It might take a bit of time to read the band name A Great Big Pile of Leaves without conjuring memories of a very distinct time in pop-punk and emo when all your favorite bands appeared on splits together. In fact, the sounds of Pono—their first album since appearing on an elusive four-way Topshelf tour split alongside Diamond Youth, Prawn, and Field Mouse—only elucidate this nostalgia, with the record’s sounds recalling a more unified vision of whatever wave of emo we’ve decided 2013 existed in.
The new record—whether or not it’s named after Neil Young’s short-lived hi-res audio player—has a crispness to it that welcomes the not-too-distant change of seasons, providing each of the downtempo, mathy tunes a distinct personality defined by catchy guitar hooks, sentimental lyrics, and unique time signatures co-conspired by the band’s three members Pete Weiland, Tyler Soucy, and Tucker Yaro (and enhanced by mixing from Matt Weber). These elements reflect an array of sounds from a decade ago ranging from the pre-LVL UP outfit Spook Houses to, as the band notes, Somebody Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin.
With the record out today, Weiland, Soucy, and Yaro took the time to go into a bit of detail on each of the tracks—read their words beneath the album stream below.
Tyler Soucy: Pete had this rhythm guitar part kicking around since the release of our last album, and it had always been stuck in my head. We originally envisioned it as being something much more stripped-back, which is sort of alluded to in the intro. We directly mic’d Pete’s electric guitar to get the string sound and added a bunch of plate reverb and tape saturation to it—I love the way it opens the record.
Tucker Yaro: I want to live in Pete’s childhood—this track gives me a glimpse. Like a lot of these songs, I wrote the bass part before hearing the lyrics, and after a lot of experimentation I decided to be almost purely supportive to enhance the existing rhythm guitar and drum parts, until the bridge where I couldn’t resist stretching out a little.
2. “Hit Reset”
TS: More often than not, the bridge of our songs takes shape later in the process. Once we tracked the lead guitar line at the top of the bridge, the entire song felt like it fell into place. It really took the song to a new level. I had this 13/4 drum pattern in my back pocket for years and I was very excited to finally use it.
TY: “Hit Reset” feels quintessential to our catalog. I’m struck by that great lead part on the bridge that says just enough. This is something I love about working with Pete, he has incredible chops but in a section like this you hear his restraint and the power of a simple, well-executed part. I didn’t realize the track was in 13 until I read Tyler’s comment above. The odd time is not an exercise, the riff just feels right and Tyler’s part complements it perfectly.
3. “Beat Up Shoes”
Pete Weiland: This song is essentially about building ramps with friends. We used to spend weekend nights driving around looking for construction sites in hopes of finding usable wood scraps in the dumpsters to build with. We would work through the eerie hours of the night, and spend the next day testing out the construction, which always seemed to end up with a foot of vert on it, no matter how much attention was paid to measurements. This is an ode to those missions.
4. “Waiting For Your Love”
TY: In some ways Matt Weber was given an impossible mixing task, and this track highlights how well he knows his gear, his room, and us. We’ve played with Matt for years on the road—he just knows how to execute in a lot of settings, but particularly at the board. It’s tough to find real estate in a song like this with so many layers and Pete’s lower vocal range, which has so much detail and great tone. We’re always trying to help with our extensive, sometimes exhaustive mix notes, and Matt was able to take our suggestions and run with them in what became a very collaborative and satisfying process. I’m proud of the results, particularly here.
TS: This is my favorite song on the record. I don’t know why, but it reminds me of Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, and I love that band.
6. “Kitchen Concert”
PW: While the lyrical content may seem silly on the surface, it’s among the most meaningful and sentimental tracks on the record. The song is a celebration of joyous times spent with my son during his first year, filled with activities from making music with kitchen utensils to pretending a cardboard box was a spaceship.
PW: This one took many detours during its creation and was fun to work on together. It was especially memorable trying to explain the time signature to Tucker and Tyler using only onomatopoeias.
TS: None of us know which part of this song is the chorus or the verse.
8. “Water Cycle”
PW: This song was inspired by a grade six science class assignment from when I was working as a paraeducator. The students were supposed to create a comic strip that showed a representation of the water cycle, illustrating each stage. One student in particular created this amazing, elaborate story of a water droplet who was adventuring through the different stages of the cycle. I thought this would be a neat idea for a song and connected the concept with feeling lost and trying to get home; that paired with always ending up in Queens somehow, no matter what subway car you get on.
9. “Writing Utensils”
TS: We wrote and recorded a different version of “Writing Utensils” back in 2011 or 2012 for a 7-inch vinyl project with Motion City Soundtrack. It’s always been one of our favorite tracks, and since it was never on digital services we really wanted to give it a second life with a few changes. Kevin at Topshelf told us that the second chorus needed to come back at the end of the song, and that stuck with me for nine years.
10. “Simple Pleasures”
TY: This is my favorite track on the record. It’s one of the songs I’m most excited to play live when we’re able to tour again. I love how repetitive and staccato the verse is in contrast to the expansive, flowing chorus and bridge. I remember tracking this alone late at night after everyone went to sleep and cranking up the headphones. After struggling to find the part earlier in the day, everything suddenly felt easy and right.
TS: “Simple Pleasures” was the last song that came together for Pono. We had originally thought that “Writing Utensils” was going to be the closer until “Simple Pleasures” became what it did. We tracked all of the final drums at Gradwell House in NJ with Matt engineering, and they have a beautiful Bechstein grand piano that Pete used as a layer in the bridge. I still remember when we all heard the playback and looked over at each other with a silent “yes.” The low-volume talking that you hear on the bridge is only there because Pete accidentally played two audio files at the same time while listening to rough mixes in his car. We recreated that moment with the same file and kept it in the mix.