Short and Sweet: WMSE Talks to Pontiak

Virginia’s band of brothers (literally), otherwise known as Pontiak, have just released another round of psych-laden sludge, compliments of Thrill Jockey Records and Innocence, ironically, is one helluva quagmire in lyricality. “Wasted in the street / Corrupted and I leave” Pontiak howls on their tenth release to-date (since 2005), Van, Lain and Jennings Carney sound readier than ever to rattle their windpipes and rattle their listeners’ eardrums with heavy sounds and blasted ideals. The band took a break from their tour to talk about their brotherly bond, audio & visuals and to nerd out about gear before their Milwaukee date at the Riverwest Public House this Friday.

Reviews — [PASTE] — have said that Innocence is a “major evolution” over your previous release, Echo Ono. Agree?

I think that on Innocence we took and distilled about ten years’ worth of playing — really cutting out the bullsh*t (as it were) and focusing on the melody as the central, most important part of the song. So, in that sense, sure. But it’s all a part of the same, giant artistic process. It’s ongoing, and so, always changing and hopefully moving in a forward, or at least, a thoughtful direction. I wouldn’t necessarily call it evolution because I don’t think of my artistic inner life that way. I think of it more as a learning process to find deeper truths into an aesthetic insight. But, I get what they mean!

How has your familial background played into Pontiak’s songwriting, thusfar?

Because we cannot fire each other, we have been coerced into finding new ways to communicate. Applicably, what that means for the songwriting purpose is that we have all tried to give up our egos for the ultimate goal of what is best for the song. I think in a lot of other bands one finds friction when people start to think they aren’t being heard or they are being creatively left out instead of thinking about what is best for the music, overall. But, maybe because I know that I cannot be fired, I can find that place where I am comfortable putting my ego aside for the betterment of the music!

Is artistic growth easier or harder when you’re so bonded?

Appropos the last question, I do believe that in this particular situation with my brothers, it is the inevitable result, otherwise we would have to break up as a band. But, it’s tough. Although I always say obstacles are a gift from the guru.

How does your cultural background (Virginia) play into your songwriting imagery and your eye for visual imagery when creating videos for your music and the band?

We grew up in a very rural county in Virginia called Rappahannock County. The blues guitar player John Jackson lived there and our father grew up knowing John’s legacy and music while he was growing up in Rappahannock. I think the Piedmont blues picking style and the Appalachian-style music we were exposed to while we were children probably did influence us to a degree, but I don’t know if I could quantify it. More than that, I am influenced by the art I see, the books I read, the food I eat and the places I visit.

What gear (and production techniques) help you to create your signature intensity?

For Innocence we recorded using a Soundcraft 6000 analog board which ran into an Otari MX 50/50 8-track tape deck. We have plenty of computers lying around waiting to be used and I think there is certainly a use for them in the recording/editing process. However, we used very little effects or outboard processors for Innocence and that did several things. First, we were forced to get the takes right. When using computers you can go in and edit the sh*t out of something — mask the inability of a player to hit the note or the beat. You can quantize the voice, get the pitch right. Basically cover up poor playing or inadequacies. You can’t do that with how we recorded. We had to hit the notes, play the beats and sing the harmonies the right way or else we didn’t keep the take.

Secondly, when recording to tape, there is no screen to look at while editing. What we found with earlier albums we recorded was that the computer screen allowed for us to make music with our eyes — that’s not a bad thing, inherently — but, it took us out of our ears. Music is made for the ears, and I think that bringing it back to the ears was a valuable process for us. Third, the medium we used for recording resonates with us. Digital is finite; analog is infinite. It’s an aesthetic decision on our part. I would like to add, though, that I do love technology and there is much cool music made with computers.

Where is this particular album taking you, post-release and are you doing anything different this time around on the road?

We are currently touring the US and will be headed to SXSW, Treefort Festival and a few others in March. We will be touring Europe in April and May.

Pontiak plays with Absolutely and WORK at the Riverwest Public House this Friday, February 21st. 9pm. 21+