The album that began with Pond walking into the studio and realising they didn't have enough guitar gear. Interview and photos by Peter Zaluzny.
There's a wild sound wafting out of Perth. A beautiful, multicoloured haze of layered guitars, tearing synths and vocals drenched in reverb rolling up and down the tonal spectrum. Walls of sound drift through space and deep down into the bones that make you want to cast off the shackles of societal "norms" so you can just dance like nobody's watching.
Look, Perth probably isn't completely unique in this regard, but it's the city that gave birth to Pond and their delightfully one-of-a-kind front man Nick Allbrook. That alone, makes the psych-rock scene resonating out of the west coast worthy of note, especially when you sit down and listen to their most recent effort, The Weather. While Pond records have always ticked the genre's stylistic boxes (with a nice dash of humour for good measure), The Weather captures a certain honesty, one that sweeps the listener off their feet into Pond's little corner of the world.
It's a place where songs can be based on meditations about their home city, stupid songs about drugs or their desire to own a vintage 8-track recording console. It seems a little random on the outside but for Pond, it was honest stuff projected from their personal perspectives which helped everything on the album fall into place without anyone realising. And it is what it is, one of those great records that makes sense if you get it, if you can fall into it as naturally as the guys did when they were putting the tracks together.
But it took some older minds to just let go, to be themselves and think about everything that flowed out of the album. For the first time, according to Allbrook, the voices you can hear on this record are 100 percent Pond, 100 percent sincere, straight-talking songs - aside from some monkey samples, they were added for an entirely different reason. Well, sort of.
So apparently The Weather is a concept album. What's it about?
Well, that's actually a misquote. I gave a little spiel to our publicist about it and actually wrote "this is NOT a concept album" and they just took out those three important letters [laughs]. What I was saying was it's not a concept album, it just kind of all became a bit more thematically structured than our usual s**t. It generally seems to be about different perspectives of Perth and Australia, many varying perspectives whether that's sarcastic piss taking, personal, imaginary, past, present or future. Just general ruminations about the place we live.
Why did you find those topics so intriguing?
It was just the lyrics I'd written for all the songs, most just had some sort of stuff like that. It was a part of the album before we even realised it, all the lyrics were there, like a dumb song about meth and other songs about the same thing but from a completely different angle. And it's really important to us, we can't talk from any other perspectives, just our perspective, and if we were talking about anything else in any other accents, I felt like it would be untruthful.
That's interesting because you've been making music for a while now, but this is the first time you've created an album like this. Do you think you could have tackled these themes in younger iterations of Pond?
Oh yeah it's definitely an older thing. When you're younger, there's a very different embryonic understanding of poetry and profundity, and that's pretty much at a very base level. You use big words, big obtuse words that sort of somehow remind you of Tom Waits or some s**t and you think that's good lyrics. But it's just not, unless it's honest. Things with less words and less syllables per word can be infinitely more profound than anything else if someone's talking straight.
Does that mean The Weather is the most honest record you've put together?
For Pond, definitely, by a lot.
What was it like pouring so much of yourself into the record? That's such an overwhelming idea for someone else that, say, puts their emotions in a bottle and leaves them there.
Well luckily my bottle is this semi-permeable membrane that is popular music [laughs]. I'd always pour myself into the lyrics but it was a lot more veiled, and maybe I wasn't thinking as much in the first place. Back then, they were just like, these really fleeting concepts that I might have thought about for the five seconds it took me to write it. Now, I love writing a lot and it sounds better to me when I read it back. When it sounds more like me, when I'm being honest, it's a pretty easy way to feel like you're doing something worthwhile.
You do find the most profound stuff comes up when you're being yourself hey? In all walks of life.
Absolutely! There's no other way, speaking truthfully is originality, straight away, because there's no one else in the world like you. If you're being truthful, that's 100 percent unique. Even if it's not someone's f**king book of the year or something that's 9/10 on Pitchfork or something getting an investigative journalism prize, it's still totally unique!
Humour is a big part of your identity in that respect, there's always been an element of it in Pond when you consider songs from previous records like "Heroic Shart" or "Elvis' Flaming Star." But the jokes didn't seem as pronounced this time around. Does The Weather still pack a sense of humour?
I thought there was a lot of real funny parts [laughs], but I guess it's pretty dark as well. A lot of the humour in previous stuff is kind of dark too, I have a pretty... I guess we've all got a pretty sick and sad sense of humour sometimes and on this record, the world's getting sicker and sadder it seems, so the humour gets ramped up in terms of sarcasm and disgust. But like "Heroic Shart," that was just a name with absolutely nothing to do with the song, based on the idea that no one's going to give a f**k what I say in this song, so I can just call it whatever the hell I want. The idea was thinking about how easily I could throw away art by putting two letters on the front of it, then changing the name and calling it "Heroic Shart." It goes in the bin, along with everything else and it did! I kind of proved my point.
The songs feel a little more pop driven too. Did you use the same gear or mix it up to match the shift in sound?
No we used the same guitars generally. We just took our usual pedal setups and guitars. It was pretty ridiculous, when we finally got into Kev's [Kevin Parker] studio to start, we were looking around and it was like "wait a second... we have f**k all instruments!" [laughs]. It was all synths, random doo-dads, computers and one guitar each. No acoustic guitar, no bass, no amp, but we sorted that out eventually.
What was your go to guitar?
I always use an old Fender Mustang, I don't know how old, it's 60-something? Is that possible, did they make them back then? Anyway, it's the only good guitar I've ever bought, it's lovely. It's small and thin, and it's simpler than a Jaguar. It's got a whammy bar, not as cool a whammy as a long Jaguar one, I like the long ones, but f**k it, it's pretty cool. And because it's really, really old and well kept, I think the neck is even thinner than usual because it's been worn down so much. It's like this smooth, beautiful, wooden thin thing on the back. And it's red!
That's the guitar you use on stage right? It has a lot of interesting markings around the body.
That's the Japanese alphabet in no particular order, I put it on, I thought it was amazing. And there's the rainbow flag love-heart, to maybe occasionally remind all the rock dudes rockin' at the shows to keep an open mind.
How do you recreate such an intense wall of sound on stage? Do you take all the gear on the road?
Nah, we're not doing that. There's a lot of samples for the drum machine stuff and I mean Joe's [Shiny Joe Ryan - guitar] got this Mellotron guitar pedal which... I can't remember who made it, but it's very cool and tracks crazily well and makes his guitar sound like various iterations of the Mellotron [keyboard]. That's one thing, and there's some midi synths, a bunch of s**t on samples that gets set off to make some of the essential but too hard to recreate sounds. I've got some formant shifting synthesiser vocal effect and stuff like that, so we get there in the end.
Yeah you're really into drenching your vocals in reverb and distortion.
I just want to do that more and more, and I've been trying to do that more and more with my solo EPs, albums and stuff. I'll f**k around with really trying to fuck the voice so it really doesn't sound like me and no one has any attachment to my s**t-eating face speaking the lyrics or anything like that.
Does that mean your live pedal selection is pretty simple?
There's not that much, there's a fuzz delay, distortion and a vibrato. The main one that stands out actually is the BOSS Harmonist pedal that I use for octave jumps and stuff. And the Peppermint fuzz has a real strong gate on it, so when you do octave jumps and really gated high compression buzz, it sounds real computerised. That's how I do those lead things.
That kind of complex, multilayered wall of sound stuff that you do is often seen as genius song writing. Every single element has a purpose that's part of this intricate musical map, even stuff like the monkey sounds at the end of "All I Want for Xmas is a Tascam 388." But do you ever put things in just because it sounds funny or cool?
Yeah, f**k, totally! We were listening to the end of "All I want for Xmas" as we were finishing it then Kev just brought up the sound effects bank on his keyboard, and him and Joe were just pressing buttons and pissing themselves laughing for ages. Kev was like "nah man, we're keeping that monkey, there's no way I'm letting you take that out." And we were like well, if Kev wants to put in monkey sounds, I guess that's a pretty rare opportunity so we'd better take it.
Okay so that's the true story, but now you should totally make up some kind of profound explanation for the monkeys.
[Laughs] okay. Materialism, in "All I Want for Xmas is a Tascam 388" the monkey is a commentary on the base devolution of humanity because of materialist urges. We're all primates.
The Weather is available now on CD, vinyl and via digital download. Check out the Pond webstore for more information.
Catch Pond on tour this September.
Friday September 15th | The Gov, Adelaide
Saturday September 16th | Fremantle Prison, Perth
Thursday September 21st | Corner Hotel, Melbourne (SOLD OUT)
Friday September 22nd | Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Saturday September 23rd | Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Sunday September 24th | The Triffid, Brisbane