Pombagira are a two piece outfit from London and Sacramento with tone that will defy all logic, drums that will send natives scattering in forests across the globe and vocals that will convince the listener that God himself is in the room. With their third album BARON CITADEL now out (following the brutal Black Axis Abraxis and The Crooked Path) they are redefining the word ‘heavy’ with their monolithic black hole provoking brand of noise. I have had the pleasure of meeting them both and they are totally awesome people. Let’s find out a bit more about them.
Tell me about the London / Sacramento thing. Where are you from originally?
Well the London/Sacramento thing came about because we lived in the US for three months last year and we used Sacramento as our base. Carolyn is from there anyway and we have in the past entertained the idea of eventually moving to the states, if not permanently at least for six months at a time. So it only seems right because we feel bound to two localities that we flag this bilocality up on our Myspace.
Carolyn, your drumming is totally awesome. Tell me your main influences please?
Thanks Jon, but I’m not really a drummer’s drummer. I actually have no idea what I’m doing – in the conventional sense – I taught myself and never worked in a drum store, amplifiers are a far more interesting topic. Having said that I am a big admirer of many drummers, well actually any drummer who is better than me. More inspiration than influence i suppose. Of the classic drummers, Jon Bonham and Keith Moon. I know that is really cliché and obvious, but they were the best, and Moon was so unconventional – he didn’t use a hi hat and neither do I. Of the new, Chris Haikus, the rolling rhythms, so delicate and meditative. Nobody plays like him, although many try.
Please tell me where the band came from and how you decided to be a two piece band?
To begin with the band was actually a four piece, not many people know this, we had Al from Blood Island Raiders playing lead guitar and Adam from Ramesses playing bass, with myself on second guitar and Carolyn on drums. Al soon stopped playing with us while Adam continued for a while longer, but it became apparent that our way of writing didn’t suit the jamming style he uses to write songs in Ramesses. All of this happened across the summer of 2007. At the time we had the name but really no cohesive idea on exactly what we wanted to achieve. Once it was left down to Carolyn and myself we started to move forward in a fairly rapid fashion.
Across August of 2007 we managed to write what would become The Crooked Path. On this I played bass and guitar, although by the time the CD was released we would credit Donny with playing bass. He would continue to be in the band until the summer of 2008. Believing we needed to continue with a bass player, while ignoring Donny’s advise that we should dispense with having one, we eventually found Mark, who played in the band until early 2009. Unfortunately his commitment to learning our strung out riffs and song structures proved too much, in particular his inability to remember songs in their entirety in a live setting was the straw that broke the camel’s back. By mid 2009 we found ourselves with no bass player, although by this point we felt with the accumulation of gear that we no longer needed a bass player.
We played our first show in June 2009 as a two piece. The response and connection between myself and Carolyn increased tenfold. Playing as a two piece became a visceral experience, one that would no longer be accompanied by the idiosyncrasies of outside influences.
In only 3 words, how would you describe the sonics of Pombagira?
Low, Loud, Psychedelic.
I understand that Pombagira is sort of a name for an entity in South America that is worked on by practitioners of Umbanda or Quimbanda in Brazil (thank you Wikipedia). Please tell me why you used this name and what you know about it?
Carolyn suggested the name, and it immediately clicked, we had discussed using names from the Haitian Vodou Pantheon, but no name really reflected the existential vis-a-vis the cut and thrust of spirituality in everyday life experiences. Having studied at an academic level Afro-Brazilian and more so Afro-Caribbean religions, I was fascinated by people’s ability to cope with the relentless sense of volatility presented to them on an everyday basis and how this is managed by establishing relationships with spirits. Pombagira is a female spirit, commonly associated with Umbanda or what is also known as Quimbanda. She is portrayed as a red skinned devil. As consort to Exu, she reflects in many of her sub-guises, as there are many types of Pombagira, the patron spirit for the destitute and prostitutes. As a metaphysical presence in people’s lives, she provides an objective perspective on how to cope and deal with the existential frailty of being in the world.
You have a very busy touring schedule across Europe this autumn, how are you finding the touring with there being just the two of you?
Touring is always going to be great fun, but there are some down sides to having such a big rig, i.e. having to lug everything around. Carolyn is only small and I have an ongoing complaint with my left shoulder having dislocated it many years ago. So yeah it’s hard work. We have been incredibly lucky, at many shows we have people offering to help, this is always appreciated because it takes some of the strain off us. The whole thing about moving the rig is that it starts at home, so by the time we get to unload at the venue we have already hauled the equipment onto the van and are feeling knackered. It’s the price we pay though for wanting to capture the sound of Pombagira.
We also fortunately get on with each other very well. Neither of us have what you might call regular jobs so we spend every day together, as such we are happy to sit in the van without a radio and just discuss stuff. Perhaps one day we will be able to get a roadie, but this would probably end up disrupting the dynamic. It’s cool playing in a band with my wife, in fact it fuckin’ rocks and we are happy to set out as a couple with no one else to break the monotony of the open road.
Talk us through the recording process for Baron Citadel. Where was it recorded and how did you approach recording all your amps / cabs? Which amps were used (if that isn’t a secret)?
Hahahaha, there’s no secret recipe. Baron Citadel has proven to be the hardest album to record. We tried to record this album at Chuckalumba where Electric Wizard recorded many of their early albums. It was an utter waste of time and money, we walked away with nothing after nine days, so it was with some trepidation that we entered the Leeders Farm studio just outside Norwich.
We did three or four days at a time at the studio, in total I think we were there for ten days. It’s an amazing studio, and is owned by the guitarist of The Darkness although he has hired it out as an ongoing business concern to this bloke who used to record Oasis. Yeah I know, we felt slightly out of place.
The recording for guitar consisted of two bass amps, a modified Sound City 120 to 200 watt amp, and our sure bass favourite 120 watt Impact by Status. These were placed with cabs in one cubicle, in another we had two Sunn model TS. Carolyn and I then played the songs together, no guide guitar track was put down. Then we had this guy come in who is good friends with the engineer, he is something of wiz when it comes to making studio gadgets. We discussed the possibility of re-amping a couple of amps to get a couple of more amps into the mix with the idea these would add colour to what we had already recorded. This guy said he could make a re-amp unit, and sure enough the next morning he appeared with a Golden Virginia tobacco tin that had been turned into a re-amp unit. Incredible! It worked a treat, we played the guitar tracks through a Mark 1 Simms-Watts 100, and 100 watt Laney Klipp. After this was done I went back in and put down the solos.
Vocals followed, and these were done across a couple of sessions since we decided we would double the vocals up, a relatively difficult task for me to sing exactly the same inflections each time and in tune.
It took four days to mix, the principle reason it took so long was because the songs, in particular Corporeal Altar had so many different sections, some quiet and some loud, that the engineer was having problems getting his head around it all. All in all Baron Citadel really took us to the limit, it was a real struggle financially to bring it to fruition and it really sullied the recording experience for both of us. We remain circumspect about where we should record next, and will need to check the studio out before we commit.
I take it Black Axis Records is your own label? If this is correct have you released material by any other bands on it?
Yes that’s correct. We haven’t as yet but we have plans to release a split 12″ with us and Windhand, and there is some discussion that we may release an album by a friend’s band from Sweden called Axe. We also have plans to release a full length by Windhand. They are an amazing band, just pleased that Steve from The Wounded Kings put us onto them.
Is it true that you have been made CEO of Ebay and Two Tribes Music after you revived the market for crusty 70’s valve amps single handed……? Tell me how you have amassed your totally awesome armoury of doom?
Cheeky bastard hahaha….well like most people I suppose it came from humble beginnings. For more than twenty years I was what might be described as a typical Marshall man. While playing in Flyblown I decided to run two amps, both of which were Marshall, although the second was a JMP which at the time suited my needs very well.
It was only when Carolyn and I became a couple and we turned our attention to Pombagira that we decided to increase the amp family. Two Sunn Model TS were acquired relatively quickly across two or three months. The Impact by Status 120 was then added as a cheap acquisition off ebay, we paid £90.
And that is how it continued for a while, then we saw a guy in the US was looking to swap a Model T for an Orange 120. We knew where one was for sale, we bought it for a good price and then the transaction fell through because there was no way either of us could be certain that the other would send the amp once one had been shipped. I am pleased that we never carried through with the swap because the OR120 is an amazing amp, and is certainly as loud if not louder than the Model TS.
Carolyn then bought me for Xmas a Selmer 100 watt and a Laney Klipp, which is how I managed to meet Paul at Two Tribes. Having clocked a Simms-Watts at his place which he had allowed me to try I had decided this would be the next acquisition. It did cost however a lot and so I decided to sell the Marshall JMP, unbelievably a guy in Norway gave me £800 for it. One long drive later I had a Simms-Watts 100 and cab in the collection.
I then acquired the Sound City 120, it was a piece but only cost in the region of £30. Didn’t really work very well so we had it upgraded by our amp tech installing a 200 watt output transformer. It’s still not quite right, I need to take it to John Chambers in Notts to get him do some more work on it. He is the man for amp work I tell. He is currently building a 1000 watt tube amp, and his price for this monster amp £3,800, now that’s a lot by most people’s standards, but if you look at what you are getting then it beats hands down the buying of a new Ampeg SVT.
Sorry I digress, so when we went to the States last year we bought another Model T and a Sunn 2000s which we brought back on the plane. It was a helluva lot cheaper than having them shipped back. More recently I was fortunate enough to pick up a Laney Supergroup 100 watt for £160. Now that’s cheap. This amp actually belonged to a guy who played for a while with Brummie Psych band the Idle Race.
Do we have plans to get more amps? Of course, we have aspirations to one day set up rehearsal rooms as well loaning equipment out to bands, so all the equipment has the potential to fulfil another role. I haven’t discussed the cabs because that would be another story, needless to say we have 17 cabs at the moment in various sizes. I continue to hunt for well priced amps, these are the ones I am currently looking for, Simms Watts, Laney Supergroups, Sunn Model TS, Sunn 2000s, Sunn 1200, Orange OR120, Fender 400 PS, and of course a nice vintage Ampeg SVT. What we need is a kind donor!!!
Peter, your riffs are awesome amplified elephantine earthquakes of tone – tell me your 3 main influences?
Thanks Jon, the main influence has to be Sleep’s Jerusalem. The way the riffs develop and cascade into one another has been an inspiration to me ever since I first heard it in 98 in Madison, Wisconsin. Other influences would have to be Pink Floyd, the first three albums and Live at Pompeii. Just mind blowing, I was probably born just slightly too late. I was born in 65, but I should have been born in ’54, that way I would have seen Hendrix play Chelmsford, I would have got to see Floyd, although not at their very best. The other main influence has to be Amon Duul II. I have listened to that band since the early 80s and have been influenced by them in every form of music I have ever played, from death metal to grindcore, like when I played in Scalplock.
In terms of actual guitarists it would have to be Arran from Lesbian, Dave Gilmour (early Pink Floyd), and Kim Simmonds (Savoy Brown 1969-72 era). I wouldn’t say I am trying to ape these guitarists, instead these guitarists continue to be an inspiration to me. When we toured with Lesbian watching Arran really gave me the belief that there was a whole world of guitar playing that was just waiting to be explored. This was further emphasised when we lived with him in Seattle for a few weeks last year.
Dave Gilmour and Kim Simmonds on the other hand space their solos with such consideration for the riff that it is not so much the notes they play rather than the notes they don’t. I know how that sounds but neither use over complicated solos to confuse or lose the riff and the groove. Whereas Arran is far beyond my ability and therefore an inspiration to me, Gilmour and Simmonds are used as a simple reference point when composing solos while recording.
The artwork on your albums is interesting, awesome and varies in style greatly from album to album. Who did the artwork and where did the ideas come from?
Carolyn did all the artwork for The Crooked Path album. For Black Axis Abraxas she did the layout but the artwork came from Deville and these Victorian Durer prints I bought her for xmas one year. They were really cheap so I managed to bag around 20 prints, so we decided to go with these images. Baron Citadel we used Michael Cowell from Notts to do the artwork. It was the first time we had commissioned artwork for the album, but I am so pleased we did, it really looks amazing. Very art-nouveau with a hint of Vodou which of course relates to Baron Samedhi, Lord of the Crossroads or as we have called him Baron Citadel, the very charnel house for life and death.
You must have a little tiny practice amp at home right? What one is it?
Man, you are digging the dirt. Well I do have a little practice amp, don’t like it much since it doesn’t have great tone. I normally play my Klipp quietly, but sometimes I can be found playing through my little Orange Crush!! Is that what you would call a scoop? hahaha
Of the amps you own, which is your favourite?
This is such a difficult question to answer. It would be easy to cite one of the Sunn Model TS, but perhaps that’s just too obvious. I think the answer has to be that I have many favourite amps because each serves a particular purpose. The Sunn’s have a specific tone, each one forms the cornerstone to our sound, but it’s what we do with it then that really counts, the Laney Supergroup adds some mid, and is brighter, likewise the orange is more dynamic, providing such an array of tonal scope that it acts as the binding gel for the sound. The low end is brought by running the impact and the sound city. As such our sound could never be accomplished if we only had sunn Model TS. It’s the array of amps that creates our tonal quality.
Of the amps you own, which is the one you would let go first if you needed the money?
Fuckin’ hell Jon, what are you doing? hahaha. I’d prefer to sell a kidney before I would part with one of our main amps. If someone offered the right money for the Selmer or the extremely rare Dallas Arbiter Soundhouse then I might consider it. If I did I would only use the money to buy another amp.
If you had to pick 5 only CD’s for the tour bus, which ones would you pick?
Elias Hulk ‘Unchained’
Pink Floyd ‘Saucerful of Secrets’
Electric Wizard ‘Come My Fanatics’
Fuzzy Duck ‘Fuzzy Duck’
All these are firm favourites when we are driving.
What are your plans for 2011?
Well we have a number of splits that should be coming out in 2011. The main one being a split with your band Conan. We are very excited about recording the songs that we have for that split. We also have plans to release a split with The Wounded Kings. We hope that we will be able to carry on our extensive touring schedule. We really live for it.
Imagine your village is being invaded by warriors on horseback. They have killed almost all of the locals and you are the last hope. You have the option of four different weapons.
3. Crossbow (quill with 50 bolts in)
Which one would you choose and why?
An interesting question Jon!!!! Common sense would say that a crossbow would be the most effective weapon even though you have limited me to having 50 quills. Of course in the world of Conan there is only one weapon that a warrior should be using and that’s a broadsword. Although unwieldy, the broadsword would be the weapon of choice because it would cleave the head from the torso with one easy swing. We could then collect the heads from the fallen, boil the heads while using the hair and flesh sloughing from the skull as the bonds by which to bind fetishes to the altar. With skulls gathered we would then proceed with the erection of a blood soaked skull shrine to the Baron Citadel. For those captured during the battle, they would be sacrificed by broadsword to the Baron, thus ensuring his benevolent protection from future marauders.
Thanks for the interview and please use this space for any final words…
Thank you so much Jon and The Sleeping Shaman for commissioning Jon to do this interview with us. This is certainly the best interview we have done to date. It was indeed great fun to spend time doing this interview.
More info on Pombagira at: www.myspace.com/pombagiradoom
Interviewed by: Jon Davies
Photo Credit: P. Petrocelli.