Interview: Pinegrove

“The image in the songs is of a cardinal landing in the dogwood tree in my back yard,” Evan Stephens Hall depicts. “I’m looking at it right now – there are no birds in it currently. It’s always a lucky sight when there are.” Speaking at his home in Montclair, New Jersey, ahead of Pinegrove’s first UK tour, the frontman is as eager as he is animated.

“It’s kind of exciting to see natural iterations of the colour red,” he elaborates. “They’re rare, and surprisingly aestheticised for something that occurs naturally. That’s always been a symbol to me of the aesthetic potential of the universe.” Pausing to laugh off the “grandiose” nature of his phrasing, he continues enthusiastically. “There are certain ways that just living a regular life reminds you that a regular life is a magical life.”

It’s the ability to find and convey wide-eyed wonder within the innately familiar that makes Pinegrove such an extraordinary band. Debut album ‘Cardinal’ – released in the US in February and the UK in July – is a roaming venture along well-known streets and deep-rooted thought. Heartfelt emotion, intricately woven as it is, becomes laid bare – ready and waiting for anyone who chooses to delve in to it.

“It says things that I struggle to say in just language,” Evan carefully portrays of his songwriting. “There’s a James Joyce quote: ‘In the particular is contained the universal’,” he recites. “The more specific you can be to your own truth, the more likely someone else is to relate to it.” Through refined language and carefully considered lyrics, it’s the records open-hearted nature that resounds the most ardently. “This is the mechanism I have for dealing with intense things,” he states. “Maybe that’s all I’ll say on that.”

Struggling along the balancing act we all face of saying what’s meant and meaning what’s said, at eight tracks in length the record is a concise – albeit verbose – presentation of the endless search for direction upon constantly contrasting emotions. “It’s really compelling to me when you can make a song that feels melancholy but is in major key tonality,” Evan illustrates. “That’s a more emotionally complex, and I think a more emotionally true thing. Because it’s never just one thing, is it?”

A direct presentation of the human experience, the songs converse with each other, lyrics and motifs repeating like discarded thoughts revisited. “I wanted to make an album that was rewarding for the re-listener, as well as someone that was coming to it for the first time,” the frontman explains. “Those repeating images and concepts are one way of showing that this is a thing that was made with care – and that’s a way of gaining the listeners trust.”

Singing of home and of friendships, trust is the foundation to the relationships not only in the lyrics, but the connections that the band are hoping their music can offer to those who hear it. “I think it’s really fun when it reveals itself as this puzzle,” Evan details. “It’s more engaging, and the listener is tempted to spend more time with it and give more of themselves, and they’re going to be more invested emotionally in what you’re saying. It’s going to hit harder.” Laying their own feelings bare, the want for emotional connection is at the heart of Pinegrove’s music.

“I think that one other way that an artist gains the trust of a listener is to make an intimate and inviting world,” the frontman expands. And that’s exactly what ‘Cardinal’ is. For eight tracks, the record accompanies the listener through their own world, past familiar sights, around familiar characters, and through very real emotion. “It’s meant to be its own universe,” Evan enthuses. “I’m certainly taking cues from where I live and where I grew up, but this is its own imaginary place.”

It’s a vivid world Pinegrove have created, and it’s one that’s secured them a place in the hearts of those who’ve encountered it without hindrance or restraint. “Lots of people were sharing personal stories with me about the way they’ve connected to the work,” Evan comments of a recent tour across America. “It’s just so moving to me. It makes me feel like my message is being heard, and people are connecting with it, and that’s wonderful.”

Now, touring internationally for the first time, Pinegrove’s message is echoing louder than ever. Making their UK debut at End Of The Road, the band’s self-confessed “peppy for the early crowd” stylings endeared them to the audience almost instantly. “It was kind of strange and surreal,” Evan portrays of the performance. “We were not quite on our feet yet, but at the same time the adrenalin of playing a show for that many people in the daylight just sort of jars you into excitement.”

Talking in the middle of their UK tour, the frontman is in high spirits. “I’m thinking of one of my favourite authors, George Saunders,” he alludes. “He said that part of the reason he writes is so that he can send a piece of himself out first, so that he can make a good impression before he gets there. It’s a little bit like that for me too.” Dismissing the self-deprecating nature of the comment, he continues. “I’m happy to have sent out a message I’m proud of. Everybody’s been really nice to us. We’re having a great time.”

Performing a sold out show – one of many on this tour – thousands of miles from home, in front of a crowd singing along to the lyrics so loud it nearly drowns out the band on stage, the impact Pinegrove have created means as much to the band as the people who have paid to be a part of this moment. “It’s important for us to express vulnerability and to be honest,” Evan tells their audience, heralding the openness and sentimentality that’s drawn everyone together.

“Now that I know that there’s a listenership for this sort of thing, for Pinegrove specifically, I feel like I have a big responsibility to give the people who want to listen to it a cathartic and meaningful experience,” Evan states. With new songs already working their way into their live sets the future holds a promise as bright as the moment the band are in, and they take that honour with as much obligation as they do gratitude.

“I have a lot of songs that I’m working on, but they’re not done yet,” the frontman teases. “If you consider a song done and you consider it closed off then that leaves less of an opportunity to weave it in with others,” he explains. Giving voice to their own experience Pinegrove’s music is unshakable in its sincerity, and that’s something they’ll always strive to convey. “I need time to sit with these songs,” Evan continues. “I want to try my best to distil what I’ve learned recently about being a human into them. I want to do that responsibility the honour it needs.”

Citing that a new Pinegrove record shouldn’t be expected until “at least summer next year, maybe later,” the groups focus is very much on appreciating what’s happening around them right now. “It’s such a wonderful thing that we get to travel to other places and meet people elsewhere because music is taking us there,” Evan exclaims. “I can’t really think of anything crazier. I feel ambitious about that, I do, but that is the goal, that’s the pinnacle, and it’s unbelievable and wonderful that we get to do it.”

It’s taken a long time for Pinegrove to get here. Having been on the road almost consistently since March, the band are, admittedly, exhausted. But faced with an audience singing their own words back at them, all of that melts away. “This is what I want to do,” Evan states, with no shortage of conviction.

With tours already announced to carry the group through until December, and the promise of “another tour” across the UK in February, this is a dream the band don’t have to wake up from. Spinning along the pavement post-concert, lost in the adulation of the occasion, Pinegrove are celebrating every moment they can, hoping only that more people can be a part of it with them. So what are you waiting for?

Taken from the October issue of Upset. Order a copy here. Pinegrove’s album ‘Cardinal’ is out now.


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