Pontiak are a band striving to create something different each time they approach an album. Last year’s Comecrudos was envisaged as a soundtrack to a lost roadtrip whilst Echo Ono, released this month, is an attempt to recreate colours as sounds. Having chatted to bassist Jennings Carney during the recording of the album, it felt like the three brothers who make up the band had finally settled on a definitive approach and the “vibes” in the studio were positive, and full of a belief they’d settled on a great sound. So, what better time to tap into these feelings of positivity and to ask them about the recording process, their influences and whether they’re likely to run out of steam any time soon. Jennings answered the questions with the occasional input from Van.
First thing’s first – the record is LOUD, my iPod actually needs to be turned down when playing it. Did you approach recording it differently to previous sessions? It sounds much more like your live shows.
It is a really loud record. We intentionally recorded it that way so we could get the saturated tone that we use live. We recorded to tape very hot and sometimes blown out as you can hear on the last track. We love the way loud music allows itself to be physically felt so we tried to capture that on tape. We record 90 percent of the material live and we make adjustments as we go. We might find that the take is great, but the kick drum is not quite tacky enough, or the bass is too round, or the guitars are too washy. We do some corrections and then go back and do another take. Alternatively these specific sounds can become the inspiration themselves. All of a sudden an unexpected tone can make a composition work, a happy accident.
Where your previous album, Comecrudos, was the perfect soundtrack for a roadtrip, this sounds more like the music for some kind of apocalypse party!
Haha an apocalypse party! Funny you should mention it because months before we even started recording we sat around thinking that we wanted Echo Ono to be an album people put on at a party while everyone was having a good time. Though we hadn’t talked about that idea since and never returned to it throughout the recordings. But Echo Ono covers new territory and represents somewhat of a new direction for us, though we think of all our releases as being connected through an artistic progression.
What new direction do you think you’ve taken with Echo Ono?
Van: We made an album that was direct. We have been experimenting with song structure and performance for years and with Echo Ono we wanted to focus on writing direct songs that could connect – not unlike the Stooges or Howlin’ Wolf. With our previous albums, we had worked on spontaneity. I tend to see songs in colours and so on any album they create a whole image. When you can hear the music in colours and see them as a final picture its an inspiring thing if the painting not so bad. A painting visually represents all the layers, strokes and material that come together in a painting to create the whole picture. In this way we used sounds to do the same thing, except as music. A little adjustment here, a little tweaking there and a final composition comes together. But as colour through tone, audio texture and composition.
How do you approach writing material?
Each album is different for us. We write collaboratively for the most part and we have been honing a writing process for years. It has taken us at least four albums to arrive at the point in the process where we are now. Inspiration for us is the act of getting in the studio and writing. Therefore throughout each process we find different points of inspiration. Echo Ono became a colour project for us. The idea is that like paint on a canvas, the sounds on tape can be applied in thick or thin strokes and with different amounts of thinner and can be of varying levels of saturation. We wanted the album to be warm colors, saturated and applied thickly. This is where loudness helps.
When listening to your music, I always draw parallels with the dust-bowl era of American history for the reason that I hear a raw dusty realness to your music…
Thats an interesting image. We have to admit that the dust-bowl era has never played a part directly in our music, but we are huge fans of Steinbeck, specifically Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden. We love that so many people think our music sounds organic and raw. We want it to sound that way. It’s important for us to connect with people through this album and we want people to feel it in a way that’s natural for them. Things that are real make people feel better, whether its music, food or any other aspect of life.
Which parts of Steinbeck’s writing do you think speaks to you directly? With Kerouac’s “lost” book finally being released, do you subscribe to his romanticism of the American dream or prefer Steinbeck’s more rugged and realistic approach?
Van: I have always loved Steinbeck and his style. Like all great art, his writing is revelatory. Kerouac on the other hand feels like going to a party. Sometimes its awesome, other times its tedious and I am ready to go home and have a drink. I love to read and its certainly the biggest influence on my lyrics. I am currently immersed in two polish novels, Cosmos by Witold Gombrowicz and In Red by Magdalena Tulli. I am also a huge fan of the greats like Goethe, Tolstoy, Mahfouz, Nabakov, Bolano, and recently the Norwegian author Karl Knausgaard.
Jennings: I love Steinbeck. I read a few Kerouac books early on, and his gregarious nature drew me in when I was younger. But I think that there is something to the way that Steinbeck wrote about California specifically. It’s hard to pinpoint, but traveling through Salinas and seeing the fields and farms that were his geographical muse, it helped me relate to his world in a way.
You’re a prolific band, do you ever worry about running out of steam?
Because we draw inspiration from the writing and recording process its sort of a self sustaining cycle. But in order to keep things fresh we are constantly having to give up ideas or processes that we have used in the past for newer ones. And that in and of itself can be a massively time consuming ordeal. We love writing, recording and playing music. Its our passion and it gives us energy, inspires us and keeps us looking into the future.
What do you see in the future for Pontiak?
Van: We are getting very excited to hit the road in Europe and in the States this spring. After that I am sure we will hit the studio. We already have the idea for the next album!