Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Interview with Jennings Carney - Pontiak

Jennings Carney photo by Lino Brunetti

Virginia brothers Jennings, Van, and Lain Carney comprise one of the best bands around. If you haven’t checked out Pontiak, do so immediately. In the last five years or so they have released five albums full of interesting, intelligent, and inspiring music on Chicago’s Thrill Jockey label. Sun on Sun, Maker, and Living are mandatory listening if you have even a passing interest in the rock n’ roll. They are the epitome of the power trio, creating a wall of great textures and tones using bass, guitar, drums, and the brain-melding primal connection that only brothers possess. My pets like them, my little boy loves them, and my wife blushes when they visit. Check them out.

1 - We talked about some new recordings you guys have done, including
single track long-song EP. Can you talk some about that?

JIC -We have been in the studio for several months now working on a
bunch of stuff. We just finished an EP that will be out later this
spring/early summer and an LP which will be ready for a fall release.
Can't say too much about the EP just yet though! But I am very excited
about both the EP and the LP.

2 - I think it is cool that USX and Pontiak have a lot of parallels.
For example, we both did a song called "Suzerain". We are both from
Appalachia, both from small towns/rural places. Both of our bands have
managed to spread our music around while still keeping our roots in
solid ground. And as I mentioned before, we both just recorded a
single track album. The cultural similarities are interesting but the
ideas are harder to explain. Some of them might come from being
exposed to the same literature, music, or modern events. But I feel
like ideas, particularly among musicians, seem to take root on a
subconscious level and can do so simultaneously among bands and
musicians of the same era. I have noticed this many times in the past
with other bands we know. What do you think about this? Have you ever
noticed parallels with other bands?

JIC - Yeah. Regarding "Suzerain", that's pretty awesome. I really
love that song, and the whole album "Sea Voids". Secondly, I would
agree with you about the connection of the two bands. It's a very
interesting concept to me and one that I see often. There are these
ideas that pop up among groups for no apparent reason. A general
zeitgeist among peers. It happens a lot with any kind of movement. One
could put that to a subconscious information exchange or we could have
our higher antennae tuned-in. I am not sure. It's like the theory of
entanglement. That an idea/information is exchanged simultaneously
among a system. But I also think that staying connected to the place
where I grew up, and that I identify myself with the Blue Ridge
Mountains must put me into a mindset that is sympathetic to your
similar background. I could probably go on about this for a long time.

3 - You guys have toured extensively in both Europe and North America.
Can you discuss (from a touring musicians perspective) some of the
contrasts you see between these two places?

JIC - Touring the N. America is completely different, obviously, than
Europe, but the differences are in the style or the shape of the tour.
For me, the US and Canada lacks good, wholesome food on the road. You
can't just stop at a gas station and get some non-processed good food.
It's processed so much that it won't break down, it's fast food, it's
disgusting. That said, Europe has its fair share of bad food, but you
can find simple, fresh food readily available. Food aside, the culture
of the concert goer is much different too. In the US particularly,
there is so much competition for listeners' ears that it's a buyers'
market. We have had our fair share of good and bad shows and the
extremes of both. But I feel like in Europe, people go out to shows
because its what they do for art and culture. People go to shows in
the US because they want to have an experience/entertainment. Both are
valid. And I am making huge generalizations. But I spend a lot of time
behind the merch desk at shows, and I talk to a lot of people. My
experience is that in the US, the bands have to prove themselves. I
guess if an American band can make it to Europe, then they don't need
that rite of passage as much. Who knows. I love to tour in Europe
though. It is great to be able to see a cathedral or a castle for a
few hours and then head to sound check and then have a nice dinner
after the show! But at the same time, if we play New York, for
instance, we can check out an exhibit at MoMA and then head down to
Brooklyn for a show. But the exotic feeling of Europe holds a special
place for me because it still feels new.

(The brothers Pontiak next to their mobile home.)

4 - We talked some about some of the gear you tried out overseas,
particilarly the Verellen amps. Can you sort of retell that story
about the amp you tried out? I have yet to play one of his amps, but I
have heard they are amazing.

Yeah. I love the Verellen bass amp - the Meatsmoke. Before one of our
tours I had spoken to Ben Verellen (maker and owner) about his amps
and what I was looking for in an amp. I currently use an Ampeg SVT
Classic with an 8x10 cab. I had been thinking for awhile about looking
for a handmade amp that was point to point. I found out that even the
first SVTs had boards in them so that got me thinking about the
Meatsmoke. We use Nomads of Prague for our backline in Europe and
Tschepitz, the owner told me when we got to Prague before the tour
started that I could take the Meatsmoke out on the road to test it and
that I could send back any amp I didn't use with our driver who was
switching out after the third show. So the first three shows I used it
in Krakow, Warsaw and Berlin. I have to say that I was completely
blown away with the tone and the power of the amp. I usually have an
overdrive pedal from Fulltone which is on most of the show with an
SVT. I didn't need it for the Meatsmoke. It has it's own overdrive
channel. In fact, during our London show at the Old Blue Last, we were
playing to a packed house and in the middle of the second song, the DI
box cut my stage signal so there was still power to the mains, but I
lost my stage volume. So I took out the DI, and turned the amp all the
way up, All The Way. 300 watts. It was incredible. I spoke with a few
people that night after the show and no one noticed at all. That's
power! Talk about sustain!

An interesting side note. I forgot to give our first driver one of
the bass amps to take back to Prague from Berlin. Earlier while we
were driving to the Berlin show from Warsaw he was talking about how
in Poland and Czech it's really dangerous to drive at night because of
wild boars running across the road. Anyway, after we said our goodbyes
in Berlin he left and 30km outside of Prague a boar ran across the
road. He was going about 130km/75mph and flipped his car totaling it.
If he had had that amp in the car (it was a Mazda hatchback) he
probably would have died from having a 80 lbs SVT head flying around
in the car with him. That was a close one. And I am glad I forgot to
give the amp to him!

5 - Final thoughts? Feel free to talk about what Pontiak is doing now,
or in the near future.

JIC - Well, we are planning on doing SXSW this year and the Austin
Psych Fest in April. I am excited about both. It will be our first
time for both though we have played Austin several times. We are
working on putting some shows together around the festivals, and we'll
be playing those various shows with our friends White Hills and
Cloudland Canyon. We have some European shows planned as well for next
fall too and hopefully some festival dates in Europe and the US this
summer. Finally, we are beginning work on the full length and that
will be released in September. It'll be killer.
Thanks for taking the time and interest too! I love getting a chance
to play with USX and hangout. It is always a great time. I hope to see
y'all soon!

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