Interview: Pinegrove's Evan Stephens Hall talks Kenyon College, primary colors, and getting tired on the road

Pinegrove opens for Kevin Devine on Saturday.

If you’ve ever partied alone, inside the confines of your own mind, then Pinegrove might be for you. In the spring, the Montclair, New Jersey band released a sophomore album, Cardinal, that’s quietly become an easy pick for the top of critics’ year-end-lists. The accolades comes at the hands of the LP’s eight introspective, meticulously arranged tunes which can, on a dime, go from quiet, almost lonely laments on life in the suburbs to shouted, jangly odes to breaking away.

All of the lyrics are carefully worded by frontman Evan Stephens Hall, who’s at the wheel of the songs’ messages and sound. To see it come alive on stage is a treat, and on Saturday Pinegrove play support for Kevin Devine as part of a bill that includes two more of America’s best songwriters, Julien Baker and Kiley Lotz. Read excerpts from CL’s short Q&A with Hall below.

Get more information on the show via local.cltampa.com. Listen to Cardinal at the bottom of this post.

Let’s talk about “narrativizing” from an artist’s standpoint, how can music journalists do a better job of listening and getting the quote right after asking the questions?

I'm always most excited answering specific questions about my work & the story it tells, but I also acknowledge that the very reason someone might want to read an interview is to get a peek at something outside the frame.The way an artist's work corresponds to them as a human is complicated…I think music journalism at its best introduces listeners to new music & new stories, sometimes though it's best to let the songs speak for themselves.

Who’s in your touring band lineup these days?

Zack Levine on drums & singin’; Nandi Rose Plunkett on singin’, keyboard, percussion; Adan Carlo on bass guitar; Josh Marre on guitar & slide guitar & singin’, Sam Skinner on guitar.

You talk about wanting to “point outwards” in songwriting. What does that mean?

I think making music accessible is important if you have a message you want to share. Pointing outwards means aiming to write lyrics & melodies that speak openly.

You are a storyteller in your songs. What storytellers in your life have inspired you?

I've learned a lot from a lot of people making music or writing fiction right now. Stephen Steinbrink & Ben Lerner helped show me the narrow balance between a casual and an academic voice. Greta Kline (Frankie Cosmos) & Phil Elverum (Mount Eerie) taught me how powerful the accumulation of repeated images and characters can be. I've also been really moved recently by Hannah Read (Lomelda)'s lyrics.

What has the road taught you that you may not have ever realized without it?

I don’t think it's an exaggeration to say that meeting people on the road and experiencing their generosity has helped confirm for me the spirit of humanity. People are all so different, similar and beautiful.

What themes are in your latest batch of songs?

I tend to write about the things I'm thinking about and that tends to be orbiting around just a few ideas. I also have just these general categories that I'm infinitely enchanted by: primary colors, simple geometry, communication, expressions of vulnerability/honesty, loneliness, longing, but those aren't just interests of mine as a songwriter… they say write what you know, so.

What was it specifically about Kenyon College that taught you how to be a songwriter?

I think the two main things that were important about me developing as a songwriter at Kenyon were the fact that I was learning how to read at the same time and that I had lots of land to walk around and be alone on. I'd go on these long walks where the things I was reading or melody that I was thinking about would all kinda jumble together in these fun puzzles, then eventually songs would somehow emerge, songs that made me feel good! So, I was compelled to keep doing it.

You have a fear about re-writing the “same song” as another band, but aren’t you just polishing your craft along the way? It’s not like you have to release every song you write.

I'm not positive where I said this, but I'm not sure i still agree! I do have a particular impatience for melodies of my own that i feel like I’m repeating; but with other people's songs I kinda don't worry as much about that any more. I know it'll come out sounding basically like Pinegrove, I'm a bad impressionist.

You mentioned not wanting to take yourself so seriously in new songs (from a writer’s perspective). How’s that working out?

Truthfully I've not had a ton of time to write lately since we've been doing so many shows, but I will say that I have a number of songs about food in the oven.

How different do you think your daily/weekly moods are compared to non-touring, non musician type people? How do you manage your emotions? How do you wrangle them into songs?

Part of my emotional process is absolutely tied up with songwriting. That's the best way I know for working through something. Sometimes when I can't write for one reason or another—maybe I don't have time enough to or just writer's block or something — I usually start to feel bad. But yeah, it's hard for me to compare what I do to what anyone else is doing...I will say that touring is super hard work and it is very intense to do it for this long.

Are you still stubborn like when you were a kid?

Yes

Pinegrove opens for Kevin Devine along with Petal and Julien Baker on Saturday, November 5 at Orpheum in Ybor City. More information on the show is available at local.cltampa.com.

About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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