Music Bugle Exclusive – Q & A – Pongo!

Photo courtesy of Pongo! Facebook page.

By Nicholas Jason Lopez

Elkins, W. Va.-based alt-rock outfit Pongo! recently announced on their social media pages that they were at work on their second album ‘Knobbed,’ which was being recorded at Zone 8 Studios and also revealed the tracklist.

Through a seamless blend of power-pop, punk and post-hardcore, Pongo! have made a name for themselves and played with the likes of Stage Moms and others.

Pongo! are drummer/backing vocalist Caleb Gartmann, guitarist/bassist/backing vocalist Derek Nuzum and guitarist/bassist/backing vocalist Matt Fincham.

The Music Bugle had the chance to talk with the band about what they’ve been up to lately and more.

Music Bugle – How did you guys decide the band name?

Caleb Gartmann – Matt had already established the band name prior to me joining. I remember being amused when he told me the meaning.

Matt Fincham – It’s pronounced “bahn-gu,” “bang-gwi,” or “pongu.” My grandmother, Lee-Fincham Myong Soon, was born in Seoul, Middle Korea in the late 20s, came to America in the late 50s. When I was young, maybe 3 or 4, I remember her asking, “Matt-chew, you bahn-gu?” which meant, “Did I fart?” Everyone thought she was saying “pongo.” Basically, the band name means “fart,” but it’s also about the idea that people’s legacies and memories can continue and that people can leave pieces of themselves behind through memories.

Music Bugle – What makes you the most proud about where you come from?

Derek Nuzum – It’s a love-it-or-hate-it kind of place. If someone is from West Virginia, they either fall in love with the mountains and reconcile with the quirks of the people/culture, or they hate this place and try to place themselves above it. There’s very little motivation to stay here sometimes and from a young age, the common discourse is usually, “This place sucks, I’m better than this. I’ll be out of here one day.” People vilify the poverty and drug-use in our communities. To me, WV is whatever you make of it. I’m not proud of anything about the place itself, but I’m glad to have experienced this place and to be able to embrace the beauty of the land.

Caleb Gartmann – I’m actually proud of the musicians that come from West Virginia. Some have toured the world and some have had local success. Regardless, I have met some very talented musicians in this area. 

Matt Fincham – I really enjoy being outdoors. I grew up in the middle of the woods. It can be lonely, but peaceful.

Music Bugle – Does social media help or hurt musicians?

Caleb Gartmann – In the MySpace days, social media was great for musicians. Now, it’s just a way for platforms to exploit us for money and pay for advertising. I’m sure it still benefits us in some ways, but not like before.

Matt Fincham – I think it helps. I’d argue things like Napster and the music-sharing surge helped music more than hurt it and that social-networking has helped people promote themselves more easily than before or connect with other musicians. It was only really possible to distribute music as an underground artist in, say, the 80’s if you went and did it all on your own, but today, one doesn’t even really need to go get anything cut to physical media. The options are more suitable to fit the individual needs of the bands or artists. Labels aren’t gulping down the band’s money, for the most part. The only downside, if any, is that it’s a flooded market, so as easy as it is to get your music out there, for free, it’s for all the same reasons just as difficult, ’cause now, everyone wants to get their music out — a lot of it’s pretty stale, underground or mainstream alike, in my opinion.

Music Bugle – Away from music, what’s something people might be surprised to know about you?

Caleb Gartmann – I played saxophone before I played drums.

Matt Fincham – I like to write a lot of non-sequitur bits of wordplay, paraprosdokians, puns and oxymoronic takes on idiomatic expressions. I’m inspired by Mitch Hedberg and Steven Wright. I find that language and the ambiguity of language are a beautiful, poetic artform.

Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Matt Fincham – We formed around late 2017, didn’t do much in 2018, but made our first album in 2019, started playing shows late 2019 and onward into 2020, then were on a rise, which came to a sudden halt.

Caleb Gartmann – My work, thankfully, was not hit too hard by COVID, but obviously, it has affected music for us tremendously. 

Music Bugle – Where do you go when you need to escape?

Caleb Gartmann – Behind the drumset or to the gym!

Derek Nuzum – The library.

Music Bugle – What’s a quote that motivates you to keep doing what you do?

Derek Nuzum – “Never give up!” from Matsuoka Shuzo.

Matt Fincham – “Hard work pays off in the future. Laziness pays off now,” by Steven Wright.

Caleb Gartmann – I can’t think of a quote that motivates me to keep playing, it’s more of the feeling I get making music with my best friends. 

Music Bugle – How would you describe your newest music?

Caleb Gartmann – Oh wow, that’s tough…. powerpoppunkgrungerock?

Matt Fincham – I myself write from more of a pop-music standpoint, so I don’t think there’s much difference between my old songs and these newer ones for our upcoming album, ‘Knobbed.’ Most of them were written together around the same time in 2018. I’ve tried experimenting with different riffs, chords and incorporated guitar leads. It’s fun to have these different perspectives simply by rearranging the variables and dynamics. We’ve played a lot of these songs for about a year now, so they feel very natural to us.

Derek Nuzum – It’s all from the noggin. I didn’t cut anything or try to write my stuff to fit with Matt’s, so listening to the album will be a lot like listening to a mixed CD of your favorite songs. The real common theme is that you like the way it all sounds.

Music Bugle – What’s something you wish happened more in today’s music industry?

Matt Fincham – With us and particularly by the format of our band with Derek and I switching instruments or taking on singing roles, I’d compare us a lot to the Beatles — though, not musically. I’d like to think we don’t adhere to a singular genre, like Derek said and with people now able to access music more easily than ever, people’s playlists reflect a similar attitude. People want more diversity and I’d like to see more bands play outside their comfort zone or try adapting to more styles.

Derek Nuzum – People that play music like us making gagillions of dollars. 

Caleb Gartmann – I wish recording was the way it used to be.

Music Bugle – Which of your songs were the hardest to write?

Matt Fincham – Each song we write is the result of the input of all three members of our band by the end of the writing process. It’s a collaborative effort. Caleb writes his own drum parts and the bassist of each song, whether Derek or myself, writes their own bass parts independent of the core songwriter. Derek or I write the skeleton of each song including lyrics, general structure, vocal melodies and guitar. Then, the rhythm section is responsible for their own parts or will suggest how to start the song, end it, etc.. Oftentimes, someone comes up with backing vocals — all three of us sing. Derek and I both have different approaches to composing, as well as creating rhythm parts, which makes for interesting outcomes.

Derek Nuzum – “Pathetic” was the hardest song I’ve written so far, not that it’s intricate or hard to play, but it took forever for it to all come together. That song is an amalgamation of parts, some of which were written eight or nine years ago. It took me forever just to write words and a melody for the vocals. Otherwise, that one would’ve been on the first album.

Matt Fincham – I write all my songs fairly quickly, ’cause I write ’em rather sparsely. I think “Reason” and “Plums” were the most fun of mine to have written. I enjoy writing bass parts – circling chords and harmonizing.

Caleb Gartmann – I didn’t write any of them, but making drum parts for “Disquietude.”

*Photo Credit – Lindsey Fincham*

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