Austin’s Pollen Rx are not millennial slacktavists. The dreamy punk band crafts highly politicized anthems covering everything from immigration to the environment. Their debut album, Sunbelt Emptiness, is a cutting mix of gritty pop and social consciousness with alternating vocals à la X or Sonic Youth.
After moving to Texas from Toronto, Maud Morgan and Ben Hirsch missed the subway and their activist community. But instead of becoming apathetic, the couple, along with bandmates Maggie Exner and Caroline Sallee, channeled their rage into the record, crafting Lou Reed-style singles about anything but love. Sunbelt Emptiness is an outspoken treatise on American consumerism and Southern depression atop undeniably catchy tracks. In a post-Trump universe, that’s exactly what we need.
Listen to the BULLETT premiere of Sunbelt Emptiness, and learn more about it, below.
Photography: Ben Seligson
On Sunbelt Emptiness.
Maud: It’s our first full length album and it’s really about our experience moving to Austin and the Sunbelt, about going on tour and seeing the country.
Ben: It’s also about how on the surface, Austin seems really nice—and it is really nice, but there are some parts about Austin, and the Southwest in general, that are really sad.
B: ‘Billboard Promises’ was inspired by a billboard for liposuction in Austin. It’s about everyday life, but some of the parts that people don’t really talk about very much, like advertising and porn, and the pressures to look really good—that’s a big part of people’s reality that you don’t think or talk about much. ‘Billboard Promises’ was inspired by a billboard for liposuction in Austin.
“Sand in the Well:”
B: I wrote most of the lyrics to that song when we were on tour on the West Coast, which we’ve only done once.
M: It’s about the drought in California. There was literally sand coming up through people’s wells, because there was absolutely no water. But, of course, Nestle and other big corporations, were still bottling it because they could pay for it, even when no one else had it.
M: We just get so excited that we were able to make people to dance to a really political track.
M: We wrote that song right after moving to Austin. We were part of Occupy Toronto and all the media coverage was always like, ‘The protestors are so crazy, they have guns and they’re violent.’ But really, it was the police force that was so militarized.
M: Interstate is about Austin—how neon the city is.
B: That song has two parts—one really loud, distorted part, and one really, bubbly, pop part, which really reflects exactly what it feels like to live here.
M: It also really represents exactly what it’s like for Ben and I to write together—he writes so poppy, and I always think we need to add something more distorted, more negative. So we wrote this really schizophrenic song that really embodies both of our desires.
M: That’s the only love song on the album.
B: We moved from a nice house in East Austin with roommates, to this disgusting, cement, 1980s apartment. It really is so cheesy, but the song is about how it didn’t matter to us that we lived in this fucking awful apartment, with terrible fluorescent lights, because we were finally living together, alone again. That made it worth it to live in this really terrible place.
B: The chorus says, ‘Truth is nothing, packaging is everything.’ That’s really hyperbolic and kind of embarrassing, but it’s true.
B: That song is the last one on the album, and it’s the first song we wrote with Caroline, our lead guitarist. It was so fun to write a song all together for the first time, and it’s kind of long. I think that was partly because we were just so excited to be playing with her.
On writing political music:
M: We’re not just writing love songs—we’re writing about a broader picture and trying to convey an image of what we see.
B: I think a lot of people think that to say something political, you have to sing like you’re Bob Dylan, or you have to be playing really angry punk. When we look at our influences, like X or Talking Heads—those are really danceable songs with super political lyrics. So we were constantly trying to find that balance of making something that was actually super fun to listen to, and had some depth to it.