Pond Don’t Really Care If You Compare Them to Tame Impala

The once-ragged Perth psych rock band are going from stoner playlists to pop sheen on their seventh album – they're over "old Pond".

by Tshepo Mokoena; photos by Matt Sav
13 April 2017, 11:30am

Pond may have lost track of what day it is. The Aussie psych rock four-piece have flown from their Perth hometown to London, squeezing in some promo time before decamping to Paris. Now I'm waiting for half of them in an east London pub, not far from the hotel they crashed in after playing a sweaty venue the night before. It was explosive – the sort of night where two tall, forty-something men's flying hair and limbs cleared a space around themselves that other people looked too scared to breach for about 80 percent of the raucous set – but we'll come to that later.

For now, I'm told by their PR that I've essentially woken drummer Jay Watson from a nap for this. When he arrives, with singer-guitarist Nick Allbrook, they both seem content, if a little bleary-eyed. After we've said hello – Nick holds one of my hands in both of his and asks politely if I could repeat my name so he gets it right; Jay opts for a semi-formal shake – we settle in.

From their low-key manner, you wouldn't necessarily think Pond crash through genres like a runaway car careening into a record store; speeding their way through songs that swell with psychedelia Technicolour, buzz with tight 80s-style synths and, most recently, have boldly moved into R&B territory. Their seventh and latest album, The Weather, is a far cry from the scraggly, ramshackle textures of their earliest work – which was more like an unhinged garage-rock soundtrack to a rough LSD trip, and might now only be treasured by dedicated cratediggers. "Early Pond live would be pretty unlistenable now," Jay says, Nick interjecting with a "yeah" while nodding. "If we found some of those reel-to-reel recordings–"

"Horrible," Nick says, interrupting in way that mixes cross-talk with the pair completing each other's sentences. It's not far off from a long-term couple cliche. Well, maybe if that couple were racing each other to a verbal finish line, their words tumbling over each other's like tussling puppies.

"And that's not even us being–" Jay begins, before Nick slips back in with "modest" – now back to Jay: "Or self-critical. They're actually pretty hard to listen to." Now Jay laughs. "Some of those early gigs, were just …" He tails off. Nick concludes: "I would be so surprised if you listened to those recordings and went 'No, you guys are crazy, this sounds great."

To be fair, even if it banged, it's pretty hard to find that early material now. Pond first started putting out limited edition vinyl around 2009 – titles included non sequiturs like Psychedelic Mango and Corridors of Blissterday – but unless you lived in Australia at the time or scored some of their scuzzier early work on eBay, you may not have heard about them until the early 2010s. Chances are, when you did, they were looped into a sentence with Tame Impala – Kevin Parker's weird-out, hallucinogen-rock band that made phrases like "antipodean psychedelia" a thing and probably boosted both weed and acid sales after each of the band's three albums came out.

Both bands are linked by a sort of incestuous revolving door of band members. Nick used to play in Tame Impala, and Jay still does, while Kevin and Cameron Avery (now solo too) have both drummed in Pond. Living in western Australia, Pond were part of a late 00s psych scene, making music soaked in the city's sun and colour and born from its isolation from the rest of the country. In Nick's own words, from a 2015 essay on how Perth birthed a scene, he remembered how they "erected great walls of noise and hair and mouldy dishes around our Daglish share house commune citadel on Troy Terrace where we incubated, practised, recorded, talked and grew". But it's been a good few years since then. Of all the bands that turned the intensity of the Perth's inky skies and blazing sun into music fit for a post-pill montage, Tame Impala went on to achieve the most commercial success – Rihanna covers, Lonerism Grammy wins and all. How do Pond feel about the constant 'Tame Impala side project' comparisons now?

"Fine,' Jay says simply. I wait.

"It's factual," Nick continues, "you can't blame them. Like, you want people to read your article, Tame Impala's massively famous …"

Jay swoops in, saying, "none of that bothers me. Only sometimes, when you read: 'it's a few guys from Tame Impala. It's not as good as Tame Impala. Can't wait for the next Tame Impala!' or just patronising. Then we may as well have not made anything at all. But at least it's related to a friend who we've played in bands with and made music with. It's not just, 'Sting's your dad' or something." He pauses, smiling. "I don't even know if Sting's kids make music by they way," he says with a laugh, before apologising. "But still, I'm sure that would get annoying."

(L-R): Jamie Terry, Joe Ryan, Nick Allbrook and Jay Watson

Their verbal shrug at being seen as a "not quite as famous Tame Impala" is typical of their dry senses of humour. Jay winks self-deprecatingly at just about anything, while Nick softens the edges of that wit by being both modest and thoughtful. Talking to them feels less like Chatting to a Band About Musical Themes and more like catching up with people you knew at uni – Jay, the class clown from seminars, and Nick, that guy you always heard making salient points in a lecture without boasting about them.

At a first glance, there's that same sort of *shrug emoji* nonchalance in their music too. With song titles sounding like the sorts of things scriptwriters might imagine stoners say midway through a fourth joint, you can tell that Pond are already in on the jokes people may write about them. It's as though they can tell that the idea of psych-pop referencing both 80s Michael Jackson or Prince (Nick: "that's like our favourite music") and Led Zeppelin could take the piss – so they get to the punchline before the rest of us.

They've gone so far down that road now that Jay jokes about how they'll struggle to be taken seriously at all. "It's funny," he says, "when I read reviews on a song that isn't meant to be funny in the slightest and they go, 'this one is obviously self-aware in how ridiculously overstuffed and absurd it is.' And I'm thinking, 'what? I thought that was epic and powerful. Whoops''," he says, laughing.

"It just makes me so … tense," Nick says, of reading reviews. "Seeing things come up and going eeuughhh" – and here he motions as though he's hovering over a touchscreen deciding to click, eyes squinted – "to click it. My heart's just going. I feel so exposed … to the internet, to the world. So I try not to read that much."

Dealing with how comments and social media can expose you to so much bile can be hard, I say. "There's an immunity on the internet," Nick says, looking down at his hole-filled jumper and back up to me, "that means people can just do things without consequence. Now you don't have to actually talk to people; you can go on the internet and say" – he motions typing on a keyboard, mock-shouting – "'fuck you, fuck you, blah blah blah', or any absolutely horrible thing. It can be a scary place."

But it's not all bad. Typically, Jay sees the dark humour in it, saying he was "thinking about how time passing is good for everything. Pretty much anything that came out before the early 2000s, people can find a way to justify or think is really cool – Linkin Park or something. Movies that came out and got one star are a cult thing now; people are buying them on VHS on eBay and shit. So we've got that to look forward to" – and here comes the winking punchline. "Even our worst music, some hipster doofus in, like, 40 years will think is amazing."

For now, it's less hipster doofuses and more like the last crumbling vestiges of people who quite firmly give a shit about guitar music. They're the sort who bounced around east London venue Moth Club the night before Nick and I meet, making it so stuffily warm that condensation ran down the walls beneath the gold-glitter ceiling. The band rattled through a set that leaned heavily on crowd-pleasing past releases. From where I stood towards the back, punters were in various states of revelry: head-banging, screaming along to guitar riffs and slamming bodies against old friends and new neighbours. In a city where promo cycle gigs can sometimes feel like a gathering of a few journalists absentmindedly watching a new buzzband, it was as refreshing as the ice cold cider a woman accidentally poured down my entire leg while she danced furiously to 2013 single "Giant Tortoise".

They threw in a few new tracks too, lurching from one genre reference to the next in the way they have for years. "We've always been pretty good at ripping off a style," Jay says, in his deadpan way, "or a particular song. And it was just funny–"

"–because we wanted to be funny," Nick rounds off. "We really were inspired a lot by The Mighty Boosh, at the very beginning. So the act of doing a pastiche country song, or a pastiche prog song was perfectly fine."

They're getting somewhat serious now, though. As bizarre as this sounds, the album expresses thoughts on things like nuclear weapons – see single "30,000 Megatons" – or the legacy of white privilege in Australia. "I'd just come back from spending a lot of time in France with someone who's doing a lot of work on the Italian border," Nick remembers. "Coming back to Perth is … so pleasant. It's all about human safety, it's so lovely. But then, you get guilty. As inheritors of the most insane levels of privilege in modern history, it's so easy and inspiring being there but sometimes you think …" His voice trails off. "There's a lot of pure reflection on the album, and just voicing it is something. Especially considering our audience."

"If you spend that much time thinking about it," Jay adds, "and then your song is about, like, a sandwich, you're going to feel even more guilty." They both laugh. "It's not like the switch flicked and everyone suddenly got socially conscious.."

"We went through the [right-wing] Tony Abbott administration, and after that … fuck," Nick trails off again.

"It's not like we never sat there talking about awful stuff years ago," Jay says, as a sort of final thought, "we just wouldn't have put it in our music because then we thought it was too depressing for 'old Pond'." Nick reins me in when I mention how they seem to be tackling heavier subjects now. "I don't think I'd use the word 'tackle' – that's too domineering. We don't have a high enough opinion of our own intelligence to actually tackle anything." He scoffs, smiling. "It's just purely reflective of moments of nihilism, from a guy sitting in his bed in Perth thinking those … black thoughts."

However you may label the foundations of the album, it sounds beautiful. The band get away with splicing cassette tape rewind warbles and aah-ing backing vocals on "All I Want for Xmas", or punching for A-Ha era synthpop on "Colder Than Ice". And yes, even with those "black thoughts", you'll still hear their humour shine through in places. This record, says Jay, "was probably about transitioning–"

"–From being a joke," Nick finishes. Back to Jay: "There's still a few things that we find funny on the new album. But they're more like double entendres rather than single entendres." They're growing up, then. The self-aware gags keep them from coming across as drily earnest no matter what subject matter is being discussed on Nick's heavily reverbed vocals. Drinks finished, and now that they're about to cross another timezone into Paris, not taking themselves too seriously probably helps keep them grounded. You'd need that when the days melt into each other.

You can find Tshepo adding another harmony line to "Sweep Me Off My Feet" on Twitter.