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Bardo Pond: Rising Above It All

Philly natives Bardo Pond are one of those bands that are impossible to pin down with a genre label. It’s great from an artistic perspective, but not so great when you’re trying to find them in a record shop. The closest we could get was emotive space guitar-oriented psychedelia; just listen to one of their tunes and it will all make sense. We had a chat to guitarist Michael Gibbons about what it’s like to create such unique sounds, how their flautist came to join the band, and why ’70s sound equipment trumps modern gear.

Your music is one of those types that falls into multiple genres, which in my mind means it’s impossible to define. Do you intentionally make music that can’t be pinned down?
It’s not like a goal to do that in a way, but in another way it’s a subconscious kind of goal. I think that we’ve got what we like to do and we do it, but I never really thought about where it fits in and what genre it is, it’s just our sound. We’ve been around for a while, we’ve had records out since the mid ’90s. We’re guitar oriented music with a girl who sings. It’s very kind of minimal; we’re interested in tone and pushing the emotive experience to an extreme level for the listener. There’re some acoustic elements but mostly it’s an electrical experience.

Are there any genres that play a prominent role in your sound?
I think it’s a big mixed bag. The one thing it is is guitar music, I guess serious guitar music. That’s the one thing we really push, but there’s other elements in it too, like we’ve got Isobel’s flute. Those two elements are really put together in a way where nothing else has really been done like that, I’ve been listening to a lot of [our] older stuff and there’s just something about the way the flute comes in that really drives me. I really like that she brought that to the band.

Did she suggest the flute when she came into the band?
We wanted her to sing but we had no idea. We were just a loose collective of people who were playing back in the early days and she was a friend, she came over and I think she just sang one time. We were blown away by her singing, so when we really started thinking about actually being a band and naming ourselves, we asked her to come around. I think she just said, ‘Hey I play flute, do you want me to bring the flute along?’ and we said, ‘Sure, that’d be great.’ She just blew us away when she started playing, it was really amazing to hear it with the distortion [laughs], it’s such a great combination and she’s got such a great melodic sense that it added this layer of musicality that was really perfect. It’s always been there on all the records, like distortion with the flute or acoustic with the flute, and the new album is going to have a combination of those two. It seems like we’re pushing it even more, all these years later.

Have there been any other moments of spontaneous creativity like that?
I think that [flute] was the most base one that contributes to the sound a lot, but besides that, I can’t really think of anything else. There are individual songs and riffs that have come along that have been pretty amazing. Our bass player actually is very innovative, he plays with some effects pedals, like he bought this Futon electro-harmonix pedal, the way it changes the bass sound is amazing and it really became this kind of signature thing as well. Sometimes you’ll hear this rupturing of space in a song, and usually it’s Clint when he hits the pedal [laughs]. There’s always these textures from the pedals we’ve used, and each of us have kind of gone through a lot of pedals to come up with the ones that are our individual sounds. But there’s something about it when he hits that pedal, it just takes over the entire sound, so I guess that’s one. Otherwise things that have affected our music have been much more subtle.

How is it that you write music like this? Is it just a matter of jamming, is there a writing process, or does it grow organically when you feel inspired?
It’s a combination of all of those. Many times it’s my brother and I, we play a lot because we live in this big warehouse building, he’s got a space and I’ve got a space, so whenever we get together we pick up the guitars. A lot of the time it’s acoustic guitars, so we’ll be jamming and one of us will have a riff and be like, ‘Hey check this out’ and then we’ll investigate it. I’ve heard Keith Richards talk about this weaving of the guitars, and it’s really kind of what we do, we have this weaving that takes place. So when we’re psyched about something then we’ll play it with the band and then Clint always has a take on it. Half the time [he’ll play] I’ll kind of think, ‘This isn’t working at all, this is a shame’ [laughs] but then we’ll listen to a tape and I’ll think ‘wow this is amazing, I didn’t expect this to work,’ but it works, so we’ll push all of that together. If it’s still turning us on… there’s a lot of things that we do and we can get to a certain point and think ‘this isn’t actually nearly as good as we thought,’ so it’ll go away. But if we get to that next stage and we’re still digging it, that’s when Isobel can tell that it’s going to be a keeper, and she’ll start working on her thing and bringing her elements into it. Our drummer’s really cool too, he helps form a lot of thinks and kind of solidify them. Other time’s we’ll just have an improvisational thing that happens out of nowhere and it’ll become a tune. It’s a wild process but we basically have an open mind to what’s going to happen and however it happens we jump on it.

When you sit down to actually write or jam, do you need to be in a particular headspace?
[Laughs] You know I think we just need to be in the same room together. You know when you’re jamming together, have a couple of beers, sometimes it happens much more successfully, it’s just like a wave you catch. It’s fun the way we do it, it is a group thing, the songs are all kind of co-written together. Sometimes we’ll really be in it, I don’t know if you can make it happen, but it happens more times than it doesn’t. That’s a good question but I don’t really know specifically if we do any meditation to make this thing happen [laughs], but I guess in a way you do. It’s just not really a conscious manipulation of an experience, it’s more just all being there and being tuned in together.

Bardo Pond’s music is really emotional, sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly. Do you ever look back on a song and feel how you felt when you wrote and recorded it? Do your personal feelings ever come across in the music?
Yeah absolutely, I think that what we’ve really gone for, emotion is a good point. There’s just kind of a, I don’t know if it’s a specific emotion as far as sadness or a happiness, but I guess you could find them in each individual tune in that way. But there’s an emotional experience in the way that music can get to you, and as we’re playing it we collectively feel that emotion from a tune. Whether we’re playing it in a studio or playing it live, it’s hard to pinpoint a specific emotion it’s more just like an experience that’s like an emotion. Like something that overwhelms you, it could be any emotion, it could be love, it could be grief or it could be anger. That’s what we’re trying to get at and I think that’s been a specific quality of our music.

What about the atmosphere, what are you trying to create there?
It depends on a tune, but it can be kind of disorienting in a way, like the denser they get the more disorienting it is. If you came into a room in the middle of a song instead of the beginning you’d be disoriented, the music has to kind of wash over you for a while before you understand. And I still have this now, like when I turn on something and I haven’t heard it for a while I’ll be like, ‘What is this?’ and it’ll take me a while to hear the layers form the atmosphere, and then it coalesces into a structure. We’re definitely interested in atmosphere, but it kind of comes by itself in whatever tune that we’re working on. Some of them are very airy and then get very dense, that’s kind of a way that we do a lot of things. But we’re interested in changing space like that, changing the atmosphere within a tune, so you can experience one thing and then experience something quite different.

You mentioned disorientation coming into a song halfway through, so would a listener benefit more so from listening to a Bardo Pond album from start to finish rather than individual tracks?
For me I really think that you should listen to it through, we really work on them and that is the experience, that’s a real way to get what we do and experience all the levels of what we do. I think you can get that in individual songs as well, but they’re not going to give you an entire experience in the way that an album does. I’ve always felt like that about any band.

So when you’re listening to music day to day do you play albums from start to finish?
If I really want to get into a band that’s what I’ll do, if I’m just doing stuff I’ll have the thing on shuffle and that’s fine, but yeah I usually do if I’m seriously listening. I’ll use a real album like a vinyl record, that’s the first thing I do.

Being a vinyl fan, have you got a nice big setup at home?
I’ve got a nice system, I got really into the 1970s Marantz equipment, even the recording studio has this big old ’70s Marantz. It’s not tube gear, but it’s got a really nice sound, and I’ve got a vintage Marantz turntable. It’s pretty nice gear, I like having that ’70s purity, it seems to be when they were making equipment, even Pioneer or any of them, it was really well made with really great sounds. Lately that’s what I’ve been into, I had a Pioneer but then somebody told me about Marantz and I just became obsessed with them.

It’s funny you bring up Pioneer because I’ve got one of their old receivers as well and it just sounds so warm. You know from the days when they were made to play vinyl, not vinyl, CD, Mp3… They just did one or two things.
Exactly, you’re right. You can really tell that’s exactly what they made it for, just for vinyl, you know? That’s cool that you’ve got one, and they’re not cheap to get too like those 100watt ones on eBay, people really want those.

I think mine’s 80 watts and you turn it up one third of the way and the whole room rumbles.
Yeah, yeah! 80 watts of that old time power, man that’s powerful!

As we spoke about before, the music is very atmospheric, so what does Bardo Pond do to create the atmosphere at a live show?
We try and make it as powerful as possible and a lot of the music on the record is just us as a live band playing a song, so a lot of the basic elements on a record is the live sound. The LPs in the studio are embellished a little and kind of deconstructed, things are added and things are kept, but the architecture of the songs is from a live band. So when we play live, it might be slightly more bare bones because you don’t have all that studio flourish, but it’s still the real thing. We have ways of using our effects like we do in the studio, and for us, it’s the best experience. It’s super potent, we get right inside the songs, it’s a really fun thing to do. They’re like spells, you know, you start weaving the spell and it gets us really into it, and of course with the live experience you can just get everyone involved, it’s our favourite thing to do.

Catch Bardo Pond blowing minds at a venue near you this August!

Bardo Pond Tour Dates

Thu Aug 1st – The Annandale Hotel, Sydney (18+)
with A Dead Forest Index
Tickets: oztix.com.au

Fri Aug 2nd – The Zoo, Brisbane (18+)
with Dreamtime
Tickets: oztix.com.au

Sat Aug 3rd – The Corner Hotel, Melbourne (18+)
with Pearls and Ride Into The Sun
Tickets: metropolistouring.com

Sun Aug 4th – The Rosemount Hotel, Perth (18+)
Supports TBA
Tickets: oztix.com.au

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