One of Polly Baker’s earliest songwriting memories was re-writing the lyrics to “Hotel California” by The Eagles, in the basement of her house, playing dolls with her best friend, Carolyn. “I was around 8 years old, and ‘Hotel California’ was one of my favorite songs. Mostly because I had this obsession with all things California related. I didn’t even know all of the words to the original song, but I knew the tune. So, I just took the song and put in my own lyrics to come up with my rendition entitled, ‘Seashores of California’. And I think that’s where my love for songwriting started.”
Polly grew up in a family of musicians who instilled within her a love for music from a very young age. Her parents, Glenn and Paula, met singing in a Top 40 nightclub band together, which performed in nightclubs from Maryland to D.C. to Virginia. Along with Polly’s two older brothers, Tommy and Arthur, her parents formed their family band and sang at a church in Bethesda, Maryland. “I remember my first time singing in a front of a large crowd at age four. We were singing at a New Year’s Eve service at our church. I don’t recall how many people were in attendance for that service, but I can still picture looking out into the that audience and thinking that I was performing for the largest crowd of people I had ever seen.”
Polly began taking classical piano lessons when she was almost six years old. Her family continued performing together at church and eventually started attending a church closer to home in Vienna, Virginia. Polly was also involved in dance lessons (tap dancing was her favorite) and church choir, although as she grew older, she developed stage fright. “It got to the point where I didn’t ever want to perform music again. I would go up to perform and instantly forget the lyrics or the music and I felt like the biggest failure when that happened. I decided I was going to be high school English teacher. And that was only at age 10.” That was when Polly wrote her first song entitled, “Dreams”. She says, “that song encompassed everything I wanted to do with my life, but was too afraid to really go after. I started writing lot’s of songs after that first one that told all of the secrets I could never talk about.”
To Polly, there was always time to write a song. She was home-schooled from third grade through high school and says that over half of her school notebooks were filled with song ideas and lyrics. “I would be turning the page in my ‘math notebook’ to write out a problem, and I would have to turn two or three pages further because I would see lyrics on those pages. There was never a notebook for just homework. It was a 50/50 spilt between schoolwork and songwriting.”
Despite her fear of performing, Polly sang with her family at church services, often forgetting her starting note right before performing. “We would be standing on stage and the pastor would be praying before our song. I would be literally shaking while whispering to my dad, ‘what’s my note? I don’t remember’. That happened until I was about 14 years old.” She also competed in yearly piano festivals, always scoring the highest rating of superior. “That is something that to this day, I will never understand how that happened. I never practiced my piano music until the last minute. I did that to challenge myself. My piano teacher hated that but I wanted to see how quickly I could learn a song and memorize it for the performance.” Memorizing music came much easier to Polly that same year when the choir director at her church heard about her piano playing and asked her to consider playing keyboard for the youth service every Sunday at 8 AM. “I was very reluctant, mostly because my brothers were already a part of the band. I knew nothing about chords or harmonies. So, my dad helped me. He would sit down at the piano with me every Saturday night and we would learn the music for the next day service. He taught me everything to know about chords, blending, harmonies and inversions.”
All of the piano techniques that Polly’s dad taught her continued to help her cultivate her playing style. “That not only helped me with performing at church, but then I also knew how to write the chords out to all of my songs and accompany myself.” She also began singing harmonies for the Sunday morning church services and credits harmonies as her “thing”. “Everybody has that one thing that they love doing more than anything. For me, it’s singing harmonies. The ability to blend perfectly with someone…oh and if you’re adding a third part, even better. It’s the most beautiful sound in the world.” Learning chords also contributed to helping her with memorizing classical piano pieces. “I took lessons for a bit after I turned 18. My favorite memory from a piano competition was that last year. I got up to perform, after learning the song practically overnight, and with shaking hands, made it through about half of the piece before I forgot the middle section of the piece. I knew what key it was in though, so I improvised on chords and notes, got back on track, kept going and finished the song. When I received my ratings, I couldn’t believe that I had still scored a superior. It was such a great feeling.”
Graduating high school a few days after her 17th birthday, Polly stayed very involved in music at her church and thought she had a clear idea of what she wanted to do for a career after college. “I didn’t have to deal with stage fright anymore…I guess you just perform and perform until it’s second nature. I knew I wanted to be involved in the entertainment industry but I thought I would go into church music ministry. I loved singing at church and I knew where I wanted to go to school. Everything was planned out. And then I auditioned for this music ministry program, and made it to the final round of auditions before being cut. It was heartbreaking at the time.” However, always trying to stay optimistic, Polly enrolled in online classes with Liberty University and continued singing at church and writing songs. “I started to notice that my songwriting was changing. I felt as though I was writing songs that actually meant something and captured experiences like I never thought possible. I just wouldn’t let anyone hear them.”
The first original song that Polly ended up performing was heard by her brother, Arthur. “It was all completely unplanned. I thought no one was home, but I guess I didn’t hear him come in the garage door. I was playing a song I wrote called, ‘Hey Shawn’ and he heard it and told me that he thought it could be a hit and it had to be recorded.” Polly distinctly remembers that she wasn’t afraid to share her songs with anyone after that. She played at several open mics in Vienna, and opened a concert for the band, The Afters.
And the stories Polly told. “Several months after my brother heard me play, ‘Hey Shawn’, I played another song for my family called, ‘Good At Goodbyes’ that I had written at work one evening. About a boy, of course. He needed to know a couple things that I couldn’t get up the nerve to say to his face. So I wrote a song about him.” Being enrolled in college online certainly gave Polly a lot of flexibility to perform and write all of the time. Polly’s college plans changed multiple times and she attended Liberty University, St. Stephen’s University and Berklee College of Music (changing her major 6 times) before she figured out what she wanted to do for a career. She is currently studying at University of California-Los Angeles and working towards her degree in Music Business. She is planning to graduate with a either a degree in Music Business or Digital Marketing, or both. “I’m very flexible. Almost to the point where it scares my parents. I’m fine with changing my mind, and changing plans all of the time. I just go with it. If one plan doesn’t work out, I’ll keep putting things together until something else opens up. And I have about four plans ready to go” (laughs). I just didn’t expect any of this to happen with my songs. I wanted it to, but I just didn’t think I would ever have the opportunity to pursue my music full time. I was originally going to settle for ‘Plan B, C, D, or E’ but now, I’m going for ‘Plan A’.”
Polly’s first single, “Good At Goodbyes” releases November 19th, 2013. “I’m excited to share my stories with people everywhere. I hope my songs can take listeners back to an exact memory through the melody.”
It’s obvious that for Polly, this is just the start of her singing, songwriting and storytelling career.