In the Loop
Student Stories : Jul 10, 2019

Balancing an indie-pop band with a musicology doctorate

By Coral Dixon (MA Museology '19)

Why did two binational Parisians decide to start an indie-pop band with a space-age meets surf-rock sound called Pearl & the Oysters in Gainesville, Florida?

Musical worlds collided when Paris-born Joachim Polack began his Ph.D. program in musicology at the UF School of Music and convinced his girlfriend and collaborator, Juliette Davis, to move to Gainesville so they could continue to work on musical projects together.

“I tried to show her the really cool aspects in Gainesville as I was discovering them. I was meeting all of the people making really cool stuff happen music-wise and art-wise in Gainesville,” Polack said. “ It’s a small community but it’s very vibrant.”

With the encouragement of Gainesville creatives, the couple decided to finally release music that was written while they were still in Paris, and also started playing live shows. Their band, Pearl & the Oysters, was born.

The band’s sources of inspiration range from American band The Beachboys to the Japanese group Yellow Magic Orchestra. Their songs incorporate trumpet, electric guitar, synthesizer, and other instruments. 

At their first show in France, the band was ecstatic to have a friend play jazz flute on stage with them. Davis promptly learned how to play the flute so the instrument could be a mainstay in the band’s live performances.

The band’s eclectic style is characteristic of Polack as a musician, student and listener.

“I became crazy about Brazilian popular music when I was about 18, and that’s what my master’s thesis was all about,” he said. “I was getting really into bossa nova while also studying classical music, playing jazz, playing in pop bands and rock bands.”

Musicology seemed like the natural choice for Polack’s doctorate education.

“It was just one more way for me to study music, not in terms of how it’s made or how it’s done, but in terms of music and cultural significance,” he said. “Why does this repertoire need to be defended as important? What does this music say about society at one point?”

With recommendations from Brazilian jazz specialists he reached via email, Polack decided to apply to UF because of the faculty members in the School of Music and in other departments who share his passion for Brazilian music.

Polack is currently writing his dissertation on Antônio Carlos Jobim, one of the founding fathers of bossa nova, with the help of his co-chairs Dr. Larry Crook and Dr. Silvio dos Santos.

Studying musicology while also recording music provides Polack with a balance between research and creation.

“I don’t think I could do one without the other. I love playing, I love recording, and I don’t think I could just turn off that part of my musical experience and just focus on writing and researching,” Polack said. “I also don’t see myself diving head on into just doing the band right now. I always felt like the two were really beneficial to me keeping an analytical distance in both realms. I like the mental conversation of writing about music and actually performing and recording.”

Polack is still figuring out balancing touring with his responsibilities as a Ph.D. candidate and class instructor. He has to question whether the goals he has for the band are compatible with his academic goals. Still, he looks forward to graduating and advancing the band, especially in terms of finally incorporating influences from Brazilian music.

“That whole repertoire is something I’ve always loved but I’ve always respected it in a way that inhibited me from trying to incorporate it,” Polack said. “I was always like, ‘I can’t really touch that music. I wouldn’t do it justice.’”

Polack increasingly feels more confident in incorporating Brazilian influences using his unique perspective, a change in mindset which will impact the sound of the band’s next record.

“It will be influenced by bossa nova and early 70’s Brazilian music that’s really in conversation with American pop and jazz,” Polack said.

For the future of the band, Polack hopes to continue the “slow build” the band has had in its first years of releasing albums, signing with labels, and going on tours in more parts of the world.

The band looks forward to concluding their North American summer tour at the High Dive in Gainesville on July 31. 

“We’re at the point in Gainesville where on a good night people will show up and sing the lyrics to our songs and it’s incredible,” Polack said. “It’s really moving and validating in a way, I guess the songs are good enough that people sing along to them.”

Follow the band on Instagram and Facebook for updates on shows and new music releases.