Art Punk Band Pottery Craft an Album Around the Celebration of Rhythm

Following the delayed release of their new album, Welcome To Bobby’s Motel, the Montreal quintet check in to a new reality.  

A few months ago when we called Jacob Shepansky, guitarist for the Montreal-based art rock band Pottery, to discuss Welcome to Bobby’s Motel, their forthcoming full-length debut, the COVID-19 pandemic was just beginning its devastating sweep.

Shepansky had been self-isolating at home and, like many of us, was already starting to feel anxious about the state of the world. To cope, he’d been listening to music and thinking about how it can provide an escape. A distinct sense of comfort, it was helping a little. 

The pandemic has since rocked the music industry to its core, significantly impacting virtually every artist and band. Pottery—a five-piece comprised of Shepansky and bandmates Peter Baylis, Tom Gould, Austin Boylan, and Paul Jacobs—is no exception. Their new album’s release was pushed from April to June 26, and they postponed their supporting tour. Still, despite it all, Shepansky remains optimistic. “I think that a lot of great music and art will come from this—if [people] can muster up the strength to try and do something creative,” he says.

Shepansky’s positive outlook is reflective of the band’s perspective at large, pandemic, or no pandemic. “If our music can make somebody happier for a little bit, hey, I’ve completed my mission,” he says. “I think if we can help somebody who is not having the best day have a little bit of a better day, then we’ve done something good.” 

Shepansky met lead singer Boylan through mutual friends, soon after moving from Vancouver to Quebec to attend Concordia University. The pair quickly became close, bonding over a shared love for music, and they started writing songs together. Soon after, the rest of the band members found each other. It was an organic combination of right-place-right-time moments and running in the same music scene. Pottery’s debut single, “Hank Williams,” was released in 2018 to critical acclaim for its eclectic sound and playful lyrics. It was followed by an equally heralded EP, No. 1, that digs into a now-signature colourful sonic palette that blends everything from psychedelic rock to post-punk, and has earned the band comparisons to new wave heroes Talking Heads and Devo.

“We just don’t take ourselves very seriously,” Shepansky explains. “When we’re hanging out as a group, we spend probably about 90 per cent of our time making jokes and we’ll riff on that forever. Then, when it comes to the creative stuff, a lot of it has tended to blossom through that ground. We use that excitement to write songs and jam together.”

This lightheartedness is precisely where the concept of “Bobby” came from—the one name-checked in the title of Pottery’s new record and depicted as a grinning, moustachioed, finger-gun-pointing caricature on the cover art. So, who is Bobby, exactly? Shepansky laughs as he recounts how the goofy image came from a Face Swap of Boylan and Jacobs when the guys were playing with the smart phone app one night. 

“It became this sort of figurehead for our tours and stuff—of staying in shitty motels, and trying to make the best of bad situations, and this comfort that we got from this idea of ‘Bobby,’” Shepansky says. “Of this person that doesn’t care and is just comfortable wherever he is.

Welcome to Bobby’s Motel, then, is a physical realization of Pottery’s heartening philosophy, with the motel existing as an alternate universe of sorts for their songs to live in. Some tracks broach more serious topics—”Take Your Time,” for example, with its chaotic grooves and a jangly melody, touches on witnessing the effects of recreational drug use on fellow musician friends. Other songs are unabashed joy, like “Texas Drums Pt I & II”: a bombastic six and a half-minute celebration of rhythm that has drummer Jacobs dexterously juggling an impossible number of percussive instruments from acoustic skins and rototoms to shakers, as the rest of the guys chant, “DRUMS! DRUMS! DRUMS!”.

Of course, virtuosic playing is largely what contributes to Pottery’s wild yet architected sound. It is not surprising to learn that one of Shepansky’s most significant influences is Marc Ribot, the guitarist and frequent Tom Waits collaborator known for his improvisational style that leans into free jazz and Latin music.

“My favourite record that he was pretty heavily involved in was [Tom Waits’ 2004 album] Real Gone,” Shepansky enthuses. “I like how [Ribot] can transcend genres. It was very inspiring, as a kid, to hear those records and how you can break free from the, you know, four-bar blues type shit.”

Much like Ribot does, looking beyond the restraints of traditional arrangements and finding ways to bridge the gap between a gamut of influences is something that Pottery continually tries to master as a collective. For them, the crux of it is taking an idea, building on it together, and creating something beautiful and true. Sort of akin to the craft of making pottery itself, where you knead a lump of clay and work it at different angles until it feels just right between your hands. Something that, like listening to music in the midst of a global pandemic, can provide a distinct sense of comfort and a little bit of joy.

Welcome to Bobby’s Motel will be available June 26 via Royal Mountain Records