It’s Not Journalism, It’s Art: A Conversation with Pinegrove’s Evan Hall

by Joel Greatbatch


With their origins in Montclair, New Jersey, Pinegrove are a band that is quickly growing in both critical and public acclaim, which was clear with their great crowd turnout on July 9th at The Sidewinder. Earlier in the afternoon Joel Greatbatch spoke with lead singer and guitarist Evan Hall inside an old caravan near the Sidewinder outdoor stage. He had just woken up from a nap which shows how tiring touring can be, but he was still wide awake for the words he exchanged.

Joel Greatbatch for Ovrld: When did you guys first start playing together?

EH: We’ve been playing together for a long time. I’ve known drummer Zach [Levine] since we were kids and we’ve played together in various formations since we were about 11 and were officially in a band together from 6th grade onwards. Zach’s brother Nick was involved as early as 2008, and I met Nandi [Plunkett, also of Half Waif, who opened this show] in college and everyone else are friends from Montclair. So we’ve all known each other for a long time.

Doing a bit of research on your guys I came across a Reddit page called Indieheads in which you promised to answer any questions that were posted. Did this keep you busy?

EH: I enjoyed it but I think I ended up answering questions for about 2 to 3 hours just on my laptop. But I scheduled time for it in my day and I really enjoyed it as some questions were from people who really wanted to know some stuff and I had some information to let them know about. There were some people who asked questions that I had answers to and I feel really privileged to be able to let people know what I’ve learned.

Do you feel like you’ve made it with your band listed an Wikipedia?

EH: Oh yeah that did feel like a milestone to us! Even though the article is a little bit inaccurate [laughs]

Do you remember your first gig as Pinegrove?

EH: I started playing these songs by myself in college and when I was home in Montclair I started playing as a duo with Nandi in senior year of college. The first Pinegrove concert that was anything like this lineup happened pretty much directly after we graduated. June of 2011. We’ve gone through a few different iterations and we’ve kind of circled back from what we started out with. The first lineup was Zach, Adon [Carlo] on bass, Nandi on keys and vocals, myself and Nick on guitar and vocals. But now on tour Sam [Skinner] is playing guitar for Nick, and there’s Josh [Marre] who is playing slide guitar and singing. So that’s six of us.

I can hear bits of the slide guitar on the album coming through..

EH: Yeah, the album was recorded without performing live in mind really, we just wanted to make a good album and now we’ve finally been able to get a lineup together. Though not everyone played on the album, in fact it was Zach and Nick’s dad that played the lap steel on the album.

I read an interview you did with MTV back in March in which it revealed how detailed you can get when rehearsing songs. Are you still refining your songs on tour?

EH: Absolutely. We usually will kinda debrief but recently it hasn’t been quite so detailed, it’s like “that was good, let’s keep going.” But definitely before each tour we rearrange everything. We assess all the songs by verse and chorus, on a section by section basis. We’ve arranged it for the stage. As I said we weren’t really recording the album with playing it live in mind, we wanted to make an album and that is a different format. It’s a little bit of a different project to rearrange with that in mind. Dynamic, more streamlined, less dense live.

With just eight tracks on the album was there a deliberate artistic reason for keeping it short?

EH: Our strategy was basically to put only the songs that we recorded that were good on it. We probably started with about 12 and we narrowed it down. And I’m really happy with the length and the sequence of it. I think it’s pretty dense lyrically. So having such a short track sequence allows each of them to breathe conceptually and the ways that they interact are a little more obvious because it’s not so long. It’s an easier bite to eat.

You said you originally had 12 songs for the album, so what were the reasons those four didn’t make it?

EH: I think it just came down to they weren’t as good. The way we recorded these songs were not arranged at all when we started recording them. I learned them with Zach where I had written them, and I had then taught them to Zach and we arranged them together and figured out dynamically how we wanted to treat each song. Good tempos and stuff like that. So we built it from the ground up and some of the songs didn’t up translating in the way we expected them to. But I think that’s an important tool for an artist, to be able to assess your work honestly and be able to see what works and what doesn’t.

Is there an inspiration for your vocal style? Is there any artist you think of when you’re singing?

EH: I have vocalists I definitely admire, but I think when it comes to it I’m just trying to sing as honestly as possible. I’m basically trying to serve the song the best I can and I am the vessel for that song. I love Gillian Welch, the way she and David Rollins sing together I think really informs what I do with Nandi and how we treat our vocals. I love Kurt Cobain’s voice, the way he does consonants and drawls them, angular. Especially on In Utero, I love how he sings on that record.

For the first album track, “Old Friends,” were the lyrics deeply personal or are you a character telling a story?

EH: It’s fiction, but it is deeply informed by my own experience. The whole question of fiction and non-fiction has a little bit mystified me because of course it’s not an exact reporting of what happened. I’m selecting the important parts, I’m leaving out the boring parts that contradict my message. I’m making selections throughout the whole thing based on what I want to say and I’m leaving out the stuff that doesn’t support that message. So yeah, most of it is from experience but it’s reported in a highly selective way, so I can’t really say in good confidence that it’s non-fiction. It’s not journalism, it’s art. The voice that sings in my songs is a slightly better version of myself. It’s the one where it acknowledges mistakes and learns from them instead of my own dumb ass who doesn’t learn from mistakes. I get to selectively perform the parts of myself which are worth performing. It’s a complicated question but I think that one of the strengths of this project is its vulnerability and its accessibility on an emotional scale and that’s kind of what we’re going for.

Were the songs on the album written just before the album was recorded or have some been knocking around a while?

EH: Yeah, for kind of a long time. I was writing these songs from about 2012 to 2014.

I saw you were recently included in Pitchfork’s “Over looked albums” 2016 list, which I’m sure is an honor. But is the opinion of those such as Pitchfork and other music critics at the back of your mind when releasing your music?

EH: I try to write to my own taste which is very particular and meticulous and kinda snobby. I like stuff from all different genres, and good music, but my standards for my own writing need to satisfy myself which is usually a higher standard than anyone else. I do sometimes think a little bit of what other people will think of it. Is there a weakness that someone could identify in this and if there is then consider why that is and consider if there is any other solution for that part of the puzzle. But more than anything I think of myself listening to it and is this going to satisfy me. And my bandmates.

The word “emotional” pops a bit in the album reviews I’ve read, was it to be expected and are you ok with it?

EH: Oh, definitely. I think feelings are mainly what I’m investigating on this album, so that’s no surprise to me, I welcome that.

What have you got planned for the rest of the year?

EH: We are going to finish this tour and then I have for some reason booked a solo tour for myself down to Atlanta and back during August. Then we’re gonna hang out for a couple of weeks and probably work on new songs. I have a bunch of new songs I want to try arrange with Pinegrove, and in September and October we’re going to Europe for 6 weeks. And after that we have some other plans that are not announced yet so unfortunately I can’t talk about it. But we’re gonna be touring probably until we die. Or until touring kills us.

Joel Greatbatch is a Kiwi, but please don’t eat him.