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Pontiak Discuss Melody, the Dangers of Good Bourbon and the New Album ‘Innocence’

Pontiak
Thrill Jockey

In January 2004, Jennings, Van and Lain Carney decided to form Pontiak. Ten years, numerous albums and untold miles of touring later, this band of brothers are still going strong, with their new album ‘Innocence’ out on Jan. 28.

In a world where everything must be neatly placed under a category, Pontiak simply aren’t cut-and-dry examples of any given sound. From the distortion-heavy ‘Lack Lustre Rush’ to the gentle acoustic ‘Wildfires,’ their songs warrant tags ranging from indie and pyschedelia to hard rock. No matter how you classify them, the Virginia trio makes sure each album is something they’re very proud of, and from artwork to videos, they participate in every part of the LP-making process.

With six albums already under their belts, including 2012′s ‘Echo Ono,’ they decided to make ‘Innocence’ “all about the melody.” And even though their trademark rough sound is ever present, the disc shows how this group has grown over the course of their careers. Diffuser.fm spoke with Jennings about working with family, making short films and what happens when you bring a good bottle of bourbon into the studio.

You’ve released numerous albums and EPs, but it seems that with this particular LP, you took a different approach. Can you talk about the songwriting process and how this may have been different from your past work?

It’s all about the melody. And it’s also about the central idea that supports that melody. We would have a really strong melody and just work with that. We stripped each song down to it’s essentials — we wanted to have the music showcase the melody. I think we took what we have been doing for all these years and distilled those qualities into these songs. Who knows, maybe we will take a completely different approach next time.

What’s the song ‘Innocence’ about?

It’s about Van rooting around in Venezuela back in the ’90s, getting f—ed up on aguardiente, which is a pretty strong and sugary hooch in South America. I think he was hungover for a couple days — that mixed up with a healthy dose of food poisoning, too. They brought a bottle back in a two-liter plastic coke bottle for me. Whoa that stuff was potent!

Why did you decide to use it to name the album?

Once Van had finished the artwork, we looked at it and ‘Innocence’ just stood out for us. It also kind of helped to create an interesting picture with the cover of the LP with the upside-down stars. It worked really well for us conceptually in a sense.

What was the most memorable song to work on for this album?

‘Wildfires.’ Van had written the song and then presented it to the band for us to arrange. It was one of the first songs that we recorded. We had bought a really nice bottle of bourbon — the Jefferson Presidential Reserve 18 year — and knew that if it were the only bottle in the studio it would be drunk instantly. So we also bought a bottle of Rebel Yell to run interference. We set to work around 3PM and by 3AM had killed the bottle of RebYell as well as a case of beer and apparently someone ordered Chinese delivery, which is impressive by itself as we live in the middle of f—ing nowhere. But we had also recorded Wildfires and stumbled home. We held onto that bottle of Jefferson Reserve and drank a glass on the 20th of each month — Bourbon Day. We finished it in October 2013, when we had the album mastered.

What’s the premise behind the ‘Lack Lustre Rush’ video?

It’s kind of a trilogy, of which you haven’t seen the other two. But we just really liked the images of Van upside down in front of a really blown out white background floating in space, slowed down and with this image delay that Lain does.

You guys are involved in ever process of the band from production to filming the videos. What are the challenges to doing that?

It takes a lot of time and energy and learning new skills, computer magik and stuff like that. … but that is also the fun. Obstacles are a gift from the guru. And once on the other side with an actual thing you have made the reward and self-satisfaction are immeasurable.

You also made a short film, ‘Heat Leisure.’ Can you talk about that? And will there be be more Pontiak original films in the future?

‘Heat Leisure’ isn’t exclusively Pontiak . Though in the beginning it was we who came up with the idea. Heat Leisure is the gathering of artists to create a happening and then recording it in some way, either on film or record. We liked the idea of doing a live performance, a la ‘Live at Pompeii,’ and filming it. While we were driving through Tennessee on the way down to Austin Psych Fest back in 2011, we hashed out the details. But we wanted to do it during the summer and didn’t have enough time to plan and arrange it all so we scheduled it for the following summer 2012. We got three very talented videographers — RJOIII, Adrien Muys and Scott Braid — to agree to film the performance and Greg Fox (Guardian Alien) and Steve Strohmeier (Beach House) to lend their talents. We also had a chef friend come and cook us amazing meals. Vaughn Skaggs (the chef) also brought his hot air balloon that we used for some aerial shots. Our friend Kyle Averill was our all-hands man, and Mickey Freeland (Lord Baltimore Studio) helped to engineer while we played. It was three glorious days.

‘Heat Leisure’ will continue into the future. We are currently producing ‘Heat Leisures’ III and IV and are planning V and VI! As for films, yes there certainly will be more films.

Working with your family has its challenges. What are the advantages and challenges of working together?

The advantages are: a clear division of labor that we have been able to wrestle out over the last 10 years; knowing what they are doing on stage even when I’m not looking at them; and knowing that if I am not at the table or bar when we get food or drinks there will always be an equal third for me. I know my brothers aren’t a–holes either so when we fight we can usually come to an agreement or resolution pretty quickly. Downsides?

What’s up for Pontiak in 2014?

A lot of touring to start. I think as it looks we are still confirming festivals and shows in Europe into June so we will be gone from Feb. to mid-June. And hopefully some more touring! As I said before about ‘Heat Leisure,’ we have already finished recording the music for ‘Heat Leisure III’ and ‘IV,’ and we’ll probably visit those tapes this summer when we get back. And doing maintenance work on the studio to get ready for another record, but that’ll be a ways off, I imagine.

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