A Great Pile of Leaves Open Spaces Around ‘Pono’

There was never a real break from the point A Great Pile of Leaves released their second album You’re Always on My Mind in 2013. The band, singer and guitarist Pete Weiland, drummer Tyler Soucy and bassist Tucker Yaro, were always working—day jobs included—while some were growing their families. All the while, they continued writing new music and began building the studio where they would record and produce the third album Pono (Top Shelf Records).

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“As far as we’re concerned, we never put a pause on anything,” says Weiland. “Making a new full length was something that we wanted to do this whole time, and has always been on the table for us as far as our passion project. But we all have jobs, and we’ve always tried to keep working on the album in different ways.”

Meaning “righteousness” in Hawaiian, Pono, mixed by touring guitarist Matthew Weber and mastered by Dave Downham, captures a more reminiscent, virtuous state, from calm croon of “Hit Reset,” and summertime bliss and burn of “Beat Up Shows” through more sentimental blinks of fluttering guitars on “Yesterday’s Clothes” and “Waiting for Your Love.” Pono swells and recedes, then building again around closing troika of “Water Cycle,” “Writing Utensils,” and “Simple Pleasures.”

“There’s something thematic with the lyrics,” says Weiland “The last record was a little more introspective, and this one connects all the songs. It’s more outward thinking, and it’s more about harmony and peace. And I guess that’s where the title ‘Pono,’ which means righteousness in Hawaiian culture, connects everything.”

By the time the band recorded You’re Always on My Mind in 2012, they were already working on new music and made the conscious decision to stop touring in 2016 to begin building their own studio in Connecticut to avoid spending money on practice spaces and removing any limitations on when or how often they could record together.

Initiated over the course of the past eight years, a bulk of the songwriting for Pono was developed more fully during the winter of 2020. “A lot of the instrumental ideas happened over the course of the last eight years, but the songwriting itself, the lyrical content and the melodies began during 2020 from little nuggets of ideas that started years ago,” says Weiland, who started with instrumentals elements of the songs before the lyrics and melody formulated. “The song doesn’t really take full form until I sit down with an acoustic and flesh out the lyrics and melodies, and piece them together,” says Weiland.

There’s never a formula for making songs, but this time around, Pono pulled the band back to their roots. Soucy says the process around Pono was more reminiscent of how the A Great Pile of Leaves produced their 2010 debut, Have You Seen My Prefrontal Cortex?

“This time around, we were all together and collaborating a little more,” says Soucy, who was still living in Brooklyn, New York at the time along with Yaro, while Weiland was in Connecticut, and would overdub parts from their rehearsal space in New York and continue fleshing out demos up until the day before they returned to the studio.

Soucy adds, “‘Pono’ also went back to working out ideas in the space and jamming on things, working on really rough sketches of the songs. Then, when Pete did the vocals and melody and lyrics, it dictated where the final composition was going.”

Writing within the band was always organic, but Weiland says there’s more elements of simplicity and less of a fear of letting of songs that don’t work. “It’s never technical,” says Weiland. “You let the song do the work if it can allow you to temper the intricacies of what you’re trying to do. I think it sounds like our band, but the 30-year old version, which is accurate.” 

Now a decade in, A Great Pile of Leaves is viewing the bigger picture of things, and their music. Weiland’s life changed with the birth of his son Desmond two years ago, which has shifted how he writes.

“Having him, I learned that you can make a song about anything at all,” says Weiland. “We go around the house and sing what we’re doing all day, and being able to think about songs and songwriting with less seriousness allowed me to let go a little more.”

Weiland adds, “At this point, seriousness and meaningfulness are not synonymous with songwriting. I think meaningfulness is a necessary component to a song. It can be more or less serious, but as long as it’s meaningful and it’s something you can feel proud of, that’s what makes a great song.”

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