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Aural States Fest II: Spotlights – Pontiak, Caleb Stine, NARC

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MP3: Pontiak – Life and Coral from Sea Voids (2009)

The prolific Pontiak released two stellar albums in 2009: Maker and Sea Voids, and look to have a new release this Spring. Both albums have garnered considerable critical praise, and they’ve ridden a steadily rising wave of internet popularity. Their live show is captivating and loud…catch them close out Sonar’s Club stage at Aural States Fest II on January 30th.

AS: Before releasing Sea Voids you moved back to the Shenandoah Mountains and (from what I’ve heard) lost your beards. Was this a conscious shift? Identity crisis?

Lain Carney: We all moved back to VA from Baltimore at roughly the same time, about three years ago. The beards? Those come and go pretty frequently and without much thought. The move was definitely a conscious shift but more for personal reasons than anything else.

AS: The band gets tagged as stoner metal a lot but the new album explores a wide array of song styles, from the acoustic “Life and Coral” to the more traditional indie fare of “World Wide Prince.” Did you deliberately think “let’s mix it up a bit”…is this your “experimental” album or is there more to come?

LC: We never thought of Sea Voids as our experimental album. I feel as though its as varied as our other albums.

AS: This isn’t a question, but Sea Voids seems a lot more melodically dissonant as well–especially say, the lead on the title track juxtaposed with the brighter, more shimmering distortion is pretty brilliant.

LC: Thanks Man!

AS: The first couple times I listened to “Suzerain” I thought my internet connection was failing (which I suppose is the modern equivalent of your CD skipping). What’s the story on that intro? You also played with the tape on the intro to “Laywayed” I believe.

LC: When I was mixing “Suzerain” I just had the idea to cut up the beginning. As soon as I started doing it, it immediately started to sound cool so I went with it. After I finished I said to Van and Jennings, “people are going to think the song is fucked up, not unlike ‘Laywayed’”.

AS: You must be downtuning your guitars to get them so rumbly. What do you tune them to, what gear do you use to achieve that signature pontiak growl?

LC: Yes, the guitars are tuned down to B. The sound we get is a direct result of one very key practice: turn the amps up. Once an amp is turned up, they all sound different and add their own color. Van always plays through at least two amps at once. That really helps to give the guitar a full sound.

AS: The press for Sea Voids that I’m looking at says you recorded the album in three weeks. Is that the most time you’ve spent in the studio? Some folks have suggested Maker was a one-take cut-and-run kind of recording session.

LC: We definitely try to not overwrite songs, and once we have an idea we try to record it while it’s fresh and loose. With Maker, as with our other records, we usually just did one or two takes for each song. It feels good to do one take and not become so concerned with “nailing it.” When I was younger I used to be really concerned with that stuff, but it’s way too micro.

Sea Voids was similar in that way. Just one take, maybe two. We wrote AND recorded it in three weeks which is the quickest we’ve ever done an album. It takes us about two weeks to record an album but the writing behind it can go back months, depending on how much we’ve been touring and things like that.

AS: You just had a European tour. How was the band received in Europe?

LC: Really well. We got tons of love in Europe and are about to head back actually in March. Can’t wait!

AS: Say I’ve never been to a Pontiak show…how’s it going to be different from your studio recordings? What can i expect?

LC: Our shows are usually pretty high energy. I’d say that it probably sounds like that album but louder.

AS: Tell us about your 2010 plans

LC: We’ll be in Europe in March, a new album in early spring and US shows in May. Summer and winter are going to be busy but things aren’t in stone yet. I’d like to have a new record by late summer.


Caleb Stine is the soul of Baltimore music. His straightforward, honest, storytelling is what Baltimore is at its core – hardworking, genuine, and unafraid to tell it like it is. As Baltimore’s music scene has taken on a larger national profile, much of it for noise driven noise-rock such as Animal Collective, Beach House, and Dan Deacon, it is Stine who always seems to best reflect the people of the city. His timeless style and deeply personal songwriting evokes images of a classic generation of outlaw-country songwriters like Kris Kristofferson, Townes Van Zandt, and Willie Nelson. His power comes not from overwhelming volume or violent guitars, but from simple strums and carefully measured words that together carry an army of unmatched strength.

Stine who has recently returned from a short tour with Andy Friedman, is energized from his time on the road. A time he spent discovering new music with Friedman as they drove from show to show, “Now I’m pulsing with great music in my veins and can’t put the guitar down.”

Saturday night, those simple strums and mighty words that he delivers his songs with will be given even more power and more life, as Stine has recruited an all-star band of local Baltimore musicians (Dave Hadley and Nick Sjostrom (the Brakemen), Andy Stack (Wye Oak), Jason Butcher (Among Wolves), Tiffany DeFoe (The Bellevedeers), MC Saleem (Saleem and the Music Lovers), Jordan Leitner (Mad Sweet Pangs) and Sam Guthridge (Chester River Runoff), to play with him. The combination of Stine’s music and his roster of all-stars will serve to deliver a set of unparalleled emotion that at the same time will be a reflection of his hometown. As Stine simply says, “Its gonna be a special set.”


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MP3: NARC – Cuped (demo)

I’ll be frank: I was never fully on-board with the teen sampler and noisenik duo of Engine. But since their split, NO Smith has followed a frequency that resonates with me much more in the form of his one-man guitar & electronics act NARC.

He presents something more curious and soaring, while not forsaking his noisier roots. According to Smith, “there will probably be an EP in the nearish future, maybe spring/summer, and hopefully a full-length called SLY by the end of the year.” NARC opens the Talking Head Stage on Saturday.