If the name Pom Poko sounds familiar to you, it might be because it is based on a Japanese anime film from the 90s. But this Pom Poko is neither a movie nor from Japan. Pom Poko are Norway’s latest musical gem and really something else. The four-piece consists of Ragnhild behind the microphone, Ola on the drums, Jonas playing the bass and the guitarist Martin. Together they create sounds floating in between aggressive eardrum bursting punk rock and sweet and gentle indie vocals. But how did these four people come up with this, an admittedly odd name for a group?
‘We were in a hurry to apply for a festival when the band was just founded and started browsing Wikipedia for band names late at night. We found a list of Ghibli movies and liked the name Pom Poko. Actually, we hadn’t seen the movie when we chose the name, but we have seen it since. Luckily we loved it!’
The musicians met in a Music Conservatory, where they started jamming together and their truly different chemistry soon found appreciation. Pom Poko was voted into the Top Ten of Norwegian artists in 2017, played festivals and gigs across their home country, and finally released their first full-length record earlier this year. Birthday is a hell of a ride. It jumps from angry rock anthem to a low-tempo minimal track like Honey. Throughout which Ragnhild’s vocals glue together the pieces of slow guitar tunes and distorted synth waves to a groovy ballad.
At the first listen, the songs of Pom Poko might not be the easiest on the ear. But the gorgeous chaos and wild mix of influences will soon find its way into your heart. The songwriting process sounds less chaotic than the final outcome. ‘We make all the songs together. Usually, we spend a weekend locked away in a cabin in the woods, writing the songs very democratically and watching bad action movies.’
The opposite of cold perfection
In a home country where the music industry has been taken over by frozen Nordic pop sounds, Pom Poko are a refreshing wake up call to the perfect crystal clear tunes. With fuzzy arrangements and cacophonic sound collages, they form a wild and crazy opposite to unapproachable perfection. ‘The Norwegian mainstream scene has been dominated by icy pop music for a while, but it seems that people are hungry for happy and energetic guitar music again. The reception has been good in Norway, and there are lots of great bands emerging with the same ideology as us.’ Well, new and different Pom Poko surely know how to deliver. The lead single Crazy Energy Night is an eardrum-bursting punk rock jam, which sounds more like a volcano eruption than something created in a studio. Noisy guitars and drums get faster and louder as the song works itself towards the explosion, while Ragnhild’s vocals move in sweet high-pitched notes giving the heat of the song certain coolness.
Breaking rules with the best intentions
By not sticking to the rules of commercial music making, the Norwegian four-piece created a freeing listening experience. At this crazy party, anyone is welcome and nobody needs to hide who they really are. That is the beauty of music; having the change to express yourself freely and to encourage others to do the same. From exactly this communal feeling at especially live shows, Pom Poko drew a lot of inspiration. ‘The energy and excitement of live music have always been important for us. We wanted to capture that energy in the studio as well, rather than making something perfect but boring. The tunes were mostly recorded live in the studio as if we were playing for an audience, and then added details as overdubs.‘
Pom Poko might let all rules go to achieve this cathartic effect, but the musicians did enjoy classical training. The group met in a Music Conservatory for Jazz, and even though Pom Poko is a quite unlikely outcome of a setting like this, classical training gave the musicians the courage to explore other sounds. ‘Our education and the time we spent learning different genres has definitely allowed us to make the kind of music we make.’ Jazz sounds about as far away as you can get from the beautiful mess of noise this band is generating. Still, they have something in common. Both musical styles draw a lot from improvisation. ‘Our music isn’t really improvised, but our improvised backgrounds shape the tunes. Especially, when we play live since we’re more focused on live energy rather than perfection.’
A Work Full of Art
‘My work is full of art. It flows around me. It surrounds me.’ Ragnhild croons on the single with the same name. The track is more rhythmic than others with cacophonic tendencies, which makes it even catchier. Funky guitar tunes provide an adequate backbone for the single, undergoing shifts in tempo dropping down to a minimal, just to peak in a soaring drum solo. As part of their debut album Birthday, Pom Poko did not only channel their classical roots or crazy live energy but also listened to heaps of music at a great variety. We’ve never had a goal of making a particular style; a tune might be inspired by African pop and the next one by Kraftwerk. Not being able to tie them down to a genre is part of the beauty of this band. The record is full of surprises. Just when you are about to sort them into a category, the next song comes along to break all expectations.
‘We make one tune at a time and have never planned to make a particular genre’
The beats are hard on the ear, yet the vocals give it certain sweetness, an intriguing dissonance. How do you manage to balance between these two opposites? Ragnhild jokes, that she ‘only knows how to make sweet melodies’, and the rest of the band says they ‘only know how to make harsh music. We manage to balance the two because we make all of the tunes together. Everyone is responsible for their own instrument and part, and play whatever they want.’
Why so serious?
The wide range of styles and influences represented on Birthday provokes many different emotions. From rage to melancholia and a whole lot of ecstatic joy, everything can be found. ‘Joy is the most important emotion for us when we play. Usually, when we scrap an idea for a tune, it is because it feels too serious, and is not fun to play.’ Pom Poko passes on their happiness on the record and especially at their high-energy live shows.
With their unique and abstract sound, the outfit appears to be quite avant-garde. Yet, the band shares a love for music from the last century. The Beatles‘ classic Day Tripper from 1965 somehow made it onto the album of the Nordic musicians, of course not without a styling in the Pom Poko kind of way. The groovy single got an infusion of heavy electric guitar noise, squeaky vocals and an updated version of the lyrics from Ragnhild and a good load of ecstasy before it found a place on Birthday. ‘The main-riff is loosely inspired by the original Beatles riff. Nothing else is really similar at all. Despite ‘Day Tripper’ not being a cover, it just felt natural to name it after the Beatles tune.’
Day Tripper was one of the first songs the four members of Pom Poko played together. Today with their debut album under the belt and a European tour coming up the band is more than busy. Make sure to catch the four crazy musicians while they are in town. Bring good energy, friends and danceable shoes, because they will party like it’s their birthday.
Birthday is out now via Bella Union.
This article was made possible via the concept of ‘Smart Compensation‘ which allows to invest more time on specific editorial topics. Find out more about it in NBHAP’s Mediakit.