Even if you don’t know Pond’s sound, you’ve got to be impressed with their work ethic.
The genre-bending Australian psych band released six full-length albums since 2009, with another pegged for a May 5 release, titled The Weather.
Pond is a well-oiled machine with regards to songwriting, sound experimentation and silly nicknames. I spoke on the phone with the eccentric yet risible lead man, Nicholas Allbrook, on the eve of their performance at Coachella Music Festival.
The following is an edited transcript of that conversation:
Where am I finding you right now? Can you describe that to me?
I am in Los Angeles. I am sitting on the steps outside of a house. Watching little birds on the telephone wire and the ubiquitous palm trees.
Can you talk to me about Perth and what its music scene is like?
Perth music scene is sort of – I mean it’s not like hyperactive. I guess it moves quite slowly. It’s very insular, but the slow moving is good. There’s not much pressure to be developed in a preconceived way. Like to be a rockin’ band there’s pressure to have a look and all this shit. You’re kind of allowed to go and play whatever shit you and your friends have decided to do. It’s a real small and tight little community, so no one is really going to beat you down for it. I think that’s really good because people are just confident enough to just try whatever the fuck they want. That thing they try gets better and it ends up being quite original.
What initially drew me to your music was the very eccentric and visually stimulating videos. Can you guide me through the process where you guys come up with the visuals to accompany your songs?
The process – it changes a lot depending on who were doing it with. Sometimes we make our own shit, like Elvis’ Flaming Star or whatever. It’s kinda hard to take you through the process. There is absolutely no like process that we use for making.
How much would you say is planned with the videos and the overall Pond aesthetic?
I don’t know. You know, I’m not sure how much or where creativity is sort of planning itself. I don’t know, man. It’s kinda hard to quantify planning, if you know what I mean. [Laughs.]
Listening to the new singles like “30,000 Megatons” and “Sweep Me Off My Feet,” I noticed a sort of departure from the guitar sounds of Hobo Rocket and even more synthy sounds than Man It Feels Like Space Again. Has there been anything you guys have been listening to that has inspired this new sound or anything on the album?
Well, I don’t know. I haven’t listened to rock, rock band music for a fucking long time. It’s just kind of what we know, so pretty much everything that I listen to has inspired me not to use distorted guitars in that sort of rock band way.
So, no man rock, so to speak?
Yeah. [Laughs.] Exactly. It’s not really my jam, even though it appears that way.
That’s interesting, so even though the earlier Pond stuff was heavier, guitar rock has never really been your thing?
Oh yeah it has for sure, but stuff just changes, you know? From my angle being in the band, it’s a long time, you know? Like when we were making Hobo Rocket or whatever. I was totally totally into Butthole Surfers and Comets on Fire and stuff like that. That was years ago.
So you couldn’t really trace inspiration for the new stuff to one album?
No, there is a whole life and world of inspiration that goes into making whatever comes out the other end. Things seen and heard and talked about and stuff. The everyday.
This may seem a bit silly but I feel like I am on a space station when I am listening to this new stuff.
Yeah, What’s the place or time you associate with the sound of the new record?
It’s very eclectic. Just like pretty boring. Where we recorded it. I just think of like Kevin’s studio but that’s not a very interesting response. [Laughs.]
I often hear Pond’s music being referred to as a “wall of sound,” can you tell me how you feel about your music being labeled as such?
I can understand. I think a lot of that is just because we didn’t have the vision or the restraint to be confident to think of parts or times so we just kind of laid it all on. I mean, I much more appreciate minimalism in music. There is always a place for the “wall of sound,” but yea I think we have been getting more and more into deleting things when recording. I think every time you delete an instrument on a track you have done it like seems we got closer to the core of a song.
How do you guys balance sounding inventive in the studio and performing live? Is it ever a struggle?
No, it’s not too much of a struggle. Gum (Jay Watson) always says it’s like being in a cover band of your own band. The recording process is so different from what it used to be. It used to be recording the live band, but now we create these things in very long and strange and convoluted ways, in places and with people, programs, computers and shit. We kind of just sort out what all the bits are after the fact and pretty much try and cover our own song.
It’s not too hard.
From my understanding, Pond began as a sort of side project among a group of friends. Now that Pond has a more concrete line up, is the writing process any different?
Yeah, but only really different as we were when we started. It’s just like people changing, probably. Yeah. It probably comes out a lot quicker and bit more defined. I used to put in a lot of time, but I feel like not much really came out of it. [Laughs.] We also – way back way back – used to jam a lot because we were really into rock guitar and the guitar rock kind of vibe back then. There is a lot of sampling and programming kind of stuff, but going back much more into appreciating spontaneity and messiness and chance and collaboration after a bit of hiatus from that, I’m figuring out how to actually do shit myself.
Does it typically work in a set way? Like does someone make a melody and someone else will write a lyric?
Most of the time it is just all individual songs. We all write. Joe, Jay and I write our own tunes all the time. We sort of randomly throw them at each other and see what people like and then it will just be a little bit of filter. It will go through the filter of everyone when it gets recorded, but people mostly write their own shit and we all get behind it.
How would you describe your live performances to someone who hasn’t seen Pond live?
I guess its five white males between 20 and 35 years old. Yeah. I don’t know. Scratch that. I tried and failed instantly. Pass.
No no that’s fine thank you for trying.
What is the most bizarre thing a fan has ever done in your presence and was it justified?
In Latin America, I think it was Chile, we must seem quite exotic or something. When something is far away and you just see emanations of it on the internet, I guess when you actually meet the person it’s like really surreal. Just when people are really fucking excited and nervous and shaking. That’s happened a few times and that’s crazy. I mean, I’m not bagging them out for it. I understand, but it’s pretty insane to me. I’m still just me, ya know? [Laughs.] I still have a mom and you know, brush my teeth and shit. So that’s fuckin’ insane, when people are overwhelmed meeting me. Actually wait. Someone stole my sock when I was crowd surfing.
That was weird as fuck.
Did you sign it for them by a chance?
No. They just ripped it off my foot and I was trying to drag myself back to stage but they had a hold of the end of my sock and so it was kind of like me or the sock.
So you never got it back?
No, but someone showed me a picture of it on Instagram. [Laughs.] Someone saying, “Hey. I have Nick Allbrook’s sock!” Fuck you man! That’s my Dockers sock!
So, now you have an odd number of socks?
An ever increasing odd number of socks.
What were you like in middle school and can you describe your childhood room to me?
I moved around a lot. We moved heaps, like every year. My parents were working in Northwest Australia, so it’s kind of hard to describe my childhood room because it changed almost every year, but in middle school I don’t know. I was like pretty quiet, kind of. I developed very late. I was the smaller kid. You know when the other kids are starting to do what kids do, smoke a little weed, get drunk, make out with girls. I was still doing wholesome kid stuff [laughs] until quite late.
Then I gradually discovered the allure of being a weirdo and you know, in quotation marks “alternative” or whatever. I started like taking scissors to my jumpers and wearing seventies pants and listening to Jethro Tull alone. [Laughs.]
Was there like a specific article of clothing that you thought was really cool?
[Laughs] Yeah. I think I loved rocking my brother’s Public Enemy shirt from the 1980’s, signed by Chuck D. I loved to wear that and you that’s as good as I can get. And you, know some poxy forestry-elf-renaissance fair type of shirt that I thought was splendidly 1960’s drew me to it at the time. I guess I studied medieval history. I was playing the flute and really into fantasy books and Black Sabbath and stuff.
You’re gearing up to play Coachella, do you guys have anything special planned?
Yeah, my friend is an incredible fashion designer. Last night, he showed me this jacket that he wove out of one long white piece of cloth, like seriously the most incredible sculpture. It’s insanely woven from one big giant piece that just like goes all the way around. It’s a big puffy cloud. It’s like wearing a Mario cloud. So that’s pretty special.
Is fashion something you consider important to performing live or do you just throw on whatever usually?
Yeah. I have always made a point to not give a fuck, but the more I seem to come into contact with people who are on the other side of it – the creative side of it – the more it blows my mind how nuanced and creative it is. They are so talented, some of these designers, and it’s a whole artistic endeavor that’s a whole entire world. That’s just what they do, just like what I do with music. It’s a multi-faceted world that I have only just started in.
Should we expect a Nick Allbrook fashion line?
[Laughs.] Sure might as well! I haven’t thought about it but expect away. [Laughs.]
You guys have nicknames for each other, Joe is Semitone Joe. Are there any others we should know of?
Ginolé, our drummer. He has other nicknames, but he did just say last night that he didn’t like them – so maybe I won’t say them to be nice. I don’t know. They aren’t really nicknames but we often refer to Jamie as Captain Faff. He is always so chill and always fuckin’ around being late because he is just cooling, brushing his hair and contemplating what pair of socks. It’s like, “Hurry up man we are late! ‘Yea I’m coming.’” Fucking Captain Faff.
Who would win in a footrace between the bandmates?
Jamie, for sure. He has enormously long legs and is real fit and very athletic.
So it would be Captain Faff?
Yeah. It’s Captain Faff, who is paradoxically the fastest and most athletic of us all. He is probably all fit and healthy when he isn’t all strung out all the time.
Alright, well thanks for taking time Nick we really appreciate it man.
Oh, no worries! Sweet. Thank you.
Will Brady is a KCPR DJ and Cal Poly recreation, parks, & tourism junior. He conducted this interview. On KCPR San Luis Obispo 91.3 FM and KCPR.org he spins Pond and other sounds Tuesdays 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. The photograph is courtesy of Nick Allbrook and Pond.