The story of Greenville’s Polymath quintet is almost as interesting as the music they make. It’s a story of precise control and collective collaboration. It’s a combination of a specific vision and random friendships. It’s a band that was founded by two Anderson University students, singer/keyboardist Logan Carroll and guitarist Tanner Corley, who consciously planned exactly what they wanted the band to sound like, then eventually (and not without a struggle) let that sound be influenced by others.
We’ll start with the music. Polymath’s debut EP, “Plymth,” is five tracks of lush, danceable, evocative synth-rock, bursting with inventive arrangements and layers of shimmering electronics. It’s also the polar opposite of stripped-down folk music, which was the other direction the Carroll-Corley duo considered when they formed.
“Tanner and I had a conversation right before we started crafting our sound,” Carroll says. “Did we want to do something indie-folk or more of a synth-rock kind of thing. And ultimately, we decided on our sound because of the avenues that that provides. There’s no dead end with the sound we picked up, whereas guitar-based music has more of a dead end that you reach; you hit a ceiling.”
Carroll sees the sleek, synthesized music that Polymath makes now merely as a bigger version of the folk music he was considering making. “I think my tendency was to select some sort of sound that I could experience some sort of passion through,” he says. “What we do now is like singing folk songs with an acoustic guitar but bigger and louder, and more energetic. That’s why synth rock also appealed to me.”
The lyrical perspective would probably have stayed the same even if Carroll had picked up an acoustic guitar instead of a synthesizer. His themes might best be summed up in one line from “Chinese New Year,” the second track on the EP: “Who will I be if I forget myself?”
“When I was a teenager, I was ensconced in writing songs about love or heartbreak, those two extremes,” Carroll says. “I was writing about my girlfriend and how much I loved her, but then we broke up, and I couldn’t sing those songs anymore. I was suddenly trying to write songs about not knowing what the universe amounts to. I wanted to embrace some sort of music that I never tired of and that was timeless and that anyone could draw something from.”
With the lyrical and musical vision in place before the duo even had a band put together, there were bound to be some growing pains when they added drummer Richie Blanton, bassist Joe Montore, and keyboard player Nathan Carlton.
“I couldn’t have picked better friends who are also musicians,” Carroll says, “but for the longest time, I viewed other players as a hindrance; a system to limit my power. For a long time, it was hard for me to give anything up. If anyone told me an arrangement of my song wasn’t perfect, I wanted to argue with them. The first time someone told me to cut some lyrics, it was like they were killing my baby. It was very difficult. But once I let go and embraced the idea of having five musical minds working on a song rather than just my own, it became immensely beneficial. However high I can take a song on my own, it can go five times as high with the influence of other people.”
In fact, Carroll has “let go” to the extent that Polymath, who will play at the Radio Room in Greenville on Jan. 18, has become a larger collective, with friends handling the band’s art, videos, and photography, and all sharing equal status within the group.
“All of our album artwork has been done by someone we really trust. We send her the tracks for the album and say, ‘Let this inspire you to create art and we’ll trust whatever you do.’ I’ve been lucky to be around so many artists who are incredibly talented and passionate, who are willing and hungry to do something they believe in. We really haven’t struggled in any facet of our media because there’s always someone, a videographer or photographer, who’s right there with us and loves our music.”