# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Pontiak - Interview

  by Paul Waller

published: 6 / 6 / 2014

Pontiak - Interview


Paul Waller chats to singer/guitarist Van Carney from guitar rockers Pontiak about his band's album 'Innocence' and his passionate stance on American farming laws

Hailing from the Blue Ridge Mountain area in Virginia, USA, Pontiak have been forging their own unique brand of rocking guitar based belters for the best part of 10 years now. Consisting of three bearded brothers, Van, Jennings and Lain Carney, the band has been truly prolific. With each release they have displayed an ongoing evolution, always with one foot touching on the Zeppelin/Sabbath blueprint whilst the other roams around in search of something quite indescribable. Their latest album ‘Innocence’ would appear to be their best record yet. How I see it is that each track could be dished out live and the audience would love it. From the country-dipped ballads to the fuzz-drenched stompers, it's Pontiak’s most complete album. I hooked up with singer/guitarist Van Carney while they were touring the United Kingdom to get the full story of just what makes the brothers Pontiak roll. But first I wanted to get a bit of background on him, I knew he grew up on a farm, but I wasn’t quite prepared for his passionate stance against the rise of GMO farming in Northern America. PB: How have you found touring the UK this time around? VC: Ah, man it’s been fantastic. There have been some really good shows, definitely exceeding our expectations which is always a plus, and somehow along the way we have managed to do a little bit of sightseeing which is also a bonus. We played Plymouth last night and we have never played there before, so it was really cool to see the town and especially the Mayflower steps which are not real by the way, I guess the whole Port was completely demolished after the war or something, so now they have the kind of tourist thing going on, but, saying that, it was cool. It was fun to walk around there, and I had a really nice beer that was brewed in a barn that is close by. It was unlike any beer that I’d had before and I’ve tasted a lot of beer. PB: If we can start at the very beginning, how were you first introduced to music? Can you remember? VC: Well, we grew up surrounded by it from a very early age. We have a pretty musical family, and my dad and all my uncles played guitar. So, I used to watch them play. I was four, maybe five watching them. They would be sitting around playing Chuck Berry songs, and I would be looking at them thinking that is what I wanted to be doing. I wanted to figure out how to do that, specifically with the guitar. It’s such a cool thing to do and now I can do it all day long. In the house growing up though we didn’t really listen to that much music, except for classical and country. Maybe a little finger picking music and some blues from my dad but in terms of coming across new music and having an exploration in it, well, that’s ongoing. PB: Me and my brother, our musical tastes pulled apart from an early age. We didn’t want to be like each other. I guess we were searching for our own individual identities. Did you ever get to that point where if one of you guys got into a band the other one would be like, "Nope, I don’t want anything to do with that." VC: Not really. I can remember that the first tape I ever bought. I think I was maybe eight, but I bought a Fine Young Cannibals tape. That album is pretty fucking cool, and Jennings I think bought himself a U2 tape. I remember being into both of them. It was always a case of "Hey, what are you listening to?" rather than "I don’t want to listen to any of that shit". You know it all comes back to the Fine Young Cannibals. PB: With you and your brothers growing up on farms, I wondered if you still follow what’s going on within the farming community. Rural America appears to be full of tight knit groups of hard working farmers that seem to be continually shafted unless they toe the corporate line. Do you keep on top of these issues? VC: Yeah I do, and I should clarify that we did grow up on farms but we were not farmers. We were surrounded by farms, but to this day we don’t actually farm. I have a big garden and keep chickens and things like that, but I am currently surrounded by people that farm for a living. So, yeah, I can for better or worse bring most conversations back to the finer points of industrialised agriculture, regardless of what I am actually talking about, whether it be Monsanto or some other evil corporation and what they are trying to do. In America it’s fascinating because it’s systematic and insipid, and for a very good reason in popular culture these things have come to light. People have begun to discuss things such as where does our food come from, how is it being produced and who is controlling it, what’s it going through and what is actually in it, It’s the very fundamentals of life which the majority of people just take for granted and don’t really think about any more when they go to a restaurant and eat a plate of food. It’s one of these things that has been pervasive and consistent since the 1950s, and now it’s finally catching up to people. People are starting to talk about it in a big way and starting to see that the USDA, the FDA, Monsanto and Cargill and these other huge agriculture companies are all in this web. There is a lot of trading people back and forth between the government and Monsanto, and now there is a lot of really cool stuff going on in the United States to combat that, even if it’s at a small grass roots community level. For someone like me, well, we have a seed saver co-op which does everything locally and everything organic. It’s all about sustainable agriculture and something real that supports its community. I know from being on tour in America that a lot of people are talking about it, and it has become quite a big thing. Personally having grown up around farms in and around Nebraska it’s even worse. Around the mid-west you can read story upon story of individual farmers being completely shut down by these companies, systematically. PB: In England you have to already have an interest and do a little digging to find out about these things. What about in the USA? Is it more common knowledge over there? VC: I don’t think it is common knowledge yet, but it is becoming one of those things that when people do hear about it and when you do talk to people about it, regardless of political affiliation or anything like that, they will be like, "Hey, that’s un American, or simply, "That is just not right to happen ever," but it is happening. The strangest thing is that in America we have a very passionate and vibrant religious and evangelical Christian community. Well, amongst these right wing, conservative religious groups they are very much aware and against GMOs because they don’t want these corporations messing with what “God has given them”. It’s a really bizarre situation where the far left and the far right are joining together on these really important issues. So, they come at it at the same angle but for totally different reasons. It’s weird that these two usually opposing groups of people have come together as a unified voice throughout the country. We tour a lot in the country, and you can see it from both sides. The middle ground though, they’re kind of oblivious and that’s really interesting. Here in Britain it’s really awesome though. The price of the really good food is amazingly affordable. If you go to the States and want to buy something that is local and organic and not pumped full of antibiotics and chemicals, then it’s really, really expensive, whereas here it may be still quite expensive but in comparison its nothing. Britain seems to have a really good farming community, but in America things have been totally taken over by companies. You guys have it pretty cool. PB: Your latest record 'Innocence' is so dynamic in its approach that it’s as if it was written to make sure that it would work live as a piece. Maybe you would mix the track listing up a bit, but yeah, each song would work in the live environment. Was that done on purpose? VC: That is exactly right. Although we are not playing every single one of them live for timing reasons, we literally wanted to be able to play every song on there live and have it as effective as it was when it was recorded. I do agree with the sentiment of what comes out comes out but there is some editing that can be done as well, so in my mind it depends on how much you want to work at it. For us we play a lot and I mean a lot. We play almost every day. If you do that a lot will come out and none of it is planned, but sometimes it just works. When you approach things this way, you can test things out. You just have to work at it. Man, it’s the same thing with gardening. You have to try something and you can’t predict what’s going to happen. If the sun is going to come out or you’re going to have nine months of rain, you never know. You just keep positive and you keep going. Plus you have to have a good time while you’re doing it. If you’re not, then what’s the point? PB: Now the record has been out for the best part of a year are you still as happy with it as you were when you initially released it? VC: I honestly haven’t listened to it in a long time. We have been on the road so much, but the last time I did I was genuinely happy with it. It came out as well as I hoped it could do. I know for some people it’s jarring because it has some ballads on it and that heavy raspier stuff, but for me I enjoy that transition. I wouldn’t go as far to say that maybe something more harmonised would be more acceptable, but really that’s not our bag. We like dynamic shit that has got some colour in it. PB: Even those heavy songs, they all sound different. The fuzzy guitar for instance on ‘Surrounded by Diamonds’ is incredible. What an amazing sound. VC: It was real easy to get that sound too, I use a few different amplifiers but I don’t use fuzz pedals, just a treble boost. I use my Fender Duel Showman reverb, which I may add is the only amplifier Chuck Berry will use, and you just turn it up. Just turn it up, man, all the way to ten if you use a treble booster, and that’s the sound you will get. To be honest if you take any amp and just turn it up, it’ll get nasty, and that’s usually what I do but with that treble boost. It just gives you that glisten. It cuts through, so it’s not totally muddy,. It just brightens it up a little bit. I use an SG with some ’57 pick-ups in it that are really dark, putting that treble boost on there, things just get WHOOOOAH! PB: You have stayed with your Label Thrill Jockey for ever and a day it would seem, What keeps you so loyal? It has a great roster of bands, doesn't it? VC: We have a wonderful working relationship with them. We love them. We are totally supportive of them as a label, and in return they are totally supportive of us as a band. It’s just the right artistic fit thus far. They are just awesome people that are in it for the right reasons, and thankfully the bullshit quota is zero. I couldn’t really ask for anything more. I’ve never worked with another label before, but I’ve talked to a gazillion people who have and I have to say I feel very fortunate and happy to be working with them with all the stories of other places that I’ve heard. PB: You often get described as stoner rock but there is a whole lot more going on that Sabbath worship within your sound. Does that tag ever bother you? VC: I have to be honest with you though, man. Until about three months ago I had only ever listened to one Black Sabbath record and that was 'Master of Reality'. Now this was not for any reason in particular, but people would get so offended and shit. “What the fuck is your problem?” I’ve just never got round to listening to them. I’ve never sat down and listened to stoner rock. People will call it what they will and I see why they could call us that, but personally for me it is not coming from there because I don’t listen to it. It’s just coming from the love of playing slow and heavy music, I have no idea where that comes from. Any drone music is what I am totally drawn to. You know people will always label stuff. People have said to me that we sound just like Kyuss, but I’ve never listened to Kyuss and also Queens of the Stone Age. Well, I have heard just a handful of their songs. I would say that I’m not a fan though because I’ve never listened to them. I just don’t know it; they are not really on my radar. I perceive us as being a rock band; I don’t see us as being a stoner rock band. Saying that, people will call you what they want to call you and for me that is totally fine. PB: You yourself deal with how the outsider sees the finished product of your records; the artwork literally comes from your hands. Art can be a very personal things. Do you at first run ideas past your brothers, do you take on board suggestions or is it totally your thing and what you want goes? VC: It’s kind of like the collaborative writing process. I will come up with something and they will say whether it’s good, bad or shit or say, "Don’t show me something like that ever again," something like that. I do usually work for quite a long time on them. When we start recording I am already thinking about it and when it comes to the time where deadlines have to be met, I am like, "Here it is! What do you think?" and we might tweak it here and there, so it’s definitely collaborative. PB: Finally, Pontiak have been so prolific over the years. Have you ever been close to burn out and thought,"Man, I just don’t know if I can do this anymore"? VC: No, in fact it is the opposite, man. If we are not working on something I get mental; I just can’t not do it and we all feel the same way. We do all our own videos, we do all the artwork, recording projects and, yeah, if we are not working on something we go crazy. I have to be doing something. We have already begun to write the new record. It’s in the works. I already can’t wait for people to hear it. PB: Thank you.

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