Pond’s Nick Albrook shares how he and his band turned a mosaic of improvised jam sessions into a colourful and impressionistic album.
Pond’s upcoming album 9 is as much an album as it is a cinematic masterpiece, taking its listeners through a vivid psych-pop landscape bursting with adventure and timeless fun.
Happy spoke with Nick Allbrook, leader-singer from Pond, about songwriting as an oblique form of artistic expression and the influences behind 9, including ‘90s action blockbuster aesthetic and historical figures.
HAPPY: How are you?
POND: I’m OK, I’m all right.
HAPPY: That’s good to hear. So you’re in the UK at the moment?
POND: Yeah, yeah.
HAPPY: How’s that?
POND: It’s alright. It’s sunny today, so that’s good.
HAPPY: That’s splendid. When the weather’s good, my mood instantly elevated. I’m one of those people.
POND: I mean, the whole world changes when you shine a light on it.
HAPPY: Oh yeah, definitely. So, I love the new album, it’s so exciting. There’s so much going on, but it works really nicely as a body of work. You did say it’s like a biography or an observation about the little things in life and other people’s lives. Can you tell me a bit about what you think might have brought this on?
POND: Um, yeah, I don’t know. It might’ve just been weariness. I think a lot of people like looking at and talking about the troubles in the world. Although it’s unavoidable it’s kind of… I want to not… You want to not do it, like it’s fucking tiring and sad and hard. So, I think to get some kind of joy and inspiration from writing lyrics, I was kind of just focusing on things that I knew and brought me joy. But every fucking conversation we have every day, you try and talk about something pleasant, and you end up talking about something really heavy – the world burning or something like that. That’s exactly the same as the lyrics – I tried to write about my favourite slippers, and ended up talking about something much more grim or weighty.
HAPPY: Was that what sort of led to you writing Toast? Because Toast was sort of written about that disparity between the rich and the poor that you noticed when you went back home to Western Australia after the bushfires?
POND: Yeah, yeah, I don’t know. I mean, that was just kind of… I’m not sure where that started. I was thinking about the… yeah. It wasn’t so much about the direct aftermath of those bushfires, it was just that I was writing it in the climate of that happening. The idea that…all around the world, there’s such a thing of people enjoying frivolity while really bad stuff happens. That’s a really fucking basic way to put it, but I guess that’s what it is. I feel like such a dumbass saying it like that, but…
HAPPY: It’s funny that you say those heavy things that come from conversation were what led to you writing, you know, these sorts of lyrics and making this tone of music. It’s funny how such a dark thing birthed such a lively, upbeat, and happy body of work! I just think it’s interesting how you can choose to push your experience in the world to, I don’t know… come across in a nicer, lighter way.
POND: Yeah, yeah, well, yeah, I guess that comes in… Yeah. I don’t have anything to say.
HAPPY: That’s OK. So, I did notice that even though each song is different, and has its own sort of melody, it all ties together nicely. When you were making the album, obviously a lot of external influences came in there. Were there other mediums or bodies of works that sort of influenced the tone in the album, because it feels like it’s almost a cinematic piece and each song is its own chapter!
POND: Oh, yeah, yeah, we were really into like, you know, 1999 action blockbuster aesthetic.
POND: Rambo! Nah, nah, nah. I’m talking later. I’m talking like small glasses and lime green, like The Matrix and Blade. I can recite Blade, it’s a huge influence. And the Godzilla soundtrack.
HAPPY: Oh wow, that’s sick.
POND: Oh hell yeah. Basically, anything with a lime green colour scheme and a long duster. And yeah, I mean…
HAPPY: But yeah, you said 90s blockbusters, Rambo, The Matrix…
POND: Not Rambo.
HAPPY: Not Rambo?
POND: You said Rambo.
HAPPY: I was thinking the song, Rambo!
POND: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I guess a lot of writing lyrics and stuff was… there were things other than music, like Yukio Mishima, and Emil Zátopek – this Czechoslovakia long-distance runner. I really, really love his story and…
HAPPY: Oh, wow.
POND: Yeah, it’s really amazing. That’s like the Czech Locomotive. But yeah, I suppose everything that that has happened to all five of the people making the album since birth kind of gets stored away as this rolodex of influence.
HAPPY: Yeah, and you did say you had these improvised jam sessions and you just recorded bits and pieces and put them together to make one cohesive song. How was that process to like eliminate or mix and match certain recordings to make those songs?
POND: Yeah, I mean, there was a lot of shit on the recording, so that wasn’t too hard. It’s not like we wanted to put the whole three hours on there, it’s also so (inaudible). You know, you find one good bar. Like, that’ll do. But the process of actually making a mosaic out of it is really fucking hard. And I, you know, fobbed off a lot of that, because I don’t have a long enough attention span and I’m not good enough at computers.
HAPPY: But it came together really beautifully. It was really cool to listen to as a whole. I was surprised, when I read that it was, like you said, a mosaic of multiple improvised jam sessions, put together because it just flowed really effortlessly.
POND: Yeah, yeah. Well, some of them we didn’t even have to cut that much. Czech Locomotive is pretty much a full-blown thing that we did improvise, which is really cool.
HAPPY: The full thing?
POND: I mean, we added lots of stuff and changed things in post-production, and I wasn’t singing.
HAPPY: It’s a cool dynamic, though. I did want to ask about the lyrics as well, because they do have quite an impressionistic feeling about them. You know, someone who’s listening to the songs might not know exactly what they mean just from listening to them straight off the bat. So with songs like Toast, there was the lyric, “With four horsemen shod with flames in the west” and then Human Touch has “Like a wounded animal, you try to scream, but you just want to sin”. Was it a deliberate choice to make the lyrics a little a bit more like…
HAPPY: Yeah, and not so obvious!
POND: I don’t know. I suppose it wouldn’t be… I can’t even imagine writing it obviously, because… I’m actually trying to imagine what that would look like, or what that would sound like. It’d be… it’d probably sound like this. It’d probably sound like this interview, you know. Like, imagine two tourists sitting at the Sunset Cafe on Cable Beach and they’re like making a toast to the sunset. But behind them, there’s lots of trouble and strife and injustice in the world. That would be the song.
HAPPY: It just doesn’t have that same effect, does it?
POND: Not quite. No. So, yeah, what’s the point of anyone painting a picture if they’re just taking a snap on their iPhone, or any kind of excess in art, just for the sake of it being fun and beautiful or interesting or evocative or whatever, like anything we do in life. There’s… if we stop doing stuff that is pointless and just for pure wonderment and joy, then we might as well just fucking cap ourselves.
HAPPY: *laughs* True, true. So in saying that, do you find it would be harder to write the obvious lyric, because I feel like a lot of, you know, pop songs, they’re just very matter of fact, and it’s all explained and dished up on a platter.’ But for you is, is it easier to write in that sort of mysterious, oblique kind of way where the meaning isn’t so explicit?
POND: No, it’s probably not easier. Like, I love up obvious, upfront things, that’s great. It’s just that I’m not very good at it. It doesn’t really sound good. I kind of like making bigger, stranger pictures. I’ve just got a different style to other people, I suppose.
HAPPY: Yeah, it’s cool. It sets you apart. I was also wondering with the Toast visualizer, it’s a little bit retro and kind of has those tacky vibes, which I love, and I mean that as a compliment. Then the lyrics touch on the times that people go through, the difficulties and the disparities between certain groups. Why did you choose to represent that in this way in the Toast visualizer?
POND: Oh, it just goes along with the… It was just what we imagined. It was what came to mind from the music and stuff like this. Like, this would be great with some soaring through clouds on a green screen. It started as a kind of joke like, ‘Oh, we’ll just be like cooking breakfast and shit’, and then it became whatever it is.
HAPPY: A masterpiece.
POND: A masterpiece. I don’t know. We didn’t plan on having a giant can of Swan Gold there.
HAPPY: Who would?
POND: But, you know, history happens in strange ways.
HAPPY: *laughs* Yeah, so I was also going to ask as a concluding question, if there is one thing that you could change about the music industry, what would it be?
POND: I’ve been asked this a few times, and I’ve never been asked it before.
HAPPY: What do you mean?
POND: Like in the last 12 years or something, it hasn’t been a thing, but in the last three weeks, I think I’ve been asked it a few times. Like am I… is there something I’m saying?
HAPPY: No, no, no. I think it’s because of the current climate we’re in, with streaming services and Spotify and royalties that go towards artists and how much they earn from those systems. I guess people are curious as to what you artists would want to change.
POND: Yeah, OK, that’s probably… That’s pretty much what I’ve said to… that’s been pretty much my reply. Like, I’m not an economist or a social architect or whatever. But I feel like if you put in this much time and effort, you’re meant to get money for it or something.
HAPPY: That’s usually how things work, yeah.
POND: I mean, I guess lots of musicians have a serious imposter syndrome. For me, I’ve known for ages, I thought, ‘Oh nah, of course I’m not going to get paid. I’m having a great time.’ You sit there and eat chips and drink some beers and then go on stage and make albums with your friends and stuff like that. Like, I guess, who am I to say…
HAPPY: Because you’re doing what you love, but…
POND: Yeah, but what I’m slowly seeing is that other people who work in normal jobs, they kind of do the same thing as well. They just don’t like it, you know? Yeah, it’s not like they’re working harder. It’s just more of a drag.
HAPPY: But I think you’re right when you say it’s that imposter syndrome and also the feeling that you enjoy your work. So therefore you can justify not being paid ‘X’ amount or… which is a joke. It’s not fair, because what you do is you bring joy to people’s lives in what you make.
POND: And I swear there must be some sort of rules around intellectual property where, if people make something and sell it, then there’s this sort of equal, you know, goods and services trade. But that doesn’t really exist with streaming stuff. And so people have to fly around and drive around America for fucking three months, playing every night, and not see their friends or family, lose their job at home, and print a thousand shit T-shirts to sell to people. Like what kind of fucking system is that? That’s so bad. You know, no one needs a t-shirt, no one needs another Pond t-shirt, jeez.
HAPPY: I think a lot of people would beg to differ with that! Yeah, but no, I definitely think what you’re saying has a lot of truth to it and a lot of musicians and people who are not musicians, would agree with you. It’s just not fair and it’s really wrong. But I think it’s one of those things that’s becoming more talked about and probably is why you’ve been asked that question a lot more lately because people are catching on.
POND: The people at Band Camp are going to be laughing their asses off in a couple of years. That’s a good system. They got it right.
HAPPY: Nick, is there anything else that you would like to talk about that I haven’t brought up?
POND: No, I’m good. Yeah, thanks for your patience.
HAPPY: Oh, thanks for your patience, I’m really glad we got to talk.
POND: I’ve ended up at Le Pain Quotidien.
POND: A very fancy restaurant.
HAPPY: Got some wines behind you?
POND: Shit loads of wines! It’s not great for a celiac, but it’s a big vibe.
HAPPY: Oh, damn. You can get vegan wines.
POND: Oh, not wine. Like, I’ll drink wine till the cows come home. I mean, being in a bread shop.
HAPPY: OK, I get you. Yeah, I know. I think I’m celiac as I’ve gotten older. I can’t deal with the bloating.
POND: Yeah, it’s a bad feeling.
HAPPY: Horrible feeling. Thank you, Nick. I really appreciate your time.
9 will be available from October 1 on streaming services!
Interview by Alex Stefanovic.