Pom Poko Plug The No-Gig Hole, With A Chat Show
During this unprecedented spell of worldwide weirdness lots of bands have found novel ways to fill the tour-postponement void, but not many featured a talk show hosted by a human-sized snake and fan questions posed by puppets. Just Pom Poko? Probably.
The effusively inventive Norwegian quartet created their own chat show last week, to celebrate their spunky second album, ‘Cheater’, and play some songs accompanied by cumbersomely-costumed dancers. Which does make sense, as this is a band who can’t help conjuring memorable happenings: onstage, on video, in-studio, maybe even a European tour this autumn, pandemic permitting.
You can stream their talk show for the princely sum of two dollars until the 27th, and that album – a feelgood but fiery 33-minutes - is out now too. We grabbed Pom Poko people Martin Miguel Tonne and Ola Djupvik via Zoom from Oslo to talk snakey hosts, groove-exploring and label stalking.
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Let’s kick off with the chat show - whose idea was it?
Martin - I think it came because we knew the director, Marin Håskjold, who also directed our latest video, ‘Like a Lady’, she had made a talk show before.
Ola – That was an art project, so we thought it would be a really cool idea to have her cooperate with the people behind our ‘visual universe’ – the art collective Narves1Biblioteke. That's usually how we do things, find people we really like and let them do whatever they want.
M - When we started out, we all agreed that it's important for a band to have a visual universe, that’s cool and makes sense with the music.
You’re lucky to be on a cool label: in the old days your visuals would just be a moody picture of the band.
O - We really set our eyes on Bella Union – I'm really glad we did. We decided ‘okay, well, its them or nothing else.’
Did you stalk them?
O – Almost!
M – Actually we kind of stalked the boss [Simon Raymonde]. He was doing a talk at [Oslo’s] ByLarm festival, and we went there to invite him to our concert - and it was also interesting to hear him talk. We planned to give him a note after with the time and the place, and there were like 20 people in line doing the same thing. So that felt dark. But we went through with it, and he came.
How did the chat show work – did it take a while to film the chat and performances?
O – Yeah, all day. And we got more strict lockdown procedures just the day before, so some people were really stressed; we were in masks the entire day, except for on stage.
It reminded me of Between Two Ferns, Zach Galifianakis’ awkward chat show - you all look slightly bewildered during the chat bit.
O - A few people have said that. It was pretty freaky to have a question about your music posed by a snake, with someone we know inside it…
You’ve performed with the snake before?
M - Narves1Biblioteke, they had a band of those snakes, playing a sort of autotune R&B, strange electronica, lo-fi music, with the snakes singing. We're huge fans, so thought it would be great if they could join us on stage, then the chat show. It’s an ongoing collaboration.
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Then the audience questions, I did wonder whether some fans might be offended by the weird puppets that represented them.
O - We did think about that. It was [singer] Ragnhild’s brother who voiced and controlled the puppets, it's also very fun to not have any other humans in it, to kind of emphasise the Corona-ness of the whole thing.
There’s a big jazz culture in Norway, did you guys come through that? I sense some free-jazz chops in everything you do.
M - We all have in some ways studied jazz. Ragnhild, Ola and me went to a jazz conservatory in Trondheim, where we also started the band. So we have a solid background, even though none of us have ever been extremely interested in the normal ‘jazzy’ jazz.
That seems to be common in Norwegian bands, a good mix of punky freedom but solid musicianship...
M - I suppose it's that we have really liberal music conservatories, so people are perhaps taught that you can use jazz and improvisation as a tool. That's our main way of composing, improvising together in the studio. I think that's something you get from an open jazz education.
Do you ever let people see those sessions?
O - I don't know if we could work the same way, if we had an audience - it wouldn’t be that much fun for anyone. Sometimes things go fast, but other times it's very grinding, exploring a groove for half an hour, or playing the same riff 1000 times to come up with a melody on top.
Did the new album work like that - do people come in with songs, that you all work on?
O – No, everyone brings ideas but usually quite small, not a finished tune. Then we usually go to, like, a cabin in the woods, some rural part of Norway. And we just play, all day. Then watch an action movie in the evening. But this album, we were in a studio in Italy - but we forgot that we have two whole weeks, we tried to go with our normal pace, five to seven hours a day. It was really intense. So the music we made there, it felt quite different.
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This sounds like an album made to play live. But you can’t.
O – It’s really strange. 2019 was a busy year, so when 2020 started we were supposed to record a new album and were kind of glad to have less gigs. Now we have the exact opposite problem, I think every one of us has oriented our life around playing gigs. So we can't wait, especially the UK, meeting people, playing really sweaty, shitty shows.
One last thing. There’s an interesting bit on the chat show about where the album name ‘Cheater’ came from: a character from Mario Tennis.
M - His name is Waluigi, he doesn't really have any personality, but when he loses he blames it all on other people cheating. It's just stupid negative energy in the game.
That does sound like a certain outgoing American leader.
O - We don't really like to be overtly political, but with the ‘Cheater’ name, we've all thought about different people who can fill that role. And there’s a very good contender in Trump. I mean, he’s like the archetype of a cheater.
So would you do the chat show again? It’s fairly unique.
O – Maybe. We’re in a position where we can do lots of cool stuff, it's a privilege we're really keen to use. But then we rarely do the same idea twice. It's fun to try new things.
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Pom Poko’s chat show is available until January 27th, click here for details: https://vier.live/act/pom-poko
The album ‘Cheater’ is out now.
Words: Si Hawkins
Photo Credit: Jenny Berger Myhre
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