From the very beginning, Pomegranates have been guided to a certain degree by the quirky New Wave rhythmatics of Talking Heads. So is it coincidence that the Cincinnati quartet’s fourth and latest album shares its title with one of Talking Heads’ most famous songs?
“We never even thought of that,” says keyboardist/vocalist Joey Cook. “That’s one of my faves, though.”
“The way we usually name albums or come to important decisions is we’ll stick with something until something better comes along,” says Pomegranates guitarist/vocalist Isaac Karns over beers at the Northside Tavern. “When we were recording this record, Joey and I were really into that Sparks’ record, No. 1 Song in Heaven. It’s a word that there’s a litany of things in music and literature that have been centered around the word, and it’s such a grand idea so in some sense, everyone has some response to it. It’s cool that we were able to plug into the heritage of the word. We announced it and some time after, The Walkmen announced their new record and they were calling it Heaven, and it was coming out the exact same day. That was a cool coincidence.”
With typical humility, the word “heaven” appears six times, in some form, on the outside of the album, while the band’s name is featured just once, on the CD/vinyl spine (twice if you count the sticker on the shrinkwrap, which is gone the moment it’s stripped from the disc). In fact, there isn’t a single photograph of the band on Heaven; the cover shot is band pal Dave Rauen, sporting a fashionable Heaven T-shirt. No one can accuse Pomegranates of overpromotion.
“Weve always liked album art with no type on the cover or at least without the band name,” says Cook with a laugh. “We’ve always been drawn to that aesthetic.”
“In the modern sense, that’s the opposite of branding,” jokes Karns.
Recorded over 10 days last summer, Heaven doesn’t stray impossibly far from the stylistic Art Pop structure that has served Pomegranates well since their energetic 2008 debut, Everything is Alive; a jittery love of Talking Heads, Brian Eno, Sparklehorse and ’50’s/’60s Pop and R&B that emerges from the Poms like a gene splice of The Shins and Modest Mouse. If there’s a discernible difference on Heaven, it may well be the band’s level of confidence; the 10 songs on Heaven motor along with a palpable sense of purpose and adventure, from the fuzzy Psych Pop swell of “Sisters” to the Eno’s Green World balladry of “Something Everybody Wants” to the gently propulsive title track
“Our only stipulation was that we wanted something that was fun,” says Karns. “The last album was a structural thing so we made it really sprawling, and this one we just wanted to be fun.”
“We were kind of going with whatever the first impulse was,” says drummer Jacob Merritt. “I think this was the first album where we went into the studio with ideas that weren’t even finished yet and force ourselves to do something in a few days because we have to.”
The evolutionary consistency that has defined Pomegranates since its debut in 2006 is a testament to the creative vision of founding duo Karns and Merritt, and Cook, who joined very shortly after the band’s launch. Bands walk a bizarre tightrope of retaining enough of its existing sound to hold the attention of longtime fans while growing and maturing enough to attract new fans; in that regard, Pomegranates are the Wallendas of Indie Pop.
“Over the past year or so, after making this album and the subsequent shows, I think we’re comfortable being who we are; lyrically, musically, on stage,” says Karns. “It doesn’t feel like we have to push or try too hard.”
That feat seems even more astonishing given the amount of turnover that has occurred in Pomegranates’ fourth slot over the past six years, from original member Karl Spaeth to his successor Josh Kufeldt (who left to form Sacred Spirits) to Dan Lyons, whose marriage and shifting priorities necessitated yet another change. Heaven introduces the newest Pomegranate, Curt Kiser, another multi-instrumentalist whose contributions proved to be invaluable in the studio.
Lyons was still with the band when work began on Heaven, but with his departure, the Poms retraced their steps slightly to accommodate Kiser’s input.
“Many of the songs were in the works before Curt joined, so we went back and Curt wrote brand new parts,” says Karns.
As one might expect, Kiser has brought a fresh perspective to Pomegranates’ catalog material as the band has been out touring in advance of Heaven’s release.
“A lot of our older songs have taken on a totally different flavor with different members,” says Karns. “Over time they’re always kind of evolving.”
Heaven also represents a progression in the Poms’ lyrical perspective.
“I feel like the lyrics are really honest across the board, in a way that people listening to this album will get an idea of what we’re like as people, more than our other records,” says Karns. “Even with all of the imagery, it feels very personal.”
“I’ve been finding my voice lyrically,” says Cook. “On One of Us, I began to feel more comfortable, and more bold and adventurous. On this album, I feel like this was the first time I was able to say something I thought was important, like my heart was being represented honestly.”
Pomegranates vaguely envisioned Heaven as a more rocked up affair — they toyed with the idea of naming the album Sweat — but they’re more than happy with the way it ultimately turned out.
“The record isn’t quite as sweaty as we anticipated,” says Merritt. “It’s definitely earnest feeling, like preacher’s sweat rather than athlete’s sweat ... although there’s athlete’s sweat in there.”
POMEGRANATES play the Bunbury Music Festival at Sawyer Point July 15.