Music Without Borders: The Pine Hearts
Recipe to be cheerful. Take one part Blackberry Bushes, add one part Oly Mt. Boys, mix in one part Tilted Stilts, let ‘em cook together for six months and you have The Pine Hearts.
For half a year now Olympians Lob Strilla on vocals and banjo from the Tilted Stilts, Joe Capoccia formerly of the Black Berry Bushes on vocals and guitar and Derek McSwain, also of the Oly Mountain Boys, on mandolin and harmony vocals have been winning the hearts of PNWers with exuberant picking and singing in an acoustic jamgrass style.
I first heard them last summer at the Blue Heron’s anniversary Grange party and was blown away by their high energy and the way the years they’ve all put in singing and picking in various styles shows up in their choice of melodies and tight harmonies.
On their debut record ‘Distant Lights’, their songs all feature tight high-energy playing, but with an acousticness and a bluegrass subtexture that means that it’s also… kind of …hmmm, what’s the word that’s opposite of irritating?
‘Distant Lights’ was recorded by Bob Schwenkler of Bicycle and K records in his impressive bedroom in five days (including the mixing) in exchange for Joe installing a living room skylight.
Wanting to get some insight in the record from the band I invited them over to spill the beans and shoot the breeze.
“I’ve always been a big fan of Joe’s,” remembers Lob, who in the spring of 2012 had saved up some money to afford him time to get an acoustic music project together. Hearing that Joe had just left the Black Berry Bushes, Lob sent Joe a fateful message.
“I got a random text one day,” says Joe. “I was at Blockbuster video actually… returning some movies, and Lob sent me a text that said, ‘Hey, if you ever want to do a music project together, let me know.’”
Joe was into it, and that stoked Lob, who thought, “Yes! We need another member and I was like, you know, Derek McSwain is a hella committed musician and he’s hella fun to hang out with, and he could be perfect, and we jammed and it happened really fast… everything happened really fast.”
Basically, the band got together to play some gigs that were booked before they had come into existence. And after playing 15 or so gigs with uncomfortable names, they got serious. They rejected some doozeys like Unicorn on the Cob, or their religious tribute to Guns and Roses, Nuns and Moses. Wisely they settled on Pine Hearts and were gladdened to find no one had their name or their web address.
They’ve just returned from a snowy tour through Montana and sing the praises of hot springs, venison and ironed clothes on hangers. “Montana takes very good care of their musicians…people are very warm and very giving,” says Derek.
The record’s eleven songs are mixed between slower numbers like “Alright Fine,” melodramatic ones like “Heartache or the Whiskey,” and upbeat songs like “Last Man Standing,” which Lob tells me is about “hanging out with your friends and making it last and keeping your friends first. The last line “A lonely man is the last man standing.” He adds, “You don’t wanna be by yourself.”
Joe tells me that his song “We’re On Our Own” is from his days with the Pasties and concerns that band, a big house in Bellingham with a widow’s walk, a party, a chase and… the police.
Not a duff track here, but my favorite track is the first, Joe’s composition, “Don’t Let the Stars Bring you Down” with it’s great melody, hooky chorus, and almost pop music feel.
They’re still transitioning, but already their uniqueness is established with strong songwriting and singing, and when that’s backed by their superb picking, well, they soar. I expect to hear more amazing music from them in the future. Speaking of which…
Next week they are off visiting friends on Orcas Island, where in exchange for the band playing a couple events they’ll be loaned the use of a house to record a new album. “We have books and books of songs, we could record five albums,” Lob says.
In the final analysis, these guys wail on “Distant Lights”, but it’s a sweet wail like a late summer afternoon breeze coming off a field of fresh mown hay wafting over the apple pie cooling on the window sill.
That’s how they roll.