Pond on new album The Weather
Pond guitarist Joe Ryan talks impending nuclear threat, colonialism, and producing with Kevin Parker ahead of the Aussie group's seventh album The Weather
“There’s a huge squirrel right next to me,” Joe Ryan exclaims down the line from his hotel room in LA’s Silver Lake. “It’s the biggest squirrel I’ve ever seen in my life. He’s bloody huge, he must be getting fat from people dropping stuff from the food trucks everywhere.”
The guitarist and founding member of the eclectic psych-rock outfit Pond landed in the city the day prior to this interview. “I haven’t had my morning cup of tea yet,” he warns, adding that the jet lag has “got me by the balls.” The Aussie quartet are at the beginning of a two-month-long international tour in support of their seventh album The Weather. As with their 2015 release Man, It Feels Like Space Again, the forthcoming record was produced by Tame Impala frontman and former Pond member, Kevin Parker.
“We actually finished recording [The Weather] in January 2016,” he laughs, "but you may have heard of this little band called Tame Impala, who got bloody huge after their album Currents... So Kevin and Jay [Watson], who is in both bands, were off quite a bit, and we didn’t want to force old KP with deadlines. So we were pretty much just sitting on it for a while.”
The album was recorded in Parker’s newly renovated studio in Perth, Western Australia – “I think we were the first of the bands to jump in there and actually use it to record” – and in Pond’s typically collaborative fashion, it features the input of band members both past and present. “We got our mate Richard Ingham, who plays in a number of Perth bands – the latest of which I can’t even pronounce, it’s some crazy, crazy mixture of letters – but he also played in our original band Mink Mussel Creek. So he was basically the engineer, and Kevin would sort of poke his head in every couple of days and be like, ‘You’re not breaking anything?'” he laughs.
“It was a bit of a team effort, but it was cool. We were only in the studio for two weeks or so, and then over the course of a year until [Kevin] mixed it we just added a couple of overdubs, maybe changed a couple of lyrics here and there. But for the most part it was recorded and written as we did it over those two weeks.”
The lead single Sweep Me Off My Feet is perhaps one of Pond’s most pop-leaning tracks to date, and though the album retains the psych-fuzz jams that have won them a cult following, elsewhere it explores a more electronic tone than on any of their previous releases. “It’s definitely got a few more synthesised sounds on it,” Ryan agrees. “We can’t keep making the same album again and again and again, otherwise it gets a bit monotonous for ourselves. And I’m sure people who listen to the albums want a bit of variety anyway, you know? I certainly do.”
When The Skinny suggests that Parker’s influence can be heard in the similarities between their latest record and the synthesised, R'n'B elements of Tame Impala’s most recent album, Ryan pauses. “Oh yeah, I could see that… I guess you’re right,” he laughs after a moment of consideration.
“I think [Parker] is more refined in his sound, like he’s spent hours and hours and days working on one particular sound to make it his own. [Whereas] we’d just be like, ‘Yeah that, that’ll do, that sounds pretty good!’” he admits.
“It was kind of cool though; we didn’t actually have a working bass guitar so a lot of the sounds you’ll hear are [from] a really small synth, as small as can be, [with] a gnarly, gnarly low-end. So once we discovered that little beauty we were pretty much using that for every sub-bass part on the album.”
As for Ryan’s favourite track from the forthcoming album, “I think I’m going to have to go with Edge of the World Pt. 1,” he responds without hesitation. “It’s just got that one bit in the middle where it goes up into this Beach Boys kind of French horn, staccato bit, and it’s like train tracks and cop cars whizzing around, and then it just enters space!
“It [goes] from this really mellow, timpani bit into this luscious cacophony of harmonies,” he continues. “I think when we were doing that one I sort of looked up from the guitar desk and looked around at the boys and was just like…. 'Fuck! This is going to be a sick album!'” he explains with a laugh.
A semi-concept album of sorts, thematically The Weather traverses such grave topics as nuclear armageddon, the impact of colonialism, and white privilege. Of the band’s writing process, Ryan explains: “We though it would be good if Nick [Allbrook] wrote most of the lyrics, even for the songs that were [mine and Jay’s], just to make it seem like some continuity ran through the album. I guess that it’s kind of loosely about Perth, Western Australia, but more broadly about the world at this kind of boiling point.
As for the creative benefits of being based in Perth – a city not traditionally regarded as a cultural hub – Ryan expands: “Back in the day, before anyone knew who the hell we were, it was like – and still is – a little piece of paradise out there. I mean, our winter’s like... at the most you get down to three degrees for half an hour at 3am; the summers are great, you’ve got beautiful beaches; and it’s very, very isolated as well.
“When we were kind of honing our skills and our tastes, it was the isolation of the whole city that really contributed a lot to it,” he continues. “It became like a little microcosm of the world. No one was really influenced by any particular kind of scene or ego that goes with different cities in different parts of the world. It’s just a beautiful, organic, lovely place with no consequences for being a bit bold or daring.”
Going back to the aforementioned ‘boiling point’ of the world at large, this tension is referenced throughout the album in the form of news broadcast snippets and references to figures such as the infamous mining mogul Gina Rinehart. Surely, we ask Ryan, this is the most openly political work that Pond have recorded?
“I’d say so actually, now that you mention all those parts. It’s still not like…" He pauses. "It’s too early in the morning, I can’t even think of the most politically driven album I know,” he laughs, “but I’d say to date it’s our most overtly political. It doesn’t really feel like it until you read the liner notes and you’re like, holy shit, Nick’s talking about all this pensive stuff.
“I actually read his lyrics when we were getting the artwork together for the vinyls, and I was like, ‘Holy shit! You’re a lyrical surgeon mate, I didn’t even know you were saying half this stuff.'”
Another track released as a single, the cosmic album opener 30000 Megatons is the album’s most direct meditation on impending nuclear threat. Yet Ryan is still emphatically hopeful that the song is heard as a warning, and not a prophecy: “Let’s hope not, hey? That would be pretty fucking shit!” he exclaims. “But yeah, we did drop [the track] the night Trump was announced as the winner. Kevin was mixing the album and he was like, ‘Finish this song – now’s the time to drop it!'”
The Weather certainly takes aim at the strange state of the world – a state that Ryan believes has gotten “even stranger” in the year-and-a-bit since the album was first recorded. Of life in 2017, he muses in typically laid-back Antipodean style: “I’ve just been putting it out of my mind and enjoying my cup of tea every morning. When you’re out on the road with your best mates it’s easy to just put it out of your mind and enjoy the moment, you know? When everything’s out of your hands, you’ve just got to push on through.”
The Weather is released on 5 May via Marathon Artists. Pond play Stylus, Leeds, 17 Jun; The Art School, Glasgow, 19 June; Gorilla, Manchester, 20 Jun.