The only constant in life is change.
Atlanta’s Ponderosa, which blew everyone away at the Savannah Stopover in March, has a new record out. Pool Party is a sonic wonderland, a multi–hued destination where dreamlike psychedelia meets well–crafted harmonies, where southern–basted rock ‘n’ roll shakes hands with ambient color washes and reverb.
If you’re familiar with Moonlight Revival, Ponderosa’s first and only other album, this will come as something of a shock. That one, while tight, firm and enormously enjoyable, was hardcore rock ‘n’ roll, albeit with a strong sense of melody and purpose.
“With it, Ponderosa delivered the first successful fusion of straight Southern rock and Revolver–era Beatles, utterly seamless and genetically sound, not a Frankenstein,” read New West Records’ official bio–description.
Well, all righty then.
According to Kalen Nash, the band’s singer, songwriter and frontman, Pool Party represents Ponderosa today, now.
“Everything on Moonlight Revival was close to six years old by the time that record was actually released,” Nash explains. “When it finally went out, we’d already been touring pretty steadily for four years. And we were kind of sick of those songs, and sick of playing them in general.
“We’re constantly listening to music, and constantly influenced by everything. It was just a natural evolution for us as much as it’s kind of a left turn for other people. For us, if we’d have made another record like Moonlight Revival, that kind of defeats the purpose of making music.”
The new track “Navajo” was iTunes’ “Single of the Week,” available for free download, earlier this month.
It’s a strong, melodic song with otherwordly harmony vocals drenched in reverb, echo–laden guitars, a haunting beat and a hook that will implant in your brain upon first listen.
See the "Navajo" video here:
The new album was produced by David Fridmann (the Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Elf Power), who gave the band free reign to experiment and find the sounds that best fit their new songs.
“It was like he was another band member,” Nash says. “He doesn’t really make records for radio program directors. So it was completely different in all aspects. We really didn’t want to get near a Top 40 thing.”
Ponderosa guitarist Kris Sampson spent years as head engineer at an Atlanta recording studio, and through their friendship with him all the band members were pretty confident in that environment.
Still, Nash confesses, under the thumb of producer Joe Chicarelli (White Stripes, My Morning Jacket, the Strokes, Jason Mraz) Moonlight Revival wasn’t the album the band should have crafted in 2008 (that’s when it was recorded; its release was held up for two years).
“If we would’ve made the record on our own, it would have had way more similar effects and stuff as Pool Party,” he says. “Maybe the songwriting wouldn’t be as different as it is, but it would still have been more of a garage kind of record. Way more than a super–sheen, Nashville–sounding thing.”
The Fridmann experience was entirely more pleasant for all concerned.
Nash bristles at the suggestion that Ponderosa’s fans might not appreciate “their” band taking such a hard left into atmospheric Fleet Foxes and Band of Horses territory.
Hell, he says. Everyone’s a critic.
With Pool Party they figured, screw it, let’s make exactly the record we want to make.
“We’re all pretty selfish in what we like and what we want to do,” he declares. “We appreciate the people that appreciate what we do ... we’re all broke as shit, man.
“We might have been lucky if we sold 4,000 real copies of the last record. And we’re really thankful for that, but probably over half of those were sold to our family and friends, within a 100–mile radius of Atlanta and Athens.
“So, there’s an expectation for us? We didn’t really know we had fans. I mean, there’s a handful of places where we might pull 100 people in America.”
Savannah can do better than that, right? And Pool Party Ponderosa is worth it.
With: This Mountain
Where: Telfair Square, Barnard & York
When: At 9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 1, following Midnight Garden Ride