American psychedelic rockers Pontiak are about to release their new album INNOCENCE through Thrill Jockey. Sander van den Driesche reviewed INNOCENCE describing it as "INNOCENCE shows a Pontiak on the top of their game with a heavier, more melodic, and more engaging album that easily sits on top of my list as an early favourite for 2014". Sander got a chance to ask drummer Lain Carney some questions resulting in some great and interesting answers. Pleas read on...
(((o))): Firstly, let me take this opportunity to congratulate you with the new album as I think it’s another great release. You have quite a back catalogue already with a new release nearly every year from 2005 onwards, but nothing’s been released in 2013. Was it more difficult to write and record INNOCENCE and did it therefore take a bit longer?
Lain: No, it wasn't more difficult to write INNOCENCE. We gave ourselves more time to write it intentionally. You know, we like to set deadlines whether they are near or far, just on the horizon, so to speak and this particular album had a deadline farther in the distance.
(((o))): How do you guys get your material together? Does any of you write most of the songs, or do you go into the studio or rehearsal space and just jam and see where it takes you?
Lain: We write both ways actually. For INNOCENCE, Van had written several songs that we arranged for the band. While we were writing the album though we were also getting into the studio every day and playing for several hours just coming up with group material. We would play and talk and play and eat and play and drink some wine and play some more and talk… just shake things out, record some ideas, sit on them find something nice, teeeeeaaaaaaassssseee it out, work around it, find a melody, work that out, re-write the music to suite and support the melody, record that, sit on it… it's a process and I LOVE it. We have to tell ourselves, alright dudes, we gotta go home. I mean, we could spend 24-hours a day, seven days a week in the studio. That's the beauty in writing music--its infinite and there's always more to sing.
(((o))): I think INNOCENCE is a bit more accessible than your previous work (in a good way), was that the intention or is that how it just came out?
Lain: The general accessibility of INNOCENCE that you perceive is indeed intentional and I'm glad you've sensed it. I think we are a band of all types of songs and for this effort we said, let's challenge ourselves to write songs that connect with people. All people. I love to write weird shit, but I love songs that are also not so much weird as they are just strong, and that is a very difficult thing to do - write something that is accessible yet not cheesy, simple but also poignant. I hope we've done that!
(((o))): Compared with your previous releases, INNOCENCE sounds a bit heavier and fuzzier. Have you experimented with different sounds and/or backline for this album? Or have you used a different recording process or engineer for this album?
Lain: We engineer all our albums so that crew was the same. Our gear is always in flux but it remained relatively similar to previous works. I think what you hear as heavier and fuzzier has a lot to with many little things rather than one specific thing. How we are playing together… letting certain things "pop" at certain times, contributed I know. Also, I have a mantra that if you want something to sound heavy, the naive band will play harder and louder and with more notes. But that will only get you so far. I feel that to get louder and harder and heavier everybody play less notes, back off and find whatever can effectively pop out of the tunes, whatever that it is, and go from there. Heaviness is an unnameable thing but it starts with "less is more", I believe.
(((o))): I believe the capitals in INNOCENCE are intentional. Is there any specific reason for this?
Lain: Yes! We thought it looked cooler that way!
(((o))): I love the cover art for INNOCENCE. It is very simplistic but also very stylish. What can you tell us about the artwork, like who designed it and is there a specific idea behind it?
Lain: Van [lead vocals and guitar] has done all of our album artwork. I think he has spent a lot of time honing his eyeball for it. We usually let him come up with a couple ideas and then toss out opinions but it's really his thing. I know he liked the upside down stars as he found them to be unnerving in a way.
(((o))): You must get asked about what it’s like to be in a band with your 2 brothers all the time, so I’m not going to ask too much regarding that, but is any of the brothers taking more of a leadership role in the band, or perhaps more initiative than the others?
Lain: No, I think we all carry a certain part of the band. It happened pretty naturally actually. We all have things that we're better at than the other brother and so we'll just pick up that torch and start running. We are open about it as well. I mean, it's no secret and we don't shy away from saying, I do this well let me handle this.
(((o))): You’re preparing for another big European tour. What attracts you to come over to Europe so often? Is the public here more enthusiastic about your music than in the US?
Lain: Well, Europe has always been a little more enthusiastic about our tunes than the US but we also just love to play for people and play wherever we can and that has brought us to Europe whenever we can.
(((o))): Are there any specific places in Europe you enjoy playing more than other places and why?
Lain: We love it all!
(((o))): With all the touring you’re doing, there must be one or more funny anecdotes you can tell us about?
Lain: One story comes to mind: Jennings [bass and vocals] and I were eating lunch in Baltimore before a show and we were sitting outside on a patio. We had ordered the inferno wings or something like that. They were the hottest wings on Earth, so to speak - like, there were warnings and cautions etc. We were dining with a friend and he got up to use the bathroom. All of a sudden this random dude runs up looking really frantic and sat at our table, grabbed our buddies water and proceeded to pound it. He then looked at my brother and me and said, "I just dropped seven hits of acid and I'm freaking out!" He then grabbed a hot wing and started rubbing his hands all over it and then sucking on it. Both Jennings and I yelled "NO!!!!!!" but it was too late. He dropped the wing as the heat set in and then grabbed his face with his sauced hands rubbing the dark red sauce all over his eyes and shit. He started HOWLING and bolted from the table down to the end of the block where he began to writhe and puke into this trash can. I followed him over, not really sure what to do and he just took off running. At this point he was drenched in sweat. About five minutes later I saw him running, still creaming like five blocks away and there were cop sirens not far off. Our friend returned from the bathroom and sat down and seeing the stricken looks on our faces asked, "what happened?"
(((o))): What do you think about the psychedelic rock band scene in general. Bands seem to be playing much bigger venues over here in the UK than 2 or 4 years ago, is it the same in the US?
Lain: Man, you got me there. I have no idea… sounds good to me though.
(((o))): Who is the best band Pontiak has shared the stage with?
Lain: We've shared the stage with some really fantastic bands so it would be impossible to say. BUT, watching Earthless slay it every night was pretty awesome.
(((o))): What is your favourite Pontiac car?
Lain: The Firebird has several amazing years. The '68, '73 and '78 being pretty awesome.
(((o))): This is a question we regularly ask bands, if you were an animal what animal would you be?
Lain: Do Superman or Magneto count? Can I say that?
(((o))): Are you aware that there’s a popular smoothie brand called Innocence Smoothies? Make sure you request them in your UK rider as they’re pretty tasty!
Lain: I was unaware of that. But I do like to stay regular ;) And an 'Innocence Smoothie' sounds like a clean and efficient bathroom visit to me!
(((o))): Thanks a lot for the chat Lain, and hope your upcoming tour will go great!
Lain: Thanks Sander! I hope to see you on the other side of the pond! Lain
Catch Pontiak playing for Baba Yaga's Hut in London in April.