“Here” is a local bar not far from the Way Station. The Way Station is a modestly sized Brooklyn venue (and also a bar) that matches flourishes of Whovian decor with a surprisingly lively crowd of 30’s-ish locals on this particular Friday night in November. But let’s start at the bar down the street.
You’re eagerly ushered to a small table by a manager that I would later learn was doubling that night as band bassist. His good-natured if clumsily-placed enthusiasm mixes endearingly with a distant hint of loving protectiveness toward his talent. It gives you this feeling like he’s playing dad as much as manager. He offers to grab you a beer.
Do you accept?
I went with yes.
In situations like this, you’re trying to rush companionship with a creative stranger. In this particular case, that rush was to be magnified by my having only about fifteen minutes to digest this stranger’s creative story (#ThanksMTA) before he had to get ready to gig the Way Station stage. I have no time to think the decision through, so my instincts say fuck it and I accept. Hell, maybe the talent would enjoy an excuse to hoist a pint of liquid bonding accelerant or would appreciate something to calm some pre-gig jitters. Or maybe the dude just likes beer. In any case, I’ll be his excuse to hoist one too, and then perhaps I’ll be his trusted confidant in no time, and the story I’ve come to find by interviewing this quiet stranger will float between us like foam to the surface of our beer for me to skim off the top with my janky little phone mic, which will be recording our conversation for about fifteen minutes.
Needless to say, the talent, a quiet man with drawn features, politely stuck with water. Meanwhile, I’d just bummed a beer I didn’t need and wouldn’t finish off a guy I didn’t know.
This was to be lesson number one this evening about self-awareness and its simple benefits.
I don’t know why exactly, but I wasn’t really at ease that early evening in late November. I felt contrived, and a little forced. Perhaps you’ve been there before yourself. I felt like a clumsy winter jacket. I felt exactly like the kind of guy that would accept an offer for a beer I didn’t really want because, in an awkward rush, I over-thought a simple question.
Keith Polasko, alias: Noble Kin, suddenly appeared to me as the man that would feel no such rush, that would simply ask for water. He slouched in his seat, his face often set somewhere between somber and nonplused. I watched him sip his water when it came, and I watched as he began his rise in my mind to the status of unassuming foil to all my tired pretense.
If I was jittery, he was an exhale.
Where I grinned, this man, when he chose to, smiled. Not that he chose to particularly often.
Here’s what I was to glean from my fifteen minutes with Noble Kin, as noted verbatim from my initial pencil shavings from just after speaking with him:
“My particular life is not very interesting.”
This he’d offered indifferently just after briefly noting a fairly recent history that included, all told, an ailing mom, a deceased dad, and a divorce.
Interesting or not, when our conversation began I had asked him to start from the very beginning:
Who are you; what are you doing here?
“I have no idea what to say right now.”
“I don’t know if I’m a singer-songwriter but, I mean, I sing and I write songs…”
Alas, a starting place.
The single that had brought Noble Kin to my attention, courtesy of his press agent, was a recently released track called Yesterday’s Broadcast, which eagerly fits its creators almost-description of his genre. “Well,” it begins, “there’s no better place to start...” The track is a neatly-carved slice of catchy indie-rock that earns its listen and your time by promising in exchange a slight smile and an extra beat to your step, as well-crafted peppy singer-songwriter wares tend to do.
“I’m not Beethoven,” Keith offers of his perspective on his talents. “I’m just making rock music. Even Beethoven…all music is basically derivative, all seems like it’s based on music that already exists. (I’m) definitely not trying to copy anything or trying to make any particular sound, but it always ends up being like a slight derivation of something I already know about in the end.”
“It’s for consumption,” he explains, but “(I) wouldn’t make anything I wouldn’t like.”
When offered a beer, it seems, some people ponder the myriad implications of offering in return any number of potential responses, and what each of those responses might portend for themselves and their future. Others see the question clearly, and put into the world their best honest answer.
To my ear, Noble Kin’s music does indeed sound like it was designed for consumption, and it sounds well-designed. Catchy but generally stopping short of being trite, a familiar sound that seems to regularly avoid drowning in the deep middle-space of a wide and well-worn genre, Yesterday’s Broadcast stands as something of an ideal archetype for a wisdom that the music of Noble Kin regularly reflects, and that Keith Polasko seemed to me to exemplify — that in answering only what was asked of you, thoroughly and honestly, something simple and transcendent can come of it.
Still, for a man that has gone through so much in the past few years, let alone for an artist that might be described as a singer-songwriter, I managed to suss very little out of our conversation that would shine much light on what his music is all about. Keith freely admits that this is his intent. Since it’s all been done before musically, how a song is presented, how a recording sounds, is what interests him. And while the lyricism is important to him too, he doesn’t feel his audience should be beholden on his backstory to be engaged by it.
He compares his take on lyrical intent to his time listening to classical music, which he says he does often despite not always understanding what’s happening.
“If you’re reading something that’s really interesting sounding but you don’t know what the hell the guy’s talking about, you can still be drawn along through that just in the pleasure of the text,” he says, even if you don’t really know what he’s talking about, or what it might have to do with a life where much seems to have happened, albeit nothing which he finds all that interesting.
So I asked Keith what he might hope to leave to the discipline of music when it’s all said and done, or what people might be hoped to recall of his art one day when they look back on his work, given his belief that most creation is necessarily derivative to a greater or lesser degree of something that’s already been done. In time, he came to this:
“As far as contributing something to music, I think the best I can really do would be…a nice melody; not trying to break any ground, I think I can make a melody that I don’t think I’ve ever heard before.”
When we arrive at the Way Station just before he’s set to take the stage with his band as Noble Kin, Keith comments that the place had looked much bigger in his memory, from some other time in his past when he’d been there before. Some things do that, I suppose. But we adjust and move forward, perhaps more aware than we’d been.
I’d asked him earlier if he thinks everything he’s gone through, the difficult times, had made it a little easier to have perspective, to find peace. He said they had.
“If stuff works out, that’s good,” he says of his attitude these days. “If it doesn’t, there’s always more time. There’s always another chance.”
A simple melody indeed.
* * *
There are two kinds of bands: the ones that you love even more after you’ve seen them live, and the ones that somehow seem worse. Watching Nobile Kin on a local stage, surrounded by an encouraging home-field crowd, is the happy ending at the end of a sappy movie you secretly love by the time it lands. This man is suddenly a soft-spoken Tom Petty in manner if not in accent, which almost sounds more Billy Corgan, if your mind can put such a sound inside such a site. You get this feeling watching them that the band seems truly proud to be Keith’s band, that they wouldn’t want to be anywhere else at that exact moment. The effect is tangible.
It’s a somewhat older crowd. Lots of dad jackets and bald spots. The whole mood feels comfortable, at peace, and in the moment together. I’d begun this night jittery, and now I found myself swept up in a moment of satisfying rock n’ roll led by a man perhaps, at least for now, as much at peace as life’s waves can leave a man. That sheepish smile, that quiet chuckle…he points to his bandmates one by one and we cheer for them, then he yells, “Let’s do something fucking good!” or something like that. He looks loose and relaxed, he seems happy. “I love you guys. I know most of you, but fuck it…” I cheered with the rest at that, and it didn’t feel forced at all.
* * *
I had rushed Keith through big questions in tiny minutes that night, and he offered me thoughtful answers. He was sincere as he was soft spoken. He wasn’t overly friendly or unkind, he was never forced. He was an honest shrug, a smile he wouldn’t offer if he weren’t feeling like smiling.
I left that night thinking his music, and his outlook, oddly noble. I left, in some strange way, wondering what the soft-spoken Keith Polasko I’d met that night thought it meant to rise to the level of kin, and feeling fairly sure that if you couldn’t find an answer in his music, he wasn’t likely to let you in on any secrets if you met him. I left thinking about how much goes into dreaming up a brand new melody, a simple thing made massive by its distance from anything that’s come before, and which often comes in a bright and sudden flash that lasts for just a moment, and how much more goes into turning that moment into something very slightly your own, and how much more time and care that takes.
I left wanting to hear more, too, which you can do on his Spotify page, if by chance you find yourself, without a second thought, genuinely interested in doing so.