"I think the best days are the ones where the sky is perfectly blue (with no clouds) and the sun is shining and making everything super bright and
Glasklarer Sound trifft auf aufgeregte Energie: Polygon Cove aus Nottingham schreibt und produziert Songs, die so klar und hell sind wie ein wolkenloser Freitagnachmittag. Hinter der Internet-Band steckt Gray. They ist zwanzig Jahre alt und stark inspiriert von Games und Anime-Openings aus den 00er-Jahren. Das bedeutet aber nicht, dass die Musik leichte Kost ist: Sobald du genau hinhörst, vertiefen sich durch Text und Soundelementen "Polygon Cove" zu viel mehr als nur fröhlichen Klängen.
Mit deren neusten Single Let Go und letzten EP Dawn2Dusk ruft Polygon Cove dazu auf, loszulassen von alledem, das dich zurückhält. Damit spricht they insbesondere die eigene Queerness an. Sie soll nicht der grauen Mehrheitsgesellschaft und dem Wunsch der normalen Angepasstheit zum Opfer fallen. Polygon Cove (bzw. Gray) ist hier der Gegenentwurf: Laut und selbstbewusst jongliert they mit den eigenen Obsessions (Kingdom Hearts, Anime und Pop-Punk der 2000er) und kreiert deswegen etwas ganz eigenes und kostbares.
Riley: Last Friday you released your newest single “Let Go”. What is this song about?
Gray (Polygon Cove): So originally I wanted to make a Sonic the Hedgehog fan song. You know, like “City Escapes” or “Live and Learn”. All those songs have lyrics about being your true self and breaking free.
And like honestly, that's something I struggled with myself as a teenager, and so I just wanted to kind of tap into both. Like the sort of atmosphere and vibe that Sonic gives, but also the emotional core that people can resonate with within those Sonic songs. It's probably why I like them.
So honestly, it's just about the period of time in my late teens, where I clocked that I was very queer and decided to not let anything hold me back anymore.
Riley: So it is a deeply personal song.
Gray: Kind of yeah. (laughs)
Riley: But I also noticed that it's 80 seconds long, so it will be perfect for an anime opening.
Gray: Oh, it would, wouldn't it? I get told I make anime music a lot. It's one of my biggest inspirations, so I think no matter what I do, everything I make will kind of have an anime sort of atmosphere to it.
Riley: So is this an active decision of yours that you say “I want to make a anime-like music.” Or does this just come naturally?
Gray: There have been times where I specifically went out to make an anime opening song. But even then there's times where no matter what I do, it always just comes out having that sort of structure and emotionality behind it.
Riley: So those anime openings are still influencing your music.
Gray: Yeah, can't escape it.
Riley: Now I have to ask, of course, what is your favourite anime opening?
Gray: “Rewrite” from Fullmetal Alchemist.
Like the original 2003 one. It's the 4th one. It's just like… I can't even put into words. The way everything syncs up. And also just the animation on that! I think it's like 60 FPS at some point. It's mesmerising to look at, and it has a really cool, grungy sort of tone to it. It's a good one.
Riley: In your second album “Hometown” . You said that you want to capture the feeling of English anime openings that got lost. Is there so much difference between Japanese and English anime openings?
Gray: The English ones are really goofy. So like in the early 2000s when they were bringing a lot of Japanese anime to the West, they dubbed everything, including the openings. So we get stuff like the Pokémon Rap and the Digimon rap and stuff. Just really goofy and fun. Or in high school host club. (Sings): kiss kiss, fall in love!
There's Tokyo Mew Mew which has an English version of an opening. I'm blanking now. I actually have a list of them somewhere I can try and find.
Riley: And on your website you say that you're learning Japanese. Is that still going on?
Gray: Yeah, I'm actually moving to Japan in October this year.
Riley: Oh wow! That's some big news.
Riley: Forever? Or just for one or two years?
Gray: I'm just going for university. So somewhere around four years or so.
Riley: What are you studying?
Gray: (laughs) The course is called “Computer Music”. It's just sort of a production and composition course focused on what we can do now with all this technology we have on our hands for live encoding and stuff.
Riley: So I guess we can hope that you will release somewhere in the future at Japanese song.
Gray: I kind of already have.
Riley: You have?
Gray: Yeah, at the end of “Hometown” when they cry. Which uses Vocaloid for a Japanese song. But I do have have plans to write a song in Japanese pretty soon, actually, and I'll sing it.
Riley: Do you still know what the first anime was that you watched?
Gray: It was Tokyo Mew Mew.
Riley: And this is still something that's on your mind?
Gray: I haven't actually seen it ever since I first saw it as a child. But it definitely changed me. If you look up any image of Tokyo Mew Mew, you'll be like: ”Oh, that's great. I can see why that they are the way they are now.”.
Riley: And can you say why anime is so special to you? What makes it different to non-animated movies?
Gray: So in anime, the characters emote with like an alsmost inhuman level of intensity. When they cry they sob. When they laugh they laugh with their whole bodies. It's really easy to understand what they are thinking and feeling just from the way they act. And I'm very autistic so it's a lot easier to read what they're doing than what humans are. So I just clocked. I liked anime a lot more than live action.
Riley: Animes are not the only thing that influence your music. What are the other things? Are there artists, for example, that really speak to you?
Gray: So I feel like I'm just a combination of 2000s pop punk with pico pop and some hyper pop. And I wanted to kind of mix it all together and make like Hyper Rock or Digi Rock or something.
So examples would be: Anamanaguchi. I really like the band “800 cherries”. There's some other people in my scene like dynastic and button maker who make really good hyper rock.
And Plus-Tech Squeeze Box. It seems like it's a Japanese band inspired by American cartoons. So they make sort of like Powerpuff Girls and Scooby-Doo inspired type music. It's really interesting.
I would say if you were to mix the Katamari soundtrack with the Sonic Adventure 2 soundtrack with Avril Lavigne, Blink 182 and then a couple English anime openings like Yugioh or Digimon, or Pretty Cure, that's me. All those together you put into a pot and stir it: You get Polygon Cove I think.
Riley: Therefore, did you also listen to a lot of rock songs in your childhood?
Gray: Yeah, I think I've always been pulled towards songs with guitars and noise. Just like the texture of having some really loud crunchy texture.
Riley: And games are also big factor that influences you.
Gray: I can't really give a reason for that. I was just pretty introverted. So I spent a lot my time on video games and so I kind of fell in love with them.
Riley: And I'll take a wild guess and say that Kingdom Hearts especially is a game that influences you. Because you did a Kingdom Hearts 2 real time fandub with your friends. And you did a nightcore cover of the theme song from Kingdom Hearts 2. And you have an action figure. And on the cover of your latest EP “Dawn2Dusk”, you're drawn after the protagonist Sora, I think.
Gray: Yeah, pretty inspired by Kingdom Hearts I'd say.
Riley: What's up with that?
Gray: Dude, it's Kingdom Hearts, it’s just the coolest shit ever! It's literally like emo through the lens of Shadow the Hedgehog. Like the way that cartoons draw emo characters. There isn't a lot of depth to it, but it has a really simple emotional core.
The aesthetic of the chains and the keyblade and baggy clothing and Doc… come on you just gotta look at it. It's great.
Riley: When I look at the hyper pop scene, a lot of people are using samples or going after the style (of Kingdom Hearts). Do you think it's because of the clothes and the emo-ness of the series?
Gray: So Hyperpop is essentially emo but with a lot of cute elements or sparkly elements added to it. Or just like a happy vibe in general. And that's essentially what Kingdom Hearts is. It's a really emo, emotional game. But with a really bright atmosphere to it. So I think they just kind of go hand in hand honestly.
Riley: To close this section of games: Do you think you would be another person if you hadn't played such games in the past?
Gray: I think I'd be really boring.
Riley: So games make you interesting?
Gray: I just think if I wasn't into all of this niche, weeby, peppy stuff, I'd probably be a lot more unhappy and kind of go the general route of “You go to school, you do engineering and have a wife and kids.
Riley: Okay! We can leave this tought gladly behind with the next section about your EP “Dawn2Dusk.” This is the first bigger project of yours where we hear your voice. We heard it before sometimes, but not in an EP or an album. In your album “Hometown”, for example, Phoebe Dobie is behind the vocals. So for what reason did you decide to do vocals on your own this time?
Gray: Dawn2Dusk came about because of a discord I joined called “the flip zone”. This was made by dynastic, who you probably know very well. Essentially the idea was: Everyone made a sample and passed it on to the next person in the chain and then they had one hour to make a song out of that sample. And because I only had an hour, I couldn't bring Phoebe in to sing, so I was like: “OK, I'll try singing.” I made the song “Bring me Back” and everyone loved it and they were like: “Whoa, great! You've got a really interesting voice.” So I kept doing more of these flip zones where I had an hour to make the idea for a song and I sang it and eventually Dawn2Dusk came out of that. Almost all of those songs came from this one discord.
Riley: Was it important for you that they said that your voice is really interesting?
Gray: Yeah. I would not have remotely tried singing before that. I didn't even think I could sing until I was forced into it by this challenge.
Riley: Down to dusk sounds really energetic and powerful to me, but when I listen to it closely or especially to the lyrics, you can feel a certain sadness attached to it. Did you want to create such a feeling beforehand? Was it one of your goals when you made the EP?
Gray: I think it just sort of comes out. It's kind of like Kingdom Hearts actually. It looks happy and fun on the outside 'cause It's like “whoo Destiny Islands looks colourful.” and then you get to like emo ville and there’s bodies and suicide, etc. I think the melodies, the textures, the songs themselves I consciously decide to write, but any of the emotions within I don't have any say over. They just kind of come out.
Riley: So did you want to tell a story with Dawn2Dusk? Or was it more spontaneous, how he came together?
Gray: A lot of the songs were made from this discord, so they were spontaneous. But then I wanted to create a sort of arc within it. There isn't a story per se but a tangent. Like in Animal Crossing where they have the hourly music for every day and the vibe changes as it goes on. I wanted to try something like that. So it’s like: “Whoo! Wake up let's start the day!” and then by the end you get to "Dark Hour" and "I can be your remedy" where it's really softer and kind of closing it out. It's Dawn2Dusk.
Riley: In “LFG!!!” you sing: “you know it's hard being the positive one”. Is this also something you are known for in real life? Gor being the positive one?
Gray: Yeah. Years and years ago I was not having a great time in high school. And then it just kind of clicked that it doesn't matter what people think of me if I just do what makes me happy. And I've just lived my life like that ever since. And it's been pretty great.
Riley: And in “Never Grown” you say: “take me back to the place we lost in the time our hearts hadn't turned to frost”. Is this a lyric where you look back on your childhood or more broadly, the era of the 2000s. Perhaps that you miss? Or is it something completely different?
Gray: It is like that actually. My friend wrote this poem about how when you're a child, you're allowed to be really expressive and emotive and be interested in loads of specific niche things. Like you get obsessive over cartoon phrases and it’s just expected normal behaviour. But as you grow up, you're not really allowed to do that more and more. You need to sort of make yourself more reserved and hold yourself back from showing too many emotions or being too obsessive over something. I kind of just clocked that. For some reason society's normal cis het narrative is that you get older and you get colder. And I didn't like it.
Riley: So your friends also quite influence you and your music.
Gray: That was Phoebe Doby who wrote that poem actually. We've got a similar mindset.
Riley: And with “Dawn2Dusk” you worked the first time together with a label.
Gray: Yep. This is true. Desktop. They were really great. I would work with them again.
Riley: Why did you want to release your music under desktop this time? Did you want to have someone by your side when you release music? Because you did this alone with your two last albums?
Gray: With a label, there's less vagueness, and more of a direction. When you're doing it all by yourself, no one really tells you what to do. You just kind of have to try and see what works. But a label can tell you whether the mix is OK or whether the album art is fine. It's just someone with more experience than me helping me, but not restraining me. It's kind of the perfect situation, honestly.
Riley: Now I have two really important questions, maybe even the most important ones of the whole interview. First one is: What is Polygon Cove exactly?
Gray: It's a place.
Riley: Just a place?
Gray: It's a place in a digital world where a bunch of little digital animals live.
Riley: And you are all those animals?
Gray: The lore is that Gray, me, discovered Polygon Cove and all these animals and all the music they've been making and wanted to release it into the human world. But I mean… It is me making the music. In reality, it's me. There is no actual… sadly there is no Polygon Cove.
Riley: But we know one animal I think named “Claff”. What are they like? Are they a cat?
Gray: They are a cat. Yeah, they're pretty fun. I'd say they're very positive and energetic, but a little unhinged. They don't quite get how humans work and so they can be a little dark at times without realising.
Riley: So the band behind Polygon Cove is unlimited I guess. With so many animals that we don't know. That you perhaps don't know.
Gray: There is very clear narrative and band laid out that I'm going to slowly release bit by bit. Just wait.
Riley: The 2nd important question: What is your favourite colour right now?
Gray: Orange. It's warm and it's bright.
Riley: I'm asking this because in your music videos and teasers videos the picture is always very saturated and most of the times rather red or green. What’s the reason?
Gray: I think the best days are the ones where the sky is perfectly blue with no clouds and the sun is shining and making everything super bright and super clear. And colours are just nice to look at. I've never been into muted colours and pastel tones. I want it to be loud and bright and happy, so that's why I changed the colours up.
Riley: And your videos don't only have a homemade feeling, they also feel retro like as if they are from the 2000s. For example, you did a video to your song “Another Reality”. It's about climate change. And it isn't just any video, it's a Club Penguin music video. With an intro you made with Windows movie maker.And both things are relics from the late 2000s. Do you want the Internet we had back then back?
Gray: Absolutely. I had to install a virtual machine to make that music video by the way. It was a tough process. So back then, the Internet had a very individualistic feel to it and people were just experimenting, creating and making just whatever the heart wanted to make. There’s a lot of things that people would call cringey like badly designed websites. But all of that just shows that they were really earnest and tried hard to make something they liked. And when I was a kid I used to love watching Club Penguin music videos. I thought they were the peak of cinema. So I thought would be kind of funny and cool to try that. Especially 'cause it was quarantine so making a real music video quite difficult.
Riley: And you also made your website in an early 2000s fashion. And you say there that you are learning to code. Do your friends sometimes describe you as a complete nerd?
Gray: (laughs) I think everyone describes me as a complete nerd. I don't hide that at all.
Riley: And you take this with pride?
Gray: Yeah, there's no point being anyone but myself.
Riley: Also what changed between the 2000s and now is how we consume music. You wrote about this in the magazine 108 mics in April. You wrote an opinion piece and at the beginning you wrote: "The shelf life of a song is about two days and an album only a couple weeks. In the digital age of music, artists are pressured to release and promote constantly in an uroboros, where they'll be forgotten and tossed aside by the audience if they can't keep up."
Gray: It's pretty edgy.
Riley: Did you experience this with your music as well?
Gray: I think everyone does. Even like the famous big artists are still struggling because of how quickly people eat through media at the current place in time. Because the Internet is always providing new, more exciting things for everyone to see. Whereas before you’d get an album and you would just listen to that for weeks on end, 'cause you paid your money for that. You can't afford to get all these other albums at the same time.
Riley: Do you also have a solution? Perhaps how we can break the cycle?
Gray: So I actually think with everything the Internet has done for music the positives outweigh the negatives by a large amount. I'm very thankful for it. I just think Spotify and streaming isn't the way to go to use the Internet to make music. I think Bandcamp is doing a lot of really good stuff with Bandcamp Friday. We need to find some way to bring albums back more into the mainstream rather than just singular songs.
Riley: Therefore, do you see a light at the end of the tunnel? Does it get better?
Gray: If you can find a place to make music with friends and experiment you're already at the light at the end of the tunnel. That's the peak. The only problem is people who want to make it a full career. I’m 20. I don't really have a solution, I just think it's something that should be talked about more. People with a lot more experience than me should weigh in on this.
Riley: This situation in the grand scheme of things doesn't make you think that you should quit music?
Gray: I'm going to be real, I have this sort of maxim in my mind where if I can't do the thing that I love, then I want to do nothing at all. I just refuse to live a life where I settle for some office job just because it's more secure. I'm always going to be doing what actually makes me happy, even if it's riskier. Because we only get one shot at life and I don't want to waste it. That said, there are more secure ways of being a musician than just being a producer online and getting money from streams. So I'm taking this course in production in order to become an audio engineer for different companies or to be hired by a game to make a soundtrack for it. Because then you'd have a stable flow of revenue while still being able to create. But I do think that doesn't make it OK that streaming is just in such a dogshit state right now.
Riley: Why did you want to make music in the first place?
Gray: So in my high school I got roped into being the soundtech for a production. We were doing Bugsy Malone, the play. And I was doing the mics and music and stuff. The atmosphere was just lovely. Everyone was supporting each other. Everyone was thinking of new ways to do things and just being nice to each other. And I just decided: this is great. I want to do more of this. And I found this musician who I'm not gonna name because they turned out to be a not great person in the end… and they were making pop punk chiptune sort of music and it just hit me so hard that this is exactly what I wanted to do and what I want it to be. And at that point I just downloaded FL Studio and started making music.
Riley: So high school was good for something!
Gray: I would say the last two years of high school were all that I needed. Everything before that was useless. I only found out I wanted to do music in the last year of high school, so I had to teach myself the entire high school music curriculum in order to take the A level to go to college. That was five years of music education crammed into one year. So I was in the math class with my music book under the table, ignoring the teacher to study composition, writing techniques, harmony and stuff.
Riley: How does an ordinary day of yours look like?
Gray: I've moved out my parents house. I live in Nottingham on my own. At the moment I work in this… I'm not going to say the company name, but if you imagine hot topic, I work in a fake hot topic and I'm a piercer there. Eyebrows, tongues, etc. I go there. I play my friends music in order to get their streams up in the piercing room. I come home. I open a project file and just start going at it until it's bedtime and I go to bed. I wake up next day, do it again. And then on some days, instead of doing music, I'll study some more Japanese 'cause I have an exam coming up. Some days I'll hang out with friends. But that's pretty much it.
Riley: You talked quite a bit about your friends during this interview. Do you also have a lot of queer friends?
Gray: All my friends are queer. It's everything, isn't it? The number one thing you need to get out of a bad place is to spend time with people who love you and who you love back.
Riley: And how friendly is Nottingham for queer people from 1 to 10?
Gray: It's like a 8 or 9 I think. I'd be wearing full on skirts and dresses and makeup out on the streets and no one does anything. One time I wore a catgirl maid outfit to a social event. No one said anything the entire time. I felt pretty safe.
Riley: So you're pretty open about your queerness online, so you also are in real life.
Gray: Yeah, I think anyone can tell in a couple of seconds.
Riley: So if Nottingham is at 8 or 9 for queer people, are there also many queer events taking place?
Gray: Yeah, there's a place called the Carousel that has a lot of UK grime and jungle shows and there's a lot of queer people there. The other thing is there's a lot of furries in Nottingham. Like a good 70% of the people I know happen to be furries for some reason.
Riley: It's almost June and therefore Pride month. And here in Lucerne where I live, you can see that many stores and local banks are already going gay for the next 30 days. With their rainbow logos and merchandise. Did you notice the same thing in Nottingham?
Gray: It hasn't quite hit yet, but it will soon. I can feel it every year. The homophobic companies plaster themselves with the rainbow to pretend they're fine.
Riley: And do you cherish Pride Month or is it something you don't think much about?
Gray: I cherish pride events and I like being in a public space where I know everyone around me feels the way I do and has been through the same sort of things as me. It's not that I feel unsafe in public anymore, it's just that I feel fully loved and accepted in public when it's a pride event.
Riley: In your music, you don't ddress your queerness explicitly. But does it still influence your sound?
Gray: I've written about men. Caldecott specifically, about a guy that I was in love with. I do plan to make it more clear about my leftist leanings and queer agenda to turn everyone gay. I just think if you're queer you're already a little bit othered by society. So any kind of alternative music is already going to appeal to you. So me making pretty niche obscure music is queerness, in its finest form.
Riley: What can we expect from Polygon Cove this year?
Gray: Concept album.