A Q&A with Evan Stephens Hall of Pinegrove
by Mayeesha Galiba (Political Science and Journalism), published April 13th 2017
Indie-rock, alt-country, whatever you want to classify them as — Pinegrove is everything and more. The band originated in Montclair, New Jersey in 2010, and signed on to Run for Cover Records in Allston in 2015. Pinegrove has been touring constantly over the last few years, and their 2016 album Cardinal was among the Tastemakers favorites (we loved it so much we had to put it in our Top Albums of the Year, which you can read here). Tastemakers was able to catch up with frontman Evan Stephens Hall, and talk about everything from embryonic fluid to robots, and all the music in between.
TMM: What was it like to play a one off show, kind of like the one you did at Run For Cover yesterday and also college shows like the one you did at Northeastern? How do you compare that to playing full tour?
EH: I tend to catch steam in a good way with the momentum of a tour and it feels a little abrupt somehow it feels by the time you really get going then it’s over. I think I prefer short runs to one offs. The Northeastern one actually just was a day off on a tour that we were already on. It takes a little while to get into it, but I like performing in general so any opportunity is great.
TMM: How did you choose which venues to record from or use recordings from for your live album Elsewhere? Cause Northeastern was the host of three of the songs.
EH: Yeah, so, that was based on… well we recorded as many of the shows of the second leg of that tour as possible and that was based on a variety of factors, mostly is the mixing more digital or analog. I’m not too familiar with the technology of it. Of those shows, we did listen to it, and as it turned out, the Northeastern show was a really good show.
TMM: Can you give me three adjectives to describe third grade?
EH: I remember second grade a little better.
TMM: We can do second grade.
EH: Those butterflies [in second grade] were so cool. They could grow from caterpillars, to chrysalises, to beautiful butterflies. I remember them emerging from their cocoons, and their wings were so wet and kind of folded and eventually they start working them and drying them and all of a sudden they’re strong.
TMM: Kinda like babies?
EH: Yeah, kind of. Like embryonic fluid is, I suppose, protective, and maybe there’s nutrients in it? I don’t know. I really shouldn’t talk more about something I have literally no idea about…my teacher was energetic, warm, goofy.
TMM: You went to Kenyon. How was that?
EH: It was great. It’s a very, very rural place, and I think I kind of absorbed that in a certain way. There’s something about… well the space facilitated long walks and exploration out in the countryside. And I think there is something, something about longing, something that promotes an introspective search and there’s something kind of melancholy about spending time by yourself in nature because it maybe emphasizes the disconnect we feel with nature and maybe we miss it. Maybe it’s some, subcortical, longing, or even a genetic longing for when we lived outdoors.
TMM: Like go back to our roots?
EH: Maybe. That’s total speculation. Anyway, I liked Kenyon a lot. That’s where I learned how to read and write songs.
TMM: You studied English at Kenyon. When did writing and analyzing literature turn into creating your own songs?
EH: I was writing songs before I went to college, but I think I started getting good at it pretty much my freshman year, at a certain point. I started focusing on it, in a deep way. It kind of resolved the fact that I wanted this, and I wanted it badly. I think there is something about traveling away from home and living somewhere else in a new community where there’s like meeting other people and being a part of that community and still feeling like I have something special, or I have a gift to say the way things feel for me or the way they are. In my town, there were a lot of songwriters growing up. It was exciting to be a part of that conversation. And going to Kenyon and feeling like I was a part of the conversation there, and having legitimately something to offer, made me feel like, “Oh, alright. If I can do it here, I can do it anywhere.”
TMM: Do you want Pinegrove to have any sort of socio-political influence? And if so, do you hope that it’s explicit or somewhat implicit through the music?
EH: I consider Pinegrove a Humanist project and it’s insane to me that that is politicized, but the fact is it just is. But this is about my experiences and I’ve tried to identify maybe failures of love and try to resolve it for myself for the next time. This is really how I resolve emotional friction, for myself. And I do try to write from the perspective of someone who has already solved the problem and I offer a solution to myself as a way to comfort myself. I think that that has been able to apply to other people’s lives and that is really wonderful to me. In that way, as I am talking about very particular sorts of human interaction, which we do call extremely local politics, I think that there is the implicit message that if we are trying to treat people that we know and love as well as we can, then we should also be treating the people that we don’t know as well as we can. If we expand that even one iota, that points towards a larger community than just ourselves. So think our music does beg the question of, “How can we be more kind to people in our community and outside of our community?”
TMM: Do you believe that Pinegrove fits into a genre or are you adversed to labeling the project? I have heard “alt-country” thrown around, along with “indie,” would you agree with that?
EH: Fundamentally, we make music for ourselves. We make music that sounds good to us and we listen to a lot of bands that are alt-country or very twangy, or country rock, or straight up country or folk country. I love Gillian Welch, she’s one of my favorites of all time. We consider ourselves post-country, which I think, a little bit, winks at anyone who’s kind of like a genre head, that’s a very nerd-punk thing. I think maybe it carries that somewhat. It carries it in its shadow. Or like, post-modernism. Any academic or semi-academic approach… post-country I feel like it does kind of fit, actually. Well yeah, indie rock, I suppose indie rock, or also guitar rock or melodic rock…mostly just G, C, D… cowboy chords, as they call ‘em.
TMM: Those are the only three chords I know.
EH: Maybe you’re a cowboy.
TMM: I probably am.
EH: As far as genres, we don’t really think about it much, to be honest…Oh, another one we like is Language Arts rock.
TMM: Language Arts rock? I’ve never heard of that.
EH: Oh, well, I made it up.
TMM: If one part of your body could be robotic, which part would it be and why?
EH: Maybe a robotic sternum that could be a compass and a laser beam to zap up any waste or trash I have and like reconvert it into bodily energy.
TMM: Wow. You had that. You just knew.
EH: [LAUGHS] I guess I did. It’s a sternum with a laser beam to recapitulate trash that I produce.
TMM: Why the ode to Toast and do you have anymore food related songs?
EH: I do actually, yeah. [LAUGHS] The toast song was written when I was knee deep in these new songs and I felt kinda stuck, and I felt like they were emotionally so heavy and I kind of didn’t wanna work on them because it was just, bummer. So I wanted to write a song to remind myself that a. I could write a song quickly and b. kind of just cheer myself up. So I wrote that song in one day, and it felt great. And at the end of the day I recorded it and that’s YouTube version.
TMM: Is there anything you want to leave me with? I say “tidbit” a lot and I always get made fun of, but I like “tidbit” better than “fun fact.”
EH: I’m sort of thinking of this as a signature, almost. This is a “Sincerely, Evan” or something like that. I had a professor who in college would sign “Yours in the Common Pursuit” and I have a friend now, we took that class together, so whenever we exchange “what’s ups” we’ll sign it that way. I like that a lot, it’s a good way of expressing communion and community, and we’re in this together. So, as I sign off, I will say, “Yours in the Common Pursuit, Evan Stephens Hall, March 30th, 2017.”