unconventional concept for an EP, it’s because the band is tired of hearing the same old lovelorn cliches. “I only want to sing about things I care about,” Morgan says. “And I do care about love, but I feel like this propensity for all of art to revolve around [it] and that sentiment is phony. It frustrates me, because I feel like it’s so easy and it just simplifies the entire idea.”
As artists, the members of Pollen Rx are aware of their unique platform, and they want to use it to promote a message they hold dear. “You want there to be a reason for people to pay attention to you,” Hirsch says. “I mean, it is kind of narcissistic to be an artist, to be like, ‘Actually, my vision of the world is really important, and you should listen to it.’” Then again, with lyrics like “Billboard promises: liposuction happiness, Texas lottery, pills to help you sleep,” which Hirsch literally pulled from a series of billboards he read on Lamar Street, maybe the band’s vision of the world isn’t so questionable.
Besides striving to write music of substance, the band members also believe in building up their local music community. “You have to go to shows, you have to support other artists,” Hirsch says. For Pollen Rx, connecting with other local artists is the only way to stand out in such an oversaturated music scene. “It’s tough here. There’s so many bands,” Hirsch says. “You’ll hear bands that would just be run-of-the-mill bands here, but they’re the best band in Philadelphia. To thrive in Austin, you really have to be seeing shows and making friends.”
Despite the competition, the members of Pollen Rx appreciate the abundance of artists fighting for their big break in Austin. “It’s just a super supportive scene,” Morgan says. “It’s competitive in an inspirational way.” This competition inspires the band to always play their hardest and expand their roster of friends and fellow bands. All they need now are more billboards.