North West four-piece Pondarosa live in the optimal place for artistic action: between the electrically charged cities of Liverpool and Manchester. "The pair have such a rich musical heritage that it’s no surprise there is a great scene in both. We’re very lucky to be able to be a part of them, and I’d say we draw influences from the two as well," keys player Adam Ghidouche narrates as we manage to have a lush chat about the promising band and its heritage.
He presses on, "I think the Liverpool scene has more of a community feel about it, which is only natural when you think of how much bigger Manchester is. I’ve gotten to know more bands on the Liverpool scene, but I’ve also got some good friends in Manchester bands, so I’m trying to be as diplomatic as possible here!" Liverpool’s indie-pop scene is hearty and expanding constantly. "We've recognised bands like Spinn working hard to build their success outside of the city alongside big homecoming gigs which have a real celebratory feel about them."
The tuneful writer feels like the most compelling music coming out of Greater Manchester is actually from towns just a touch outside. "Blossoms and Fuzzy Sun have really put Stockport on the map, and there’s a renaissance happening in Wigan right now with The Lathums, Stanleys and our mates Lynchs." One thing that unites the devoted communities is the real and desperate threat to our venues. "We’ve seen some iconic places closing their doors for good, like The Zanzibar in Liverpool and Sound Control in Manchester, and there needs to be more protection for these places, now more than ever."
Going back a little, the boys clicked from day one. James Millington (vocals) and Adam were tight mates at uni, and Joe Anderson (Rhythm Guitar) and Lawrence Aspin (Lead Guitar) were James’ pals from school, so there was already a strong foundation to build on. "We spent a lot of the early days writing songs together in our shed and developing the sound we wanted to pursue; there were some cold winter nights, but it’s definitely a time we look back on fondly! We’ve had a couple of my mates from school playing bass for us in the past; there’s been a bit of a family feel at times, which is always a good thing," he considers.
Previously, the harmonious bunch were based in Manchester, so that was their primary focus, but since Adam moved back to Liverpool last year, they've started to make some good headway. "Our last gig (what feels like a lifetime ago) was at Phase One in Liverpool, and it was our first one here for a while, so it was great to be back up there at such an important venue for upcoming bands. I have to say I personally enjoy Liverpool gigs a bit more! Our best gig was probably at Jimmy’s in Manchester last year; there was huge energy that night and we were really feeding off it on stage. It’s a brilliant feeling when can channel a crowd like that and give a performance that goes down well."
The other three members originate from Sheffield, playing a handful of times there, lapping up the real sense of enthusiasm amongst fellow Yorkshire-men when practising for the Sheffield gigs. "Our next gig (fingers crossed!) is a big one for us as we’ll be supporting The Cheap Thrills at The Arts Club in May next year. I’ve been going to watch gigs there since I was 16 so that’ll be a really sweet one to tick off," he enthuses.
Historically, they have branded themselves as indie, but have always been conscious of avoiding the stereotypical ditties about the local night out in the pub and youthful bother at taxi ranks, drawing inspiration from the guitar bands of Australia like DMA’s and Planet. The creator divulges, "This year, we’ve tried to move even further away from the indie tag and branch out to include elements of disco, psychedelia and soul in our songs to give them a more timeless feel." The intentional shift towards these styles was more representative of their collective taste.
"I read an interview that Kevin Parker of Tame Impala had done about his own evolution when recording Currents, in which he said it was driven by a desire to hear his music in communal settings. It struck a bit of a chord with me, and since then I’ve been asking myself one thing about the new songs I’ve been writing: can you dance to this? That question has been at the heart of my ethos, and it’s one that’s challenged me to create songs that bring people together in the way disco and soul do while also channelling the mystique of psychedelia."
Radio friendly Indie Pop seems to be having a moment, with Pondarosa adding keys into their repertoire and embracing varying elements to find their authentic sound. Adam agrees, "Definitely! Blossoms are a great example of a band that has evolved from their indie sensibilities by tapping into other genres much like we’re trying to do. Keys are definitely here to stay in our sound, I think we’ve found a happy medium in balancing them with guitars. Lawrence and Joe are both excellent guitarists and their styles fit nicely around the synth parts I’ve been adding".
Having an extra layer of sound keeps the band's output crisp and fluid as the room is there to add distinctive melodies, which is something he has given prominent attention to. 'I feel much more excited about the songs I’ve written since shifting to keys, they’re a lot groovier and hook-driven which is something we’ve wanted to work towards. They feel like songs that are going to carry us on to that next level."
November 13th sees the release of single As You Think, one of the quartets earliest tracks that has undergone a butterfly-worthy transformation to become the version we hear today. Always possessing a disco beat, it was open to development with a funkier bassline and spiralling synth sections. "I think it’s a great sonic segue between the old and new Pondarosa, it feels like the beginning of a new era. I tend to take chief songwriting duties, and it’s quite a personal song to me lyrically."
He continues, "James and I used to work in a call centre in Manchester, and one of our team leaders would always drill us with motivational quotes, one of which was 'as you think, so shall you become'. Even though the quote has no religious background, he started drawing parallels between the two: "It got me thinking about how everyone believes in something bigger than themselves, even on an abstract level. Eventually, this developed into lyrics about acknowledging and questioning your beliefs, and the beliefs of others. There’ll always be people wanting to think and act like others, and on the flip side, there’ll always be people wanting others to think and act as they do."
Working with him for the third time, Matt Heap has an intuitive sense of the vision they are trying to create. Adam elaborates that set up a mini home studio this year, and took an interest in the production side of things, learning stacks of valuable details from Heap, absorbing information like a sponge. "It was a very relaxed vibe this time in the studio, but at the same time, he pushed us to make sure all aspects were perfect, and this laid the foundations for creating our best work to date.
"When we were discussing the vibe of the track, Matt was really excited about the shift in style towards disco and psychedelia, and it’s a big boost for the band when the producer is excited about what you’re trying to achieve. It feels like everyone is pulling in the same direction, and there’s a sense of purpose about the recording process. When you’re having fun in the studio and challenging yourself, it becomes quite addictive; you can’t wait to get started on day two or even get your next single booked in!"
There aren't any plans for an EP or LP just yet, with As You Think a gateway to a new era. The hope is listeners believe that the band have invented a positive change as they hold a backlog of new singles that they itching to share in 2021. Ghidouche finishes by informing us that they are planning to record another single early on in the year to release ready for their Arts Club gig in May. "It’s going to be tough to decide which of the new songs to record, but I’d say there’s a frontrunner at the minute which is a great blend of disco and soul, somewhere in between Parcels and Delegation!"
"Everything is quite up in the air with the state of play at the minute, so it’s quite difficult for us to plan. Having the Arts Club gig as something to strive towards has been keeping us motivated and it feels like the light at the end of the tunnel in some ways! I hope live music can make a full comeback next year; I think we’ve all realised how important it is when it was taken away from us."
Article by Beverley Knight