Interview: Pond

Andrew Perry

By Andrew Perry

on 08.13.13 in Interviews

Quite apart from laying down two of the hippest, most forward-looking guitar records in recent memory, Kevin Parker’s Tame Impala has alerted the world to the fact that the new global centre for psychedelic pop is, of all places, Perth, Australia. It has gradually unfolded that members of Parker’s touring band are actually borrowed from another local combo called Pond, who are utterly mind-blowing in their own right.

Their afro’d leader, Nick Allbrook, has described them, poetically, as “loose as a mother bitch.” Where multi-instrumentalist Parker constructs his music, as per Lonerism‘s title, by stacking up self-played tracks, solo, on his computer, Pond is fundamentally the sound of a wild and profoundly unhinged band rocking out at the same time, in the same room, on another planet.

Their hare-brained but brilliant fourth album, Beard, Wives, Denim, landed concurrently with Lonerism in 2012, although, less conveniently, it had been shelved for almost two years prior to that, while shared members Allbrook, Jay Watson and Joe Ryan toured its Impala predecessor, Innerspeaker with Parker (who also used to drum for Pond).

That album has widely been hailed as a revelation, but there’s a strong sense that the world may never quite catch up with Pond. Before us already, there’s a fifth album called Hobo Rocket, which runs the gamut from Butthole Surfers/early Flaming Lips punk-psych mania, to George Harrison-in-a-kaftan melodic bliss-out. Incredibly, there’s also a sixth in the can, called Man, It Feels Like Space Again, which Jay Watson, for one, has proclaimed to be their masterpiece.

As if that weren’t enough to take in, Allbrook, who’s since quit touring with Tame, has his finger in a number of other pies including Mink Mussel Creek (with Parker) and Allbrook-Avery (with Pond’s current drummer, Cam Avery). Andrew Perry spoke with Allbrook, 25, to find out more about this inspirational Antipodean psych splurge.

Is the basic difference between Tame Impala and Pond, that Kevin makes his stuff solo, within a computer’s virtual infinity, while Pond happens raw and alive?

Yeah, hopefully there’s a bit of that, although we do our fair share of laptop input. But we do enjoy the explosion that happens with doing something live. Maybe it’s because none of us are as proficient or self-confident as Kevin, so it’s always nice to have comrades to share the blame.

Media pontificators have been coming up with the theories about the sudden explosion of cool music out of Perth, and its comparative remoteness on the West Coast of Australia. Plausible or piffle?

I wouldn’t have a clue. Maybe it stems from isolation. I’ve seen some bands in places like London, Paris and Berlin, that I think start out having a really deep idea of what they wanna be conceived as. They don’t wanna be a dumb rock band, they wanna be an intelligent, post-dubstep psych-shoegaze electro thing, or they wanna be an energetic live band, or be considered more like a bedroom producer. They think about what scene, what record label, and what ad are they gonna try and get put on.

But in Perth — it’s not that everyone’s so pure that they don’t want that, it’s just that no one has any idea that that is possible, or that it even exists. So you’re starting out playing music because you just watched an MC5 documentary and, like, yes, I want to do a big balls-out rock band, so you cobble together some friends and it just seems to make it come from somewhere in between the legs a bit more.

What stuff did you grow up listening to?

Like every kid who doesn’t have any kind of idea about any sort of intellectual property of music, I started listening to Michael Jackson, and that’s all I could listen to, and that’s all I wanted to listen to. I reckon that’s the most viscerally appealing music there is. It’s so danceable, it’s the sort of thing that would make embryos vibrate nicely.

Then I got really into hip-hop and stuff, like Beck, A Tribe Called Quest and Beastie Boys, and then my dad got me some Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull and The Who for Christmas, and that put everything into another spin. All of those things are of equal value and spawned their own direction for me — hip-hop, super-pop and ’70s metal!

The Jacko influence shows up in your funky falsetto on tracks like “Elegant Design.”

Yeah, we love that. Every communal trip in a van involves Thriller.

Your first three albums are impossible to find these days, so briefly just talk us through from the conception of the group up to fourth album Beard, Wives, Denim. Did you start out as a pretty noisy, chaotic band?

When we started out, we were just each doing exactly what we wanted to do, and putting it all in one band. Then we figured we could play live shows, with Jay drumming, me playing guitar, and Joe playing bass, and just do a kind of Royal Trux-cum-Cream power trio. Then we decided if we were going to do that, we may as well just get pretty much everyone else we know who can hold a stick to be in the band, and dedicate ourselves to being brain-burrowing, commune-dwelling psychedelic lunatics. Then we decided to start making pop songs, because we really, really like pop music.

Songs like “AloneAFlameAFlower,” off Hobo Rocket, are all about piledriving freak-rock riffage, reminiscent of The Flaming Lips circa 1989′s In A Priest Driven Ambulance, or Butthole Surfers’ Locust Abortion Technician. When did you get turned onto that stuff?

I really got into it just before we made Hobo Rocket — when I was doing Mink Mussel Creek with Kevin. Then I got more on the doom side of it, listening to bands like Boris and Sleep. So I just got well onto that track, on more of the ’90s punk side — stuff that’s like a strobelight-strapped-to-your-forehead, chained-to-a-bed type psychedelia. I like that kind of ridiculousness.

Are you actually psychedelic in the Jim Morrison sense, of experimenting with hallucinogens, and then reporting back “from the other side” in your music?

Er, I think properly powerful psychedelic experiences, for me, haven’t really informed the music any more than any other emotional or physical or intellectual stimulation. It’s just another interesting facet in life, like reading a book, or having a thought, or meeting a person. But it is interesting, like everything else, and informs the words that you want to listen to, or speak.

What do you write about in your lyrics? Do you have a literary bent?

So many books have given me so much to think about. I’m a compulsive reader, and I try and actually give books my thought. So, if I’m reading all the time, and trying to think about them all the time, it seems like a whole lot of my brain power is dedicated to literature. Reading Kurt Vonnegut and Franz Kafka, you’re getting taken to a really strange dark world, and looking at everything from an odd angle, and seeing the silliness, and the ridiculousness, and the sublime parts of life. And Kurt Vonnegut — being inspired to look at things from this guy’s angle, which is just no angle! I don’t know what angle he looks at the world from, but it’s beyond me, beyond physics! That’s awesome!

So you go from that almost philosophical, heady rumination, to the dementedly physical churning noise that closes out “Midnight Mass (At The Market Street Payphone).” It’s pretty excessive!

Yeah. I try not think about whether something’s considered too far or not.

Who’s the dude mumbling on “Hobo Rocket,” the track?

That’s Cowboy John. He’s a musician, artist, vagabond, eccentric, fucking loon and fashion icon in Perth. I don’t know where he lives or what he does, he’s just this great guy who’ll rock up at the studio, always wearing all his beads and shark’s teeth. Sometimes he’ll just be asleep in the garden when we get there, and he’ll wake up and bum a cigarette off us. Sometimes he just rocks up in a sequined cape. And after he’d been going there for so long, then the guy at this studio somehow got him to make an album there, and it’s fucking cool. You can stream it and have a listen, it’s really bad-ass, really honest — psychedelia from someone who lives in a more psychedelic world than any of us can imagine.

And he asks you in the track, “What kinda drugs are you guys on?”!

We should be asking him! Who knows what…No, actually, I don’t think he’s on any drug, he’s just out there.

Your sidekick Jay Watson has been saying you’ve got a masterpiece already in the can, ready to release after Hobo Rocket. How come?

It was just us being scatter-brained and impulsive, I guess. We wrote lots of songs, and got this really good album together, then went on tour for ages, saying, “We need time, we need to really put in some good concentration for this record, let’s just wait to record it.” Then by the time we were back in Perth, I’d written five more songs, and Jay and Joe had written a bunch of songs, and we started demoing them for fun, and thought, “Let’s make a quick EP so we don’t get bored of these ones, because otherwise we’ll have to do the one we were planning on doing, and then we’ll never get to do these ones, so let’s just make an EP now, and then we’ll still do the next one.” Then the EP expanded out with more new songs into an album, and then it just became the next album.

So Hobo Rocket was just like a vomit that no one was meant to see, but it turned out quite nice, so we took photos, and posted it on the internet and shit. That’s right — Hobo Rocket is vomit. I can’t be offended by any review after that.

And the other record? Is that more of a pop masterpiece?

It’s poppy, I don’t know if it’s a masterpiece. They’re just appealing, well-constructed songs.

Sharing members with Tame, does it become increasingly inconvenient or restrictive, or even a pain in the ass?

No, not at all. It’s fantastic having enforced time off. It’s brilliant. Every band needs it. Every band needs another band.

Has Kevin leaving to do Tame full-time helped to mark off Pond as a bit more separate?

It’s always been just me, Joe and Jay, really. He was just our hired goon.

Does it amuse you all that, in Britain and America, Kevin is suddenly being considered as some kind of post-millennial cosmic genius?

Fuck, yeah! It’s as funny as shit, every day. Except, by the same token, he is a cosmic genius, so…

We’re told that onstage, you’re a fairly active showman, hanging from the ceiling, etc. Do you enjoy the live experience?

Yeah, it’s pretty fun. I get some exercise. Try and make some friends for an hour a night. Then go back to being me in a bedroom.

Who are the great showmen, for you?

Wayne Coyne and The Flaming Lips. It’s just a gigantic idea and experience — the most spectacular live thing I’ve ever seen. Beyoncé. The bloke from Death Grips. Ozzy Osbourne.

Finally, we hear that, for your Allbrook/Avery project, you’ve recorded an album with East London’s coolest group, The Horrors. What happened there?

We had a bunch of songs that me and Cam wrote, and we went down into the studio and had a shitload of fun for a week, and recorded all the songs, and more that weren’t songs. It was with Rhys [Webb, bassist], and Jason Holt from Spectrum, and Coffin Joe played some drums, and Josh [Third, guitar] and Jerome from The History Of Apple Pie were twiddling knobs and playing a bit.

Tom [Furse, keyboards] played a bit of synthesizer, but mainly pointed to gadgets and unlocked little secrets for me and Cam. He’s one of those guys, where you feel like smoking a joint, and then Tom comes in, and one appears before he’s sat down. It’s like making a cup of tea for his grandma, or taking off his shoes. He walks in the door and rolls a big spliff.

This was all in their place in Dalston, it was pretty excessive and fun. Maybe it was for our benefit as tourists. Me and Cam were always writing hyper-crusty crack-addled pop music, like Royal Trux and The Velvet Underground, but they turned it into this musical tourist exploration of London subculture, doing long dub jams, and hyper-fast crack-punk. [Sighs.] We’ll put it out one day.