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Introducing Pom Poko

Dan Webb
Pom Poko are an exciting avant-pop outfit from Norway who are poised to release their debut album Birthday on February 22. We spoke to Ola Djupvik (drums) and Martin Miguel Tonne (guitar) on a 10-hour time difference in an attempt to get to know them a bit better.

You’ve picked five songs to accompany this article. Would you like to say anything about your choices?

Ola: I think it’s like quite a varied bunch, or not. Somehow it all sounded a bit similar. We just picked one tune each, and then one extra tune for good measure. And I dunno, it’s music that we don’t necessarily play ourselves, but we’re quite inspired by. I think what they have in common was that they’re intricately arranged. Really good compositions and arranged for like a rock band. So I think that’s something that inspires us really with that. Our music is using a band format and arranging complex music for it.

And they all seem to be quite recent releases as well. Do you find you’re inspired by modern music more so than work from the past?

Martin: I think that was just a coincidence actually, the modernness of the music. Because we’re equally inspired by lots of – maybe not extremely old music, but everything from like the 70s up until now is a direct inspiration I think. And there are vast amounts of modern music that we’re not inspired by (laughs).

Your music really reminds me of bands such as Battles and Deerhoof. I’ve read that you’re fans of Deerhoof – how did you first discover them, and do you have a favourite album of theirs?

Ola: Oh. Favourite album is difficult in a good way.

Martin: Ah, I think mine is the album Milk Man.

Ola: Really? Milk Man?

Martin: Yeah, yeah.

Ola: Okay. I have lots of different cases where different albums are my favourite, but maybe Green Cosmos is the one I like the most.

And how did you first discover them?

Martin: The way I discovered the band was – (laughs) a friend told me he had found a new band with just people who had studied jazz in Berlin, a German band. And then he showed me Deerhoof. And he had obviously misunderstood everything about the band’s biography, because that wasn’t correct (laughs), but I started listening to it, and then I checked out where they were really from. And I was – at first I was really thrown off by the vocals, the Japanese style weird vocals (laughs), but in the end I ended up loving it very much.

I remember the first time I heard them, I listened to about 20 seconds of “Secret Mobilization”, and then immediately bought the entire back catalogue.

Ola: (laughs) Yeah, I was the same actually, because it’s – I had lots of people recommended it to me, and the more people recommended it to me, the more I – like, you know, anxious I am to check it out, because quite often I get disappointed, like, if something has real hype, I’m quite often more disappointed. But it was the same for me. I heard 20 seconds of Apple O’, and the “Panda Panda Panda” song. Then I was like, “okay, this is good.” Then I checked out the rest of the catalogue.

You have more freedom when you compose in realtime… You can like, royally screw something up and it still turns out fine, I think.

You all studied jazz at Trondheim Music Conservatory. So what is jazz; how would you define it?

Martin: That’s a horrible thing to think about, I think, because it’s a never ending answer (laughs). And I think for –

Do you think it’s more of an abstract concept, or…

Martin: Ah, I don’t know. I think almost every answer to the question will fail to be precise enough… I think for me it’s not even that interesting, because I feel it’s such a hard question, I won’t use any energy to try to – yeah, I mean, for myself, it’s a good question to ask, because there are always interesting answers, hopefully, like this one that come out, that I think for us, studying and stuff, it was more about… working with improvisation in every conceivable way. More than like, a specific tradition of playing. I don’t know. It’s really hard to answer that question.

Ola: Yeah but I think that sums it up… I think the improvisation and the, sort of spontaneous, or, like, ah, what’s it called? Music composition in realtime, I think is a big part of jazz. Like you can play traditional bee-bop and then you sort of instantly compose in a certain style, like traditional bee-bop style, or modern jazz music or freer, sort of more improvised music. You have more freedom when you compose in realtime. And for us I think it – what we play isn’t jazz, but I really feel that I use my jazz background, because I feel I’m free to take or make decisions in realtime when we’re playing. You can like, royally screw something up and it still turns out fine, I think.

So what constitutes a good song, in your view?

Ola: Ah, there has to be something – sounds maybe obvious, but it has to be something interesting, like, some tunes get by on just being really stunningly beautiful. But I think most tunes have to have a little – a tiny element of something strange, so that the first time you hear it, it’s -you’re a bit surprised and then they’re like, “hmm, they already like this,” and then you have to listen to it several times and then you’re, like – I think most good tunes you have to learn to like. At least for me.

Martin: And maybe that depends on the type of music you like. But I always find in the songs that I like the most, that there’s one specific moment, like, half a second – or something specific maybe happens in the melody and the chords, that makes me sort of like the whole song. Just like one key moment. That maybe just comes once, but it’s worth it to hear the whole song, just because of that perfect moment.

You signed to Bella Union earlier this year. What attracted you to that particular label?

Ola: Hmm. I think, of course we like lots of the artists on Bella Union. And this is really an acknowledged label. But I think the major selling point was that the fact we met with Simon Raymonde and lots of the other Bella people, and they were, like, really nice people. Because you can easily end up with like, a good label, but (one) that’s really business-oriented… But what was apparent with the Bella people was that they’re really focused on the music, like, they all are huge music nerds and really passionate about the music side. And because they like music, they’re good at the business side as well. I think we couldn’t have had a label that wears suits and things… that wouldn’t really work for us, I think. So that’s what we like in Bella Union. Or that’s what I like.

Martin: I agree.

In the beginning our singer Ragnhild was just singing in a sort of English gibberish… we had to find the words afterwards.

Do you feel compelled to sing in English in order to reach a mass audience?

Martin: Hmm, I think that we didn’t really think about that in the beginning. I mean, it’s a thing to think about when you’re from a non-English speaking country, but since most of the music we listen to on a day-to-day basis is English speaking… that was the most natural thing. In the beginning our singer Ragnhild was just singing in a sort of English gibberish. So that was the sound (laughs) that was most logical to our music. And then we had to find the words afterwards.

Ola: Yeah… Ragnhild improvised a lot of the lyrics from show to show so they were never quite the same, and what she found natural to be improvising was English. I think if improvised, the original lyrics would sound really thick in not a good way. I don’t know. But I think most of the bands we know from Norway sing in English too. It’s just natural, I think, for some strange reason.

Martin: Yeah, but it would be – I mean, I think it would be impossible for, for example, Bella Union to sign us if we were singing in Norwegian, so there would be some natural boundaries for the music in that way.

What’s your ultimate goal in music? What are you hoping to achieve?

Ola: We’d like to play in Australia. I think that’s the thing for us. We don’t really – we have never set goals for the band. It sort of just happened. When we started playing festivals and stuff, that was – we hadn’t really thought that far when we –

Martin: Suddenly we’re booked.

What’s the best bar in Trondheim?

Martin: We used to go to a Turkish restaurant all the time, which might not count as a bar. But it’s like an – almost a hole in the wall, serving Turkish food. I think that’s my favourite place in Trondheim. And that was the place we usually hang out. Either that, or the place next door that was like a horrible burger reggaeton place that had really cheap beer. The Turkish restaurant, that was our place. But the burger place is also worth mentioning because they have, like, a never-ending string of reggae versions of pop songs just like, never stopping. So that’s worth checking out. And it’s a good burger, as well.

Is it easier to write from a place of happiness or a place of sadness?

Martin: Definitely happiness.

Ola: Yeah (if) you are a very weird sad person, it’s what comes out when they’re sad that counts. Like our music, I think’s euphoric. It’s very – I mean, at least it’s energetic. Sometimes maybe you can be energetic when you’re sad or need to be energetic when you’re sad, but for me it’s definitely happy music. When we compose, it’s like if something’s too sad, we usually scrap it.

If you could collaborate with any artist, in any medium, past or present, who would it be and what would you ideally create?

Martin: There we could make like, an orchestral work with, ah, Stravinsky. Like a huge 200 (piece) orchestra with musicians and dancers, and then maybe we wouldn’t even play our own music, we would just stand and conduct, I think. And maybe like have the premiere in Paris in 1920.

Ola: (laughs) That was actually my first thought as well. That’s really strange. Yeah. I think orchestra would be cool, or maybe –

Martin: Maybe just like a concert for the last human being in 2095, when everyone except one is dead. And then we play a final concert in history for that person, and then it dies and then we die, and then the human race is extinct.

Ola: Maybe it would be cool to like, get in on a TV show really early. So, like, you’re an integral part of Friends, for example – would be really, really cool.

Martin: (laughs)

Ola: So that the Friends turned out to be like the cast of all the regular actors and then we’re the band that’s just always present –

Martin: (laughs)

Ola: That would be cool, I think.