What the... ?

Emotional, brash, abrasive and honest: Pontiak makes art, not music

Hard-to-classify Virginia-based band Pontiak takes Mootsy's Monday.
Hard-to-classify Virginia-based band Pontiak takes Mootsy's Monday.

Pontiak confuses people.

Take Innocence, the album that Van Carney and his brothers, Lain and Jennings, released a couple of weeks ago. It's getting a great response. Critics, by and large, seem to look favorably on the output of the brothers Carney. They've put out 10 records in less than 10 years (most of them on Chicago's Thrill Jockey Records). Not one of them is bad.

And yet, Van Carney says, the band continues to confound. Critics want to box Pontiak in: say they're not rock enough, not loud enough. Even when the brothers made Heat Leisure, a short film of them just jamming in a grass field on their Virginia farm, film festivals that considered it were confused: Was it a documentary? A music video?

"We made it just to be an art piece," he says. "That's what music is for us. I feel like so many times people want to put things in boxes to make them more understandable. And to me that's the opposite with art.

"It's interesting to be someone that creates something, and then you have a whole class of people who talk about what other people create," Van says from the band's van, somewhere in the middle of Mississippi. He pauses for a second, and then tries to explain: "I don't know if you like cooking?"

"Yeah," I say.

"OK, so you have friends over. And imagine if you cook the meal and you set it down and then everyone is talking. But you get that one person that keeps talking: 'I think that maybe if you had added a little more salt here. ... I'm really just stuck on this. I feel like you've curated this meal, but there are things you could have done differently.'"

He says even praise of his band's music feels a little like that. When you're a hard-to-classify band like Pontiak, the chatter tends to go on and on.

Pontiak is a lot of things: a band that's masterful at making skull-smacking heavy rock jams, a band not too proud to show emotion, that dips a toe in Southern rock, gospel and Americana. Pontiak is emotional, driving, thoughtful, angry and out there. And Innocence is just as much for rockers as it is for folk fans who like their music to drip with emotion. This is art that reflects the people who made it.

"I think that can tend to frustrate people," Van says. "And our intention isn't to ever confound people." ♦

Pontiak with Blackwater Prophet • Mon, Feb. 17, at 9 pm • $5 • 21+ • Mootsy's • 406 W. Sprague • 838-1570

Ashley McBryde: This Town Talks Tour @ Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox

Thu., Sept. 23, 8 p.m.
  • or

About The Author

Leah Sottile

Leah Sottile is a Spokane-based freelance writer who formerly served as music editor, culture editor and a staff writer at the Inlander. She has written about everything from nuns and Elvis impersonators, to jailhouse murders and mental health...