Photo by Pooneh Ghana.
(A version of this story was originally published in the Sun-Herald)
There are two weird things about this new album from Perth’s trippy band of world travellers, Pond, and neither of them is the fact that it’s called Tasmania.
They’ve made a psychedelic rock record that isn’t really rock; they’ve made the most political album of the past year – taking in sexism, the environment, refugees and indigenous rights - that doesn’t actually mention politics.
“It was a natural thing because we have social and political concerns but we don’t claim to be, or try to be, really knowledgeable or savvy policymakers,” says Nick Allbrook, the band’s principal songwriter and singer of the socio-political thrust. “We’re nothing but exactly what we are: just musicians who want to live the best life and believe in love and nature and stuff like that.
“Maybe it comes across a sort of political because a lot of those things are based around a fear of people ruining or people challenging the sort of ideals in a big way that affects us.”
Ok, there’s a third thing: Allbrook, whose songs on this record clearly reflect that he is a thinker who can’t be dismissed by the sceptical as merely some stoner who knows his way around a fretboard, would rather downplay his intelligence than assert his right to make informed comments.
In new songs such as Daisy (“Nobody heard me crying in my sleep/Me and the men of the frontier stack the bodies in a heap/Jimmy grabs a beer and we wash our hands in the creek/Ooh, talk is cheap.”), and Goodnight P.C. C (“Every day I wake miles away/Hoping today's my day/Living in fear same old voice in my ear/End to a real good year/Helplessly detained overstayed/Guessing I can't complain.”) Allbrook, “just [a] musician”, makes more sense than a dozen IPA mouthpieces hogging the microphone on an ABC panel discussion, or some MRA types claiming victimhood.
Not for nothing does he say in Selene, “men fear power and call it sin”.
“That’s something I try to remind myself but I think everyone, well, most people, would agree the systems that govern our lives really thrive on making the people they control feel ignorant,” Allbrook says. “And I’m a victim of that as much as anyone else.”
In fact you could take out left/right politics from any discussion of Pond, just focus on the bastardry and failures of human-to-human interactions, and be given plenty of stuff to chew on.
“In [Selene] there’s a lot of thought about how much of an old trope that is, and how deeply ingrained in human behaviour that is, and the characterisation of maternal fears as stereotypes,” he says. “It’s something we should engage with, the reality of what gets looked at as immoral or gets called hysterical. But the album is also tied up in self-doubt and this dichotomy of righteous anger and shame, a sense of responsibility but apathy as well, having been crippled by fear that sometimes emboldened and empowered.”
Allbrook, a long-haired vegan who only semi jokingly describes himself as “someone who will always be yelled at by a speeding Monaro when I’m walking along the road“, is keen to say that it’s all well and good to speak about the need for change “but to be truthful and personal it also has to include the other side of it, which is being unsure and scared.”
There is an interesting side panel discussion of anger and shame on this album, in relation to what might be called national pride. Notwithstanding its title, Tasmania, both philosophically and in its lyrical reference points looks beyond the boundaries of Australia. However, the examination of his own backyard is implicit in most songs, and explicit in lines such as “I don’t know if I can trust my country anymore”.
It’s stupid that anyone even has to defend themselves on this basis, but there’s no question he is connected to this country, love many aspects of it, which means his criticisms can’t be dismissed easily by the love it or leave it crowd. How does he reconcile his internationalist perspective with a nationalistic element?
“I don’t know that you can. The simple side of it is that I do, unequivocally love this country, in a deep, physical way, and feeling at home,” he says. “And deeply wanting it to be okay. But it’s hard to reconcile these things and it’s not something that I feel I can do for myself, or for anyone else, easily.”
Lest we forget, going back to the beginning of this conversation there’s the way this album veers even further away from rock’n’roll, both its rhythms and its guitars.
“We love rock ‘n’ roll, we were initiated to music from playing it, but we don’t particularly want to make it or listen to it a lot anymore,” Allbrook says, and when you hear songs such as Burnt Out Star, which is some crack-in-the-sky pop like Spiritualized, or Shame, which is almost dark R&B, the point is driven home.
“The goal of making any kind of art is you start off with an idea [which] shows you what you want to be by its faults and inadequacies, and you follow that,” he says. “You follow that and change what you don’t like until you do like it and can listen to it and feel proud. If I was listening to Moth Wings [the guitar heavy freakout from their 2012 album, Beards, Wives, Denim] part 20 I’d feel disappointed. Maybe the root of that is what you’re listening to, what you look at and think about, but it’s really about following intuition.”
Beyond intuition, is there a philosophy for this album, musically and lyrically?
“In a sense it’s a tonic to great fear and desperation. It really relishes body movement and sensuality and water and nature, but it also expresses the root of those fears, which,” Allbrook chuckles softly, “might be less of a tonic.”
But then, sometimes a tonic isn’t enough.
Tasmania is out now.
Pond play Triffid, Brisbane, March 5; Metro Theatre, Sydney, March 6; Croxton Bandroom, Melbourne, March 7.