Enter Bardo Pond’s musical time machine

The Philadelphia psychedelic rockers have a lot to say with their distorted guitars, flutes and vinyl releases

Philadelphia-based indie rockers Bardo Pond (photo credit: Courtesy)
Philadelphia-based indie rockers Bardo Pond
(photo credit: Courtesy)
They must have fallen into a time tunnel. That’s the only logical explanation for Bardo Pond – the Philadelphia-based indie rockers with the long hair, the vinyl record releases and the music that’s been called the greatest “distortion-friendly acidspace- rock shoegaze-noise” rock since the heydays of My Bloody Valentine and Spacemen 3.
However guitarist Michael Gibbons, who formed the band in 1991 with his brother John, is very much in the present as he talked with The Jerusalem Post the day after legendary jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman died last month.
“He [Coleman] was a big part of who we are. When we started out, my brother and I basically listened to a lot of experimental free-form jazz,” said Gibbons, during a break from his day job as an art installer at Pennsylvania Institute of Fine Arts. “His whole theory of harmolodics – where people don’t necessarily need to be playing the same thing at the same time but can be doing their own thing – was a huge influence on us.”
Bardo Pond’s brand of harmolodics bubbles up from lengthy, deliberate sound explorations that ebb and flow around the tension between the Gibbons brothers’ blazing guitars and the delicate flute work of vocalist Isobel Sollenberger.
The flute is no stranger to rock ‘n’ roll (thank you Ian Anderson), but it has rarely sounded more at home next to buzzsaw guitars as it does in Bardo Pond. And it happened by accident.
“We brought Isobel in as a singer, and at some point she mentioned that she also played the flute,” said Gibbons. “We said ‘yeah, bring the flute out,’ and we started jamming. When we heard the combination of our guitars and the flute, we couldn’t believe how great it sounded. It became an integral part of our song from the minute she first played with us.”
That sweet and sour blend, enhanced by 11 explosive albums and sporadic touring in the US and Europe have contributed to the band’s underground standing as leaders of a retro movement that relies on interplay and intensity over entertainment.
“Some songs start off as spontaneous jams that build out of improvisation, while others are more plotted out and the individual members then apply themselves to it and find their part,” said Gibbons.
“Not many things are written down besides the basic chords. Our bass player Cliff [Takeda, who’s joined by drummer Jason Kourkonis], especially, uses his instrument in a free manner to experiment until he finds his own spot. When we play live, there aren’t many pieces that are straight ahead, and those that are still expand in the middle of the songs where anything goes.”
The band’s current European tour includes shows at the ATP Iceland festival alongside Iggy Pop, Public Enemy and Belle and Sebastian and at The Roundhouse in London opening for the Jesus and Mary Chain before winding up on Wednesday night at the Barby Club in Tel Aviv.
Gibbons explained that the band tests out various combinations of sets before deciding on the one that works best, and it often depends on the audience dynamics and response.
“We come up with a set that we think has the right flow and trust that it will provide a good experience. But when you get in front of an audience, sometimes you realize it doesn’t work like you thought it would,” he said. “But we’re always trying different things and experimenting.
And if one night is fantastic, we’ll just decide to base the rest of the tour on that set list. If something works, we tend to stick to it.”
That includes the band’s three-year tradition of releasing an annual Record Store Day EP, each featuring two cover songs reinterpreted by the group. This year they’ve compiled the three last offerings into the Record Store Day Trilogy three- CD set due out later this month, featuring Bardo Pond renditions of tracks by everyone from Funkadelic and Pharaoh Sanders to Brian Eno and The Velvet Underground.
For Gibbons, releasing music on vinyl and listening to music on vinyl is one aspect of the previous century he’s not willing to give up.
“It’s like holding an object of art in your hand. You just don’t get that experiencing by downloading music,” he said.
“And it sounds better, warmer. I’m so happy that the vinyl has made something of a comeback. It’s so much fun to put an album on a turntable and experience listening to a side of music sequenced the way the artist wanted it. I love the ritual of playing albums – it’s a beautiful thing.”
Sort of like the beautiful dissonance of Bardo Pond.