Polecat: Traveling on, and up

by Halee Hastad

photo by Jonathan Gipaya

The European Polecat is a species of mustelid native to western Eurasia and North Africa. Believe it or not, it is the sole ancestor of the ferret. It was domesticated thousands of years ago by Europeans, making it a not uncommon household pet. It is large and brown and looks like something could carry disease. It will occasionally cripple its prey by piercing its brain with its teeth and store it, still living, in its lair for future consumption.

Or, as Aaron Guest explains, “It’s a badass cute little creature.”

Guest is the 12-string guitar player and one of two vocalists of Polecat, not the animal.

Polecat is also a band name reserved for the traction-gaining five-piece born in Bellingham six years ago.

The band has been composed of Guest, Richard Reeves – double bass, Karl Olson – drums, Cayley Guest (formerly Schmid) – fiddle, and Jeremy Elliott – electric lead guitar and vocals, from their beginning.

It is true that it has been years since we here at What’s Up! have had an opportunity to sit down with Polecat and figure out what they’ve been doing. This isn’t because the group has been laying low or hasn’t produced anything new. No, it’s quite the opposite.

They have been touring. A lot.

Polecat has played an estimated 500 shows in six years. Math tells us that this is approximately one show for every four days. And that warrants them a pat on the shoulder from the gods of ambition. This is a band that has made it a long way since their beginning in 2010 playing weekly shows at Boundary Bay.

“Polecat has pushed to become more of a regional band,” Guest said.

This has put them at a distance from the happenings in our city, but they have no less respect for where they came from. Guest said that coming back to Bellingham is refreshing and knowing that they call this place home is one thing that helps them with their tour-centric lifestyles.

Many of their songs are practiced on the road because of the heavy touring schedule they have maintained, Guest said. Their next album was produced close to home, however, at Bell Creek Studio.

Nestled in the deep green forests of the Mount Baker foothills, Bell Creek offers privacy for artists in the process of recording. Run by Michael Iris, this humble space is rumored to be a recording artist’s dream. It is not large, stainless steel or in any form fancy, but it is quiet – quiet and peaceful and a space that artists such as Lucky Brown and Jeff Grant have also come to for recording.

“Michael is a pro engineer with great gear and it was an honor to work with him,” Guest said.

Polecat spent an entire year working on the album, Into the Wind, their third full-length piece that is due to be released at the Wild Buffalo on March 11, where they will be playing with local band Baby Cakes. Polecat will depart once again from Bellingham on the day following their CD release to meet up with Yonder Mountain String Band in Jackson, Wyoming. From that point the rest will be history as they spend the entirety of the month on the road with YMSB.

As far as looks are concerned, each album was inked and letter-pressed by hand onto recycled paper at Bison Bookbinding & Letterpress. They were hand-folded, glued and packaged by the band members themselves. Made with love, of course. And if all of that that doesn’t scream “Bellingham,” it’s hard to say what does.

As for sound, they will remain genuine to what they have always provided – dozens of strings, uplifting harmonies and a bit of attitude. Plus some more rock and roll, Guest said.

While many their former albums were produced in a matter of days, weeks or months, Into the Wind was established with patience and greater-than-ever attention to detail.

Each member was recorded separately, Guest explains, and every layer was overdubbed. But this process wasn’t the only thing they did differently.

Cayley Guest sings on many of the tracks and there will be more keyboard included, played by Aaron.

Jeremy Elliott wrote and sings lead on some of the songs, which too is new for the band. They will also feature a Bela Fleck cover that Guest said has been a fan favorite for years. A strong theme of change will be incorporated into the lyrics, along with stories of reflection and personal growth.

Guest admits that being an independent band at their level makes it, at times, difficult to generate enough money to live ultra comfortably, but Polecat sees no end in sight.

“We do all of this touring and hard work because we love it,” Guest said.

Cities they frequent while on the road include Missoula, Seattle, Portland and Bend. This summer will mean multiple festivals and concert series, even a few weddings – yes, they do those too.

Whether they are taking a moment to breath in Bellingham or touring for months at a time, there is one thing that’s for sure – this band works. They have remained genuine in their membership for more than a half a decade and their sound, as a result, remains sincere.

Into the Wind: Catch Polecat’s CD release party on March 11 at the Wild Buffalo. For more information, check out polecatmusic.com or follow their Facebook page.

Published in the March 2016 issue of What’s Up! Magazine