Gear Talks: Nicholas Allbrook

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Gear Talks: Nicholas Allbrook

Nicholas Allbrook
Words by Winter McQuinn
Edits by Mixdown Staff

Pond frontman Nicholas Allbrook sat down with Mixdown for a chat ahead of the release of his new solo LP 'Manganese', out June 9th.

Nicholas ‘Nick’ Allbrook is a fixture of the Australian music industry you’d be hard pressed not to have come across if you know what’s what within the realms of contemporary indie, psych and rock.

Read up on all the latest interviews here.

Whether you know him as a member of Tame Impala’s iconic original live lineup, as the front-man of the tremendously successful Perth psych-rock outfit Pond, or as an idiosyncratic, synth-inclined solo artist, Nick is a fearless wearer of many hats, and one who has truly cemented himself as an alternative music Aussie icon. Ahead of the release of his new solo LP Manganese (out June 9th), Nick sat down with Mixdown to chat about everything from his dream pieces of gear, to his environmental advocacy and the immense passion that drives his craft.

How/where did you record this new album? How was the process different to what you do with Pond and your previous solo albums etc?

It was a real ramshackle process, I did some of the songs live with a band, affectionately known as ‘The Walruses’ at a studio in Perth called Tuna Fish. Other songs were a full mosaic, a fun but also horribly frustrating way to work sometimes.

It can be gruelling right.

Yeah exactly, I started some of these songs with these 5 second tape loops that I thought were really cool and weird and also had some poems that I knew could go together somehow, and I just spent fucking ages on it tryna find how. I also invited a bunch of friends/musicians into the studio that could just pissfart around and try and unlock something that could work.

Love it, that sounds so freeing!

It was but it was also really annoying! Cause it didn’t happen for so long, until I started using this little cheesy organ/drum machine that as soon as I turned it on and was like, this is it!

Something that’s always stood out to me with your work is the use of electronic elements in a really live and open context, like you’ve taken the sound / textural quality of electronic music and brought it out of the grid. It’s really refreshing and unique! How do you work with synthesisers / drum machines and at what point in the writing / recording process do they come into the picture?

Yeah, it’s completely different every time, with this one song that’s on the album called ‘Mazda’, it was just a tape loop and a whole lot of friends playing violin, clarinet, me playing piano, acoustic guitar blah blah blah and me saying some words and then at the end I chucked on a drum machine and a Moog Prodigy bass line. A real simple repetitive octave thing.

With ‘Jackie’ though, I wrote the whole song as a traditional normal ass songwriter and then really wanted to have a phased drum machine with a ride that undulates. I really like the sound of my 505. It’s not necessarily my favourite but it’s just the one that’s always stuck around.

Yeah, have you used it previously?

Yeah! It’s just fucking light, easy and cheap. 

That’s the best, I was going to ask, have you got a favourite piece of gear? Least favourite? Dream piece of gear?

Dream piece of gear would be a Fender Rhodes, with the full amp underneath it.

Billy Preston style.

Yeah, that’s the dream. My favourite thing that I own, maybe the 505, maybe my Critter and Guitari pocket piano.

Woah tell me about that.

It’s pretty stupid, but it’s fucking awesome. It’s good because of its drawbacks. This company has made a whole heap of different generations of this but this first one is so simple. Just two octaves or maybe one?

Whatever you can fit in your pocket right?

Yeah, it’s tiny! Just has a jack output, battery operated and a little speaker. It doesn’t make many sounds but it can only make cool sounds. Like an 8-bit gameboy.

Love that!

Yeah it’s so limited that it can’t be cheesy and shit. It can be Mario simple or completely fucked and anarchic sounding. I love it.

That’s so cool, have you used it on any records?

I have used it on almost every record since I got it. I used to try and use it live after Hobo Rocket, because it’s in a few key moments in that record. The usually imperceptible dog whistle frequency, when you plug it in on a festival PA was just torturous, so we stopped.

I hope I can see it in the future, I was going to ask as well, In a live context, what are you running on your pedal board? 

I put my vocals through a Space Echo, not an actual one, just an emulator. For guitar effects I have a Moor Analog Echo, the Boss Harmonist, that’s probably the favourite or most distinct sound.

Yeah I can totally hear that from when I’ve seen you live.

Yeah i’m always going “weeeeEEEE”.

Yeah, that’s so fun!

Yeah it’s rad. I’ve also got a Peppermint Fuzz, Boss Blues Driver, MXR Compressor and a Volume Pedal.

Amazing yeah, volume pedals are so good for control right?

Yeah it’s good in a utilitarian way just to be able to shut everything off. It’s really good for playing with lots of Gain and Delay, just doing tight stops.

Yeah totally, very refined. The Pond live set is so refined, everything is so tight.

Yeah it’s the volume pedal.

That’s the secret. What’s your thoughts on trying to replicate exactly what you did on a record, live? 

We kinda do in Pond quite a bit, but then we change some stuff around. But yeah we try and get a lot of the sounds. I don’t try to do it at all live with solo stuff. It’s completely different.

Yeah cool, I love that. Like you get the best of both worlds then right? You can dip into either.

Yeah, like one song on the new album. I wrote one way and then throughout developing it, it got some different harmonic changes in it and then when it came to playing it live I just went straight back to the original way and missed all the cool things that happened in the recording. Cos I can’t be fucked, I wanna play it simple. 

Yeah cool, I kinda like that. I love seeing a band that has a live show that’s different from the record. It feels like a whole new experience. It’s more versatile in a way? The records are almost a different beast.

Yeah I like it, I like seeing that on stage. 

Yeah for sure. What excites you when you see a live band? Any favourite artists at the moment? 

Yeah so many! There’s actually so many. Feel like I haven’t felt like this for a while. I’ve been hit over and over again with brand new music. Passion! That’s basically it. Apart from good songs. But I think they can have shit songs and a lot of passion/charisma / belief and it’s still awesome. I like stuff that’s big and emotional. I saw this local Perth guy Lincoln Mckinnon, who just gave it so hard live, he was grabbing people, thrusting, spinning around and the songs were so good, like Springsteen or something. 

Yeah woah. That makes sense to me that that resonates with you because your live show is so passionate.

Yeah well that’s what I like. There’s so much new music, this band from Scotland called Walt Disco. They all dress like high new romantic glam, they almost don’t fit in glam, it’s the most emotional, heart on the table, Queeny type thing. I really like Orville Peck, Body Type. 

This is kinda off the gear chain but I really admire the environmental advocacy work you do both in your music and outside of music. How important do you think it is for artists to use their music to highlight things that need to change/bring awareness to issues like climate?

I don’t necessarily think it’s important as an artist. I don’t think? I don’t know. I can imagine artists who don’t at all engage in environmental advocacy or anything but who speak of the heart and their internal world. And that’s beautiful and important art. We are humans that are living in this weird nether world and we have to deal with our own emotions and our own sense of emotional connection as well as the environment. 

Yeah that’s interesting, I feel like my emotions are often connected to what’s happening to the environment but I guess it’s kinda similar to what you were saying about passion right. 

Yeah and I say shit because I feel like I have to. It’s what I think about and it’s what makes me feel things deeply a lot of the time. It’s really close to the surface in my mind a lot of the time. So if I write lyrics it usually comes out.

Yeah, It’s just in you all the time, all the time when you’re writing music and when you’re not writing music. It’s not like you go “I’m going to write about that because it’s important”. 

Yeah no not really. It kinda went the other way round. I wrote lots of songs and went okay. It seems like there’s a lot of stuff about the environment. I can kinda psycho-analyze my own shit and be like wow, I’m very fucking terrifed. There’s a lot of imagery about water, excess of water, fire, death and destruction and the question of whether we’re going to save ourselves or if there’s a god who’s gonna save us.

It’s big emotional things right.

One thing I often come back to is thinking about religion. I think about religion a lot and how that won’t save us. Especially people who commit such climate atrocities who with the other hand –

Try and sell this prophet thing.


I don’t think they really even believe the prophet thing, it’s just about making a quick buck

They’re lying.

Full on lying.

The short answer is, you don’t have to think about it. 

Before we end this, because it’s a gear related interview I also have to shoutout the Chase Bliss Mood pedal. 

What’s that one about?

It makes really bizarre, really unpredictable, ambient, glitchy atmospheric stuff.

It sounds amazing, like an instrument.

It is like an instrument, it’s got a time clock in the middle which changes everything by a 5th and if you slow it down heaps it degrades into real nastiness. Anyway it’s fucking great they gave me a pedal and I think it’s the best thing ever. 

Shoutout! Send Nick more pedals!

Yeah, doing my influencer duties.

Nicholas Allbrook’s Manganese we be released on June 9th. Keep up to date with Nick here.