The art of Pollock: One-time national songwriter goes local

Jason Pollock has achieved more fame making music than most people ever dream of. As a member of ’90s post-grunge rock band Seven Mary Three, he toured the world and played to tens of thousands. He co-wrote the band’s 1997 Billboard Top 100 No. 1 hit “Cumbersome,” as well as its No. 7 hit that year, “Water’s Edge.”

But Pollock said his ambitions these days aren’t “fame and riches and glory.”

“The only ambition I have is to wake up early and write music every day,” he said. “I’ve found that place where that’s what I’m looking for and everything else is secondary. The thing that’s really the most important to me is the artwork. If you can find that, then you’ve been lucky.”

It’s a likely story, and the cynical might find it hard to believe. But how about this for some proof: On January 31, Pollock and his band The Pollocks will take the humble stage of the Batesville Market. They’ll be releasing an album Pollock recorded in a friend’s Scottsville home with his wife Maryline Meyer, songwriting partner Thomas Gunn, drummer Nathan West and a rotating cast of characters. They’ll play to a crowd of 100-150. And they’ll play songs that aren’t even close to the Billboard Top 100, much less No. 1 hits.

Want more proof? The Pollocks have never toured to build buzz for their records, of which they’ve released six since forming in 2008.

“There’s not one of us that is under 30 years old, and we’re not going to get in a van and tour for the next five years,” Pollock said. “It’s just not going to happen.”

That’s going to make it tough to reach a wider audience, but it also makes Charlottesville pretty damn lucky. It makes The Pollocks latest record, the delightfully titled Johnny Sunshine and the Rainbows, our piece of well-crafted Americana. It makes tracks like “Love Is Alive” our very own little Dylan-esque hit.

“The music really betrays its influences,” Pollock said. “Both Thomas and I grew up listening to Neil Young and Dylan, The Band, The Beatles, the Stones, The Velvet Underground. There’s even a little Tom Petty in there.”

So just how did Pollock come to be Batesville’s own J.D. Salinger, toiling away at his craft in near obscurity? In 1999, he left Seven Mary Three, not at the height of the band’s popularity but certainly before the boys from Williamsburg and Orlando, Florida, had squeezed every last bit of juice from fame’s orange.

According to Pollock, it was a classic case of band members reaching an artistic impasse. He wasn’t feeling inspired to write music at the time, he said, and he could no longer tell what was a good song and what was a clunker.

So he left. He came back home to North Garden. He got out of the music game for the most part. For four or five years, he didn’t really know what kind of music he wanted to write and play. He wasn’t sure he would ever get back in the studio, start a band or take the stage.

Finally, a friend snapped him out of it. He had to get a band together, the friend said, and suggested a few people. West and Gunn joined up with Pollock and his wife, and the quartet started playing together as The Pollocks. Records began to flow—one in early 2008, one in late 2008, others in 2009, 2010 and 2012. Then the band pulled back a bit until an odd opportunity popped up. Pollock’s buddy in Scottsville had “this old vintage recording equipment” lying around in his house. Pollock also had some recording equipment. They decided to set up a makeshift recording studio and started recording on analog gear.

There were bumps in the road. Well into the recording process, they discovered their tape machine wasn’t tracking properly. They had to start over. West broke his ankle. The bass player on the record, local standout Michael Clem, quit. The keyboard player quit. Pollock’s friend who owned the house was having work done on his roof, so there was constant banging.

“It was like one thing after another,” Pollock said. “It was definitely something where the will had to take over to get it done, but it was such a great process that we went through. We were never bitter.”

The result is a “musically simple” record, by Pollock’s account. It’s composed mostly of three chord tunes with simple changes. Pollock said he and Gunn focused on writing melodies that attract the ear, and lyrics about people coming together as a community; love and a dash of social critique.

Does Pollock ever regret going it alone? Does he wish he’d still been with Seven Mary Three when they reached No. 7 on the Billboard Top 100 again in 2001? Not at all, he insists.

“I think it was the right thing to do,” he said. “My creative output is much greater now than it was then. I think it’s better music, as well.”

– Shea Gibbs
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