While the whole world melts am I meant to just watch? In celebration of the band's impending national tour (supporting singer-songwriter Mac DeMarco), we revisit our favourite shoot with Perth-based five-piece Pond, from the 'Heartbreak' issue of RUSSH Magazine.
Fremantle freqs Pond have been operating on their own plane for an earthly decade or so, stealing studio time between a myriad of other projects and beaming in high concept records with minimal fuss that map their evolving universe, equally rooted on terra firma as they are outer space. Early Pond records were low budget, scruffily psychedelic affairs. As time passes they become more cosmic, more grandiose, more lavishly ambitious and imaginative sermons. On their latest, Tasmania, due out in March, their conceptual focus hones in on the environmental state of the nation, with all the heartbreak, frustration and eventual apathy that can entail, wrapped in adventurous, uplifting progressive pop. Employing an artillery of electronics to complement their sizzling chops, Tasmania is the quintet’s lithe, taut, futuristic warning, transmitting from the apocalypse, jamming like life on Earth depends on it as paradise burns.
The themes of the record grew out of principal singer and songwriter Nicholas Allbrook’s own observations and rising unease that felt too significant to ignore. “I think I saw someone use the phrase ‘competitive wokeness’, and realised that there’s an avalanche of strong sentiment on every side, a lot of really vitriolic stuff. I’m a pretty scared, confused little boy in the world, and I don’t want to pretend to be anything more prophetic or knowledgeable than what I am, but I guess it’s just being truthful. Instead of writing about a path that other people should take, it’s just talking about how we’re all freaked out.”
A chance pub encounter with a scientist made Allbrook’s fears tangibly, scientifically real. “When I was in Tasmania I met a guy who did some work for CSIRO, we were getting pissed and he showed me this projected thermal map of Australia. Over the years it gets slowly eaten up by red, from the north-west where I grew up. The last blue spot is Tasmania down in the bottom east corner, and I thought that was a real visual representation of the cool pleasantness that we need and are going to need more. It’s pretty scary.” The prophetic image set Allbrook and ultimately Pond down a vivid rabbit hole that inspired the album named for that last comfortably habitable place.
Tasmania is the quintet’s lithe, taut, futuristic warning, transmitting from the apocalypse, jamming like life on Earth depends on it as paradise burns.
“I’m a pretty scared, confused little boy in the world, and I don’t want to pretend to be anything more prophetic or knowledgeable than what I am, but I guess it’s just being truthful. Instead of writing about a path that other people should take, it’s just talking about how we’re all freaked out.”
Tasmania was shaped by Allbrook’s feelings of fear coupled with resignation and quiet acceptance, tampered by the soothing possibilities offered by things we take for granted, the same things that are increasingly at risk. “I guess it’s about escape, and being somewhere between having a feeling of responsibility and terror. And how with all the things that need to be addressed in the world, a lot of it comes down to just being real scared and feeling responsible, but also just wanting to be cool, as in temperature-wise, and go for a swim, enjoy your family and friends and music, and the shame that goes along with that as well. A lot of it’s framed in and around water, and how that’s really Mad Max, water being the great healer and commodity.” The power of the ocean that hangs so heavily in the national psyche was something that floated into the record. “I don’t live in Fremantle at the moment, but I have a lot of my life, and just the pure relief and bliss of getting in the ocean, its a really, really powerful feeling, one of the most powerful feelings for me. But then even just swimming, ducking your head under a pool and hearing the world kind of get pulled back a few hundred miles from your head, is really relieving. That thing that you know as an Australian person, that feeling of the relief of water …”
The previous Pond album, The Weather, touched on similar themes, but for Allbrook it was something that warranted further exploration in spite of it often feeling like folly. “I feel a bit silly really. Because you know other people have a lot more direct challenges to their life and liberty and pursuit of happiness, so it does feel pretty naval gazing but it is big, and it is something that’s real. Maybe it’s a fear that’s probably reserved for the privileged few, but you can only be truthful about your own experience, the other option being shut up – which I’ve also considered a lot, sometimes it seems like it’s the only thing to do. There’s only a slight shift of perspective and growth in the themes of the whole thing which is more like abject terror of reality and hopefully less soap-boxy left wing doom and gloom and it is people’s fault and we’re all gonna die.” Rather than doom and gloom, Pond paint the picture of a future unknown in swathes of shimmering and triumphant modern psych, an explosive juxtaposition to the lyrical direction.
“I met a guy who did some work for CSIRO and he showed me this projected thermal map of Australia. Over the years it gets slowly eaten up by red, from the north-west where I grew up. The last blue spot is Tasmania ...”
Memories of growing up in Australia’s north-west played a crucial part in Allbrook’s filtering of the situation into song. “In the song Daisy there’s a lot of reflection on childhood images of the Kimberley, and the frangipanis and people who seemed so loving and caring and open and looking back on it now and imagining the shit they’ve been put through by people that I could represent. So thinking about those memories played a big part, and not just that specifically, memory’s always a massive part of writing, for sure – musically as well, lyrically, you’re drawing on what you know and what you’ve experienced and what little phrases or sounds or feelings that have stuck in your head, even from just sitting around a share house listening to Yes or some shit.”
Contemplating how to best deal with the associated feelings of resignation in the face of environmental meltdown have led Allbrook to ponder the therapeutic possibilities of movement and dance, potentially pointing Pond in a future primitive direction. “I’d love to make it more physical in the future, something that’s aimed at body movement. I guess our brains and our theorising as humans haven’t really gone that well so far. Maybe it’s just being nostalgic for a more visceral, tactile time when walking and wordless hollering and rhythm would keep us busy enough so that we didn’t have to fuck each other up in really brainless ways. I think that’s it, I just have nostalgia for a simpler time of rhythm and dancing and stuff, it would be good to do something more in tune with that.”
For now though, Pond have this album in the wings and the good gospel to spread. Having got his thoughts down on record, planetary messages are making their way back to Allbrook. “The crazy thing is, since all of that and since we’ve made this album and I’ve been away from Australia, I’ve got back and three separate unrelated friends have bought property in Tasmania,” he says. “It’s a bit like ‘shit man, don’t get too real!’”
Allbrook has always been a sensitive soul, the kind who seemingly picks up on sentiments and vibrations otherwise invisible to the rest of us. On Tasmania Pond wonderfully, poetically capture the feeling of the moment, making for a glorious soundtrack to the planet’s demise. For anyone with half a spare thought for Mother Earth, it resonates on a visceral, vital level, marking it as arguably Pond’s most potent transmission yet.
Catch Pond perform with Mac DeMarco in January 2020 at Sydney's Hordern Pavilion (January 10), Melbourne's Festival Hall (January 11), Brisbane's Fortitude Valley (January 15) and Perth's Red Hill Auditorium (January 18).