Pinkerton Raid will be at the State Street Pub, March 18
In support of their latest album, Tolerance Ends, Love Begins, Durham, North Carolina’s Pinkerton Raid returns to Indianapolis to perform with Jim Jim Swim Swim and Indy’s Antenna Man. The album marks their third release chock filled with the glowing embers of powerful harmonies and a sincere intermingling between pop and rock.
A community of musicians that work together to make up the heart and soul of these enriched songs, it takes one listen to feel the heartwarming effects from what this band does.
I corresponded with band leader Jesse James DeConto to talk more about the band, the new album and their latest tour.
Pinkerton Raid – “The King’s Last Stand”
Let’s start with the obvious. There are a lot of members in this band. Yet the group is very versatile. What is the construct and philosophy of the group and how does that translate to recording and touring?
We’re a community of family & friends. We play together in a variety of settings and line-ups. This is my songwriting project. My sister Katie has been with me in The Pinkerton Raid since the winter of 2010-11. (We were in a different band together before that). Our brother Steven has been with us since the spring of 2012. We developed the arrangements for this new album working as a trio to get ready for a tour two springs ago with our friends Lowland Hum. Because we were playing without a full drum kit or electric guitars, we ended up creating a lot more hard stops and starts in these songs, whereas in the past we had simply used more instrumental layering to create the dynamics we wanted. Perhaps counter-intuitively, the percussive feel we created as a trio only made me want to build out those arrangements with an even bigger band than we’d had before, while preserving the empty space we’d built into the songs.
All this to say, there’s an ebb and flow to our line-up as it responds to what we’re creating musically and who happens to be available during any given stretch of time. I think we all understand how streaming services like Spotify and Pandora are drying up artists’ revenue, and the abundance of entertainment options online are keeping people away from live music, so it’s hard for us to expect 8, 10, 12 people to dedicate themselves to my music when they’ve got bills to pay. We all do it because we love it, and when our other obligations call, we have to respond. So I just feel fortunate that all these great musicians are willing to invest their time in my songs, and we have to be flexible enough to react as the line-up can change from gig to gig. Steven and I, in particular, have to float among guitars and bass parts, and he’ll cover drums if that’s what we need. If we have a full enough line-up, I’ll play banjo and someone else can cover bass or guitars.
For our Midwestern tour here in March, we’ve shrunk from the 10-piece band that tracked the album a year ago to a 5-piece band that can travel in one big SUV. We’ll miss the horns, but I’m remarkably happy with how the arrangements are playing out. It actually gives us all a little more space to be playful and keep the songs fresh for our own playing experience. I don’t know if you can even call two guitars, bass and drums a “stripped down” line-up, but it definitely lets the vocals emerge to the front and center, which is pretty easy to do in the studio but can be difficult on stage with three or four guitar amps blaring. At the end of the day, it’s all about conveying the stories and the emotions of the songs, and in some ways that’s easier to do with this smaller lineup.
How does the city of Durham, North Carolina influence the band and, equally, how does the band influence the city?
I don’t have much to compare it to, having lived here for the past 12-13 years, but Durham seems to be an especially creative place where people are taking risks. There’s a high-tech start-up culture, innovative food and a great music scene. We get a lot of encouragement to pursue our art, whether directly or just by watching other creative people as they create.
Katie is right in the middle of all this. Over the past several years, she and some partners have developed The Mothership, which combines co-working, event and meeting spaces with a retail shop for North Carolina-made arts, crafts, clothing and house wares. Katie is literally nurturing Durham’s creative culture.
I also lead a community called Durham County Beer & Hymns, which invites musicians and non-musicians to play and sing together in one of Durham’s most hospitable, community-oriented spaces, Fullsteam Brewery. Our regular drummer Scott McFarlane, bass player Jon Depue and saxophonist Tony Sali all play for this sing-along series. I don’t know that any of us uses the language of “influencing the city,” but we surround ourselves with friends who are taking risks in their lives and vocations to try and create beauty and make the world a better place, and the simple reality of friendship encourages all of us to keep at it, despite the ways that market-capitalism discourages creativity.
Pinkerton Raid – “A Beautiful World
Tell me more about Tolerance Ends, Love Begins and how this album differs from A Beautiful World and the self-titled?
Thematically, this record is Side B of A Beautiful World. That second record was the story of young love turning to doubt. This record is despair turning to hope.
In terms of musical execution, I think there’s just a natural development as you keep discerning strengths and weaknesses. Every record should be better than the last, and I think that’s true for us.
This is the first album we’ve ever tracked live. Planning for that forced us to tighten the screws on the arrangements for several months before we went into the studio. I think the results are better for it, as we could work out kinks before pressing the red button. We knew exactly what the songs sounded like before we started recording, whereas on our past records we left more room for creativity in the studio, but the ideas weren’t as well-tested over time.
This album also features brass much more prominently than A Beautiful World. I get a lot of joy out of singing with brass in the band. It just lends a kind of buoyancy that makes me smile.
This is the first album you pressed to vinyl? Why that decision now?
Really, it’s because our Kickstarter backers asked for it. If you’re going to make a physical product in 2017, vinyl seems like the right one. With iTunes and mp3s, nobody really needs to buy another CD. If they’re going to buy a physical copy, they’ve got to have a special, emotional kind of connection to it, and vinyl offers that in ways other formats can’t. Listening on vinyl just offers a fuller, more tactile and social experience than other media.
We’ve found that most of our sales come from our merch table at live shows, and you’ve got to have something tangible to sell. But vinyl is a massive investment – you can’t really get in for much less than $1,000, and the manufacturers give such a price break as you buy more that it really didn’t make sense to spend $1,000 on 50 copies when you could buy 300 for about $1,800. On the other hand, we weren’t going to do it just in the hope that people would buy it. We made vinyl an incentive on our Kickstarter but priced it starting at $100 to see if people would share the financial risk with us. We really couldn’t afford to spend almost $2,000 “just in case” people bought it. Once we had raised several hundred dollars from people pre-ordering the record on vinyl, it started to make sense.
It’s still going to be hard to recover all the money we put into making the vinyl, but I get a lot of satisfaction from being able to offer it. It’s the only way I personally buy music nowadays, and there are a lot of us like that.
You also use the drawings of Adam Neubauer with this release. Can you tell me how you found him and why his work represents the visual element of this release?
Adam is a friend and a drummer from Washington D.C. We’ve played with his bands The Beanstalk Library, Cowards Choir and Lighting Fires over the past few years. Adam draws in a style that seems at once “Victorian” and “comic-book.” Some of the themes in our songs, our album title and our vision for the cover were pretty dark, and I thought Adam’s art could add a touch of whimsy. The music itself is pretty fun, even if the lyrics can be heavy, and Adam’s approach was able to strike that balance.
Pinkerton Raid – “Deeper Than Skin”
How has the tour gone thus far?
It’s been great! We’ve gotten to play with some really great bands and fun crowds all over North Carolina and Virginia, and we can’t wait to get back to the Midwest this week.
You will be stopping at the State Street Pub on March 18. Where all in Indianapolis have you performed? Any expectations?
Yes! We’ve played at Melody Inn twice in the past, and Indianapolis is always a good time. Our friend James Furness is going to open the show under the name Gill. We met him about five years ago when he lived briefly in Durham and played a few shows with us as our drummer. We try to play with him whenever we come back through Indy, and he always brings out a fun crowd. We haven’t met the guys in Antenna Man yet, but their music sounds awesome, so I can’t wait for that night.
Two years ago, we did a songwriting residency with City Gallery there in Indy. The idea was to write a song about the city, and I ended up writing about Elvis’s last concert that happened there and the speech that Bobby Kennedy gave on the night of MLK’s assassination. The song is called “The King’s Last Stand.” On another tour through Indiana, I started writing a song about the big wind turbines along Interstate 65. It’s called “Windmills in the Fog.” I’m looking forward to playing those songs in the region where they came from.
What can we expect from a Pinkerton Raid show?
Well, you’ve already noted the versatility. We try to play to serve each song in its own right. We always try to emphasize our vocal harmonies, and that seems to be what our fans respond to. Ultimately, we’re just trying to have fun playing music and telling stories and inviting the crowd into experiences where we’ve felt real human emotions.
What does the band have planned for the rest of 2017?
We’ll be playing a few festivals here in North Carolina and maybe beyond, with some benefit shows and regional club gigs along the way, and we’re working on songs for the fourth record!