The sublimely dissonant psych-smear painted by Bardo Pond for the last two decades has been one huge slice of fuckheaven. While the Killadelphia band brings the noise via mounds upon mounds of distorto-waves, wah-wah swoosh and pedal hopping, its music is actually quite gorgeous, thanks to the flute action and ethereal voice transmissions of Isobel Sollenberger. From 1996 through 2001, Bardo released a string of rad LPs on Matador; they then put out a couple on ATP Recordings and now record for Fire.
Not only do they churn out slow-burning atonal psych jammage, they engage in unexpected goofball hijinks to boot. I spoke to guitarist Michael Gibbons and bassist Clint Takeda, and hilarity ensued. (Michael’s brother and fellow guitarist John Gibbons was also there, but he kept quiet for the most part.)
What are your memories of being on Matador Records?
Michael Gibbons: Good memories. We’re still friends with those guys. I wish we were still with them, in a way. But we did four albums with them and those guys are the funnest guys in the world and they’re supportive.
We got on the anniversary comp, but we didn’t get to go to Vegas though. We’re a little crushed about that.
That’s right. You guys didn’t play Matador’s 21st Anniversary in Vegas.
Gibbons: Yeah, we’re bitter about that…but everything else has been great (laughing).
Clint Takeda: Being flown out to Vegas…that would have been cool…
Gibbons: …only if we would’ve broken up ten years ago then had a reunion they probably would’ve had us there.
Yes, If Bardo Pond had broken up then you could have gone on a successful, lucrative reunion tour and hit the festival circuit.
Gibbons: We fucked that up too (laughing)! We screwed this whole thing. My management skills suck.
Your last record came out on Fire last year. Do you think the label hopping you’ve done over the years and self-releases has worked against you?
Gibbons: We were with ATP and it was really good for those two records. When we left there, it was mutual and everything was cool. We did some records with Three Lobed—comps and things that didn’t come out on records. The major labels we’ve been on (besides Maatador) are ATP and now Fire. It’s a natural thing: we were on ATP for seven years but we only did two records.
Do you work slowly?
Gibbons: We do seem to work slow… a glacial, glacial pace. I want to get the next record out within a year and a half instead of a two-three year thing. It’s hard to get us all together in the same room sometimes–even though we’re in the same town. Everybody’s got their lives.
All of you live in close proximity to each other?
Gibbons: We’re ridiculously close, actually. Me and my brother live in the same warehouse building, Isobel lives with John and Clint lives twenty blocks away and Jason (Kourkonis), our drummer, is right downtown. Yeah, we’re all together.
So it’s hard to get everyone to rehearse?
Gibbons: Yeah, I don’t know why. We get together at least once a week. I’m trying to get it to be more so we get more shit done.
Can you talk about Philly, its music scene and the fact you’ve stayed there? Has it been an albatross?
Takeda: (Laughing)…The scene is really good here.
Gibbons: There’s a lot of great bands.
Takeda: Sometimes they look at us like, “You guys are still alive?”
Gibbons: We love Philadelphia. We miss Jack Rose a lot. He was a sweet guy to have around here.
Bardo Pond, “Just Once” (at ATP Minehead 2010)
Mogwai and Godspeed You Black Emperor have cited Bardo Pond as influential on their aesthetics, you’ve toured with them and those bands have taken a template you guys helped create and are really successful. Have you considered quitting your day jobs and doing Bardo full-time?
Gibbons: There hadn’t really seemed like there was enough money to really do that, even in the beginning. We probably should’ve thought about it more. We never got as popular as they did. Those guys enjoy a popularity that we’ve never gotten to. It’s like a different sized room. The money wasn’t really there. Hell, man. We would’ve done that if we could have.
Takeda: The other part is how often you want to hang out in a band together…
Gibbons: …If only we had a bus…we want to tour in a bus. But Godspeed, they never toured in a bus. But anyway, yeah, we’d like to play as much as possible if we could.
Do you think you haven’t toured enough?
Gibbons: We tried to do as many as we could. Whenever a record came out we would go out for a month, month and a half then go to Europe for a little bit. We gave it a shot, man. We never did the six-month tour, that a lot of bands do… the grind. Maybe that hurt us a little bit.
You’ve played a few shows in New York with improv duo White Out. Having them and BP on the same bill seems apropos.
Gibbons: We know Tom (Surgal) and Lin (Culbertson) from way back. We identify with them as improvisers. We make up a lot of songs from improvising. When we’re performing, we mostly do songs; there’s some improvising. There’s stuff that comes out on the Volume Series and we have a lot of things that come out that are strictly improvisation. So we do identify with them a lot. We’ll do some kind of improvised piece (live) but all the songs have so much variation, we’re always doing different things to it.
I’ve read you are way into free jazz.
Gibbons: It’s music we like to listen to. The spirit of free jazz is a big part of what we do; what we try to get in touch with our music. We love Sun Ra, Archie Shepp, of course Coltrane and Alice Coltrane. We are big fans of Albert Ayler and the stuff that came out on the French label, Actuel.
Stoner rock and drug references have always been bandied about over the years with Bardo Pond. Has the drug thing been blown out of proportion?
Gibbons: I think it’s been blown out of proportion; not all the records are direct like that. It kinda goes without saying. It’s like that Spaceman 3 record Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To. That’s pretty much been our credo. It became a joke to actually name the albums after drugs for a while, too (laughing).
But Bardo Pond is obviously pro-weed?
Gibbons: We’re not advocating the use of anything but yeah, we’re pro-weed, man. [Laughs]
Do you recommend doing drugs before a Bardo Pond gig?
Gibbons: Uhhhh… I don’t recommend it unless you want to do that. Just do whatever you like to do before the gig [laughs].
So you are regretting not breaking up so you can reunite?
Gibbons: It could have been a good career move. It seems to work out for these other dudes. They’re like mythical by the time they come back so they’re filling these big rooms. I don’t know if we missed out or not; we never really thought about it. But now, it’s kind of a comedic thing we think about. It could have been our big break.
Bardo Pond play (Le) Poisson Rouge with White Out (with Thurston Moore) and Metal Mountains on June 18.