Music » Interview

Lightning Seeds

Right now, the Pomonas are electric.


Here's why L. Frank Baum —yes, that L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz —is full of shit.

In the real world, tornadoes don't whisk you away to a magical land of lollipops and emerald cities, where all you have to do is start crying and your troubles will just disappear. No, that sounds more like an episode of My Super Sweet 16.

In the real world, tornadoes in Kansas crush Winnebagos. They make already dilapidated houses, well, more dilapidated. And they make life a real pain in the ass for bands like the Pomonas.

"It was like a dumbbell on a box of saltines," says Andy Gassaway, the band's bassist, keyboardist and singer, describing what the band's motor home looked like after a twister and a rogue tree branch got done with it last March. The storm also caused some damage to their house in Lawrence.

With a little more fame, some better luck and a lot more money, these four guys — some of whom have lived here for more than a decade — would be ready to move beyond Lawrence. But so far, the stars aren't aligning worth a damn. The RV, given to them by Gassaway's grandfather, was supposed to serve as the band's tour bus. The house was, and still is, their studio.

Fortunately, the band members have some good friends, including the members of KC group the Girl Is a Ghost, who lent the Pomonas a van to finish their nine-date tour.

But it's still a shame, and not just because no one likes to see a good mini-Winnie go to waste. What's sad is seeing one of Kansas City's most promising bands go through any sort of setback.

Some bands' sounds are hard to describe. The Pomonas' sound is the exact opposite. With them, it's usually a matter of figuring out which one of the band members' influences is expressing itself most loudly at any given moment.

If you're a gambler — especially if you're listening to the band's upcoming release, When You're Electric — your best odds would be on a Guided by Voices influence. Before the tornado hit, the four band members — Gassaway, Ryan Laird (guitar, keyboard, drums, vocals), and brothers Justin Ripley (vocals, guitar) and Brandon Ripley (drums, keyboard, vocals) — managed to churn out some of the most fuzzed-out, twang-heavy guitar pop in eastern Douglas County, all from the comfort of their home.

"There was no pressure," says Justin, describing the band's home-recording process. "We could take as much time as we wanted."

Every indie and local band in the world says they're DIY, but the Pomonas walk the walk. During recording, large pieces of carpet were hung on the walls of the living room, converting it into a makeshift recording space. The kitchen made a perfect editing suite. When he needed to muffle his toms, Brandon resorted to wadded-up pillows and extra scraps of carpet.

The result is an album that's noticeably homemade and better because of it. From the footsteps of musicians entering the room on "Cub Astronaut" to the tight click of a cymbal mic'ed from underneath on "Sickle in the Sky," When You're Electric is a decadent, lo-fi masterpiece.

The new album is a perfect example of how the Pomonas' personality has historically been a little bit split. The band's first effort, an EP titled Jubilation, was recorded on vintage analog equipment at Lawrence's Underground Studios. Although it's still musically compelling (it's a healthy dose of straightforward garage rock), even the band members know the record is fairly disjointed.

"We kind of ran in before we were ready," Brandon says.

"It was too much, too soon," Laird adds. "The full-length is actually about the same length as the EP, and it has twice as many songs on it."

"Let's put it this way: The EP is not a good example of who we are now," Gassaway says, trying to summarize the band's early work. "It was a stepping stone that put us into a year full of debt."

Fortunately, When You're Electric should help erase doubts — and, the band hopes, debt. Finally, there's a clear-cut style to associate with the band's name. But there's another facet to the Pomonas that comes out only when the band's onstage.

On a recent Monday night at Balanca's in downtown Kansas City, a delayed sound guy kept the band from taking the stage until almost 11:30. But strangely, no one in the audience seemed to mind. Maybe it was the $1 PBR special. More than likely, it was the fact that the Pomonas are actually worth waiting for.

In person, the band — especially Justin's Stephen Malkmusesque vocals — doesn't sound all that lo-fi. Call it garage-rock revival; say the band is channeling the Strokes or even the Velvet Underground. Most important, call it a rock show with a clearly defined edge that doesn't come through on any of the band's records to date. It's a sound that had almost every person in the audience surrounding the stage.

It's way too early to start making big career plans for a band that's been around for just a year and a half. But the Pomonas present a triple threat: a great live show, a jaw-dropping album, and enough brains to realize that they're on the cusp of something with a lot of potential. Hell, even a tornado barely slowed their success.

Then again, Winnebago repairs aren't cheap. Neither are overpriced EPs.

"I made a pact with these guys not to play any more shows where we lose money," Justin says.

At least for the time being, maybe there really is no place like home.

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