Pontiak Braves Tornadoes and Chainsaws Downed Trees to Deliver the Riff Rock of Echo Ono

See also: Pontiak Makes an Album About Driving from Phoenix to Texas

The last time we blogged about the brothers Pontiak --Van, Lain, and Jennings Carney -- we discussed their EP, Comecrudos, a concept record designed for a drive through the American Southwest. It garnered an interesting comment from one "Pill Poppin' Hellbilly:"

They should write one about me riding my Motorcycle in 1972 from New York to Tucson AZ. then back over to Atlanta Georgia then out to Denver Colorado then to Santa Rosa California to see the Grateful Dead in Oakland. then I got laid by a sweet lil Frisco hippie chick in a paisley dress who smelled of patchouli oil. can ya dig it? I also had a friend who went across the usa from maine to san diego calif in a horse and buggy. a story was written on it in the old national geografic magazine in 1971. this is all back when men were still MEN and not the soft out of shape yuppie office pussies they are today.

Thing is, if "Hellbilly" had bothered to listen to Pontiak's sound, he'd realize that the music already suits such adventures. The band's latest, Echo Ono, is another slab of spacious riff-rock, a Southern, soulful cousin to the stoner metal and drone sounds of the American underground.

We spoke with guitarist Van Carney about the influence of the Southwest on the band's sound, vintage amplifier worship, and a strange confluence of chainsaws and tornadoes the brothers experienced on the road.

Pontiak is scheduled to perform Thursday, April 12, at the Rhythm Room.

Up on the Sun: You guys conceived Echo Ono on the road back from SXSW in 2011. How did that happen?

Van Carney: Basically what happened was coming back from SXSW we were sitting in a hotel room and we had just kind of experienced some weird shit not long before that, because we had come across a tornado on our way down there. We were sitting in a hotel room just sort of thinking about things a little differently than we had before. We were sitting around and someone thing struck us the way it hadn't before.

Is that what the press release refers to about tornadoes and chainsaws?

That was on the way out to the Austin Pysch Fest. We literally got trapped in between three tornadoes. It was when that huge tornado hit Birmingham, but we were supposed to play there that night. We got stuck in a town in Northern Georgia. This huge oak tree fell and we literally got stuck. We couldn't get the van out, it was trapped by this tree. We had to go into someone's house because there's this fire marshal telling us "Get out the van, there's a tornado coming." So we went into these people's house for a few hours. Finally, someone got some chainsaws, and we cut the trees up and got out of there. We drove back to Chattanooga because it was just too intense. We were like, "Fuck this. We gotta get out of here."

You guys are from Virginia, but there seems to be a lot of desert influence on your sound.

Well, specifically, with the EP, Comecrudos, we envisioned that as a concept album as much as we've ever done. It was conceived for the drive from Marathon,Texas down to Big Bend. Our idea was to write a piece of music for that drive. A lot of people have said that - the desert is very inspiring to us, but I don't think it's fundamental.

I think what we like in music is the same thing you can see in the desert, which is kind of space and openness...our sound reminds people of flat, open spaces. Being from Virginia, we've done a lot of traveling through the Southwest all our lives. Geography is a powerful thing...there's a powerful element of all kinds of geography. For us, we're outdoor people by default. We grew up on a farm. It tends to stay in your blood. I can see the desert, but I can also see where I live when I listen to the music...the complete opposite, just rolling green mountains.

Pontiak - Royal Colors from Thrill Jockey Records on Vimeo.

Your music has that open, spacious sound, which I think is why you often get pegged as "stoner rock."

People have always said the thing about stoner rock, but I never listened to it much. Our music takes more of the "riff approach." To me, that's an older thing, from the '60s and '70s. We were doing this interview with a guy in Antwerp not that long ago, and he was asking us about how we take over these songs and the inspiration for [our songs.] I was trying to explain to him, and I think the language barrier might be a little confusing, but you can hear a part in a song, like a Lightnin' Hopkins riff, and you're like "That's the heaviest...that's the riff." And then guys came a long and put a back beat to it and you're like, "Holy shit."

That's it for us, the kind of thing where you can hear that moment and that's the moment that we want to have. I didn't grow up listening to heavy or load music, but when you start playing it, and you turn a tube amp up loud, it has this organic breathing to it. I was just looking at this thing about Leslie West [of Mountain] today...Stephen O'Mally [of Sunn O)))] tweeted this thing about how there is this lost 1979 interview with him about playing at Woodstock and what he was using. He and the bass player were both using Sunns, and between the two of them they were using 12 Coliseums and 12 cabinets. This was their third gig ever, and he said when he went for his solo, him by himself on guitar, the guitar tech rigged all of the amps together including the bass player's. West said it was the most powerful thing he'd ever done. I love that scene, him standing there on this little stage. You know, hundreds of thousands people and no amplification but what was behind him.

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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.