Sonic pioneers Bardo Pond are the flagship band of Philadelphia’s psychedelic space rock movement, with a sound rich in droning guitars, thick distortion, feedback and washes of white noise.
The band encompasses everything from early Pink Floyd and Hawkwind through to Sonic Youth and Mogwai, the band has been asked to play at events curated by Thurston Moore and Godspeed You! Black Emperor this year and will make an Australian debut at Lou Reed’s Vivid LIVE festival in Sydney.
FasterLouder asked bands members Michael Gibbons (guitar), John Gibbons (guitar) and Clint Takeda (bass guitar) about side projects, live shows and ‘medicinally enhanced’ influences.
You probably get tired of hearing this, but the concept behind your band name is fascinating… could you tell us a bit about that?
Clint Takeda [CT]: It’s from the Tibetan book of the Dead. Bardo means “in between”, the state from death to life, a place where a pond can be, where we sit around and wait for the next fish to come to the surface. A fish is food and food is rock and roll.
Despite once naming a song The Migration of the Duck Billed Platypus to Australia, this will be your first time in the country. What are you looking forward to about coming here?
Michael Gibbons [MG]: A chance to play on the other side of the world… and in the context of the festival that Lou and Laurie have curated. It seems they connect with what we do in the way we hope that any listener would… with an appreciation for the openness of our sound and an obvious encouragement to push our music/performance as far as we can. We also are psyched to play for a crowd that for the most part has never experienced our live show.
Any other performances on the Vivid festival bill that you’re particularly keen to see?
MG: We are psyched to experience Metal Machine Trio. There hasn’t been much to add to the history of improvised noise since the release of Metal Machine Music that has taken away the crown from its place… and its place is the end all be all.
We have all been listening to it again since being invited to this gig and it has revealed itself as a shimmering masterpiece. So we can’t wait to see what our Man has in store for us during the MM3 gig.
Boris are one of the heaviest bands on the planet and come from a country where some of the heaviest music we have ever loved comes from. We love heavy music so we will love them.
Actually everything looks like it will be well worth experiencing.
How does it feel being asked to perform by the likes of Lou Reed, Thurston Moore and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, who are curating some of the events you’re playing at this year?
MG: It is an honour as these people our some of our most respected peers and favorite soundicians. It’s hard to put into words how it feels…. we are very very lucky. It also feels good to be able to play the gigs as they will be in front of like-minded people, great crowds…
Have you ever had to describe your music in one sentence? What would you say to that?
CT: I wouldn’t want it to ever be able to be described in one sentence.
MG: It functions for me as a sonic love letter to a listener’s brain…. coaxing it to release endorphins.
John Gibbons [JG]: heres a haiku:
bardo pond fuzz coating – floating
like living in the beginning
food for the whales
There are dozens of musical incarnations surrounding Bardo Pond – side projects, other bands involving some or most of you, and even with the same members on different instruments. How do you feel this impacts on the sound of Bardo Pond itself?
MG: Well the side projects each focus on different aspects Bardo Pond music while Bardo Pond can be made up of any or all the side projects. Alumbrados music is acoustic in nature – voice, chant, acoustic guitars, sitar, tamboura… tabla… but also has electric parts. Alasehir is about electric guitar and drums… Baikal is kind of like Bardo but features Clint singing… which makes it Baikal…
JG: It keeps the fire burning… we need to keep the tubes glowing, being with our friends exploring new sonic landscapes. it helps keep open and sane.
On your album Ticket Crystals, there’s a cover of the Beatles’ Cry Baby Cry, which was also used by the BBC in commemorating John Lennon’s death. What moved you to rework that song in particular?
MG: That song is a favourite of mine. It is an overlooked Lennon gem and the McCartney coda at the end is perfect. I felt we could do a nice job on it.
What can we expect from your next release, The Transmissions Are True due out in September?
MG: Ironically that may not wind up the title of it, [but] it is our best album ever. Seriously it is, I think. It has a nice mix of improvised pieces and studio oriented material that is rehearsed, tracked etc. Also some of our strongest songs I think and most together arrangements… Isobel [Sollenberger] is amazing and she is featured very powerfully. [CT, MG and JG’s band mates are Sollenberger (flute and vocals), Jason Kourkonis (drums), and Aaron Igler (synth/electronics)]
Your music is known for being, let’s say, medicinally enhanced. How important are these influences in both the creation of, and audience immersion in, the sounds you make?
MG: Well honestly we like painkillers and painkilling in general. Any pain that we can kill with our music… emotional, mental, physical, is a job well done.
It goes back to how I described our music in one sentence. I like to think that our music coaxes the brain to release endorphins. Endorphins are peptides that the brain releases that are related to morphine, they are opiate receptors which provide a euphoric bliss like experience. So we like to think of our music as a kind of a positive drug experience for the listener in the classic psychedelic sense that one is taken out of the body into a painless eye-opening world of truths long ago realized yet suppressed, released into the collective consciousness.
For this year’s Vivid LIVE festival you’ll be playing in the depths of the Sydney Opera House. What has been your favourite venue to play?
CT: The Trocodero in Philadelphia is a beautiful theatre here. It’s supposed to be the oldest burlesque house in the USA and we love to play it.
MG: Anywhere we can play is our favourite place to play that has a decent PA. We just love to play as the act of jamming live music is a drug for us. Having said that I think we can say that playing in the depths of The Sydney Opera House will most likely wind up having been our favourite place to play.
How do you feel the music you make today compares to when you were just starting out?
CT: Strangely not very different, just much more heavily settled. Just as fried in distortion but maybe a lot more anchored in a picturesque view.
MG: It’s still the same really for us I think. We have the same approach to doing it. It’s funny all this time has gone by in the blink of an eye.
As well as the Vivid festival, later this year you’re performing at All Tomorrow’s Parties in New York and then ATP Nightmare Before Christmas. How are things looking for the band’s future?
MG: Rosy baby, rosy….
Catch Bardo Pond at Vivid LIVE in Sydney as part of the ‘Noise Night’ with Boris and Melt-Banana on Monday 31st May or at the band’s headline show on Tuesday 1st June.