Ponykiller Talks "The Wilderness"
Mon, 02 Jan 2012 10:34:25
"We tried really hard to make something that didn't sound like what we were hearing at shows or on the radio," says Ponykiller's Collin Yeo of his band's new album for Housecore Records, The Wilderness.
On that front, Ponykiller succeeded immensely. The Wilderness is simultaneously hypnotic and haunting. Tempering psychedelic psychosis with viscerally vivid lyrics, Ponykiller drift into an otherworldly sonic realm of their own. There are certainly strands of Pink Floyd and The Beatles in Ponykiller's DNA, but The Wilderness houses a 21st century animalism that distinctly belongs to the New Orleans outfit. Produced by the legendary Philip Anselmo [Pantera, Down, Arson Anthem], The Wilderness is a new frontier for rock.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief and Dolor author Rick Florino, Collin Yeo reveals the secrets of Ponykiller's The Wilderness and more.
Did you have one overarching vision for The Wilderness?
We wrote all of the songs the same way and at the same time. I think that had a lot to do with why there is a congruent nature to it. I start out writing the songs, and I get a basic idea down. The drummer and I arrange together. When he plays, he has a really unique way that he counts. I don't really count at all when I play. We really help each other by writing together. The guitar player comes in and starts writing leads. I write vocals the same time he writes leads. We play them off each other. I basically moved into our music studio and wrote music all of the time. Out of that, the music ended up having a similar sound to it. The lyrical themes came later. The music was what started it.
What lyrical themes are pervasive?
We're dealing with a lot of contemporary things going on in my life. Living in a part of New Orleans that's not very nice, there's a pervasive element of violence and vibrancy as well as a threat in the back of your mind at all times. That works its way in. Memories from youth and experiences also come into it. I grew up in the Northwest, and I used to go from Northern California to Portland all the time to visit my grandmother. It's a really weird drive. It's strange. For "I-5", I thought I'd write about that artery which goes basically from Mexico all the way to Canada and what goes on up and down through there. You don't necessarily have to be in a psychedelic mindset to write in a surreal way. Psychedelia is a neologism that means "mind-made material". It's a strange riff on the drug trade that goes on in that area as well as the surreal landscape. That's one of the many themes in there. "Another Toxic Year" is also about California, whereas "Into the Drink" is definitely about Post-Katrina New Orleans. I'm thinking about things in my life without sounding too obvious.
Where did "Headhunters" come from?
It's very much about living in the inner city. I was raised in the country, but I've lived in the city for almost all of my adult life since I was a teenager. Our studio is in a scary section of New Orleans. It's meant to be a little less literal than say a Wu-Tang Clan song [Laughs]. That's not my experience. I'm trying to write about what it's like though. The imagery is fantasy-derived. It's not meant to be taken literally. The seed of that song is about the feeling of being pursued or hunted. It's my impression of New Orleans without being super obvious. That's not my upbringing. I feel like I'm commenting on what's around me but I'm not doing so in a manner disingenuous to my personal experience, which is not horrific.
What about "Some Sunny Girl"?
That's the closest you're going to get a song with any theme of love on it on this record. As a whole, Wilderness is made up of songs that are in the early, wild part of something—the infancy. This is our first album. There's a lot of confusion. There are a lot of real primitive emotions that get pushed around. Love is certainly one of them. That's a song about miscommunication.
Is it important for you to paint visual pictures with the songs?
Since I was a kid, I had a pretty wild imagination. I'd see things very visually. I don't want to be one of those dry bands. There's a part of me that wants to make things blurred and more impressionistic. I think it is important. At a certain level, I was trying to take ordinary everyday things and give them the over-the-top epic language of a metal song.
Where do you draw inspiration from outside of music?
I do read a lot, and I watch a lot of movies. Those are symptoms of having a mind that wants to be distracted. I don't know if that's where inspiration comes from. First and foremost, I think it comes from things I've experienced, the way I'm feeling, and what's going on around me. This last decade has been a really paranoid decade. I want to write about something I've experienced but I don't want it to simply be about me. I want them to be about what's going on around me. I go on a lot of walks. I go around and meet people and travel a lot. That's a great way to get subject matter.
If you were to compare Wilderness to a movie or a combination of movies, what would you compare it to?
It would be one of those movies you have to have somewhat of a longer attention span to appreciate. It would be a really visual film. It'd be a film where the visual qualities and the dialogue are even at odds sometimes. It might be a Francis Ford Coppola movie like Apocalypse Now or a Stanley Kubrick movie where the visuals are most of the film. They're the main character, and the actors are simply acting in the landscape of that. I try to make the music this big huge sensory experience where the things I'm saying aren't even the primary aspect. There's an element of those '70s movies.
What's your experience been like working with Philip?
It's been life-changing. He's the closest thing I've ever had to a mentor. He's been a friend of mine for a longtime. He's so hard-working and smart about making records. His attention to detail is really fantastic. He's a tireless worker, and he's brilliant at focusing in on what he's doing and getting the best possible sound. He's helped instill a work ethic in me that I hope to have for the rest of my life. I could never thank him enough for that. It's a wonderful thing to see the passion that he has. You don't see that much in the world. The world is a lot richer having him around.
Have you heard Ponykiller yet?
Photo by: Andrew Bertholf