Looking Local With Nicholas Allbrook
We gave POND frontman and stellar solo artist Nicholas Allbrook a call ahead of his national headline tour next week.
When I call Nicholas Allbrook on a sunny Tuesday morning, he’s sitting outside of his house in Fremantle, very much in the midst of practising for an upcoming tour. "It’s always pretty nerve-wracking doing things by yourself," he says. "Especially when it’s a big sign and headline man Nicholas Allbrook is the reason you paid your money tonight, and there are good bands playing before me – terrifying stuff like that!" I ask about the opening acts, and he reveals "Broadway Sounds, they’re amazing, and Footy in Melbourne who are just staggeringly, staggeringly brilliant." Who is he looking forward to the most? "Seeing Footy in Melbourne will be great. I can’t wait, so that’s very exciting." No doubt just as he looks forward to these sets, fans look forward to his own. Counting the number of acts near-synonymous with the name Nicholas Allbrook on your fingers requires a whole hand – former bassist of Tame Impala, drummer for Peter Bibby, half of Allbrook/Avery, POND frontman and established solo performer, Allbrook has built a significant following.
His dive into solo work was praised unanimously after debut LP Ganough, Wallis and Fatuna in late 2014. Music blogs commented that "leaving himself alone with his thoughts turned out to be a good thing," resulting in "his most personal and sonically driving set of songs to date." The nine tracks on the album comprised an experimental journey swirling through hazy melodies and jolting riffs, voice and noise and raw energy coexisting within the confines of forty-six odd minutes. Psych rock has always been present in Allbrook’s career, bubbling at the fore of his early influences. "When I was starting out, we were really pretty taken away by the really uncut magazine psychedelia, you know, Jimi Hendrix and Cream and Dungen, and krautrock," he says. "I always thought Traffic, this band Traffic, really spoke to me a lot. But yeah, it was sort of the great-great-grandfathers of Tame Impala, and softer, hazy-eyed, pseudo-whimsical kind of psych shit."
It's no surprise that his recording process has always been driven distinctly by the sound he wants to achieve, nor that this is a variable in constant flux. "There’s a particular sound in mind, for sure, but it kind of changes as you’re doing it and you either roll with it, with the way it sounds, or don’t," he comments. "I usually start recording something with a really anachronistic kind of take, just taking something from my influences or a particular idea, no matter how far-fetched it is. If I made a house album, entirely minimal techno or something, by the end of it, it would just sound exactly like me, except with some slight imperceptible difference to everyone except me."
Less than six months ago, Walrus was released through Spinning Top Music – a five-track solo venture that birthed singles Blanket 3027 and Noyfeck. "I dunno, there seemed to be a general vibe of, like, bewilderment,"Allbrook says of the main response. "I think some people either genuinely found it artistically challenging, or else they just didn’t know what the fuck to think, so they go to the defensive 'It’s challenging… six out of ten,'" he laughs. "They’re not really sure what to say. Maybe I’m just being cynical."
Allbrook’s work is constantly evolving, and it swells with every influence that settles into his subconscious – a mind that never seems to rest. He’s getting ready to jet around the country next week, before dropping a brand new offering in the form of a full length second LP. If you’re just as curious as we are about the direction of his forthcoming album, "Joe Ryan said it sounded like, and these are his words not mine, Justin Timberlake if he were a crack addict," he tells us. "Like Justin Timberlake if he were a crack addict, converted to organic minimalism or something." An aura of David Bowie floats through the vocal line of Advance, the first single from the LP, released last Friday. "He’s always been a huge influence on me in many ways," Allbrook notes.
Lyrically, the track is an exploration of national identity – commentary that reflects his own experiences of internal conflict. "I want nothing more than to be a patriot because I love Australia, and I want to feel truly proud of my own identity and my own history, but a lot of what’s attached to the Australian myth and the reality of White Australiana really isn't something that I would ever want to wave a flag for," he says. "I suppose, in a way, it’s a kind of funny song about our hypocritical, racist, closed-minded anthem that we still find so hard to let go of. You know, advance, advance, advance, keep going, keep pushing forward, building, building, building, cranes all over Perth; advance, advance, advance, dig more big holes, knock down more old buildings."
Advance isn’t the first time he’s touched on these ideas. Allbrook once penned a stunning essay for national literary journal Griffith Review on the culture of productivity in Western Australia, marked by mines and a conservative status quo. In the year since his article, the mining boom is now heading bust, and our state faces a deficit north of three billion dollars. While formal arts initiatives have suffered as a result of this fluctuation, the DIY community Allbrook wrote about originated independent of this money to begin with, and remains unharmed as a result. Independent venues that disappeared en masse from the music landscape at this time last year have been replaced by earnest fresh faces, and backyard gigs across Perth and Fremantle continue to thrive. Visual art pops up on the streets, in studio spaces and in makeshift galleries that commandeer public toilets to seascapes. Allbrook says that in this sense, the state "hasn’t changed at all" since writing for Griffith. "I still really believe that it’s got all of those qualities, that people can show their creativity in a really casual way, and I’ve seen that in more tangible ways since I’ve been back here in the last year than I ever have before. More people are being given the opportunity to do really brilliant stuff, when they wouldn’t be trusted to in other places."
Allbrook’s list of collaborators in his hometown span far and wide, transcending genre and medium. Last year, he worked on children’s book The Vine with fellow musician Amber Fresh, known as Rabbit Island, illustrating her narratives. He mentions that he’s been drawing "a little bit" since, though "not with as much concentration on one project". I ask if there are other creative outlets he’s keen to explore, and he responds positively. "A lot! I wish I put more time and energy into using this Super 8 camera that I got, and I’d love to do pottery. That always struck me as something that would be shitloads of fun but I dunno, I haven’t broken through the wall of feeling like that’s a worthwhile and possible thing yet."
"There are so many people I’d like to collaborate with – either personally that I can think of, or conceptually. I dunno, I love strings. I want more strings, and groups of strings who work well together and have their own original thing sorted out, I’d love to explore that," he says of music. "There are some people in Perth that I’ve always wanted to work with and haven’t yet, like James Ireland (Savoir, Hamjam, The Chemist). He’s a man about town in Perth, and we’ve always done little things together, but I want to do more and make something with a bit more direction."
In the past, POND have enlisted a host of artistic minds in a meld of talents, creating weird and wonderful videos clips alongside their music. "With Zond, it was Johnny Mackay from Children Collide and Lord Fascinator. He’s a real good friend of ours and he just wanted to do this thing, he did everything for it, we just kind of rocked up and got shown what to do," Allbrook recounts. "Which is pretty bizarre if you think about what we did in that clip. And I was a fragile shell of a man back then, and it was really hot, and having, like, glam eyelashes put on your lips… it was kind of fucked," he laughs, "But yeah, that was that."
"Man It Feels Like Space Again was made by Jenna Eriksen and Jesse Taylor Smith, two New Zealand filmmakers who live in Melbourne, and they just did this incredible job. They fucking went through the shit with it. From their description, their process of making it sounded like Apocalypse Now, breakdowns and drug addictions and murders – it was more exciting, what they told me about making that film clip, than how we actually made the album."
Intense energy isn't unfamiliar, but integral, to Allbrook's style of work. His impetus is often emotion, channelled into composite layers of sound. On the drive behind his creativity, he says "I always seem to get spurred on by, and everything is really catalysed by, almost a defensive, animalistic kind of thing. If I’m feeling threatened, or sad, or atomised, or alone, I guess there’s some part of that which makes my brain start firing with a more highly charged adrenaline." His investment into music is palpable and deeply personal, and perhaps it's this instrinsic commitment that has him branded 'hypnotic' by audiences and critics alike. To experience it all in the flesh for yourself, you can catch Nicholas Allbrook performing a string of shows around the country, beginning in South Australia next week.
THU 24 MAR – PIRIE STREET SOCIAL CLUB, ADELAIDE
SAT 26 MAR – NORTHCOTE SOCIAL CLUB, MELBOURNE
SUN 27 MAR – THE MILK FACTORY, BRISBANE
TUE 29 MAR – NEWTOWN SOCIAL CLUB, SYDNEY
FRI 1 APR – THE ODDFELLOW, FREMANTLE