For a band that named their debut album Psychedelic Mango, Pond are surprisingly adroit with their cerebral fuzz-rock. On LP8, the quartet take a decidedly sparkly approach to the humble concept album. Words by Matt Doria.
Ah, Tasmania! Without it, we wouldn’t have the 1980 cult classic Manganinnie, cold schooners of Cascade to wash away our weekends, or a minor addiction to Cadbury Dairy Milk. And yet, Australia’s lowly little underdog is relegated to the butt of us mainlanders’ jokes – hilarious, sure, but admittedly a tad bit cruel. Well, that’s all about to change, if Perthian psych-rock powerhouse Pond have their way! Their transcendental eighth album is named after Australia’s most often forgotten state, and is sure to finally put the little nugget of land that could on the map.
It’s also somewhat of a sequel to their 2017 effort The Weather, as we learn from vocalist, guitarist and bassist Joseph ‘Shiny Joe’ Ryan. “It carries a few similar themes about Australia, and how we’re lucky to be here,” he says.
The narrative behind Tasmania is equally as ambiguous for us as it is for much of the band. As Ryan explains, “We left a lot of the songwriting up to Nick [Allbrook, vocalist, guitarist, keyboardist, bassist, flutist and occasional drummer] so that it had a bit more of continuity. We did that a little bit on The Weather as well, but we really let Nick take the load on this one. And he totally delivered – the kid’s a bit of a wordsmith, it turns out!”
The end result is an album that feels remarkably personal – there’s a consistent characteristic magnetism that flows through Tasmania, and a unique kind of one-on-one intimacy struck between Allbrook and the listener. But as far as the album’s musicality goes, Pond laid all their cards out on the table.
“We all contributed equally with the instrumentals and the chord progressions,” Ryan says. “But y’know, instead of my song being about space or whatever, and Jay’s [‘Gumby’ Watson, vocalist, guitarist, keyboardist, bassist, drummer and synthlord] song being about the edge of the world, we let Nick write most of the lyrics on top of our ideas so that it maintained a level of conceptuality.”
Reflected fantastically in their mind-melting menagerie of vibe and vehemence, the band’s musical synergy is decidedly ringent; there’s no formula to their fury, and no pecking order when it comes to whose input makes the cut. “We all go hard with our ideas,” Ryan declares, “And whoever’s got the best one drives the bus, y’know? So a song could start out with the synths, or a drum beat, and we’ll layer it up from there.”
This time around, that meant there were less guitars being thrown into the mix. “Once we built up the proverbial fruit basket with our synthesisers and whatnot, we used the guitars to really drive the bus home,” Ryan explains in what might be the first double metaphor we’ve printed in Australian Guitar. “We’d try to keep it to one or two guitars per song – maybe one 12-string acoustic, and one electric.”
Hold up… What!? This is Pond we’re talking about – the band whose warbly, fuzz-soaked guitars are as vital to their sound as a hot cup of Milo is to a sleeve of double-coat Tim Tams.
“Well, I mean,” Ryan starts, knowing he’d just sparked a fire he has no chance of putting out, “The guitar has just been used so much already, y’know? I think we’ve just discovered a love for synthesisers of late, which has been pretty cool. But that being said, it’s a totally different story live. My pedalboard is jam-packed with craziness – I’ve got about two or three AB switches in there, and they’re rigged up to vocoders and [Electro-Harmonix] Mel9s, SYNTH9s and all kinds of stuff. So when we’re onstage, I can actually play a lot of the vocoders parts and synth parts with my guitar – and then when it’s necessary, the actual guitar parts and whatnot.”
While there are decidedly few guitar parts littered throughout Tasmania, those that do pop up are nothing short of magical. Ryan played through a notably impressive pedal chain, featuring a trio of Electro-Harmonix favourites – the aforementioned Mel9 and SYNTH9, plus a Nano Memory Toy – a Z-Fx fuzz unit, Diamond Vibrato and Eterna, all through a custom NXR compressor and equaliser. And for the guitar itself?
“Our stage tech was kind enough to lend me his original ’67 Telecaster,” he says. “He got it secondhand, and someone had spray-painted it gold so it looked pretty gnarly. And we’ve used that guitar on most of our albums now, just because it’s got such a great dynamic range between the pickup selection and whatnot. I think whoever spray-painted it switched out the pickups, too, so they’re not original – I’d be lying to you if I knew what they were, to be honest, but they certainly sound good!
“Gov’s also got a nice 12-string Fender that we used quite a lot. He hasn’t changed the strings since he bought it – also secondhand – so they’re quite dead, but it actually sounds really good. And then Nick was using his Mustang, which I believe is also a ’67 model, actually!”