Nineties Nickelodeon cult favorite The Adventures of Pete & Pete wasn’t your average kids’ show. From 1993 to 1996, Pete & Pete dazzled young’uns and grown-ups alike with a unique wittiness, maturity, and friendly surrealism in Wellsville’s fictional suburbia. Whether it was a cardigan-wearing Iggy Pop expressing his distaste for canoes, or an inanimate, demonic bowling ball fighting for the siblings’ affection, Pete & Pete remains an original not only in children’s television, but for the medium as a whole.
To score such a unique world, show creator Will McRobb enlisted Mark Mulcahy, then frontman of the Connecticut college-rock band Miracle Legion, to write the show’s jangle-pop theme, “Hey Sandy.” More work followed, and Polaris, as Mulcahy’s in-house, Miracle Legion–hybrid band came to be known, eventually penned twelve songs over the show’s run, matching Pete & Pete‘s timelessness with its soundtrack. After the show’s cancellation, Music From the Adventures of Pete & Pete saw a proper album release in 1999, becoming a treasured gem for the show’s fans as Mulcahy continued on as a solo act.
A run of Pete & Pete reunion shows featuring cast and crew starting in 2011 saw Polaris play to a live audience for the very first time. The enthusiasm from those shows has since prompted the band’s first proper tour across the country, two new songs, a double live album, and a vinyl reissue of the program’s soundtrack for Record Store Day (which quickly sold out, leading to back orders on the label’s website).
“I’ve just never seen anything like that,” Mulcahy says of the vinyl reissue. “If somebody knew how many that everybody wanted, we would have been happy to fill up the stores with however many copies people wanted to order. We just had no idea what to say.”
It’s this kind of astonishment that has defined Polaris’s second wind as a band, which Mulcahy sums up as “a complete joyful surprise.”
“It’s in that kind of file where it’s a lot of people coming together who like the same thing and are finding that the music expresses that to them,” Mulcahy says. “It took a couple gigs to figure out what was happening, because for the most part, I’m just playing the music that I wrote and playing with people I like to play with. But once you realize what’s happening — people in the front row knowing every word — it’s just putting out an amazing vibe. It might sound kind of corny to say, [but] it’s some kind of celebration or something.”
“It’s given me a lot of energy to feel good about mankind”
But dusting off nearly twenty-year-old songs, not surprisingly, took some work.
“The first real practice we had, the drummer [Scott Boutier] was going to be late, so it was just me and [bassist] Dave [McCaffrey] for a half-hour. It was like, ‘Man, this is pretty bad,’ ” Mulcahy laughs. “Then the drummer walked in and we played for a couple of hours and it was pretty awesome to bring [the songs] to life and everything for, really, the first time. When we recorded them, we just recorded them — we never really played them.”
Even if things started off rough, Polaris’s first tour goes well beyond nitpicking the playing. Whether it’s for nostalgia’s sake or a pure appreciation of the band’s catalog, fans seem eager to catch Polaris offering a live experience they never expected to see. The once fictional band has come to life, seemingly just for them.
“It’s nice to see people have such a proper reaction to something — to be emotional about it and be willing to let themselves show how they feel,” Mulcahy says. “I do talk to a lot of people afterwards, and just to meet these people who are sincere in [the] world we live in…It’s given me a lot of energy to feel good about mankind.”
Mulcahy should feel good. Some two decades after the band’s inception, Polaris fans have turned what might’ve been a footnote into a valid act. And while Mulcahy says that a second Polaris record is “certainly possible to do,” he’s been happy to see his project continue on its joyously atypical path as part and parcel of the TV show that made it.
“We were in this kind of dingy practice space somewhere in Providence, and when we came out, there were a bunch of kids outside the space. As far as I know, no one’s heard of us — we’re in this obscure nothingness — and this kid goes, ‘Are you guys a Polaris cover band?’ Scott…was like, ‘No dude: We’re Polaris!’ ” Mulcahy laughs. “From the minute it started, it’s just been this weird thing, man. But no one had any sense of what we were doing when we started.”
Polaris play the Highline Ballroom on May 15. Tickets are available here.
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