August 2012 “Band of the Month” – PONDEROSA
We’ve been honored to have such a talented lineup of bands of our Band of the Month series. The series is definitely something we should have started last year but nonetheless, we’ve been able to speak with bands that we’ve been able to watch grow over the past months and it’s a pleasure being able to work with them. Just in case you missed:
There’s not much that I felt that I could say about Ponderosa that they haven’t said about themselves already; “After surviving many adventures in a wide variety of locales, Ponderosa rises to the pinnacle of their profession, promoted to Admiral’s of the Fleet, knighted as Knight’s Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, and named the 1st Baron Hornblower. Ernest Hemingway is quoted as saying, “I recommend Ponderosa to everyone literate I know,” and Winston Churchill stated, “I find Ponderosa admirable.”
Yes, goofy, but Ponderosa has always been about the good times. Whether the reasons for a lack of them, or instructions on how to have them, the Atlanta-based band have been sharing their whiskey and sweat drenched tunes with audiences around the Southeast for the past couple of years, but their recent successes have taken them far beyond the Mason-Dixon. On July 31st, via New West Records, the band released their new record, Pool Party, a ‘verb and sun soaked take on the growth they’ve experienced since their 2011 debut, Moonlight Revival. The album is a winner from the first listen through. Despite receiving critical remarks hastily drawing comparisons to Fleet Foxes and My Morning Jacket, you’ve got to realize that there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s parts of just about every album with a touch of reverb that you could draw the comparison to, but their album has taken everything good about aforementioned artists’ records and thrown in the right amounts of Southern charm, nostalgia, and bare-boned sincerity. The band has been on tour around the US over the past few months and has dates continuing on into next year, with plenty more in between. It’s going to be a good year for Ponderosa. And go ahead and buy your tickets for “The Rock Boat XIII“. You will not want to miss out on that.
It’s been a long haul for you guys so far. Let’s try to hash out some of the basics, I suppose starting around the time of Ski Club, unless the Ponderosa blood line goes back further than that. I think when Ski Club was on the road was when I met Kris and John first and I vaguely remember hearing talk about Ponderosa. What’s the story on how things came to be and the first few years?
( John Dance ) Kris was involved with Ponderosa a few months before I was. He, Kalen, and JT had already been writing and recording songs for a while, that would eventually become “Moonlight Revival”. I had the chance to play with them on keys and loved what they were doing…Darren came on board around a year later. The very first show we played with our final line up was in Charlotte, NC at the Neighborhood Theatre.
You all debuted in 2010 with a release on New West, the label that just put out Pool Party, that was called Moonlight Revival. Your new release is a far stride from the debut, but for those who have listened to both records parts of the past still shine through without being overshadowed by the new approach you’ve taken to things. It could be much more than we have time to discuss but what things could you credit to the distinctive changes you all have made to your sound?
It’s really as simple as playing new music for each other that we like, on long drives on tour…that’s the starting point at least. Our musical tastes are all over the place…and we simply wrote songs that reflect what we like. Our sound will probably always evolve. That’s what keeps playing music so much fun.
( Darren Dodd ) I credit everyone’s individual tastes stuffed inside a van for thousands of hours (miles, whatever).
The unique thing that I’ve noticed from the handful of times I’ve played Pool Party through is how well you all were able to capture feel of what I imagine are your influences and then turn them into something that’s so surprisingly unique. I found myself combining 5-10 bands when describing the new record to people before I just said, “Forget it, go to Paste’s site and listen to it”. I mean this completely politely, but to me it feels like this is the record that all of you have been waiting to put out and you’re all at a point with this band that you haven’t been at before in your lives. Thoughts?
That’s a completely accurate assessment in my opinion. Describing any kind of music is difficult enough though, I think…as far as creating a unique sound, we have a lot to owe to Dave Fridmann for that. He gave us a “no limits” approach in the studio which, for a bunch of music and recording nerds, is like Christmas morning. We didn’t know what to expect going in…and couldn’t be more happy with the outcome.
I’m going to try to make my questions not as long winded from here on out, also. So you all are all living and working in Atlanta now? Your tour schedule this past year has been fairly full but what occupies the time you spend at home?
Yes, living and working in Atlanta…I work at a mall when I am home most of the week.
Atlanta , yes. I volunteer at local bars.
This isn’t going to be very eloquent, but it seems like on this new album that you guys really started to feel. Sure, the first record had soul and grit, but this new one conveys emotional highs and lows in the sense that you all really know what you’re talking about it you want more than anything to share it with others. I’ve felt an expansive and weirdly nostalgic excitement but what about the darker moments on the album, for example, the closing track “Cold Hearted Man” ? If you can, where did that come from?
“Cold Hearted Man” was written one afternoon at the BMI writer studio in Atlanta…we had access and took full advantage. Kalen had a beautiful guitar part, that actually got chopped out of the final version. He and I started throwing ideas around while we listened to the guitar takes and intentionally created a sad song. We didn’t even consider it as the closing track for Pool Party, until we came toward the end of the recording process. It just made perfect sense to us. Made the record a complete thought.
What is the sound bite at the end of “Cold Hearted Man”? My first through was that it was the creepy old neighbor from family guy but it’s obviously not…
It was a voicemail that Kris’s grandmother left for him.
Taking a few steps back, what was the process behind writing the record? What were the first few songs written and performed live and when did you eventually settle in and record it?
“Heather” was written and performed first…followed by “Black Hill Smoke”, “Cold Hearted Man”, “Never Come Back” and “Navajo”…everything else came together in the studio. When we had those first few songs together, we were ready to move on from the first album and do a follow up.
Hmmm. We dreamt it up and within weeks we were in the studio with Dave Fridmann. We did 6 with him and 4 (songs) in Asheville at Echo Mountain.
You guys have a lot going on this year. You’ve been on tour for a few months now it seems, by the time this is published your new record will be out, and you’ve got a full schedule of dates ahead of you. I noticed you’ll be playing the Rock Cruise next year as well, for the second year in a row correct? What’s that experience like for the rest of us who’ve never been to a floating, traveling music festival?
It will actually be our fourth cruise/floating music festival. It’s always a good time…if you like drinking and gambling…and who doesn’t, right?
The Sixth Man people (promoters) are amazing. The boats are a zoo.
Whoever feels like opening up about this, go ahead, but what would you pin point as the greatest accomplishment of the past year, whether personal or with the band?
Having the chance to work with Dave Fridmann.
I tried bison.
What about the toughest or lowest point?
Honestly, life on the road is kind of a roller coaster…also half of the band became sober and vegetarian. Lots of highs lots of lows…it’s what we signed up for.
I tried bison sashimi.
This might seem odd, given the nature of how swiftly things are moving along, but you all have all been playing music for a good while. I’m sure there’s been points where you felt like setting aside your instruments and moving on to something else, and if you ever ultimately reached that decision what would your first career choice be? Whether it’s something you’d be qualified to do or not..
Major league baseball player…hands down. Go Braves.
Piano tuner or a cobbler.
Each of you have called Georgia home for a long time, correct? If you were going to suggest one place for someone who has never visited the state to go, where would it be and why?
Stone Mountain laser show, Atlanta Braves games, Clermont Lounge.
Righteous room. Clermont lounge.
This is for each of you; What was the moment where you realized you loved rock and roll and it was going to be a serious part of your life?
Cleaning the house when I was a kid…my Dad would always put on Beatles, Elvis, or Buddy Holly records. I knew music was something exciting. Definitely wanted to be a part of what I was hearing back then.
I blame KISS. They spit blood and puked fire. Badass. Gene Simmons is a douchebag though so whatever.
Of the past few years, what albums have you become attached to and what albums did you expect that you would enjoy but just haven’t been able to?
I am constantly listening to new music…there are a ton of stand outs for me, particularly Neon Indian and Tame Impala.
I like to re-hash the past a lot. I’m always listening to records I’ve had for years but have neglected. The new spirtualized record is good. The old Spiritualized record is better.
What newer bands have been showing up on the Ponderosa radar? Particularly bands from around the Southeast…
Abby Go Go, Red Sea and, Freak Out….all from Atlanta. Check them out immediately.
Lastly, what is Ponderosa and what is Ponderosa not?
Ponderosa is a pine tree, a restaurant, and a band…it is not the president, a medicine, or a toy with small parts.
It’s a steakhouse. It’s not very delicious.
Ponderosa – “Navajo”