Ripples in the Water: A Conversation With Nick Allbrook of Pond
Nick Allbrook discusses politics, new music from Pond, and the influence of his native country, Australia, on his music.
Nicholas Allbrook certainly doesn't suffer from even the slightest symptom of writer's block.
Whether it be a part of a solo project, his side project Allbrook/Avery, famed psych-rock band Tame Impala, or his band Pond, Allbrook has released either an EP or an album every year for the last seven years in a row. With Pond's upcoming release in May, The Weather, that will make it eight years running for the unique and prolific musician.
Formed in 2008 as way for Allbrook and his friends to get together and make music in an egoless and expectation-free manner, Pond has had a revolving door of members, most of the time swapping out players with Tame Impala, of whom Allbrook formerly was the bassist. The band has gradually become Allbrook's main focus during the past near-decade, however, and he has steadily come to embody the spirit of his group, or vice-versa. Always thoughtful and deeply philosophical, yet slyly laid back and committed to the weird, Pond has gained a reputation for releasing consistently catchy and commendable psychedelic rock.
Certainly not one to draw overt attention to himself, Allbrook simply and humbly says on the subject of his impressive amount of production in a recent conversation with PopMatters, "Hopefully every output is slowly learning how to get closer to what you actually want to make. It's like throwing a dart, you aim for something but, you know, the messiness of the human brain always makes it sort of different." This is precisely why every Pond record finds the band stretching their sound into new territory. Whether it is 2013's Hobo Rocket's Sabbath-inspired riffage or 2015's Man It Feels Like Space Again's commitment to bristling, contemporary psych-pop, Pond has always explored new sonic terrain. This is no change for the upcoming album The Weather either, which is perhaps their biggest redirection, featuring synth-laden tracks and engagingly Brit-poppy sounds.
Commenting on the band's new sonic direction for The Weather, Allbrook remarks simply that "We're trying to keep moving ... you're never really as good as what you would like to be or able to express yourself in a totally representative way." Through his variety of projects, Allbrook is forever chasing a sonic ideal like so many musicians. However, Pond has never made such a dramatic change in instrumentation and sound. He shrugs this off with a casual explanation of this is simply more of what they are digging at the moment. The new album finds them interested in the "sequencing of drum machines and a lot more effects and less reliance on guitars and Kevin [Parker of Tame Impala] has gotten a lot better at making things sound banging and none of us are really enamored with lo fi chic as we once were."
This emphasis on pulsating and reverberating synth leads can be heard on the album's leading single "30000 Megatons", which is an uncharacteristically dark song for the Australian outfit. With lyrics like "I look out at the mirror, look out at the world / 30,000 megatons is just what we deserve", the song is, admits Allbrook, "pretty nihilistic.". However, after a few moments of contemplation, he continues on to clarify, "Nihilism is a scary word for something that makes up a lot of very healthy world views like Buddhism or something, with a sense of humor about the inevitable, you know like the rocket ship to entropy that we're all kind of ..."
He trails off, lost in philosophical candor. "Which is fine," he continues. "I wrote that when I was in a particularly grim mood, but it's just a snapshot of one of those times when you get so fucking overwhelmed the idea of creating such a profoundly massive way of suicide, planetary suicide, is quite shocking. But that's not how I feel all the time."
However, such dark feelings are perhaps scarily relevant considering the political state the world has currently devolved into. Interestingly enough, Allbrook confesses that he wrote the song's lyrics "long before the specter of Donald Trump fucking scurried out from whatever hole it was in. It's just way more pertinent now than when I wrote it." Perhaps this makes the song all the more powerful as it is now even more penetrating in a time when a disheartening fog has spread over the minds of many Americans. "You guys have had a rough one, I feel truly pained and sorry for you. We've had a similar thing." Allbrook remarks are in reference to Australia's previous Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
This turns the topic of conversation to Allbrook's native land of Australia and the profound impact it has had on him and especially on the new album. Australia's unique history as a prison colony of the United Kingdom and exceedingly harsh treatment to the Aboriginals lingers in the memories of those who live there today. He says this subject "has always been massively important, especially with people who have to deal with it straight up. The combination of aging, my place in the world changing, maybe the general mainstream perspective of whatever it means to be part of a product of empire, product of a failure, all lend a hand in the themes of the album."
He remarks that his connection with the essential core of Australia has grown over the years. "I grew up in the northwest, the Kimberly, and maybe that had, you know, grounded me more in a deep love for Australia, not the colonial outpost but whatever the deeper soul or heart of it is. There's just been a lot more exposés of mistreatment and we had an incredibly racist prime minister quite recently, yeah I guess that strengthens the other viewpoints as well."
When asked about the effect touring has on him and his sense of identity he says, "It makes me more overwhelmed. A lot of the time I just feel like a confused Kimberly boy like stumbling around Manhattan trying to look cool." Clearly, the essential ties he has with his heritage are of increasing important for the songwriter, and this shines through in the sound of the new album. Even its cover, a shiny, gilded representation of a colonial city speaks volumes about the nature of this unique and ambiguous continent.
Allbrook himself professes that the album is a "whimsical walk through Perth to the edge, which, is just where you end in an emotional way and in a physical way." These themes are echoed marvelously in the thoughtful and triumphant "Edge of the World, Parts 1 and 2" on the new record. "All the wanderings through the beauty and the painful bloody history pretty much just seem to lead back to the ocean at some point, and whether something is a beautiful limestone building or a convict jail it seems to end up at the same spot."
Indeed, it does. An escape from it all is never far in Australia. An escape from the discomforting political theater dominating the world stage. An escape from the philosophical weight every individual is left alone to face. Everything fades when you reach the waters of a country at the edge of the world. It's all reduced to just ripples in an ocean which Pond explores in their ever expanding sound.