Pond aren’t all in the same place at the same time to celebrate the release of their new studio album, 9. Not for the reason you’d think, however: they’re not locked down, they’re all in different parts of the world. As the globe slowly starts to pry open once again, the band’s five members are all at considerable distances. Frontman Nick Allbrook, for instance, is in an apartment in London when he joins the Zoom meeting with Music Feeds. “It was a bitch to get over here,” he says, alluding to the endless red tape that surrounds leaving the country.
Most of his bandmates, meanwhile, are currently on tour with Tame Impala through North America – a touring musician, in the case of multi-instrumentalist Jay Watson; stage techs, in the case of guitarist Shiny Joe Ryan and drummer James Ireland. “You heard of ’em?” queries Allbrook with a wry, knowing smile of his now-former band. “They’re gonna go somewhere!” That just leaves keyboardist Jamie Terry, who Allbrook happily reports is still on his own back in the band’s native Perth. “He’s just living the dream, working at a record store,” says Allbrook. “He’s loving it! Having the time of his life.”
Even though they’re all currently apart, Pond once again present a bold united front on their latest studio album. With their intangible blend of psychedelia, indie, prog, rock, pop and dance, the quintet never stay in the same place for too long – reaffirming their status as one of Australian music’s more bold explorers.
Ahead of 9‘s release, Allbrook spoke candidly about jam sessions, the unexpected influence of Outkast and The 1975 and why he still hasn’t listened to Donda.
Music Feeds: Do you and Pond generally enter the creative process for a new album with a gameplan? After so many records, you can’t help but wonder if the stylistic shifts between albums are different by design.
Nick Allbrook: Whether it turned out like this or not – probably not, really – I was imagining something fast, sprawling and lo-fi for this album. I wanted to make a really eclectic, eccentric record. Something in the vein of Twin Infinitives by Royal Trux, y’know? Something really fucked up, something more aggressive and impenetrable.
Of course, that all changes when you’re actually putting it all together. You start seeing the potential in these songs, and you start building them into these great towers. Once you whittle down all the less-great songs from what you’ve assembled, you realise you’ve got yourself a pretty cohesive album. That’s basically what happened here.
MF: Were you anticipating something a little less cohesive, then?
NA: In a way, I suppose so. I’d become kind of attached to the idea of a great big monster album. My favourite album is Speakerboxxx/The Love Below by Outkast, and all of my favourite albums are a who’s- who of sprawling, misunderstood labyrinths of records. The White Album [by The Beatles], Tusk [by Fleetwood Mac], Exile on Main Street [by The Rolling Stones]. Stuff like that. I really could have turned 9 into a double album at one point, for sure.
MF: Would it be thematically split in the same way that a record like Speakerboxxx/The Love Below is? Is that what you had in mind?
NA: Not quite. It would still have all the different flavours that you usually get with a Pond record – it would have all just been a bit bigger than usual. We had a lot of demos and a lot of songs that I was really excited about – to me, a lot of it was sounding really great. This could have been 18, maybe even 20 songs. Still, that’s what being in a band is all about – you compromise, right? Everyone is always more interested in a rationally-sized meal than putting on this grand feast of a thing.
MF: While we’re on the subject of sprawling, misunderstood labyrinths – what did you think of the new Kanye West album?
NA: I haven’t even gone there yet, man! It’s too intimidating for me, that whole thing. [laughs]
MF: That’s one thing to be grateful for: That 9 didn’t end up being an hour and 45 minutes long.
NA: [laughs] That’s true. I still think it’s possible to pull off, though! I mean, look at that last record by The 1975 [Notes on a Conditional Form]. That was really long, but I still really loved it! (Author’s note: I did not.)
I’m more than willing to go there with certain artists, and I’d like to think we’re a certain band that people would one day go there with on this idea.
MF: So, what becomes of the abandoned songs? Will they be resurrected for a solo record, or the next Pond album, or even a new project entirely?
NA: They all have different fates, really. Some will go to solo records, some we finished as a band anyway so we may well still put them out on their own. They’re still good; they still deserve to get out there. The rest? They’ll just decay or go into the crematorium.
MF: What makes up the nucleus of a Pond record? Most of you in the band have made solo records, and when you listen to those they’re all you – but when it comes to Pond albums, are you able to hear them back and pick out “that was this person’s idea, this was that person’s idea”?
NA: Yeah, normally I can, pretty confidently. This one’s a bit harder to remember, though, because it’s all a bit more mixed-up. Maybe a bit more collaborative, even. With albums like Tasmania and The Weather and Man, It Feels Like Space Again, it was all a bit more clear-cut. “That was my song, I wrote that and Gum [Watson’s nickname] played drums. With this one, I think it was all very well interwoven. I actually see that as one of the real strengths of this record, actually – I think that’s really cool. The more I think about it, I think maybe the songs that didn’t make it on the album are the ones that were the least collaborative and least shared. Which is great! It feels really nice to have a team effort, so to speak.
MF: The lead-up to 9 had a lot of talk about the band picking out bits and pieces from extended jam sessions. Was this something Pond have attempted in the past, or was it something you were attempting in order to have something new as part of the overall creative process?
NA: I think it’s something we always really liked the idea of doing back in the day. We like the idea of it way more back in the day – we were obsessed. I can remember us really being enamoured by bands like Can and stuff like that. There was really nothing we wanted to do more than have these like random, sprawling, acid-fried jams that had some sort of shining resolution there at the end. The problem is that we were too fucking ripped and shit at our instruments that we never actually turned out anything that was actually good [laughs]. They all ended up just being these insane pentatonic wigouts.
We learned pretty quickly that we actually had to write stuff. If we didn’t, it all just became his tidal wave of fuzz and cymbals. [laughs] We’re old and wise enough now to have jams that actually explore somewhat. Ironically, that comes from restraining yourself a bit more. I mean, there’s still a lot of shit in there. [laughs] Like, the uncut album of 9 would be four hours long and 90% fucking awful. [laughs]
MF: That’s one of the other things you get a lot better at as you spend more and more time in a band: really refining the gold and acknowledging when shit just isn’t gonna stick.
NA: That’s true. I do want it on record, though, that making all that noise is really fucking fun – if only for you. When you’re a teenager, you’ve got such a fragile fucking ego. For me, having a free-form jam is actually quite a vulnerable place to put yourself in. It exposes how bad you actually are. You don’t like making mistakes when you’re a teenager. I think we’re quite happy to make mistakes and take criticism now. We don’t give a shit now – and you definitely give a shit when you’re in your early 20s.
MF: Was 9 the first album Pond has made since you all hit your 30s?
NA: Let me think… [pauses] …yes! Very well pointed out! [laughs] I think I first started playing in a band with Joe when I was 17. Jay would have been, like, 14 or 15!
MF: What do you remember about those early days of starting out playing together? It really does feel as though that sense of camaraderie and community around the whole Impalaverse has remained very much intact over the decade-plus it’s been around.
NA: Yeah, I guess so. We’re very lucky in the sense that we’ve got a sort-of family around us. There’s a sense of security that comes with that, too. Like I was saying before, you definitely go through a bit of an ego period when you’re in your 20s. Things that don’t actually matter do matter to you, but you don’t want people to see you reacting. You go through a little period of actually wanting to prove yourself and wanting all the people back in your small town to see how much of a big fucking shot you’ve become.
Let’s be real here, though – I definitely think it’s been less of a thing to us, because we always come back to that mentality of just saying, “fuck it.” I think we’ve probably said that a thousand times throughout our career, especially when it comes to doing another take or releasing a stupid song or putting something dumb on the internet. We always come back to, “ahh, fuck it. Whatever!”