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It's all "indie music" to Pollinators

The 2022 album Good Ear from Pollinators has all the hallmarks of what we’d call “indie music” - electric guitars with drums and bass, laid-back yet attention-getting vocals and down-to-earth lyrics. Put it all together and you’ve got a classic sound reminiscent of Guided By Voices, Built To Spill, and other essential bands of the genre.

Pollinators also released Beats Mix 01 last year, a collection of instrumental electronic music featuring hip-hop-influenced beats created with a groovebox sequencer. It’s definitely more Toro Y Moi than Guided By Voices, and coming from the same band that released Good Ear, it’s a bit of a surprise. But it’s a welcome one, and both are essential listening for understanding Pollinators.

Pollinators is the musical project of Tom Teslik of East Moline, IL. Teslik sees plenty of room for both electric guitar rock and hip-hop under the umbrella of “indie music.”

“Everybody’s like ‘what is indie rock?’ or ‘what is indie music?’” said Teslik. “Parts of it are an eclectic sound and parts are the approach to making the art. It’s great having someone out there thinking we’re in the ballpark.”

Teslik has been involved with music for most of his life, having started with piano and vocal lessons. Discovering the electric bass was what led him to rock and roll and songwriting.

“I took piano lessons and sang in choir, but then electric bass was like someone opened a door. It was like ‘you know what else music can be, Tom?’” said Teslik. “Kim Deal from the Pixies, and listening to those first two Weezer albums over and over, and Paul McCartney and Carole Kaye and Motown. I really think there’s a strong connection between bass playing and songwriting.”

Around the time he got his driver’s license was when Teslik got into hip-hop, citing Lauryn Hill and Outkast as favorites, along with an artist who became one of his biggest influences: the late producer J Dilla.

“When I heard J Dilla, that definitely changed the way I listen to music,” said Teslik. “As you read people who follow him and others, and they talk about the way writers and producers hear music. You hear what they worked on, and it kind of influences everything from then on. You listen to J Dilla’s music, and then you can go listen to anything from Mozart to Adrian Quesada, and you’ll hear music differently.”

Good Ear features Teslik on almost all of the instruments, except for a couple of guitar and drum parts. Abe Sorber also plays the vibraphone on “Chevette.” Teslik originally released all of the songs individually on a monthly basis, leading him to call Good Ear a “process record” that was influenced by the events of March 2020, and the fact that he’d just released a record in 2019.

Despite being one of the only performers on his records, Teslik does refer to Pollinators as a “power trio.” The live version of the band features Matt Carter on drums and Kevin Paller on bass, and this version of the band performed at the Alternating Currents festival in the Quad Cities last August.

“I think of Pollinators as going through a lot of iterations,” said Teslik. “In some ways we’ve always been a power trio, with me, bass player and drummer. I see Pollinators as my vehicle for songwriting. It’s a great way to not just perform and share my music, but a way to work with other musicians. Part of me definitely wants Pollinators to be one of those bands that’s got core members that everybody knows. But real life is real life and me and my friends are all pretty working middle-class. I’m happy to be here in IPR’s studios today, and Matt Carter and Kevin Paller are here in spirit.”

Both Good Ear and Beats Mix 01 are available on Bandcamp and major streaming services, along with the rest of Pollinators’ music.

Tony Dehner is a Studio One Host