Strumming to success

Junior Polanco plays with the band Ultra Q, with hopes of making music for a career



Shocked, speechless and excited. These are the first of many emotions that musician Junior Polanco experienced when his favorite alternative-indie band, Ultra Q, invited him to play at their show at El Cid on Nov. 10. Ultra Q, featuring Jakob Armstrong–son of the lead singer and guitarist for the band Green Day–and his bandmates, invited Polanco to play guitar with them during their show in Hollywood. Polanco has been a fan of Ultra Q since 2018, and after going to many of their shows and listening to all of their music, he was finally asked to play a song with them. 

Polanco was invited to perform with Ultra Q when he played a house show on Halloween. He decided to live stream the show on Tik Tok where he has a following of 10,500 people. Originally, the purpose of the live stream was to be able to share his music with family and friends who couldn’t be there in person, but it quickly became more serious when Ultra Q joined the live stream to see him play. 

“I expected there to be like 10 people on the live stream, but then there were actually 600 people, including Ultra Q which was so cool,” Polanco said. “Then, later they DMed me on Instagram and were like ‘Hey, do you want to play a song with us at our next show?'”

Polanco noted that the experience felt very “surreal.”

“When I found out, I couldn’t process what had just happened. I literally was just staring into space because I was like ‘Oh my god. I can’t believe my favorite band just asked me to play a song with them,'” he said.

Even though leading up to the show, Polanco had to make sure that he knew every chord by heart, having years of music experience was the best practice he could have had in order to prepare for this huge moment in his life. 

“The guitar was something that I picked up because I thought  it was cool. I started with the drums when I was like seven because I got really into the Foo Fighters. They were my first introduction to a band,” Polanco said.

Polanco’s family introduced him to the Foo Fighters and other musicians from whom he draws inspiration for his own music.

Polanco has his own solo project and is also in a 3-piece band called Willowake.

“We just kind of keep it real. We play the music we love to listen to and we just kind of put our own twist to it. For example, we played a cover of this song called “What Do You Call It.” It’s with a synth, but we don’t have a synth, so we just used my guitar and distortion on my friend’s bass to fill in that void without the synth,” Polanco said.

In addition to playing covers, Polanco also writes his own music.

“My writing process often varies, but it’s usually just me sitting on my bed for hours working on a song, and then I record it through voice memos. If I like it enough, I will move to Ableton or Garageband to make it into an actual song,” Polanco said.

Finally, the long-awaited evening arrived, and Polanco got ready to perform with Ultra Q.

“I wasn’t nervous at all, I was just so excited,” he said.

The show that Polanco and Ultra Q performed at was the first show Utra Q had played in three years. Since the show was so highly anticipated, it increased the already-overwhelming eagerness for both the crowd and Polanco. 

Polanco thrived on the atmosphere at El Cid and thought the crowd was amazing. He recalled that performing on stage felt like he was “in a void” where everyone was just there to enjoy the music and be in the moment. He also said that the music lovers in the crowd that night mostly consisted of people his age, which added to the experience even more. 

After the show, when it came to self-evaluation and reflecting on his performance, Polanco didn’t want to critique himself. His philosophy is to keep the moment positive so when he looks back, he doesn’t think about any missteps and instead focuses on how gratifying it was to play with his favorite band.

“That moment was so killer and I don’t really want to change anything about it. I’m gonna keep the memory as a positive experience rather than saying I should have done something else,” he said.

Polanco hopes to continue making connections in the music industry and eventually have a future in it.

“I already have my name out there. So once my band Willowake starts rolling more, it will be cool to see how different it’ll be to actually have a career in music,” he said. 

But Polanco does not have to wait long to see his band progress.

“After the show, the lead singer of Ultra Q introduced me to their opener and [Willowake] pretty much got a gig out of it. So it’s already starting,” Polanco said.