Pom Poko

Pom Poko are growing up. On Champion, a monumental slice of reflective and life-affirming post-punk, vocalist/lyricist Ragnhild Fangel Jamtveit, bassist Jonas Krøvel, guitarist Martin Miguel Almagro Tonne, and drummer Ola Djupvik are the closest they’ve ever been, both personally and in terms of their hermetically tight four-piece rock instrumentation. When most bands call each other “family”, it’s a bit of a cliché—but with Pom Poko, after years of touring the four corners of the world and instituting a stringently democratic songwriting process, they really have evolved into one highly-synchronized unit, whose mission is to stay as true to their artistic values as possible while continuing to explore the farthest reaches of their slightly chaotic, always exhilarating sound.

“It feels like we’re maturing and growing up together,” explains Ragnhild. “By the time this album comes out, we’ll have been a band for eight years. It’s like we’re evolving. When you’re not grinding with the band all the time, you gain an appreciation for what you’ve built. It's like a very weird and really lovely little gang to hang out in. I almost feel like we’re superheroes—it’s like being a part of Powerpuff Girls.”

Champion is Pom Poko’s third LP, after their blistering debut Birthday in 2019, and 2021’s critically acclaimed Cheater. Both albums served to cement the band’s sound: Ragnhild’s high-pitched yet crystal clear voice punctuating the rest of the band’s ferocious onslaught of noise, which fluctuates from post-punk to math-rock and everything in between.

“We made Birthday during insane amounts of touring where we were giving every bit of our life to the band,” says Ola. “For practical reasons, we’ve recently had to take a break from regular interactions with each other. Martin became a Dad so we obviously couldn’t rehearse for a while. It sounds kind of cheesy, but you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. I just assumed that the feeling I had playing with Pom Poko was just what it’s like playing in bands—but it’s what it’s like playing in our band.”

This growing appreciation for playing together translates directly to the music. While Pom Poko still maintain their razor-sharp edge, there is a new-found maturity that bleeds through the slashes of acerbic guitar blasts and elastic basslines. Champion has more space than their previous records, more room to experiment. “It's a bit less cluttered,” says Martin. “You maybe wouldn’t put it on at the spa or something, but it's not as quick-firing as a lot of our other stuff has been—songwriting-wise and production-wise, it’s more to the point.”

For the first time ever, the band self-produced this record, which only enhanced their sense of creative freedom. “We’re at the point where we can work, like, telepathically,” says Ola. “While making the album, we talked very little in the studio, and there was very little artistic intention that we had to convey to each other. Everyone knew what they were supposed to do. Maybe when we're trying to communicate with a producer, we tend to cram in a lot of ideas, whereas now it's like, 'This is the song.’” Mixed by Ali Chant (PJ Harvey, Aldous Harding, Dry Cleaning), who collaborates with the band for the first time here, Champion is a continuation of Pom Poko’s signature sound, but with more control, more realized, and more mature.

That being said, the album’s title track has a somewhat ironic meaning: what does it mean to be a champion, to excel at one’s goals? And what happens if those goals change? Across delightfully sweet-sounding indie rock, Ragnhild sings of the realization that life is what you make of it—that actually, it’s OK to play by your own set of rules. “The word ‘champion’ was there from the beginning,” explains Ragnhild. Often, she will come up with lyrics during improvisational, stream-of-consciousness jam sessions while working on new songs, which adds a sheen of surreality to Pom Poko’s music. “I built the lyrics around that title, just one evening, in my apartment. There's a big parking lot in front of my building, and I was just sitting there and looking out at it. I was just struck with this image of being in our van, and touring, and all the parking lots we’ve ever been in. It’s a song about growing older and not feeling like you have to take over the world anymore. We're just doing this for ourselves, really. If we can be in a band that lasts for 20 years, that's amazing. We're not champions, but we are at the same time.”

“Successful people have a reason to be confident,” continues Ola. “The fact that we are just relaxed and doing it for the music and for the fun of it—that sort of helps fuel our success. I think this album feels pretty confident, in a good way. It's not braggy, it's more like, ‘This is what we are doing, and we’re comfortable.’”

Pom Poko are certainly not lacking in confidence, and “My Family” might be the most confident track of them all. Probably the closest Pom Poko will ever get to a proper stadium rock anthem, it’s both a significant departure for the band, and somehow still fits comfortably in their consistently innovative catalogue. Starting with jittery percussion and buzzsaw guitars, the chorus explodes skywards with an earworm melody and, dare we say it, pop-punk power chords. “When we showed ‘My Family’ to our label head, he was like, ‘Oh, this is your Green Day song,’” Martin laughs. “Which might be true, but it’s one of the good Green Day songs.” “Writing the chorus was really fun,” says Ragnhild, “we had this feeling of: ‘Are we allowed to do this?’”

Another place on the album where the band rocketed out of their comfort zone is the opening track and future single “Growing Story”, in which the band continue the coming-of-age motif while mashing blues chords with powerful bursts of garage rock. “Normally we start writing songs with very brief ideas but for “Growing Story”, Martin brought an entire melody, which we miraculously stuck to, in its entirety,” says Ola. “We were able to restrain ourselves—it’s a garage song but doesn’t go totally bonkers. We were able to just trust the songwriting and the sound. Sometimes, it’s enough to just write a good melody and play it.”

“We trust each other more, now that we've written a lot of songs together and know each other so well,” says Ragnhild. “For me, at least, you see things clearer when you have a bit more space. When you start a band in your early twenties, everything is being thrown in your face, you can’t really see what’s going on, and you just keep running. At the end of the day, these songs are about us, and the value of our friendship.”

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Pom Poko


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