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PONS brings noise rock listeners to the sea with new album

PONS, a post-punk, No Wave, band who is playing at Desperate Annie's on February 12.
Sydney Tate
PONS, a post-punk, No Wave, band who is playing at Desperate Annie's on February 12.

PONS is a noise rock, post-punk esoteric group that released its latest album The Liquid Self” in October. The group includes drummer Jack Parker, percussionist Sebastien Carnot, and Sam Cameron on guitar and vocals. “The Liquid Self” is a rock opera about sailors lost at sea. The group will perform Monday night at Desperate Annie’s in Saratoga Springs. Parker spoke with WAMC’s Samantha Simmons before the show.

So, Sam and I sort of came up with the concept for the album when we were touring as a two piece in 2019. And I think it just sort of originated from us both having just like a love of rock operas and concept albums in general, like both of us are very into My Chemical Romance as kids, that was a super touchstone band for both of us like The Black Parade, and Three cheers for Sweet Revenge. And things like that. And as well, we're both really into Bowie and all that kind of stuff. So, we just wanted to sort of shoot our shot at doing like a full-blown rock opera and sort of leaning into like a rock opera as like a genre of music, you know, of like something that has sonic signifiers and sort of thinking about what that means. But we really just wanted to go sort of full bore with it. And sort of, we're like, if we want to do it, we're actually going to do a rock opera, we should go for this full sort of campy, over the top thing that we felt like it needed to be. But in terms of the whole liquid aesthetic, that was a little more random, where I don't really know exactly how we came up with the idea or who came up with the idea. But at a certain point, we just sort of, on that tour in 2019, we just sort of got on the same page about wanting to make this album. And I think a big part of it was specifically the water thing, it was something that not a lot of bands had done, especially bands sort of in the noise rock realm. So, I think that's what made it sort of intriguing for us, like, really, the only thing we could think about was like that Ween album, The Mollusk and a couple other random things. So, it seems like we were sort of charting original territory, which was exciting.

I'm so glad that you brought up My Chemical Romance, because when I was listening, that is exactly where I was drawing ties to.

That's awesome. Yeah, that makes me so happy. Yeah, I mean, we were just like, you know, the harmonized guitars and stuff like that. It's definitely like very much in homage to that sort of thing.

Do you think your style with a heavy emphasis on instrumentals over vocals, do you think it helps you connect with a wider audience?

Yeah, I haven't thought about it in terms and like those terms, but honestly, it probably does. I know, for me, and for the rest of the members of the band, it's sort of like, I feel like we're all into music where the vocals sort of fit beneath the instruments. I mean, when I was in high school and stuff, I was really into Loveless, and I don't know, even thinking of like some of the sort of 2000’s indie rock kind of stuff, like the Strokes or something where the vocals are just a little buried, you know, sort of sitting with the instruments and not really on top of it as like a focal point. I think that that is just something I've always gravitated towards. And I also listen to a lot of music that isn't in English that I don't understand what the lyrics are saying. So, I feel like I've almost been programmed to, like, not care as much. But it's also this weird thing because like, the lyrics on the album are, like important because it's such a conceptual thing. But it's kind of the it's kind of one of those things where like, they're there if you want to dig deeper into it, but definitely we're going for sort of like we want everything to sit together as one thing and not just have like, “oh, here are the instruments and now these like vocals are just slapped like right on top of everything.” It always just kind of sounds awkward to me when something is mixed.

When you hear from fans, when they're connecting to the lyrics. What do they say to you about that?

When they're connecting with the lyrics? I think that we've definitely had a lot of people curious for us to kind of to sort of flesh out the concept a little bit, we've definitely had people come up to shows and ask about stuff like that. Because I feel like there's a lot about the story of the album that's kind of unsaid that Sam and I, when we were making it, we knew what the storyline was but we didn't want to spell everything out on paper. Which was sort of a challenge, you know, we wanted to make a concept album, we didn't want to just go on to Instagram and be like, ‘here is the concept for our next album,’ you know? So, it was sort of like, how do we give away enough about it so that it's clear what we're trying to do without sort of just spoiling everything, you know? We want to leave stuff up to interpretation. Like I almost refrain from explaining things fully to people like lyrically. But it seems like the lyrics of hooks have connected with people. I feel like more than any of the songs on the album for whatever reason.

You guys had a busy year last year with the album release, it seems like you're constantly touring here in the States and you recently returned from Europe, and you had over 150 shows in 2023. What was it like keeping up with that schedule and going to Europe and kind of being all over?

Yeah, last year was pretty nuts. It was pretty exhausting for everybody. I mean, for me, personally, I love it, like I get, I get almost antsy being back for too long, you know, I'm like back in Brooklyn for two weeks, and I'm like, ready for the next tour, the next show or whatever. Like, we just had a month and a half off, which was, I guess, the longest stretch that we've had without a show since the pandemic ended and it was kind of weird, you know? We just had our first show back a couple of days ago. And I was like, this is like, kind of stressful, I felt like I had to shake off the cobwebs. But I don't know, I mean, I love like, just being able to experience all of these different scenes and connect with all these different people in different areas. Like I think it's so cool. And just sort of getting a small feel of the culture of where you are. It's also cool, because a lot of these places you're not there long enough to hate it, if that makes any sense. Like, there's sort of already like, getting the good parts in a way where there's a ton of places, we've toured that obviously, like, If I lived there, I'd probably want to die. But when I'm there for, like 24-48 hours or something, it's like fantastic. Like Cleveland, we always have really good shows in Cleveland. Like it’s not somewhere I'd want to live necessarily, but like, it’s always super, super fun to go to. And in terms of Europe, that was really cool. Just, they treat you so much better over there in terms of like, what's expected, like the culture around booking a band, you know, like, especially in France, it was almost like, it was considered really impolite to not host the band that you're booking and give them like a meal and stuff like that. And, we're coming from almost, like never even getting paid, half the time when we were playing in Brooklyn. So that was refreshing. But it's sort of like, you know, it all works in cycle. So, it's like this year, we're playing a little less and trying to prioritize getting new music recorded. And the next year, hopefully, we'll be able to release more music and make that more of a show-heavy year, again.

Being based in Brooklyn, do you feel that you found like a community that understands what you guys are trying to do more than you might somewhere else?

Yeah, I think so. I mean, just like, anecdotally, for us, it feels that way. We moved to Brooklyn from Burlington, Vermont, directly. And that just really needed to happen. Because Burlington was just, I mean, we had a lot of fun shows there and we were doing well. Phish is from Burlington and there's just a bunch of like weird, white, like funk bands and like Grateful Dead cover bands and like blues night, like we stuff like that like. Hippie culture is really big out there and definitely was not like the place for trying to do some form of extreme music. So, a big part of moving to New York was because of like the legacy of No Wave and everything. It just sort of seemed like if we were going to move somewhere like New York or Providence, or Philly, or something like that it was sort of what was in the cards in terms of there being a precedent for experimental or really noisy, weird music. So, it has been really cool. And we found we found like a lot of like-minded bands, which has been really nice. Like, we're doing our tour with this band called Venus Twins who are really good personal friends of ours, as well as this just insane, like identical twin math core, noise band, like, super brutal. They're really awesome. And it's like, you know, I feel like bands like that, it's hard to find anywhere else. But that's not to say that there haven’t been awesome little pockets of scenes in a ton of other places. We've been like Detroit, I think Detroit has a really, really awesome crop of bands right now and stuff like that. So, I feel like you can make it work really, in a lot of places, but for us, it's been nice. I mean, there's a lot of downsides to living in New York and trying to do art there. But follow it’s all a balance, I guess.

You just talked about Math Rock and No Wave. When I was preparing for this interview, specifically on your TikTok I saw Math Rock hash tagged a lot. Can you explain for people who don't know what that is?  

Yeah, it's like, weird, odd time signatures of unconventional rhythms and just sort of like an emphasis on skewed rhythms and time signatures really is sort of the thing, a lot of times it ends up being a little more technically challenging to play. And for us, we're not even like a full-blown math rock band, by any means at all, we sort of have just like, a Math Rock influence and parts of our music that get a little mathy. But they're like some bands that would definitely put us to shame like in terms of that kind of stuff. But we dabble we dabble.

And this isn't your first time in Saratoga or at Desperate Annie's. And I know it's part of SuperDark Collective. Did you seek them out? Or were you approached by them to get involved in these Monday/Thursday night shows?

Yeah, like, I think that I think I approached them probably. We've done so many of them at this point. It's almost hard to know, even when the first one was. It was a few years ago, though, definitely. Yeah, I just kept seeing them put on shows. And it seemed really cool. So, I want to reach out and it's been awesome. I feel like most of the tours we've done since we've connected have included a SuperDark show somewhere in there. And the Desperate Annie’s is specifically really awesome for a touring band. Because I feel like having a place that has like a Monday night music series is like the Holy Grail for a tour because I feel like Mondays are always the hardest day to fill. So, a place that has like something that's known on a Monday that brings people out and you know it's going to be a decent show. It's like a godsend. So, I feel like we've been doing that a lot to sort of kick our tour off on a good foot.

You released your first EP “They Look Like People,” in 2018. How do you think you've changed as a group since then?

Yeah, it's completely different. I mean, the whole thing has been changing, but at least sound wise basically between then and now. It's completely unrecognizable almost. Back then it was we didn't even really have the idea of PONS being a band, or anything. “They Look Like People,” and really the first couple of EP’S were sort of just Sam and I experimenting and messing around, and we're going to different schools. The time, though there wasn't really even a super clear notion that there was gonna be a future for PONS, you know, we're just sort of both still living in North Carolina, which is where we grew up. And just sort of yeah, making these weird, experimental sorts of textural songs. Like a lot of the early songs were really synthy. We were sort of just going down that rabbit hole, it was almost like a challenge just to prove to ourselves that we could make really weird and experimental music if we wanted to. And then once that door was opened, it just sort of snowballed into what it is today. Because in the early days, the rhythmic, the rhythm forward focus of the thing, like, wasn't part of the equation at all. And now that basically, the whole thing. Like everything just being so rhythmically involved. When we started, I hardly played drums, really. So, it's Yeah, everything has just changed so much. And I, you know, hopefully, it continues to change. I mean, I hope that in however many years from now, it's like, we're doing something that is unrecognizable from what we're doing now. Just to keep myself engaged, but also like, just from a consumer angle. I know what I seek out in a band is like that sort of evolution. So hopefully, ideally, we will be able to do something like that.

And you hinted at it with this last answer, kind of looking to change over time. In the immediate future, which you did talk about a little bit earlier, kind of slowing down this year to write some more music, and perform a little bit more in 2025 again. So, what's next?

Yeah, well, I mean, so we got a couple tours in the book for this year. Like we're going down SXSW right now and probably going to go back to Europe in the fall, if everything works out there. But hopefully, just record our album. So, we can release it early next year, and just really have an emphasis on getting it right. ‘The Liquid Self,” we recorded like in 2021. So, by the time we released, it, just it felt so old and dated to who PONS is as a band. My goal this time is to hopefully, sort of capture where we are right now and release it a little more immediately, because I feel like that will be a little more fulfilling. And also, I’m just excited. I feel like the music that we're working on is sort of the definitive PONS music, at least as of now. So, I'm excited to get it out very different from “The Liquid Self,’ at least to me. I hope it comes across once it's released.

Pons is playing a desperate Annie's in Saratoga Springs, February 12 at 9:30p.m. I’m Samantha Simmons and I’ve been speaking with PONS drummer Jack Parker.

Samantha joined the WAMC staff after interning during her final semester at the University at Albany. A Troy native, she looks forward to covering what matters most to those in her community. Aside from working, Samantha enjoys spending time with her friends, family, and cat. She can be reached by phone at (518)-465-5233 Ext. 211 or by email at ssimmons@wamc.org.