On the Record: An Interview With The Pomegranates

Last year, a friend of mine was working with a great Indie Rock band called the Pomegranates and invited me to their show with Ewert and the Two Dragons at Pianos on the Lower East Side. I was really impressed and have enjoyed watching them grow. Spin Magazine profiled the Pomegranates debut album Everything Is Alive back in 2008, calling their music “shimmering self-professed ‘art-pop’… vastly beneficial to both the ears and music library of any serious indie rock fan”, and describing the band as “a youthful, open-eared quartet enlivened with a kick-ass record collection, ceiling-less imagination, ragged guitars, and songwriting chops for days.” I really think the only way for these guys is up.

I recently interviewed Isaac Karns (vocals, guitars, keyboard). Here, he discusses the evolution of the band, their sound, a cabin turned recording studio, fruit, Sinead O’Connor, and Lindsay Lohan. 

You (Isaac Karns) (vocals, guitars, keyboard) and Jacob Merrit (drums) are long time friends from Cincinatti, and started collaborating in 2006.  You later added Joey Cook (vocals, guitars, keyboards) and Curt Kiser (guitar) to the band.  When and how did that come to fruition?  How has the band evolved?  Can give me a little background on why Josh Kufeldt was only on the Everything Is Alive album?
Jacob and I got together one afternoon after both of our previous bands ceased to be. A mutual friend recommended that we give Joey Cook a call because he had a keyboard and some tunes on Myspace that were cool. So we cold-called him solely on a friends good word. He cancelled a date and came right over, and we wrote our first song. We had a number of other wonderful and extremely talented people play with us between then and the time that Curt joined us, and they all brought their own flavor to the mix, so it’s been pretty fluid. Josh actually played on Everybody, Come Outside!, but was playing with us when we released Everything is Alive. He’s on a new project now called Sacred Spirits that put out a fantastic record called Some Stay that just got pressed to vinyl.

I’d describe your sound as Indie Rock / Art Pop / Surf / Soul / Psychedelic.  Sound about right? 
Yes, that sounds about right. I like that you included “Soul” and “Psychedelic” in there. We’ve joked about wanting to sound like James Brown’s backing band in outer space for a long time, and maybe we are approaching that realm if those adjectives are being used to describe our music.

The track “50’s” on your 2010 album One of Us, is my favorite Pomegranates song and also one of your most popular.  I find it truly blissful.  It’s a song one can listen to over and over again.  What’s it about?  Do you have a personal favorite out of your whole catalog? 
Thank you very much. I initially wrote it and recorded a very sloppy lo-fi version just to try to record something on my own (because I hadn’t in a long time). It was a test to see if I could make my ancient Compaq computer and a freeware version of Cool Edit Pro cooperate enough to record something. I borrowed the Daniel Johnston approach and was just trying to use whatever I had to make whatever I could, so I hooked up a mic to my SP-303 sampler and used that as my preamp, and just went for it. I was really into Jim O’Rourke’s album Eureka at the time, so the chorus is built around this weird chord that he uses prominently in the first track. I wrote it about a longtime unrequited love, but then it developed into a more spiritual dialogue with God about requited love. Honestly, there are some moments on the new record that give me chills, so those are probably my favorite songs right now.

Saw you play at the Pianos backroom a year ago.  What’s your favorite venue in NYC?  Favorite to go to a show at?
The Bell House has always been fantastic and I’ve always really enjoyed watching whomever we play with there as well. Lovely place.

You’re recording a new album in a cabin, rather than a studio.  Is that one of your cabins?  Is it called Hotel Healing? How does that work?  Sounds cool. 
Unfortunately, we do not own the cabin. Jacob found a great deal in Nashville, and surprised us with the location. We were totally blind to it until we arrived at the front door. He had planned all these other surprises for us too. It was wonderful. Our friend Ben Burroughs was one of the surprises, and he lent his magic touch to a lot of the album. Our friend Chad Wahlbrink also brought his equipment down and we brought all our weird dusty instruments and set up shop down there. I started to call the place “Hotel Healing” for fun because the record is going to be called Healing Power. It was an amazing time. I’m excited to put the finishing touches on it and share it with the world.

Can you tell me a little bit about your song writing process?
It’s changed a lot, but generally consists of someone having an idea they really like and bringing it to the rest of us. Then we just try and have as much fun fleshing it out as possible. An approach we’ve taken more and more, involves Joey and I writing and recording songs on our own, then bringing them to the table and letting everyone else do with it what they will. So for Healing Power, there was a solo song of mine that was basically done, and I brought the stem tracks to Hotel Healing. Then I went into the basement and worked on tambourine overdubs and things, while a few of the other guys were upstairs writing totally different parts to the whole song. The next day we peeled all of the initial tracks away, leaving the new things. I listened after not hearing anything they had done up to that point. It was magical. It was like hearing my own song for the first time. So, there will be two versions of that song in the world someday. That’s pretty new and exciting. 

When’s the album out?  Who did you work with on this one? Touring plans? 
Not sure yet. Thus far we’ve worked with Chad Wahlbrink and Ben Burroughs. 

Tell me about the sound of your new album.  What’s different about this one?
Initially I felt like it had more of an “adult contemporary” vibe because The Blue Nile [(an adult contemporary band out of Glasgow)] has been a big influence on us, and there are still a lot of moments where I feel that. But, as we were recording it, there were more really upbeat songs than I realized there would be at first. I told a friend of mine that some of it reminds me of “Call Me Maybe”-meets-very-psychedelic music. We’ve always tried to write music that’s good for late night drives, and the new stuff is perfect for that. We’re all extremely happy about the sounds we were able to get.

Influences?  Who are you listening to now?
As a band I think we’ve recently grown in our appreciation of older country artists like Willie Nelson and Glenn Campbell and artists like them. We’ve also really been diving into the Bee Gees catalog . I’ve been listening to a lot of Sinead O’Connor, Enya, Melody’s Echo Chamber, Air and Mountain Man.

You’ve shared the stage with Peter Bjorn and John, Ra Ra Riot, Phantogram, Young the Giant and many more big name acts. Who would you like to add to that list?
I’d really like to see Boredoms live, so I’m going to go with them.

There’s a lot of symbolism surrounding the pomegranate fruit – in Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and more.  What does it mean to you?  How’d you come up with the name?
Jacob suggested it. We looked into the symbolism, and it seemed like a really ancient fruit with a lot of meaning attached to it. None of us hated the name, so we went with it. Sometimes that’s just how those things work. To me the pomegranate is a beautiful, mystical fruit with healing properties, which kind of brings us full circle now.

Do you actually like pomegranates?  They’re a very trendy fruit. 
They’re delicious. They just need to be incorporated into more pies.

Who would you totally freak out about if you were to find out they listen to your music?  
Wow, that’s a tough question. I guess the obvious choices for me are Bob Dylan, Brian Eno or Kate Bush… I suppose I’d add Yo La Tengo, Neil Halstead, David Lynch, Julie Andrews, Saint Saviour, Stephen King, Emma Watson, Darren Aronofsky, Lil B, Barry Gibb or Lindsay Lohan to that list. 

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