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Pound Land Interview: “We both like our music to be unsettling”

We talk to Adam Stone about the duo’s new LP.

Manchester’s Pound Land are vocalist, Adam Stone, and multi-instrumentalist, Nick Harris.

Crossing paths in Manchester psych outfit, Dead Sea Apes (Stone a frequent collaborator with the band, while Harris has moved onto pastures anew), the two struck up a creative kinship during these times.

While the pair are involved in other projects (StoneFuture Bomb and Holy Ghost People; HarrisReverends of Destruction), the current concern lies with Pound Land, and in particular their follow-up to their 2020 eponymous debut LP, Can’t Be Arsed, which dropped at the beginning of the month via Newcastle label, Cruel Nature Records.

Comparisons to The Fall will be hard to shake due to the downright curmudgeon nature of Pound Land’s offerings. The difference being, however, that Pound Land are neither orchestrators nor masters of prescience.

Stone is a reporter in a similar vein to Sleaford ModsJason Williamson. While Williamson’s hawkish eye casts a panoramic view of working class Britain, Stone seemingly forms his sketches from the other end of the bar.

Unlike the razor-sharp diatribes from Williamson, Pound Land don’t engage with the rant. Instead their guttural punk endeavours add further grime to the pavements, diluting the drain water with scorn and malaise.

With a droning-engine vocal, Stone rattles off mundane tales that illuminate nothing but the truth (Twatted, Cheshire Set, Total Control). It’s actually quite frightening how pinpoint Stone’s messaging is, and with a backdrop of Harris’ dystopian soundscapes that warp the mind (Brain Driver, Chopped), Pound Lound conjure up something that transcends your worst nightmares.

A week after the release of Can’t Be Arsed, we had the opportunity to ask Stone some questions.

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S13: Can you tell us how the story how you and Nick came to form Pound Land?

Adam Stone: “Me and Nick had a plan to make music together after he left Dead Sea Apes, which was in 2017, although we didn’t actually do anything until 2020 – that was when Pound Land came into being, and we wrote and recorded the four long tracks that became the eponymous debut album.

“I’d already worked with him when he was the bassist in Dead Sea Apes. I did the 20-minute live track, In The Year 2039 and a few other tracks, such as Tentacles, with him (and Brett and Chris). I loved working with Dead Sea Apes after Nick left too – it was a brilliant experience, but I knew I still had to make music with him. Nick and me simply click musically and creatively, and that’s a great and precious thing if you can find it.”

S13What about the collaboration with Cruel Nature?

AS: “I knew the label from liking some of the bands on there, such as Lump Hammer, Snakes Don’t Belong in Alaska and Lovely Wife. I simply messaged Steve [Strode – label founder] and asked him if he’d consider releasing Can’t Be Arsed and he had a listen to a few tracks and he gave us the thumbs up pronto. He works bloody hard and shows a lot of pride and dedication in what he does. A real independent label run by a no-bullshit person who does it because he loves it.”

S13: The soundscapes you produce as a backdrop give Can’t Be Arsed quite a narcotic effect, particularly with Brain Driver, Chopped and the title track. Was this something you were thinking about?

AS: “Nick does the music so I would have to try and answer for him here. I think narcotic is a good description and I think that would be an intention on his part, whether it’s conscious or subconscious. We both like our music to be unsettling. Disturbing even. What he does with guitars and electronics is just perfectly complimentary for what I want to achieve with words.”

S13: Most people associate Manchester with Joy Division, Happy Mondays, Brit Pop etc. I feel that a record like Can’t Be Arsed is really kicking against this. Again, was this something in your thoughts?

AS: “The only thing in my thoughts was that I had to do something that felt natural for me – I simply followed my impulses (not to be underestimated). I wasn’t too conscious at all of other bands when I recorded the vocals for the album, I just did what seemed right at the time, but obviously certain influences are always stirring around in the recesses of one’s own mind. I was neither kicking against nor trying to emulate anything.

“Come to think of it, though, I do like Shaun Ryder’s early stuff with Happy Mondays. Great poetry and great delivery. The cultural landscape of Greater Manchester has undoubtedly been an influence, but it’s not the Alpha or Omega. In a sense, TV, film and literature is as much an influence on Can’t Be Arsed as music. And also ‘real life’. Knowing people and their lives. Pound Land is a concept, a reflection, and sometimes an exaggeration, of what I see and hear every day – the hum-drum, and often equal parts depressing and amusing, England (Britain?) that I have known for much of my life. Nick’s soundscapes are the perfect compliment.”

S13: While the title track has this quality, Twatted is haunting to the extreme. The protagonist walking down the street full of paranoia. It definitely has a post-lockdown anxiety attached to it. Can you tell us how you came up with this one?

AS: “It’s mainly based on my experiences (over many years) walking roughly a mile from where I work to where my wife works, down the A6 in Stockport. It’s edgy at times, and maybe I feel too acutely aware of it, but there’s a palpable sense of violence, malicious intent and certainly mental breakdown in the actions and behaviour of a great many men that I pass on the pavement. It’s just one mile, but it feels like I’m on an incredibly dangerous quest, like a hobbit journeying through the outer fringes of Mordor. Funny and sad in equal measure. I suspect most humans have felt what I’m articulating there, at some point. Survival – the law of the jungle – people fatigue and (mild) paranoia.”

Pound Land - Can't Be Arsed

S13Tony Ex-Miner is the centrepiece for me, really honing on the misery enveloping the world right now. However it feels like this is a story that’s been in the making for some time. Can you tell us about it?

AS: “I wrote it fairly quickly as a kind of stream of consciousness. It amuses me and hopefully others too, but yes, I suppose it would be fair to deem it pessimistic. Although the abstract and surreal nature of the images described render it far more comedic than polemic (for me, at least). I like the fact that it may [mean] different things to different people. The narrative style and content is loosely based on the British broadcaster and autodidact Melvyn Bragg, or at least someone like him – a very British academic from the old school of critical analysis presenting a radio documentary on some notable working-class radical thinker of the 1960s and ’70s (the fictional Tony of the title).

“It has strong elements of pastiche to it, but it also shifts in tone. It’s good to be free to just create, to spew forth what you feel needs to come out from years of reading and watching and experiencing things. Growing up under Margaret Thatcher and studying sociology in the 1980s was also a big influence on the piece.”

S13: I’m not sure whether these songs are linked in any way or not, but it feels like the protagonist in Total Control harbours jealously for the characters you rightfully take the piss out of in Cheshire Set. Was this intentional, or am I totally barking up the wrong tree?

AS: “You may well be barking up the right tree – it’s a possible and plausible interpretation. I wasn’t aware of that before, but now you’ve said it, I see it. As I’ve said above, the words just come out – I have to be in the right frame of mind and they just come, like some kind of discharge from my brain.

“I see the voice in Total Control belonging to a self-educated person who has immense pride in their autonomy and independence. There’s comedy there too – I expect the listener to laugh at how ridiculous and simplistic his statements are (but they’re also moving). Maybe it’s me, really. A proud autodidact. First in my family to go to university.”

Pound Land (photo provided by the artist)

S13: There have been a lot of young spoken-word-based acts emerging from the U.K. of late. In your opinion, is it genuine or a fast-tracked trend harnessed by the likes of 6 Music?

AS: “I am largely unaware of anything played on 6 Music – I stopped regularly listening to music on the radio when John Peel died. That’s quite a few years ago now. However, the spoken word will always draw artists and listeners in. Sometimes trends and fashions throw up a glut of spoken word material, some of it great, some of it good, and some of it mediocre.

“Some of my earliest vocal loves were the voices of the narrators (such as the inimitable Oliver Postgate) on children’s TV in the seventies, like The Clangers, Bagpuss and Ivor the Engine. And then there was the fine voice of Tom Baker in Dr Who. John Cale as the narrative voice in The Gift by The Velvet Undergound seems to have had a big effect on me. And then there was Slint and Bongwater in the nineties – I loved the often –conversational tone used by both bands, particularly when the music didn’t seem to match with the vocals. A kind of dissonance.”

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S13: How much does the landscape Manchester influence your music?

AS: “It undoubtedly has an influence – and in particular towns such as Stockport, Hazel Grove and Macclesfield. Stoke-On-Trent was a big influence too – I went to university there in the nineties. And also the part of Derbyshire where I grew up – particularly the mining towns between Chesterfield and Ilkeston.”

S13: With everything going on in the world right now, is there any hope?

AS: “There’s always been dreadful shit going on, that much is true, but it is tempting to always see current social, political and economic issues as representing some endgame to the story of humanity. I think the unrivalled destructive power of nuclear weaponry is a serious persuader on the side of the pessimist, plus forecasts regarding the steady warming of the global mean temperature.

“However, I think I am a human being that generally enjoys life, regardless of the misery of Pound Land. That’s an outlet. We all need them. I try and maintain some kind of perspective amongst the doom and long-shadows, not just for the sake of being optimistic, but more for the sole selfish purpose of getting what I can out of existence before I die. Good friends, good conversation and the wonder and diversity of human culture are things that make this life worth living. Long may we all continue to dream our dreams and be free to create and express ourselves. Amen.”

Can’t Be Arsed is out now via Cruel Nature Records. Purchase from Bandcamp.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

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