While The 1975 may well be the most hard-working touring act of 2014 (according to data from gig-listing site Songkick), the members of POND are probably its most productive recording artists. But there’s no sign of fatigue: ‘Man It Feels Like Space Again’, the band’s sixth album in as many years, is a gloriously bombastic psych-rock record that looks forward as much as it does back. Glance at Benny Montero’s colourful album art (which plays on Robert Crumb’s artwork for Big Brother & The Holding Company’s ‘Cheap Thrills’) and you’ll glean a goofy, cartoonish aesthetic with black humorous individual panels. It’s all emblematic, apparently, of their zingy, mysterious, vaguely trippy sound.
“With every album, we’re trying to move towards something new that we haven’t done,” guitarist Joe Ryan explains. He’s not afraid to admit to a spot of unprofessional narcissism: “I’ve been listening to it a lot myself actually. I don’t know if the other boys have, but there are still moments that get me”. Drummer Jay Watson confirms his suspicions: “I went down to get a roll for breakfast this morning and I listened to the whole album in the park.” They pause, before Joe adds, “We’re really good at ending songs, aren’t we?”
He’s right. You can’t help but revel in the clattering cymbal-filled conclusion to ‘Heroic Shart’, a song whose gritty, echoing theatrics well suit its dirtily argotic title, not to mention the blow-out eight-minute epic ‘Man It Feels Like Space Again’, whose title no band member can quite recall the inspiration behind. Similar levels of climactic pomp apply in the soapy, rap-like delivery at the end of ‘Outside Is The Right Side’, a caterwauling funk anthem so loosely structured it sounds like it might collapse at any moment. ‘Zond’, meanwhile, descends into a synthy, reverby garage jam that’ll be spun out for minutes longer in the live setting.
Perhaps surprisingly, the band (or “the boys”, as they refer to each other) took a bit more care with recording this time around. They started by stripping their songs back and recording on tape. “I don’t know going analogue adds to the sound,” says Jay, “but it certainly makes you think about, that if you only have 16 tracks, what are the important things?” The result is a less cluttered album, finely arranged, immaculately produced and well synced. But don’t worry, they haven’t subbed off any of the flamboyant T. Rex-isms, be it the glammy riffing or the unbridled drum kicks, and they’ve lost none of the inherent jokiness. They say they tried to sound less like Lenny Kravitz on this record, but songs like ‘Zond’ still send a loveably cheesy melody ringing around your head.
Having recorded all this in the back room of a “nice pub with very nice food” in Melbourne, Jay goes into unnecessarily great detail on their unhealthily compromised loo habits. “If you had to go to the toilet you had to go, ‘I’ll have a half a pint of this, and I’ll be back in a minute’.” So often they simply didn’t ‘go’. The remainder of this anecdote has been deleted out of politesse.
It’s becoming clear that POND are compulsive workaholics. As Joe explains, “We’re not very good at recording casually or sporadically. We don’t have much time so we’re just squeezing in recording during the time we have together.” And therein lies one of the key differences between Tame Impala, for whom head honcho Kevin Parker is the principal songwriter, and POND, which started out as a free-for-all jamming project; it’s an entirely collaborative affair. “I can tell you a few stories where I lose my cool,” continues Jay. “I just remember lots of late nights… I think the only day off we had was one Sunday. You get so caught up and bummed out with something, and then you sit back and grab a beer.”
What with juggling life in both Tame and POND (along with many other side-projects), how do the band members decide which material to prioritise for POND? “I think it used to be harder to choose,” expands Jay, “especially when we started all that other stuff [like his own Gum material], but now it’s just whatever we’re working on at the time. Just before we did ‘Man It Feels Like Space Again’, Nick [Allbrook, POND frontman] did a solo album, so he wrote a little less for this album. But Joe and I had just done our solo albums, so we wrote a bit more for it.” “There’s no real way of knowing which way the songs are gonna go,” adds Joe. “But I don’t feel bad about giving all my best songs to POND.” To use a trite old cliche, with POND, the process is always very ‘organic’.
At present, the band are rearranging songs to accompany their recent transformation from five-piece to four-piece (Joe jokes: “We’re gonna have to grow two extra arms each”). Otherwise, following their world tour, he says, “We haven’t really stopped making albums for like five years, so we might stop making albums just for a little bit now.” They should probably cool off a bit.
Taken from the February issue of DIY, out now - order your copy below. POND’s new album ‘Man It Feels Like Space Again’ is out now via Caroline Records.