The Bay Bridged is excited to present the first ever Polaris (as seen on The Adventures of Pete & Pete) show in San Francisco this Friday at The Chapel. To mark the occasion, I spoke with Polaris founder and lead singer Mark Mulcahy about the origins of the Pete & Pete theme song “Hey Sandy,” his plans in San Francisco, and what is was like to have two dozen gifted musicians come together to produce the benefit album — Ciao My Shining Star — in order to raise funds to support Mulcahy after his wife suddenly died in 2008.
The Bay Bridged: What was the inspiration for putting Polaris back together and going on tour?
Mark Mulcahy: It’s a weird inspiration but we got offered a gig that was financially insane at Comic-Con. This was in New York – this guy was doing a whole Nickelodeon night and asked us to play at it and we really had no intentions of anything. No one was even thinking about it at all. This guy — Mathew Klickstein — it was his pushing. And then we said we would do it.
Once we thought about playing together, we thought we would try to get another gigs. It turned out to be a whole bunch of serendipity. Most of the gigs we have are booked with someone that is a huge fan of The Adventures of Pete & Pete. If you call up the venue and they don’t know who it is and then we said, “okay forget it.” Because we don’t really have any track record to run on — unless you’re a fan of the show and you have some understanding that there are a lot of people that want to see us.
And it’s gone really well. We’ve had a ton of sold-out shows all over the place.
TBB: You guys just played Boston for the 2015 tour. How’s it going so far?
MM: It’s great so far. Boston is a great town. Normally you could play all sorts of smaller towns but this tour we’re playing only cities. There was a guy at the Boston show that drove up from Atlanta. I would say, from what I discern, 20% of the people could have come from anywhere — flown in from Florida — and it’s just a real meaningful thing for a lot of people.
It’s been one of the greatest surprises of my whole career. I wasn’t even thinking anything about this and now it’s all I’m doing.
TBB: It’s it odd to be playing songs you guys wrote so long ago? Was it a challenge to relearn them?
MM: It wasn’t such a challenge because I’ve played some of them solo. Also we had never played them so they are, in some way, fresh to us. All we did was record them, we never played them live so these songs are new to us, too. And new to the audience because we never played a gig.
It is some hybrid of nostalgia and something else — I don’t know what the hybrid would be. It’s not oldies where we are playing the classics, these songs are old but fresh. It’s like we are the Twinkie of rock ‘n roll. We’re still edible after twenty years. That’s horribly put.
We didn’t know if we should make another record or keep touring. But this West Coast tour seems like the end of the run, maybe there will be one other little trip. Then we will probably rest and see. It’s been so great, I don’t know if in a year or two from now the same thing could happen again with all the people wanting to see us again.
TBB: Pete & Pete is pretty quirky and I thought your song “Hey Sandy” fits really well. Can you talk a little about how that all came about?
MM: I met with the writers and creators. They asked the band I was in at the time, Miracle Legion, to write the soundtrack. They wanted the band. But we were really dysfunctional and I asked if I could just do it myself. They said maybe and mentioned the theme song. I thought that sounds hard because I had really even written any of own songs at that point.
But I did have “Hey Sandy” already done and recorded on my own. It was recorded in London in a free studio attached to this publishing company that I was with — you could just go in there and tool around.
When they mentioned the theme song, I just thought, “Ok, I’ll write a song that says Pete & Pete.” But they told me that they didn’t want me to say Pete & Pete at all, which was not helpful because that could be about anything. [Laughs]
I somehow thought of “Hey Sandy” and sent them the song within a few days. And they just thought it was the greatest thing, which was complete and crazy luck for me. I would have had no clue what would have been a good idea, if that song wasn’t chosen then I was going to be stumped for awhile.
TBB: Going back to 2009 or so when the benefit album Ciao My Shining Star came out, I really thought Thom Yorke’s version of “All for the Best” was the best song of 2009. What was it like to have all those gifted artists come together to cover your songs?
MM: I was overwhelmed like anyone would be. I had nothing to do it except helping with the album cover art. I didn’t know anything about it. People would ask about the record and I would be say, “What are you talking about?” It was like a surprise party.
There are a lot of songs on that record that I consider really great versions. I don’t want to say better than my versions but I could say that sometimes.
I’ve only met Thom Yorke a few times — I don’t know him well or anything. But I went to a gig that Radiohead was playing and he came out and dedicated that song to me. I wasn’t even sure how he knew I was there. So I went up to him after and asked him about. He just kept saying “all for the best, all for the best, all for the best.” Him and his brother Andy Yorke just love that song. I think maybe when they were kids they had that Miracle Legion record. There’s an amazing version of him playing it on YouTube.
TBB: Yeah, I’ve been curious if he ever played it live.
MB: Somewhere he did, yeah. He’s got such a beautiful voice.
TBB: And his brother did the backing vocals for that recording of “All for the Best,” right?
MM: In some small history book, it is historic. When your big brother is a legend it’s difficult. I’ve toured with Andy Yorke’s band a lot. People would yell stuff about Thom Yorke during the shows, and it’s just a bummer. He sounds nothing like Radiohead and he was never trying to be “Thom Yorke’s brother.” But because they are super great people, they came together for this record. That little bit of it is sweet to me.
TBB: Any plans while you’re in SF?
MM: I’m hoping to hit the taqueria and find an amazing cocktail. I probably won’t make it to the Musée Mécanique, which is my #1 afternoon in SF. It’s on Fisherman’s Wharf, kind of like a museum or arcade with old gizmos and they also have the stuff where you put in a quarter and the monkey dances.
We’re driving from Portland to SF so there won’t be a lot of time. Not to complain. This is a real suck-up but it’s the truth — San Francisco is one of the great towns to play in, it always has a really great audience and I always look forward to it. When you live in the east, it’s always a rare trip to make it out west.