Pond: Cosmic Psychedelic Jesters of the Third Kind
Tame Impala’s 2010 modern masterpiece Innerspeaker almost singlehandedly set the psychedelic-rock world’s cosmic dials toward the distant shores of Perth, Australia, leading music fans around the globe to explore the remote and desolate scene that the band had emerged from. That search has turned up a long list of bands, spin-offs and solo pursuits like Mink Mussel Creek, GUM, The Dee Dee Dums, Space Lime Peacock and, perhaps most rewardingly, the raved-up psych outfit Pond.
Pond has long been considered a side project or an offshoot of Tame Impala because the bands have, at times, shared up to half of their members. But having just come off a headlining tour that stretched from Toronto to Brazil, and now gearing up to release their sixth album, it’s clear that they are much more than that at this point.
Pond and Tame Impala have an intertwining history that dates back to the mid-aughts when a community of young musicians began playing together in and around the Perth scene.
“I had been in a few high school bands and then, after I moved to the city, we started going as Mink Mussel Creek with Kevin and some other dudes from Perth,” explains Pond frontman Nick Allbrook, referring to Tame Impala leader Kevin Parker. “I eventually started playing in Tame Impala, and that’s how we met Jay [Watson]. He was playing in another band and moved onto the couch in our shared house. Then, everyone started getting preoccupied with Tame Impala.”
While the two bands are sonically cut from the same cloth—and continue to share a common member in Watson—Pond has gradually veered off in its own direction but still manages to take cues from the Tame playbook. If Tame Impala is the well-spoken sibling who gets all their homework done on time and never gets in trouble, then Pond is the rebellious one who smokes pot and has green hair, but still enjoys reading James Joyce. Both share a passion for retro-fried psych-rock, but while Tame is introspective and self- aware, Pond gravitates toward late-‘70s and early-‘80s rock excess with more of an organic, tongue-in-cheek appeal. If Tame Impala is Perth’s Beatles, then Pond is the city’s Rolling Stones.
Pond formed in 2008, about the same time as Tame Impala, and began as somewhat of a playful side project for Allbrook, Watson and Tame Impala guitar tech Joseph Ryan to write and create their own songs. (Parker writes and records nearly all of Tame Impala’s music alone.) Allbrook gives a lengthy, philosophical explanation behind the name Pond, but then retracts it, laughs and says their moniker was actually inspired by Krautrock bands with similarly simple one-word names. With shared ideas for how to approach songcraft, Allbrook, Watson and Ryan started writing songs individually and bringing them to the band.
“At the beginning, we wanted to be real stupid, I guess,” says Allbrook. “We just sort of wanted to be something teetering on the edge of being a joke band that’s still managing to touch some actual emotional resonance. We kind of just wanted to not give a fuck and be cool, psychedelic jesters.”
Recording at a frenetic rate, the group released their debut Psychedelic Mango in early 2009, followed by another ridiculously titled album, Corridors of Blissterday before the end of the year. Both records went largely unnoticed. However, by the time that Allbrook and company released their fourth album, Beard, Wives, Denim, Tame Impala’s popularity had skyrocketed and fans started to catch on to the other bands in the Perth scene like Pond, Mink Mussel Creek and The Dee Dee Dums.
“I think everyone opened their eyes when they saw Tame Impala and if they hadn’t done that, a whole lot of bands from Perth and Australia who are getting looked at now would never have been discovered,” Allbrook admits. “Kev wasn’t exactly a go-getting entrepreneur of the music business. He was just doing the same fucking thing all of us were doing in the bedroom next door to mine. Then, someone plucked the Tame Impala thing up and it all progressed suddenly and they looked at everyone else and liked it. If no one had ever said, ‘Dude, I like this Tame Impala band,’ then I’m sure a lot of people would still be picking mulberries in the backyard or something.”
Within a few months of releasing Beard, Wives, Denim, Pond sold out New York’s famed Bowery Ballroom, played a handful of major festivals and toured nearly half the world. Shortly after, Allbrook stepped down from his post as bassist in Tame Impala in part to focus on Pond full time. The announcement came in the form of a Facebook post stating that Allbrook was “hopping off the Tame Impala bandwagon so that he can try and screw his head back on, and make an attempt to assimilate back into society. A task the rest of us fear we will one day have to perform….”
When asked about his sudden and unexpected departure, Allbrook says, “I probably changed. The weight of the world crushes your childish spirit and you start seeing that everything is a little bit fucked. Also, you get more ambitious and you want to better yourself and write better songs and progress in different ways. You don’t just want to sit around all day in a backyard eating mushrooms while writing songs about bees or something…I don’t regret moving on, it’s always good to move on. I’m just glad that I still hang out with everyone just as much.”
While Allbrook is physically small, slightly awkward and almost prepubescent looking, onstage, he commands a glam-tinged, highly energetic frontman persona—although he says he’s toned down on the antics now that he’s taken on more difficult guitar parts. There’s certainly been a growing sense of maturity with regard to the band, but they still tend to “weird out” in a Zappa kind of way. To the average listener, it may seem like Pond is just a bunch of stoned-out, beer-chugging Aussies having a rave-up. Though that may be largely true of their live performances, on record, there’s something deeper going on.
In 2013, the group released their fifth album, Hobo Rocket, which they recorded, much like their previous efforts, in a mere three days. It contains seven spontaneous, indulgent psych songs that tend to unfold into extended, bombastically narcotic jams.
Their new album, Man It Feels Like Space Again, however, is different. These songs are more focused and were actually recorded prior to the tracks on Hobo Rocket, but due to some dissatisfaction with the sessions, they decided not to release them while they worked on new material instead. Earlier this year, the band revisited the tapes and reworked the songs. Then, Kevin Parker mixed them. The album is a solidified form of the sound they’ve been perfecting over the years. It no longer feels like a side project.
Combining a range of influences from Elton John to Suicide to King Crimson, the songs are musically all over the map, partly owing to the individualistic nature of the songwriting process—the same one that birthed Pond in the first place.
“We pen songs separately and then learn them for the live stuff,” explains Allbrook. “During recording, they get sifted through the filter of other people. But they’re individually written, most of the time.”
The anthemic psych freak-outs are more concise, far-out and riff-heavy this time around. It’s a deceptively complex album. At times, that can be marred by the Perthians love of blown-out, lo-fi bass and drums which reveal intensely emotional, semi-apocalyptic insights from Allbrook, whose voice on tracks like opener “Waiting Around for Grace” sounds even more hoarse than in the past. While there’s still an obvious refusal to take things too seriously, both the nature of the lyrics and the overall feel of the album suggest a deeper, darker perspective than before.
“It’s somewhere between that original big, cosmic joke thing where we were completely ignorant, and the other side—being overly concerned and weighed down by the horrible, bleak entropy of what we’re doing with everything right now. That’s always ready and willing to crush everyone’s spirits and make everyone want to push the button and explode everything,” he says. “I think we’re kind of trying to land somewhere in the middle, where you hold on to the innocence and accept that things are fucked. I think that’s kind of the musical and ideological thing behind it.”
Though they’ve gone in different directions, it’s obvious that the experience that Allbrook gained playing in Tame Impala has inspired him to focus more intently on Pond.
When asked if he ever envisioned his own project reaching the level of success that it has, and whether he thinks they can take it further, he laughs and says, “Yeah, I envisioned it. I envisioned it when I was sitting taking a nap when I was like 12 or something. I had great visions of it. But I am fucking surprised that we’ve come over [to the U.S.] and that people actually want us to come—not because we’re Australian but because we’re all bitches—and I wouldn’t want to talk to any of these bastards in my spare time. But I’m grateful.”