The Seventh Time Around: Chatting new albums, the importance of visuals and collaborations with Pond
POND‘s seventh record in nine years, The Weather, is out May 5th – their first record since 2015’s Man, It Feels Like Space Again. More politically focused than their previous work, but still a surreal stream of consciousness, The Weather is laden with synths, horns and fuzzy guitars – a beautifully fleshed-out deluge of psych-pop. While things may have become a little more mature conceptually, the Perth rockers have managed to maintain their eccentricity and whimsy with a string of bizarre video clips.
We chatted to Jay Watson about the finer points of The Weather, from the writing process and collaborations to video clips, touring and much, much more.
Tell me about the new record, The Weather!
What do you want to know?
How would you say it’s different to your last record, Man, It Feels Like Space Again?
It’s a bit more, I don’t know, literal? It’s a bit more deliberate and a bit less esoteric and whimsical.
Did you set out to achieve anything in particular, sonically?
At the start of the whole process there were a few things we wanted to do. We wanted to sample records for it, which we did a lot of. I think there’s only like one that made it on the album, maybe one or two. There’s a Todd Rundgren sample on ‘Paint Me Silver’, which is the main kind of hook of the song. But yeah, that was something we wanted to do. We also wanted to record big long jams and sample ourselves and kind of make hip hop or, like, beats out of our own jams, but we never did that really.
I’ve sort of noticed that every Pond record gets a little bit more electronic, with bigger, crazier synths and sampling and that kind of stuff, is that like a natural progression or something that you’ve really been pushing for?
No, it’s natural. I mean, it’s hard to write a song on guitar if you’re not really listening to much music that’s made with guitars. Also, I guess, I’m on tour a lot. A lot of the stuff, at least a lot of my songs, or instrumentals I wrote for this album, were just done on my laptop on tour, you know, because I’m always in a van or a plane or something. So that’s how a lot of them start. I would say 90% of the album, or at least my contributions, were written on tour, straight onto my laptop, like using the laptop keyboard. Which isn’t very romantic, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, when you can.
I was going to ask what the process was like for writing this one, because I know that you’ve said before that you don’t really love writing while you’re on tour…
I read that somewhere this morning!
Maybe… It’s all I’ve ever been able to do for the last five years!
That’s definitely true, you’re very busy.
Yeah, maybe it’s not ideal, but I’m kind of used to it. It’s the only way to do it now.
Did you spend much time in the studio just sort of jamming all together? Or was it put together over the internet, like sending each other laptop recordings and that kind of stuff?
We don’t really have time to! If we have time to record all together, we’ll just actually make an album. We won’t waste time jamming. Basically, I was living in London and touring, Nick [Allbrook] and I were sending a lot of demos back and forward. I sent a lot of instrumentals to Nick. Most of it is just me and Joe [Ryan] making instrumentals and Nick writing words and melodies over the top, with a few exceptions, a few individual songs. So I sent him lots of samples and lots of just beats, and then basically over Christmas, not last Christmas but the Christmas before, we had a three week window, and we just did the whole thing in Fremantle at Kevin [Parker]’s new studio. It was done in about three weeks, but after kind of file-sharing over the year, kind of getting ready.
I’ve been told that Kirin J. Callinan helped out on this one, can you tell me a bit about that?
He sings on two songs, and he plays guitar on another one. He came over, I don’t know if he was here already or if he came over for it, I don’t know, I can’t remember, but yeah, he was great. He’s a great singer, and a killer player. And he’s pretty much up for anything.
I was going to say, he’s such a big personality, did that change the process of how you made the record?
He made us all wear rubber gloves, like surgical gloves, while we were doing it. Like white surgical gloves.
Was that to achieve a certain sound, or just because?
No I think… I’m not sure [laughs]!
You can’t predict that guy, can you?
Can’t take him anywhere.
Did you team up with anybody else? I know you recorded at Kevin’s studio, and he produced the album. Was there anybody else in there?
So Kevin helped with it, Kirin helped with it, a friend of ours Mei Saraswati sung on a few songs, she’s from Perth. Koi Child, they played horns, three or four of the songs have horns on them, like sax and trombone, which I think gave quite a lot to the album. They’re really kind of important bits where they come in. Like at the end of ’30,000 MEGATONS’, and ‘Zen Automaton’, and there’s a big sax solo at the end of ‘Colder Than Ice’. The rest is the three or four of us.
What do you think the main conceptual focus was for this record? I think there’s sort of an overarching theme there.
There wasn’t at the start but then it kind of solidified I guess, all that came together a bit. Lots of it’s kind of about Perth, and its kind of place in the world, and the way people in Perth perceive Perth, and the way people outside of Perth perceive Perth. Lots of it’s kind of about Australia, and Australia’s sense of identity, and Australia’s kind of fucked up sense of identity sometimes. And then there’s some of it that’s just, you know, pure whimsy. Hopefully it all kind of comes together.
It definitely does! I’ve been told that you’ve mentioned that it’s a more political record than your previous stuff, like I know ‘30,000 MEGATONS’ came out on the day that Trump was elected, and that’s got a very sort of apocalyptic theme. Would you agree with that, would you say there’s a social commentary in there?
I guess so, yeah, it’s less whimsical and more social commentary, or human commentary, I’d say, rather than actual ideology. But I mean, you’d have to ask Nick, because he did the majority of the lyrics. I feel like I know where he’s coming from, but it’s hard for me to articulate it without sounding like a bozo [laughs]!
It came off, at least in that very first track [‘30,000 MEGATONS’], as a bit politically minded to me, to begin with, and Shiny Joe Ryan told us when we interviewed him just before Man, It Feels Like Space Again came out, that he thought you’d go for like a really fucked up album kind of thing again, because you’d done a mature thing on Man, It Feels Like Space Again.
Mature? That’s his idea of mature isn’t it!
Would you say that a record like this, with a little more political leaning or social leaning, is a whole other form of maturity? Like are you guys all grown up now?
I’d say it’s just a little bit less self-absorbed, maybe? I don’t know, in that way, it’s kind of just as self-absorbed in that it’s just talking about what’s going on in your head, so if your head is full of flowers and whimsy, it’s going to come out. Or maybe that’s easy to come out, and it’s kind of a cop out. I think it’s just consumed Nick’s thinking for the last couple of years, a lot of, I guess, weightier things. I mean, it’s quite hard to do without coming off preachy or pretentious or anything, but I think you can hear the spirit in it.
With the whole background that Pond has in whimsy and these sort of big, open records, psych-y records, it doesn’t feel out of place for me. Where would you say The Weather sits as a Pond record in the context of the older stuff, because I feel like it has touches of different aspects of your sound from other records?
We always think it sounds more different than it does, each record. I was listening to ‘Sweep Me Off My Feet’ on Spotify, and then an older song [of ours] came on, and obviously it sounds different but you can still hear that it’s the same voice, the same mixing, Kevin’s mixing. You know, you can hear my writing in it, and similar melodies, and so it still sounds like us. I guess we’re just older and we’re not thinking about a mango, we don’t have time for that. We don’t have much time to make music with each other, so we want to make stuff that makes us feel like we’ve achieved something important to us.
Speaking of ‘Sweep Me Off My Feet’, there’s so much going on in the video clip, can you talk me through the creative process for that clip? Where you involved in that at all?
I didn’t make that, no, I was in it for a few seconds, all in white, like I’m going for a sort of R. Kelly vibe. No it’s like, what’s that bit in The Office? When David Brent does the song? That sort of vibe. Our friend [Matt] Sav made it with Nick. You’d have to ask Nick. There’s some kind of underlying themes to it I’m sure people can pick up. You know, the juxtaposition of crusty Nick and like hot dude in the shower, you know, with his shit together. But yeah, I don’t know how to explain it.
Pond’s always had a very strong visual element, and so has your solo stuff, GUM. It’s an interesting contrast from a lot of acts that don’t really treat visuals with the same sort of importance, what is it about the visuals that are so important to you and to the band? Or is it just about making weird shit to go with the music?
I think it’s important in the sense that I think it affects the way the music sounds a lot, and that’s why we get quite upset when the visuals don’t turn out the way we want them to, or if we feel misrepresented by them. Everything, whether it’s a photo or a cover or a t-shirt or a film clip. So we’re always trying to work hard to make them, and it’s hard when you have a few people, because everyone’s aesthetic is kind of different, and you have to come to this sort of middle ground. And also, there’s that kind of fear of the whole thing being bland, and you know, white dude indie rock. That’s kind of our biggest fear, I guess, even though that’s what we are, essentially. We’ve always tried to go out of our way to do something interesting, but I guess, that’s what the whole thing is; trying to entertain ourselves, and whoever else is paying attention.
Speaking of entertainment, you’ve done a beer as well with Young Henry’s, a mulberry beer. What was that like, working on that? Did you have much input in that?
I had zero input in that, that was Nick and Jamie [Terry], they’re the beer nuts. They wanted a mulberry beer because of our house that we all used to live in, those first few Pond and Tame [Impala] records we did there, Nick, Kevin, myself, Joe, we all lived there together. There was a mulberry tree out the back and we used to hang out underneath it quite a lot, so that’s where the mulberry bit came from, but you’d have to ask them! I think we’re learning from this interview that I pretty much just make up music and don’t know what the hell’s going on with all the other stuff! [laughs]
Give yourself a bit more credit!
Oh I give myself plenty of credit, don’t you worry about that [laughs].
You’ve just wrapped up a hugely successful tour as GUM, how were the solo shows?
It was good, it was really good. It was pretty stressful because I didn’t have a tour manager or anyone helping me, which lots of bands of course do, but I’ve been spoilt for a long time [laughs]. I’m used to having a crew to wipe my bum, so to speak. Actually don’t write that. Having a crew helping with logistic stuff you know, they kind of shield you from all the hopeless people along the way. But it was good, I think it’s good for me to not be looked after you know. I mean I was looked after… you know what I mean, obviously I had help. We don’t need to go into it [laughs].
The record you were touring, was that kind of a concept album too, in the same way this Pond one is?
The last GUM one? Not really, no. The GUM stuff is basically… I record for half a year, then whatever I’ve got after that half a year, I then master it and get it all ready, and I put it out at the end of the year. Then just kind of rinse and repeat. It’s not very filtered, it’s just whatever I’ve been working on. I’m working on another one now, that will hopefully be out late this year, early next year. There’s always vague themes and stuff, but there’s no overarching concept.
How does it feel going back into the collaborative beast that is Pond then, from working on that solo stuff on your own?
It’s good, it takes the pressure off with some things, and then it makes stuff more complicated. It’s good to be like that, I think working on your own all the time can be kind of draining, and also kind of ego-serving, and self-absorption creating, and then with Pond I kind of get to share it with other people. It’s sometimes hard because you have to show diplomacy, but I think in the long run it’s more rewarding if you’ve done it with other people.
You’re going to be touring a bit more with Pond for the new album, you touched on that already about how you didn’t really have anyone holding your hand while you were on tour on your own. What’s the contrast like going into that sort of more major label, Splendour-bound sort of tour from the smaller-scale GUM stuff?
I mean, it’s not too different, we’ve only got a couple of crew with Pond, it’s not like Tame [Impala]. I’ve been playing big shows and small shows for the last ten years, you know, I don’t really think about it or notice it anymore. It just kind of is what it is. I don’t prefer one or the other, I think if I was doing one or the other I’d be missing it. If I was just playing small shows I’d miss playing the big festivals and if I was just doing big festivals, I think I’d miss just playing clubs. It’s good, I’ve kind of got it all covered.
I guess I’ll finish by asking if you have anything special planned for Splendour for Pond, or anything else happening tour-wise for you guys?
Nothing out of the ordinary, no. Hopefully we get a couple of guests up but I’m not sure who yet. But yeah, no fireworks or holograms or anything.
Looking forward to it! Thanks so much for chatting with us and giving us your time!
Pond‘s The Weather is out now via EMI.
Words by Ted Dwyer