Catching up with Pinegrove: “It’s a pretty communal project”

Catching up with Pinegrove: “It’s a pretty communal project”

By Conor Mackie

Jul 27, 2016 19:43

Pinegrove are eleven days into their headline US tour, and Evan Stephens Hall has just finished satisfying his hunger. Fresh from devouring a meal at the incomparable Reggae Shack in Gainesville, Florida, he’s in a buoyant mood. On their third full US tour (and second this year), Pinegrove are getting used to the long drives, the various stages, the different sets of challenges a band encounters on the road. “I think I’m figuring it out, but learning a lesson and then implementing it is sometimes different. So, for example, I know I should be more moderate…I like to stay up late and I like to drink beer and I like to shout and sing along to all the songs in the car, haha."

Hall, though, is reasonable in what he demands of himself, and the speed at which his habits will change. “It’s happening slowly but naturally, as I take this more and more seriously and I realise that, ‘Okay, I’m a professional touring musician. This is what I do, this is my job and I want to do it well.’” Hall is as captivating to speak to as he is a performer, his mind darting from idea to idea, his thought process plain to see and out in the open. He is passionate and committed to putting his ideas across as eloquently and carefully as he can. “People are expecting a good performance, and moreover I owe it to them. Well, no, I shouldn’t even say I owe it to them exactly, but it’s, to me, the best opportunity to share my message, so I don’t wanna blow it, basically.”

Pinegrove, though, are far from blowing it. So far, each show on this tour has either sold out or come within a handful of tickets of doing so, and their debut full-length Cardinal, released in February, was met with widespread acclaim. I’m curious to hear whether or not Hall feels himself changing as a performer, growing into the new skin he finds himself in as Pinegrove continue their meteoric rise. “Well, anything you do a lot you get better at, and I do feel like I’m improving. One important revelation for me was that there’s actually a set of expectations or guidelines to this sort of performance, and I think it’s kinda fun to play with those expectations, or kind of subvert them or wink at them in some way. I’m beginning to understand the momentum of our set and there’s a kind of a narrative arc that I’m discovering and enjoying. It’s fun to go at our own pace, and sometimes we do wanna pick it up or sometimes we do wanna slow it down. Now we have more leeway to do that.”

With an ever-rotating touring line-up, Pinegrove are currently a six-piece. Hall is joined on the road once more by Zack Levine and Josh Marre, with Adan Carlo, Nandi Plunkett & Sam Skinner returning to the Pinegrove gang. Each member of their party has toured with the band at least once before, marking a distinct change from their previous US tour earlier this year when they joined Into It. Over It., The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die and The Sidekicks on their travels. “We essentially needed to rearrange everything, but it wasn’t so much learning the songs per se, but finding parts that fit with each other. That was really very fun and we’re playing some new songs and some songs from Cardinal that we didn’t really have together before,” states Hall.

This collaborative effort seems key to Pinegrove’s success. Hall recalls the way he changed his plans for writing material for their new record, abandoning hopes of living by the Jersey shore for a few months, deciding instead to stay in his native Montclair. “In the end I only spent a little less than a month down at the shore. I kinda misjudged it in a way, I realised that, ‘Wait, I don’t know anyone down there, and all my friends and collaborators are up here’. I’m decently close to having…well, I think I have enough material to start arranging for the new album. But, we’re not really rushing it.” Pinegrove will take as much time as they need, and in the meantime plan to continue travelling, exploring and forging their own path. “It’s just pedal to the metal, there’s no relaxing, really. We’ve all quit our jobs and we’re just going for this. There’s something else at the end of the year that I can’t tell you about just yet, haha, but we’re all excited for that,” he teases.

Not only do they tirelessly tour, but Pinegrove have an open, honest and vulnerable relationship with their fans and this symbiotic relationship is incredibly important to Hall. “Travelling around and meeting people who have been moved by our music, it’s really interesting to find that people feel that this music makes them less lonely, or be able to access their feelings in a way that they were not able to before, or some combination of those things. For people to say that to me feels incredible, and the flipside of that is it kinda triangulates it for me because as someone who, just like everybody else, is crawling, um, in the dark looking for an answer – for someone else to report that they feel connected to what I’ve said makes me, too, feel less lonely. So it’s a pretty communal project, I think.”

This mutual connection formed through the reaction to Pinegrove’s lyrics, this communal feeling of finding someone who understands, opens the door for a very real relationship to be formed. That is not though, as Hall passionately describes, where the effort to make Pinegrove as open as possible ends. “We wanna be accessible in a lot of different layers of our presentation. That has to do with making sure that everyone who wants to see us play can see us play, which means all ages shows as often as possible, as cheap as possible at the door. It’s important to me that the music is available to listen to online for free. Then, too, on social media, when people say ‘Hey!’, we try to always respond. We’ve learned to be a little more comfortable on stage, too, and the more comfortable you can be, the more comfortable everybody else feels. I think that’s a cool way to open the door to vulnerable communication.”

Soon, Pinegrove will be taking this newfound comfort abroad, and will be forming connections and relationships with those over in the UK, Republic of Ireland and mainland Europe. Travelling overseas as a band for the first time (on the back of a handful of solo acoustic shows in England last month), Hall is excited to share Pinegrove’s music with a new group of people. “I think it’s so, so cool that we can do this. I love travelling in the first place, but being able to do that as a musician is a privilege.” Did a younger Hall ever dream of being an international touring musician, then? “Well, I have always felt pretty ambitious as a songwriter and I did hope that there would one day be an international audience, but not that I really pieced together the dotted line of how that would happen, but of course I dreamed of it.” However, he is quick to point out, “I don’t think that hoping for fame is an effective motivator for making good art, even if it is tangentially on the mind of the artist that they want to have a wide readership or listenership or viewership or whatever. I feel motivated by very local considerations – emotional catharsis and personal entertainment.”

As we wrap up our conversation, I manage to squeeze in one final question. It’s unfair of me to do this to Hall, as I know he has many other commitments to fulfil that day, but I am equally aware that he cannot turn down an opportunity to discuss his writing method. Having already quoted David Foster Wallace earlier in our conversation, I’m curious to get in Hall’s brain and figure out what makes him tick. “Writing. My favourite topic, haha. It happens in all sorts of ways, both predictable and unpredictable. I’m always writing to a degree, I’m always receiving information, sensory information and experience and…it’s sort of abstract, but I’m always learning, I guess, and then occasionally there’s a breakthrough moment where now this melody or this phrase or this lyric is somehow accessible to me in a way that it didn’t used to be. Sometimes that happens in front of a guitar, sometimes it happens while I’m at the bank, you know. In fact, I think more frequently it happens when my mind’s not totally thinking about it, when it’s ambient noise in the background. But yes, there’s always a little ambient noise in the background.”

I finally let Hall get back in the van and head off to New Orleans, the next destination for himself and the rest of Pinegrove. This young band has made a huge impact on a scene that is changing in many ways. With bands like Pinegrove (and their contemporaries Ratboys and PWR BTTM, to name just a few), a more honest, open, accessible space is being created for people to enjoy music in a safe, comfortable, joyful environment. There is still, obviously, a lot of work left to do, but Pinegrove are taking great strides to addressing some of the problems that need to be fixed. As they continue to travel the US, Europe and, I’m sure, the wider world, Pinegrove will leave a trail of smiling faces and heaving hearts behind them. Catch them live the first moment you can and, I promise you, your life will be better off for it.

Pinegrove’s excellent new album, ‘Cardinal’, is available now via Run For Cover, and the band will be on tour in the UK later this year, which you can see the dates for below.

04 LARMER TREE GARDENS End of the Road Festival
05 MANCHESTER Gullivers
06 LEEDS Brudenell Social Club
07 GLASGOW Hug & Pint
08 NEWCASTLE Think Tank
09 BIRMINGHAM Sunflower Lounge
10 ISLE OF WIGHT Bestival
12 CARDIFF Clwb Ifor Bach
13 LONDON The Lexington
15 BRIGHTON Green Door Store

01 KINGSTON Fighting Cocks
04 LIVERPOOL Studio 2
05 BELFAST Limelight 2
06 GALWAY, ROI Roisin Dubh
07 LIMERICK, ROI Kasbah Social Club
08 DUBLIN, ROI Whelans