“Always stay ready” is the advice Polly A would offer to aspiring artists. She was ready when, after a relatively quick chain of introductions, she found herself singing in front of Jordan Feldstein, Maroon 5’s longtime manager and head of Adam Levine’s 222 label. Feldstein offered her a deal on the spot, and by the end of the day, Levine was texting her that he was a fan of her song (and now her first EP title track) “Ghetto Gold Dream.” “Once that moment hits, you don’t know when it’s going to happen again, so it’s just best to always be ready,” she recalls of that career-defining moment.
The years of preparation Polly A has under her belt include singing all over New York City, where she attended Columbia University, performing in subway stations or public spaces like Times Square. “I love singing underground because the acoustics are crazy. Something about the acoustics [in the subway station] makes people stop and listen. It’s about creating your own stage.” While continuing to practice her craft all around the city, she began to write songs for top artists like Alicia Keys and Selena Gomez, and even co-wrote J. Cole’s “Crooked Smile,” which was nominated for Record of the Year at the 2013 Soul Train Music Awards. But her own singing career was inevitable, she believes: “I kind of spoke it into existence from when I was 6 years old, not even knowing that that was a thing that I was actually manifesting. But for as long as I can remember, I was like, ‘I want to be a singer, songwriter, entertainer.’ ”
We caught up with the budding artist to discuss being a female in the music industry and her plans for the future.
EIGHTY-NINE: You grew up in the Midwest, in Milwaukee, and headed straight to New York City as soon as you could. What was that transition like?
POLLY A: [Milwaukee] was definitely your typical Midwest town experience. Just real down-to-earth, real homey. That is what I did like about it—it’s just real down-to-earth people. I went to private school, so I was kind of in between two worlds coming from the city just regular, to [being around] super-rich kids in the elite of Milwaukee. So I got to see both sides, but it’s very segregated. New York is down-to-earth too. They’re just rawer down-to-earth, more brutally honest down-to-earth than Milwaukee, I would say. But it was definitely culturally richer, more diversity.
EIGHTY-NINE: You have already worked with some amazing artists, but do you have any dream collaborators?
PA: Oh, man. I always say Andre 3000. I have so much respect for him. I have a lot of respect for Frank Ocean. I love James Blake, Fiona Apple, Alabama Shakes.
EIGHTY-NINE: What is it like working with Adam Levine and his label?
PA: It’s great to be signing with somebody you respect and you love their music, not just because they’re famous. I’ve always loved Adam Levine and Maroon 5. I’ve always loved his voice, his texture. I just always had a lot of respect for his artistry, so to be co-signed by somebody you respect is like the icing on the cake.
EIGHTY-NINE: What’s inspiring you and your music right now?
PA: A lot of sociopolitical stuff that’s happening right now is at the forefront of my mind on a daily basis because it’s unavoidable, being a woman of color. We’re so evolved, I feel, on a person-to-person vibe. I feel like when I meet people there’s a higher vibration of conversation happening, but it’s not really reflected in what’s put out in the media. So there’s this contrast of my own personal experience and existing in this world versus what I’m seeing on the media and how backwards and low vibrational it is. Of course, as an artist, you kind of feel obligated to speak on it and enlighten, so that’s what I’ve been writing about lately.
EIGHTY-NINE: You recently decided to learn piano. What has that experience been like, and has it helped your songwriting process?
PA: [Learning piano] is just using a different muscle. It’s foreign [to me] because singing always came naturally to me. I was spoiled in that way. I didn’t know I could do something that other people couldn’t do as easily, even just having an ear for harmony. There are things that I just understood intrinsically that other people study to understand. That’s probably why I put off playing an instrument for so long, because when I was a kid it was like, “This is too hard—it shouldn’t be this hard.” I want to be a self-contained artist, which is what’s pushing me to learn—just that vision of me being onstage by myself. Accompanying myself has always been a dream. It adds a whole other layer to the artistry.
EIGHTY-NINE: What is the biggest challenge you have faced in the music industry?
PA: It’s going to sound cliché, but I think [as] females, we have it the hardest. We have to navigate through a business that is so male dominated, and men tend to think with their you-know-what. So you could be so talented but you could be invisible to them if they are focused on something else. You have to do so much just for them to respect you for what you do. Whereas a guy doesn’t have to do that. Guys are just like, “I make music.” “Well, let me hear it.”If this was any other industry there would be so many lawsuits. The type of sexual harassment women in the industry go through like it’s nothing … it’s almost like they don’t even recognize it. That’s probably the biggest challenge. I know executives who have no intention of doing any business with these females but will try to get them to have sex with them, promising them deals or promising them meetings. It’s disgusting. It’s very primitive in the music business, because, again, there are no repercussions.Your talent just has to speak for you beyond all of that just to get heard. I’m out here trying to reverse some of that so women don’t have to feel like that—especially women who don’t have representation or parents who can protect them from these situations, because they know sometimes how badly you want it as an artist, and so they’ll take full advantage.
EIGHTY-NINE: In Kesha’s situation recently, so many female artists came out to support her because they all probably have had a taste of this kind of harassment.
PA: Well, unfortunately, in her situation, it didn’t change things. I mean that’s a prime example. Instead of actually really examining it and looking into it … I mean, I don’t know what happened, so I’m not taking any sides, but I just know from what I’ve heard from that situation they were like, “Oh, Kesha, chill.” It wasn’t like, “Let’s really see what happened.” That is a very common situation, where you’re handcuffed, because if you’re signed with somebody, they have all the power. Again, I’m not saying I know what happened. I don’t know who did what and what’s true. I just know that her story is not that uncommon.
EIGHTY-NINE: You just released your first EP last year, which was really well received. What is next up in your career?
PA: Hopefully [I can] hop on another tour. I love touring. People were like, “You’re not going to like it.” I’m like, “Dude, I love this.” I love to travel and I love to sing, so why wouldn’t I love touring then? I don’t like being in one place all the same time.