Jay Watson: ‘I Need Pond To Be Just Stupid’
Twenty-one-year-old drummer Jay Watson talks to DOUG WALLEN about Pond, the “cheesy” pysch-rock band formed in the shadow of Tame Impala. Photos by BEN HAYES.
Tame Impala cast a long shadow, especially in the past two years. But festering and growing in that shadow has been the ideally named Pond, a Perth band featuring Tame Impala’s Jay Watson and Nick Allbrook. Three earlier albums saw low-key release, but now their fourth LP Beard Wives Denim is getting the full Modular treatment. Recorded at a friend’s farmhouse back in 2010, it includes drumming from Tame Impala frontman Kevin Parker, who also helped mix it.
But despite a likeminded fondness for addled psychedelia, Pond is perfectly capable of standing on its own. The falsetto-sung ‘Sorry I Was Under the Sky’ and ‘You Broke My Cool’ are parallel-universe smash hits, while other songs unearth either a weedy garage-rock madness or the idea of Iron Butterfly wrestling The Beatles in outer space. The end of ‘Dig Brother’ even summons the heavy bit of The Guess Who’s ‘No Time’, and there’s plenty of other nods to classic rock.
Before a US tour around SxSW, Watson mused on juggling bands (including his third project Gum) and moving from your standard psych into more of “a love of noise” as well as “timeless pop music”. And wouldn’t you know it: despite being more than a year old, Beard Wives Denim has both those elements in spades.
How differently did you approach this album than the previous three?
[On] the last one, Frond, we were trying to make a big, epic, widescreen pop album. Kind of like a Flaming Lips album. Obviously we didn’t really have the resources or talent. But for this one, we just wanted to do it live in one room. Try to have epic songs but have it sound like The Stooges, where it’s all bleeding into each of the mics and kind of moving-sounding. Like a big, living, breathing beast.
Did you have a big range of instruments and gear? There are some pretty cool sounds on there, between synths and guitar effects.
We did it in 2010. It was that long ago. I don’t know if we would do stuff like that now. We didn’t really know much about synths: I think whatever keyboard is on there is just a microKORG.
I like the keyboard at the start of ‘You Broke My Cool’.
Oh, that’s like an organ sound. That’s one of those old, ’80s, high school keyboards. Those wood-panel ones. It’s some Roland thing. We’re getting a lot more into keyboards now. As for the guitar sound, I still wasn’t that good at getting guitar sounds either. But Nick [Allbrook], who’s the singer, played a lot of guitar and got good tones. And Kevin [Parker], who mixed it and played drums on it and is the main dude in Tame Impala, is pretty talented with the sonic side of things. I was more of just a chump back then. I didn’t know what I was doing.
Why was there such a lag between recording and release?
Because when I signed the Tame Impala contract, everything that I’m part of has to go past Modular. Normally when we finish an album, we give it to them and I guess they like it or it’s a bit far out or not good enough. But this one they dug, so they wanted to put it out and we had to wait for them to put it out. Also, it always gets really hard when everyone’s in five bands as well. I started a band in the meantime and made an album, and Nick’s put out one with his other band and they’ve got two more coming out.
You started a third band?
Yeah, I have my own band, Gum. And Nick and Cam [Avery], our new drummer, play in this band Allbrook/Avery. It’s a bit annoying how long it took to come out, because we’ve already written the next one. I think it’s better. That’s what we can do now. It’s just a bit less…
No. It’s like we’ve found out how Pond sounds without resorting to referencing a particular thing or pastiche. Rather than each song sound like a couple of things we’ve dug on, it’s all in a big pot and each song sounds like the band. But that could be for more or less enjoyable listening. I don’t know yet. We’re gonna go pretty nuts with all the orchestration for the next one, I think. This one was quite stripped back, so the next one might be pretty Pet Sounds, or something. [Laughs]
I was going to ask about the logistics of juggling this band and Tame Impala, but if you’re juggling other bands too, it must just be a chaotic mess.
Yeah. I mean, none of our bands have ever really rehearsed that much. [Laughs] We always try and we’re just not very good at rehearsing. We do Pond in stints, when we have time together off, but in all the other bands the music is made by themselves at home or on computers. So there’s a lot more time than it seems to have lots of bands.
There was talk of the next Tame Impala album being more synthesiser-based Is that still happening?
It’s got lots of synths on it, but it’s got lots of everything on it. It’s got all the sort of stuff that was on the first one and a whole lot more stuff. I’m not allowed to say too much about that one, because it’s Kevin’s baby.
And it’s coming out sometime this year?
Yeah, I’m hoping in the middle of the year.
Is it right that the title Beard Wives Denim was based on this wish to go country and connect with simpler things?
Yeah, well, it’s more serious now but, when we started Pond, we really liked The Mighty Boosh and Ween and stuff like that. So it started off as a stupid, idiotic, rock‘n’roll sort of pastiche thing, and then we started to turn into our own band. But we always, with the album titles and the basic themes of the album, still come up with some stupid thing. Just because it makes it more fun. And we’re already in enough serious bands. It wears you out, music. Well, it wears me out. So I need Pond to be just stupid.
But Beard Wives Denim … when dudes like George Harrison or Eric Clapton had enough of being rock stars, they got double denim and went out in the country with their wives and got beards. We were gonna make an album like that. Kind of like a Laurel Canyon folk thing. There’s a couple of songs like that, but it just descended into glam rock.
Pond’s heading to the States soon. Do you know when you’re touring Australia?
Right after that tour. The end of April, I reckon.
How many years has Pond been a band?
Three-and-a-half, or four. We’ve done a lot more music than we’ve been able to put out. Hopefully we can make the whole release schedule more casual as the Tame Impala thing gets more intense and pop them out every six months, even if it’s just on the Internet.
You’re okay with Pond being second to Tame Impala?
Yeah, I’m okay with that. I used to be a little bit funny about my bands not having as much time as Kevin’s. But I really like the new Tame album. And I’m only 21: I’ve got plenty of time to have my own band. [Laughs] I really think that the new Tame one is pretty unique sort of sounds, so we’re gonna go with that. Pond is more just for people like us around the world or Australia who have similar taste. Kids can sort of dig it up and have a laugh.
What’s the Gum stuff sound like?
It’s more kind of super-honest, heartfelt, shoegaze-y music, I guess. All these songs I wrote about being paranoid. [Laughs]
Is some of it online?
No. I finished the album but I’m gonna release it after this Pond record. There’s live videos of stuff. The album’s called Delorean Highway.
Were there any challenges with Kevin mixing the Pond album?
Well, any time you record live, anything you do to the mix is gonna amplify all the little live noises. Y’know, the squiggles. We didn’t even bother, when we were recording it, to put any separation into it. We were literally standing two feet away from each other. So that was a problem.
But the whole approach with Pond is completely different. See, Kevin would spend six months working on his Tame album. With Pond, he spent a lot of time on his laptop when we were on tour, just doing it for us. But then when it came to mix it in the studio, him and Nick did it in a night. Just drunk beer and went, “That’ll do.” The Pond attitude is much more “whatever.” [Laughs] “We’ll do it better next time.” Or just doing it spontaneous and casually rather than fretting over it. Because I think the sounds could potentially be cheesy if you labour over the small points, y’know? Like, a couple songs are sort of funk. They sound much cooler if they’re kind of messy crack funk rather than LA studio funk. It comes across more “party.”
There’s a bit at the end of ‘Allergies’ that sounds more funk.
Oh yeah. I really like that song. That’s more like the Gum stuff. That heartfelt kind of pop, like Girls or something.
When did you first get into psych music?
I don’t know, it’s weird now. I wouldn’t say any [of us] even listens to it. I mean, there’s a lot of bands in Perth that are like that now. When I first started hanging out with these dudes, they were in this band called Mink Mussel Creek. They’re my age – teenagers – but they were like the gods of that Perth [scene]. They were like this crazy, Jethro Tull-meets-Boris sort of stoner-doom band. They were wild. Once I became friends with the dudes, I just got into it. You know when you’re a teenage boy and you listen to Zeppelin and Hendrix and stuff? It was just a natural progression. I’ve always spent a lot of time on the net researching bands. I was into Zeppelin and Hendrix and then I’d find the freakier versions. But it’s more like a love of noise now, rather than listening to much psych music.
For people who are teenagers now, you could be getting them into a lot of classic rock identifiers without them realising them.
Well, I think we’d rather be classic rock than psych rock, because we spend a lot of times trying to make the songs – it’s hard to say this without sounding retro or whatever, but make them sound like they’ve already been written. We spent a lot of time trying to write songs like that, so I’d be lying if I didn’t say we weren’t trying to write songs like Bowie or The Beatles or Neil Young or whatever. Kind of timeless pop music. That was the kind of aim with Beard Wives Denim.
“We’re gonna go pretty nuts with all the orchestration for the next one, I think. This one was quite stripped back, so the next one might be pretty ‘Pet Sounds’.”
I wanted to ask about the band’s name. I don’t know how much you’ve talked about it…
No, this is only the second interview.
Well, I’m a little older and when I first heard the name, I thought of the ’90s band that used to be on Sub Pop.
If we came up with it now, I’d probably go on the internet and see that there’s another band called Pond and not use it. But when we came up with it, that was in the squalor. I didn’t have a phone, we didn’t have the internet, nobody bothered to check. We were willing to change it: we were gonna put an umlaut over a letter or something. [Laughs] But we met some band in Portland once – that’s where they’re from, the grunge Pond – and they said they were nice guys and they wouldn’t care. It’s more their fans that get pissed off at us. I guess fans of that stuff are quite serious, and we’re quite … not serious. There’s always people on the internet calling us really cheesy.
I didn’t know the original Pond had such a defensive fan base.
Yeah, yeah. I actually had a dream about getting shot by some crazy grunge dude in Portland on stage, like Dimebag Darrell, because he was so angry about us being called Pond. So I hope that doesn’t happen. [Laughs]