Hey, We Played for Kevin Bacon
The three brothers of Pontiak are getting national attention and head to Milwaukee this week.
If you’ve ever played Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, you know how easy it is for anyone to be just six or fewer acquaintances apart from the long time movie actor. For Virginia-based rock band Pontiak, the connection is a lot more direct: their song “Beings of the Rarest,” from their latest album INNOCENCE, was used in a recent episode of the FOX drama, “The Following,” in which Bacon has the lead role.
The band jumped at the opportunity. “The show just wanted to use the song so we said ‘sure,'” says singer/guitarist Van Carney during a recent phone call from the band’s tour van that was “cruising down the road in the middle of Arkansas.” Band members watched the TV show before playing their next gig.
The band is on a long tour until June in the US and Europe, including a stop in Milwaukee at the Riverwest Public House Cooperative Friday, Feb. 21st.
The FOX show, Carney modestly conceded, “reaches a lot of people.” It’s just one sign of Pontiak’s rising popularity, which has gotten a lot of attention lately in national publications like Rolling Stone. But neither Van nor his brothers Lain (on drums) and Jennings (bass) appear to be letting it go to their heads.
“We do it because we love to and it’s fun,” says Van. “We love the artistic process and it’s just another way, once you finish an album, to continue the creation.”
The creation has a fuzzy and energetic psychedelic-leaning rock sound but Van says they draw from a wide variety of influences. The songs of INNOCENCE range from the charging title track to the more rock ballad-like “Wildfires.”
Any big influences? “We have so many. There’s nothing I can specifically point to,” he says. “It’s kind of all over, from classical music to country music.” But not much heavy metal. “We just like playing loud music.”
“If you go back and listen to our older albums, they’re much more diverse than this one.” But the new album still has a lot of variety. “That’s how we like to construct albums. Diversity keeps things interesting.”
To record INNOCENCE, the brothers built a studio they dubbed Studio A in the barn loft that was a mere 500 yards “in a northeast direction” from Van’s house. It’s where they practiced and recorded for the album. This time around there was more of an emphasis on vocals and melody rather than their past approach of building it off their fuzz and feedback sound.
With each song, he says, “we started with a melody and kind of filled in around that to support the melody. Which is a different way of writing a song.” And it worked. “It was a really awesome experience.”
The band recorded the songs to analog tape and avoided the use of computers, he adds.
“We did that intentionally because it’s a whole different process, there’s no computer screens to look at, no quick editing. There’s really no anything. You just have to be true to what gets down on tape. It’s a great experience. Most of it was recorded live except for vocals.”
The song “Wildfires” had a longer genesis. “I wrote that song by myself in my living room the summer before we started writing the other stuff,” says Van. “I wrote in no time at all, ten, twenty minutes and then kind of forgot about it. When we got in the studio to start recording INNOCENCE we said ‘Hey let’s give this a shot.’ Lain and Jennings put some harmonies on and we rearranged it and made it work for the band.”
The “Wildfires” video was directed by drummer Lain Carney. The video was shot while Pontiak was on tour with labelmate Guardian Alien in late 2013, and features Greg Fox, Alexandra Drewchin, and Bernard Gann all horsing around in a hotel room with Van Carney.
The album’s title comes from the lead song. “I wanted to put the album title in all caps because I felt that released the word from some of the baggage that comes with it and gave it some of its own sovereignty.”
The brothers first floated the idea of a band a decade ago when they were living in Baltimore. “We decided ‘Hey let’s give this thing a shot,'” says Van. Lain was already in Baltimore, which was one reason Jennings and Van moved there too. They started playing and finding success with the music they were creating. After about four years there, they ultimately ended up “for one reason or another where we live now” in Virginia.
While brother bands like Oasis have shown the pitfalls of such a band – with sibling fighting and egos leading to breakups – the Carney brothers have so far made it work.
“We try to keep our eye on the prize, which is having a good time really,” says Van. “And we love playing music, we love making art. We just try to keep our minds focused on that. If you’re screaming and yelling at each other what’s the point of that? We have our issues like anybody does but we have a good time.”
One advantage to a brothers band is that no one’s ever going get kicked out, Van says.
“It makes you work on issues that I think other people might get afraid of or walk away from,” he explains. When you’re family you’re forced to work out any issues. “That’s a cool thing about it.”
Pontiak has ventured in ambitious territory, creating 18-minute film, “Heat Leisure,” which premiered last year as an official selection at the Chicago International Music and Movies Festival. The film juxtaposes the silent beauty of historic Virginia farms, many of which were the location of Civil War battles, with the energetic sound and fury of a rock show. The performance featured two new songs made in collaboration with several guest musicians.
“We did that with some friends, Greg Fox and Steve Strohmeier,” says Van. “We pulled our whole studio onto a field next to my house and just had some jams and recorded it and wanted to make a film out of it with us playing on this field.” The band was so busy playing dates they almost didn’t get into the festival viewing because it sold out, Van says. “They wouldn’t let us in because they didn’t believe we made it. So we told them to go in and look at the screen and they let us in, in the back. That was kind of funny.”
Pontiak is on the road a lot but doesn’t mind. “We get good food and try to drink good beer and check out the local scene wherever we go. We really love doing it.”
They’ll do the same in Milwaukee. “We haven’t played there in a few years,” says Van. “We played a place, I can’t remember what it was called, but it was a great beer place and had a lot of beer on tap. That was a lot of fun.”