From Bourbon Street in New Orleans to Memphis and Jamaica via the bars of Brunswick, The Offtopics deliver infectious songs that will make you tap your feet and bring a smile to your face. Fronted by funk dynamo Polash Larsen, these are some of Melbourne’s most talented musicians working their basses off to show you a good time.
Start with the classic guitar, bass and drums, then add some keys and a few of the hardest-wailing horn players you’ve never heard – but who you damn well should. They’re a little bit bluesy, a little bit funky, a little bit rock and roll. And before you know it, their witches’ brew of classic grooves will have you out of your seat and up on the dance floor.
The Offtopics – Biography (up until the 2020 pandemic)
The Offtopics are not your average band. They’re not even your average funk band, or your average soul band for that matter. Masterminded by founding father and bandleader Polash Larsen, the band has taken on numerous forms since its inception, but the spirit and style has remained; their unique blend of punch-drunk funk, slapstick soul and unsteady rocksteady becoming the cornerstones of The Offtopics sound.
After leaving The Grenadines (now the Deans Of Soul) as their guitarist of ten years, Polash rang friend and collaborator Dan Kerr (Checkerboard Lounge Blues Band, Melbourne Ska Orchestra, Johnny Longshot, Tarzan in Manhattan) to discuss a new project; a soul band influenced by the funk traditions of New Orleans and flavoured with Polash’s own distinctive brand of subtle humour. Within a few months, in mid 2013, The Offtopics had pulled together their first line-up, consisting of Polash on vocals, Dan on guitar, Tim Webb (The Oxo Cubans, Skazz, Johnny Longshot, The Skavendors, Fire and Theft) on bass, Linc Yow Yeh (The Grenadines, The Deans of Soul, Melting Pot, Kutcha Edwards Band, The Sheilas of the 70’s) on drums and Mark Bretherton (This Frozen Star) on keys. November 2013 saw the band play their first gig at the Metanoia Theatre Company season launch at the Brunswick Mechanics Institute. The show was a success and began the band’s love affair and connection with the great suburb of Brunswick, a relationship that would go on to mould the band and become a crucial part of their identity.
They embarked on a series of Monday night gigs at the Mechanics Institute to build the repertoire and hone the show, playing a total of eight shows during the residency until May 2015 as the house headline act. It was early days and The Offtopics were a tight operation, but they were still finding their rhythm. The missing piece of the puzzle was a horns section, and in early 2015, this came in the form of Howard Norsetter on trumpet and Jason Chalmers on saxophone.
Though the residency was fruitful, it was time for the band to stretch out and begin playing some bigger shows. They were picked to perform at The Glenroy Festival, The Coburg Carnivale and the inaugural Fleming Park Festival. Throughout 2015 and 2016 the band ventured into the local club scene with shows at The Catfish, The Standard, Yah Yah’s, Bar Oussou and The LuWow, and also played a support slot for the California Honeydrops at the Northcote Social Club.
In early 2017, founding member Dan Kerr left the band. Polash was down a guitar player but decided to take the opportunity to beef up the sound by enlisting the talents of Mark Shannon and Dave Sheehan, splitting the role of guitar between them. It was at this point that Polash, still writing all the material for the band, envisioned The Offtopics next project; the concept ‘Back On The Zine’.
The idea was wholly original in both its approach and implementation. Throughout late 2017 and 2018, the band would release 3 separate 7 inch singles, each with their own A and B sides, and sleeve art depicting one of four segments that made up a comic strip. ‘Back On The Zine’ was inspired largely by the band’s love of the city of Melbourne and its colourful suburbs, with tracks like ‘Sunrise In Richmond’ and the comic strip story itself taking place on the mean streets of Brunswick. The project culminated in the release of the 12-inch mini-album which included the previous three singles and two more original tracks. The endeavour summed the band up perfectly. It encapsulated their creativity, showed their roots, displayed their love of vinyl, and was brimming with the off-the-wall humour and fast-and-loose funk stylings that the band have become known for.
The line-up as it existed during this time lasted until the end of 2018. Riding a high after the completion of ‘Back On The Zine’, the members decided to take the bulk of 2019 as somewhat of a hiatus and focus on various aspects of their personal lives and recharge the energy levels for the next phase of The Offtopics. Sporadic rehearsals and behind-the-scenes plans were being undertaken throughout the year, and in November the band tapped into the past to release the ‘Live at Studio 5’ EP, which captured their epic 2018 performance at the hallowed studios of PBS FM in Melbourne.
With a fresh perspective and a rejuvenated sense of purpose, The Offtopics hit the ground running in 2020 with festivals and shows lined up throughout the year.
The last two years have presented a number of challenges to the live performing arts. The Offtopics are no exception in this regard. Despite hitting the ground running with a number of auspicious bookings on the calendar, the momentum sucking reality of the global pandemic forced another hiatus. Determined not to allow his creative energies to go to waste band leader, and songwriter, Polash recorded and released a solo album titled “Polash From The Garden” collaborating with noted Melbourne theatrical sound designer and Tim Minchin sound engineer Darius Kedros.
Founding keyboardist Mark Bretherton had already planned to leave the band in early 2020 to focus on writing his first novel (a historical crime thriller set in Eastern Europe). He was replaced by young gun Huw Gregory. Long-time saxophonist Omid quit the band to spend more time with his family and focus on his jazz band “Shayan”. The eminently capable Dr Stu Earl stepped in to replace him. The band’s two elder statesmen in Howard Norsetter and Mark “Tony Champagne” Shannon both retired. The latter, like the other Mark, is coincidentally also attempting to complete his first historical crime fiction novel. Shannon’s story is set in the early days of Melbourne. Sadly, the band’s beloved lead guitarist Dave Sheehan was diagnosed with incurable lymphatic cancer and he subsequently passed away. His memorial would eventually take place in 2022 after being postponed several times due to Covid 19.
Despite these upheavals and challenges The Offtopics’ resilience burns brightly and undimmed. The band coalesced around Polash’s return to guitar playing and now they perform most often as a tight, 1970s R&B inspired band with Linc on drums, Tim on bass, Huw on keys and Stu on tenor saxophone. The band’s live set continues to explore Polash’s original songs however, in line with their current sound, also include songs by artists such as Stevie Wonder and Gil Scot-Heron.
The band continues to play to make the audience dance, laugh and clap their hands…