MAYBE IT goes without saying, but weirdo psych-rock isn't popular in rural Virginia. "The cool bands were Phish or Dave Matthews—that shit, or pop-country music," confirms Pontiak singer/guitarist Van Carney.
Carney and his two brothers, Jennings and Lain, banded together 10 years ago to form Pontiak, and the three of them still live in the same area where they grew up, each on a separate farm in the northwest region of Virginia. The Carneys have produced a decade's worth of hard rock with a penchant for sonic excursions, but they've just released their most straightforward album to date with Innocence.
"It was intentional," says Van over the phone. "We pretty much took all of our experiences playing live: 'When we play these songs versus these songs, what does the crowd do?'" Pontiak ended up streamlining their sound and basically put together an album that functions as a live set designed to kill every night. "You can just put it on and you're not going to get hit with any roadblocks, because we've definitely done records like that kind of intentionally, where there would be sonic-scapes and some textures," Carney explains. "Over the whole course it made for a really interesting audio piece, but not everybody's always into that."
The distillation on Innocence results in an overdriven slab of Stooges-y hard rock interspersed with some slow-burning, mellower moments. Whereas a younger Pontiak would have bent and stretched some of these songs to their breaking points, nothing is longer than four minutes on the new album. "You get an idea for an album, and you're like, 'Here's the vibe,' and then that vibe kind of dictates," says Carney. "For this one it was, 'Let's keep the songs short; let's focus on the melodies; let's get everything to support that backbone of the song.'"
None of this means the brothers have lost their art-rock tendencies. Last year they released Heat Leisure, an 18-minute video of the band playing a couple space-rock odysseys in a field with drummer Greg Fox (Guardian Alien, Liturgy) and guitarist Steven Strohmeier (Arbouretum, Beach House). Carney says the plan is for Pontiak to continue down this streamlined path while doing more Heat Leisure videos on the side.
"We're still in the mindset of just making some really weird music in different areas, because we love doing it and we've done it on some of our previous albums. Some people like it and some people hate it, and that's cool," he says. "You kind of sense it after a while that there's a very specific amount of people that really want to get into the weirdness. We're some of them, and those people are kind of like ships in the night sometimes."