Main at South Side is brimming with fans for its two-year anniversary celebration as Polydogs take the stage. The Fort Worth rock band — consisting of frontman Matt Tedder, bassist Kris Luther, drummer Matt Mabe and rhythm guitarist Nick Tittle — has recently released a self-titled debut album and is building a fan base. In the midst of a set that includes “AK48” (a “balls-to-the-wall rock song,” in Tedder’s words) and “Toast,” one of Mabe’s favorites, the band’s frontman looks out at the crowd.
“I saw some people were mouthing the lyrics to our songs,” Tedder says. “And man, there’s nothing cooler than that.”
Polydogs is an evolution of the Matt Tedder Trio and a personal evolution for Tedder. Thanks to this new band, the blues guitarist is happier than he has been in a long time.
“I got to ditch my name and help build something,” he says. “It’s like there’s a weight off me.”
Tedder’s career began when he was 11. The blues guitarist started gigging in Fort Worth as a teenager and built pedigree in Cowtown’s scene. He idolized Quaker City Night Hawks drummer Matt Mabe without realizing Mabe looked up to him, too.
“I remember Tedder opening for Quaker City years ago and just blowing everyone away,” Mabe says. “I went up to talk to him after the show, and I saw X’s on his hands. He was 16.”
After graduating from Aledo High School in 2013, Tedder took off for Nashville. The guitarist busked the Tennessee streets in the hopes of landing an audience with anyone who would listen to him play the blues.
“When you move to Nashville, you get asked ‘the question,’” he says, “which is, ‘What do you want to do?’ You can be a session man, you can write songs or you can play in bars all the time. I felt uncomfortable doing only one of those things, so I tried doing a little bit of everything.”
Tedder experienced some minor moments of success, such as when he represented Nashville in 2014’s International Blues Challenge. Yet his career failed to launch. He started a few bands, but nothing panned out.
“I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted,” he says.
Then came The Voice. In the B-roll shown before his 10th season audition, Tedder, less than three years removed from high school, strolls down Nashville’s famed Pedestrian Bridge, guitar in tow, heading toward an audition in front of a group that included Pharrell Williams and Adam Levine.
Tedder’s cover of Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man” earned him a standing ovation from Williams and a spot on Levine’s team, and for both he is grateful. But looking back, the experience — and what followed — make Tedder cringe.
“After that, my name was stuck to The Voice,” he says. “And ever since I’ve done it, I’ve wanted to get away from it.”
After he lost in the show’s knockout round, Tedder moved back to North Texas. He wanted to spend more time with family, but he didn’t stay away from music for long. The guitarist laid down some tracks at Dallas’ Modern Electric Studios, ultimately cutting his debut EP, California Mercy Me.
“I learned that I love the process,” Tedder says, thinking about his debut. “I love making records, and the feeling that it gives you when you have something out.”
But he still yearned for his own identity. Many of the tracks on California Mercy Me were songs Tedder had written and first performed many years ago, songs he felt pressured to include on his debut output.
“People liked those songs when I played them, so I felt like I had to put them on there,” he says. “It felt weird to be solo, because I felt like I wanted to share this thing.”
As Tedder gigged to promote his album, venues plugged his performance as a show by “Matt Tedder from The Voice.”
“That’s the last thing I want someone to say when they’re introducing me,” he says. “I want to be known as someone who kicks ass in a band.”
Tedder thinks “The Voice” is a label that gives people ideas about artists' work ethic — or lack thereof.
“When they hear that type of thing, they think, ‘That dude doesn’t know how to work,’” he says. “And I get it, because everyone works hard, and we all want to be seen. But The Voice doesn’t send you a check every month. I still gotta make the rent.”
While searching for a band, Tedder reconnected with Mabe, who was no longer with Quaker City. The duo enlisted bassist Luther from the Hanna Barbarians, and began performing as the Matt Tedder Trio. The chemistry came naturally.
“We’re just a bunch of friends who also happen to play music,” Luther says. “Onstage, in the studio, wherever we are, we’re always trying to make each other laugh.”
The trio headed to Dripping Springs in spring 2018 to record what would become Polydogs.
“I thought I was just going to record a bunch of blues musicians,” says producer Taylor Tatsch. “But this was different. This was experimental.”
The album includes a surf song, a country track and scores of songs that the band admits make little sense when you first hear them. The album’s opener, a psychedelia-influenced song called “The Movie,” was a tough sell for Tedder to make to his new band.
“I threw it together, invited them over, and said, ‘This is a song,’” he recalls. “And they said, ‘No, it’s not. That doesn’t make any sense.’”
Nevertheless, the band bought in, and the entire album is a testament to the ease with which they collaborate. The songs diverge sonically because each member of the band had the agency to experiment with their own sound.
“It’s a stamp in time,” Luther says. “There are so many different sounds on this record, because that was who we were at that moment. It may not make sense stylistically, but it’s not supposed to.”
For Tedder, now 23, the band is his liberation.
“My story is so scattered, because for so many years I had no idea what I was doing,” he says. “But I’m finding a lot of happiness with these guys.”
After finishing the album, the trio returned to Fort Worth and added a fourth member, guitarist Nick Tittle. The debut record came out in early April, and the band is now working on a follow-up. Though they’ve played only a half-dozen shows together, Tedder is confident Polydogs has found its groove.
At Main at South Side, the cheery Tedder is chatting with people at the venue. He tells someone he is going on at midnight, and for a moment, the man is confused.
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“I’m in Polydogs,” Tedder assures him.
“Oh, you are?” the man says. “I didn’t know that was you.”
Later, replaying the moment in his mind, Tedder smiles.
“He had no idea I was in the band,” he says. “That was cool.”