A Decade In, Pond Just Want To Dance With You
On new album, 'Tasmania', the Perth outfit wanted to give some love to the body.
The last decade has seen a collective of musicians of the psychedelic persuasion go from up-and-comers to global stars with a cult-like following. Hell, people even started up a mock-religion for its central figure last year, such is their lasting power.
One key member of this inner circle is Nicholas Allbrook, an eccentric and prolific multi-instrumentalist who has lent his expertise to a myriad of different projects. He’s served time in Tame Impala’s live band, he’s made some fascinating solo records and — perhaps most notably — he’s been at the helm of Pond, who remain one of the most unpredictable bands in contemporary Australian music.
You just never know where the band will head next from a stylistic standpoint — and that still rings true as the band prepare the release of their eighth studio album, entitled Tasmania.
On a warm Perth morning (and a hot Sydney afternoon), Allbrook spoke of his collaborative nature, Pond’s adventures in dance music and Tame Impala headlining Coachella.
Normally, a songwriter is writing for one of two things: themselves, or the band they play in. Not only do you do both, but you’re also part of several other bands and projects at any given time. Do you write on a case-by-case scenario, focusing on one thing at a time, or is it more to do with when songs come to you?
I suppose I just write. [laughs] That can come out in a lot of different ways, and end up in a lot of different iterations. The trickier thing is finding a window to record. With Pond, we try to just block out a time when we can all record away from touring and our other commitments — we have to be dedicated to whatever’s being worked on when we have that time together.
You can tell each Pond record is a Pond record, but there’s also enough key differences between each of them that they are able to stand on their own accord stylistically. What influenced the musical direction of Tasmania when you were writing it?
It’s really a song-by-song thing for us. It’s pretty hard to just put a whole album down to one sort of influence — different songs are made for different reasons; and we get something out of all of them. I suppose the one thing that we all wanted to get out of this record was that we wanted to dance.
With this album, we really wanted to give some more love to the body. We tried to keep our grooves really consistent, and we tried to play with an extra sense of funkiness to what we were doing.
Having said that, every song goes about that in different ways. It has its own place on the record, and it serves its purpose.
There are several multi-instrumentalists in Pond. How do you all go about divvying up parts?
It’s all down to who can be fucked recording. [laughs] I played a bunch on this record, but we swap around for almost every song. We all have access to the stems — all the layers of the song that are going to go into it — and we can add to those each as we please. We’re always coming up with ideas, so whoever has the time to lay something down is always invited to.
We all had a go playing synths, and we all had a go playing guitar. The bass was mainly me and Gum [AKA Jay Watson], while the drums was more of a revolving door. It’s hard to keep track of, because we could be adding parts in from anywhere — I might have just recorded something in my hotel room, or Gum might have just added in a stem from tour. We’ll just keep going until we all agree that it’s finished.
There must be something liberating about the way Pond operates musically. So many bands are gridlocked by expectations and what people think they should sound like, whereas Pond have this ambiguity to them where the next thing you put out could sound like almost anything and it wouldn’t feel like some sort of artistic betrayal.
That’s very kind of you to say. I certainly hope that’s how people feel. [laughs] I think it just comes down to the way that all of us have been conditioned to play. As young people, we all had these formative musical experiences that shaped the way that we operate in bands, and it’s still a big part of why we all do what we do.
“You both need to know when to push forward, but you also both need to know when to sit down and shut the fuck up for a bit.”
We try and make our collaborations as natural as possible, and always with that human touch to it. Even if we went off and made a house record, I’m sure someone would suggest tracking some live drums somewhere down the track. [laughs]
You mentioned the collaboration within the band, which is obviously something that has to factor into a band that has multiple members writing and playing different parts and instruments. Collaboration has been a huge part of your musical career — what do you feel is the key to making it work?
It’s this super-complex, nuanced balance. You have to find one another interesting. You have to work through the disagreements. You have to learn ways to compromise on both sides. You both need to know when to push forward, but you also both need to know when to sit down and shut the fuck up for a bit. There are so many factors, and they’re all important.
Were there any tracks on Tasmania that presented themselves as a particular challenge?
There’s always a few bits and pieces for everyone on each record that are like that. For this record, it might be something like ‘The Boys Are Killing Me,’ the song ‘Shame’ and even the actual track ‘Tasmania’ itself.
Hearing tracks with the house beats brought in for the first time was definitely a point of contention — I was like, “Really? We’re doing this?” [laughs] Personally, I hit a point with all of those songs where I was just genuinely wondering what we were trying to achieve. It was also a problem at times when I was bringing songs over from their demo version and, for whatever reason, I just couldn’t replicate the feel that demo had.
It’s one of these things I’ve always had — it’s this little voice in your head, just going “…nah.” [laughs] It’s shit, man! I guess it’s just a part of what being creative is.
It’s imperative that you find your way through it and don’t just start cutting all the parts you don’t like. If you do that, you’re not replacing it with anything new – you’re just stripping away the song.
Lastly, it would be remiss to not mention the fact a certain band you used to play bass for is going to be headlining Coachella this coming April. Do you ever feel like the Pete Best of Tame Impala when things like that get announced?
[laughs] No! Not at all.
You don’t miss it?
I mean, I miss the camaraderie. But I don’t regret my decision at all. Everything I have got to make musically since then has made that sacrifice all the more worth it to me. I got to play some massive shows as a part of Tame Impala — they were fucking huge — and I’m incredibly grateful I got to be involved.
Headlining Coachella is a big deal, and I totally get it. At the same time, though, I’ve seen how far Kevin [Parker] and those guys have come. It’s not even really a big surprise anymore when things like this happen — when I heard the news, I was like, “Yeah, of course they are.” [laughs]
With this slot, Tame Impala are only the second-ever Australian band to headline at Coachella. The only other one was AC/DC.
Is that right? [laughs] That’s so sick.
Pond’s new album Tasmania will be released on March 1. They’ll be heading out on an Australian tour in early March, for all dates and details head here.
David James Young is a writer and podcaster. No gags this time — Pond absolutely whip arse. That’s all. Tweet him about it: @DJYwrites.
Photo Credit: Pooneh Ghana