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Chatting hip-hop influencing Taylor Swift and psych rock, to making music that is just fucking weird with Nick Allbrook

Nicholas Allbrook is one of the most enigmatic characters in Australian music. Frontman of psych purveyors POND, ex-bassist of Tame Impala, artist, writer and top bloke, Allbrook has spent the last year focusing more on his solo work. Walrus is his latest offering, a colourful, experimental expression of his weird and wonderful mind. We had the chance to chat with him about his friendship with The Laurels, hip-hop influencing everyone from himself to Taylor Swift, and making music that is just fucking weird.

Nick Allbrook walrus

Illustration by Ceelo Dee

HAPPY: You’ve spent a bit of time recently touring around with The Laurels, and I’ve noticed a few similarities in your new EP Walrus to the direction they took with Zodiac K, mostly in the hip-hop influence. Are you guys using similar techniques in your recording, or do you have any mutual influences?

ALLBROOK: Oh I can’t compare with the Laurels guys. They’ve got this full J Dilla setup, real immaculate record collections, like massive stacks. They’re pretty hip-hop obsessive. I didn’t set up anything like that, because I’m either not dedicated or smart enough, I just had my record player and a [Roland] 404, and a 505. I used a lot of that kind of stuff.

HAPPY:  Was hip-hop something that really influenced you in your songwriting for Walrus?

ALLBROOK: It influences everyone today. It’s kind of like the um, the musical lingua franca. Like trap beats and stuff influence everyone from Taylor Swift to… me. It’s kind of got it’s fingers in everyones pies.

HAPPY: I guess if trap is influencing stuff like Taylor Swift then pop music is all the better for it right?

ALLBROOK: Yeah, well you know, I’m not a purist when it comes to that stuff, I reckon that’s fantastic if it makes things sound more interesting and appealing.

HAPPY: How did you meet The Laurels? You guys go a while back right?

ALLBROOK: Oh so long ago. Back when I was in school – or maybe just a bit after I left – I used to get on my parents iMac and go trawling through Myspace looking for good music, and I fell in love with this Laurels band who I thought were like mysterious rock gods cos I’d never met them, or never heard of them. Then I started doing Tame Impala and they asked about tour supports so I dredged up this old memory about The Laurels and low and behold they were supporting us. And we’ve been pretty tight ever since.

HAPPY: I had a chat with them a while back and they seem pretty fond of you, so I think the feelings are mutual.

ALLBROOK: Isn’t that lovely to hear. You could never hope to meet more lovely folk.

HAPPY: You split the recording of Walrus between Melbourne and Perth right? Do you feel like each city permeates the record in different ways, or was there a pretty organic shift between the two?

ALLBROOK: Na, I don’t think cities really – not any more anyway – affect it [songwriting]. It’s more my own headspace and whatever I happen to be thinking or feeling at the time. Actually now that I think about it, although I could never quantify it, I’m sure the city I’m in would influence me in some way. Like whether it’s spending a shit load of time in my room because it’s fucking cold as hell outside, or whether it’s sunny and glorious outside maybe I wouldn’t be writing or recording at all. I think that would have influenced it [Walrus] quite a bit – being in Melbourne rather than being in Preston [Perth] – and just the physical time spent sitting with gear, fucking with stuff.

HAPPY: So did you record the bare bones in Melbourne, then move everything over to Perth, or was it the other way around?

ALLBROOK: I think I’d pretty much finished recording everything by the time I moved back to Perth.

HAPPY: And I read you had a bit of help from Kevin Parker with mixing. Was that actually the case or was it solely you?

ALLBROOK: Ahh yeah, he helped, but it was more like I just came over here [to Perth] and I’d already done some mixes beforehand. See, it’s a big difference between me and Kev. Like the highest authority, which is what makes him so fucking good, is Kev. So if he thinks it’s a good mix, then that’s great. Whereas with me, I’m like the most pitiful little pest when it comes to sound, so I’ve got to ask other people.

HAPPY: I really enjoyed that essay you wrote a little while back about Perth, and the way it fosters, or doesn’t foster creativity. Although you didn’t write so much in Perth this time, are those feelings still there?

ALLBROOK: I mean, everything has changed for me, because quite a few things have happened in-between starting the idea of making music for myself and now. I dunno, maybe it has all changed because there is all this light being shone on Perth now. But in that essay I wasn’t, although it sounds like I was, talking specifically about Perth. It was more just about this ephemeral notion of any precedent of success, or any possibility of mainstream success; which could be in Perth, it could be for the King of Russia, or it could be in Wollongong or wherever. If creative success isn’t ever put in front of you, the only reason you’re ever going to do it is because there is this beast inside you that won’t shut up. Whereas in a lot of other places, the beast is put in sequin and platform shoes in front of every cafe every day. But it’s not really about any one specific place, I was just trying to express the fact that creativity in its most relevant form happens in a mysterious way, from inside, it doesn’t have anything to do with getting radio play or reviews.

HAPPY: How does the songwriting for your solo stuff differ from say POND? Is it very different seeing as with POND everyone kind of writes alone then brings it to the table as a band?

ALLBROOK: Well that’s it, it is very much the same for me. Except I think a lot of times with people doing their own thing, like either Gum [Jay Watson] or me, it offers complete indulgence with say an aesthetic or a sound that you would maybe find requires a bit more diplomatic manoeuvring to get past the committee. Saying to the guys, “Okay, I’m going to do this thing with trap hi-hats” and although I don’t really have any particular idea of how it’s going to go it’s just like, “Trust me it’s going to be fucking cool” [laughs], that would just be really hard to float through in some cases.

HAPPY: What do you like indulging in, musically?

ALLBROOK: Musically, I suppose, stuff that is really kind of alienation – or for lack of a better word just really fucking weird. You know, abstract voices moving around and things that probably belong more in the backdrop of an exhibition than actually being on a sellable musicband disc. Strange and abrasive and confusing ideas and vocals, or production.

HAPPY: Do you ever feel like you have to reign anything in sometimes?

ALLBROOK:  Yeah well you know, when you’re in a band things can sometimes get their sharp, pointy edges sanded off as a means of mediation…

HAPPY: And on Walrus there are moments where the singing style is so abrasive, or even just a whisper, which is pretty different from any of the POND records, was this a planned thing or was it something that just lends itself naturally to your style of music?

ALLBROOK: Yeah it was just natural. I didn’t really have much of an idea. Singing is actually something where I’ll do so many different takes to try something different, there’s like Yell-y Nick’, full-voiced kind of [does an operatic bellow] Nick, and there’s Low-Crooner Nick, and in the end it was like “The only thing that is going to work for this song is pretty much whispering.” 

HAPPY: What else are you spending your time doing? What else is influencing your art?

ALLBROOK: I’ve been spending a lot of time in this studio doing more visual art. I’ve been getting ready to go through a long tramp through the wilderness, which is making me pretty excited. I’m going down South, beautiful South West Australia, for a month.

HAPPY: And what’s the plan with the record, are you going to take it on tour after that or are you opting to just lay low with it?

ALLBROOK: Yeah i’ve got a few shows just sort of scattered about. Doing some that is more for the album, as in not Walrus, but one that’s gonna come sometime in the near future that I did with a couple of other people, we’re gonna do some shows with a band, which will be pretty fucking fun.

HAPPY: What’s the story with this album?

ALLBROOK: It’s way way way more organic. It’s kind of the exact opposite of this EP in every possible way, aside from the fact that it was me, with things like cello and piano and me yelling unclearly.

HAPPY: And is it going to be Nick Allbrook record?

ALLBROOK: Yeah… I suppose it’d be Nick Allbrook. It feel a bit rough doing that cos’ the other people were such powerful forces in it, but it probably will be. I don’t think we’ll do any like full tours but we will at least do some stuff.

HAPPY: And with you doing your stuff and GUM doing his solo work, what’s the future of POND looking like? Is it always something that is just gestating under the surface?

ALLBROOK: Yeah yeah, it gonna keep happening, we’re gonna record another album over Summer.

HAPPY: Just pop another out?

ALLBROOK: Yeah we’ll just smash it out.

Walrus is out now via Spinning Top. Nick will be playing At First Sight festival on Saturday the 14th of November in Sydney.

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October 21, 2015

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