More Than A Feeling: Pine Barons Find Direction and a Home

Featured image via Caitlin McCann

It’s no secret that Philadelphia’s music scene has been steadily growing and evolving over the last few years. Thanks to it’s proximity to major music markets in the Northeast, it’s affordable cost of living, and accommodating music community, Philly has become a home to many of the region’s rising talent. South Jersey natives, Pine Barons, are among a number of new bands that made Philadelphia their home. Since the release of their self-titled debut LP in March 2013, Pine Barons’  frontman Keith Abrams, Collin Smith (Drums), Shane Hower (Bass), Brad Pulley (Lead Guitar), and Alex Beebe (Keys) have made a name for themselves with their rousing Psychedelic Blues-Rock and live performances. They’ve shared the stage with notable acts, Brick + Mortar and The Front Bottoms, embarked on a massive US tour opening for The Districts, earned the distinction of appearing on the world-famous Daytrotter Sessions, and played WXPN’s Xponential Festival last year. I recently sat down with Abrams, Hower, and Smith near their home in Fishtown to talk about discovering the band’s next step, their friendship with The Districts, and what to expect on their new LP.

ROP: One of the things I was really interested in hearing was how you guys started out. You guys are from South Jersey, correct?

Keith Abrams: Me and Collin have been playing together since we were in 5th grade in different bands. Brad, Shane, Alex and I all went  to the same high school but didn’t know each other until after I graduated. We passed each other in high school and said “nice shirt” to each other if it was like a movie or band shirt or something like that. Then we started a band together but that fell apart. After that, Collin and Brad decided to start something based around the songs I had written before. My brother was the bassist, then we had another bassist before we got Shane. We just recruited Alex Beebe. I used to play guitar, auxiliary percussion and piano and we kinda passed that on to him to make a fuller sound.

ROP: Was that a creative decision to alleviate the pressure on you as a songwriter?

KA: No, more just live.

ROP: So it came very naturally?

KA: Yup

ROP: One question I wanted to ask was, since you are all from South Jersey, do you believe in a Central Jersey?  

Shane Hower: A central Jersey? Umm.. sure, why not?

KA: Yeah.

Collin Smith: I don’t. I think it’s north and south. If you go up north, it’s just a different breed of human up there, it’s weird.

SH: New Jersey’s interesting.

KA: I always thought it was split in half too.

ROP: Do you guys feel like you’re more acquainted with the Philly scene now compared to when you guys started?

KA: Yeah, it’s become more of a base, and we feel more connected to the scene.

Collin Smith: Yeah, the Philly music scene has changed a lot over the past 10 years or so, too. There are a lot more venues for sure and a lot of different house venues. There are a lot more DIY shows, which is awesome, and a lot more bands are definitely migrating over to the city too which is really cool. It’s a lot more community based which is really nice to be a part of.

ROP: Is there one venue that best suits your sound or that you enjoy playing at the most?

KA: It’s nice to have a good sound guy cause there’s a lot of stuff going on. Either that or no sound guy at all. I don’t know, I like playing everywhere.

CS: We haven’t played PhilaMOCA yet, it’d be really cool to get in there. That space, the way they mix up the different forms of art is really comfortable, it feels good playing in an environment like that. Especially since it feels like a borderline between DIY and a cool venue, so it’s nice cause you’re really running the show yourself but at the same time the way the room is and the way the environment is.. It feels different.

ROP: Since you guys first started, do you feel like there’s been a progression in how you guys function as a band creatively?

KA: Yeah, I think so. I think we’ve developed the sound over time. There really wasn’t any sort direction at first and I feel like we’ve sort of found that.

ROP: What’s something (creatively) that you guys have been gravitating towards recently?

CS: Try out all different options. If there’s an idea that’s brought to the table, it’s always worth it to give it a shot even if it’s not going to work out. That’s something I think we’ve learned over the past couple years.

SH: I think also finding the importance of silence, rather than too much stuff. Sometimes taking something out completely does a lot more to a  part than just throwing a bunch of shit on top.

ROP: That’s one thing I really noticed about “Clowns.” It sounded like you were gravitating more towards dynamics

KA: Yeah that’s definitely something that we’ve been gravitating towards.

ROP: What’s been driving that?

CS: Definitely experience. We’ve been a loud band since the start and I guess we want to hone in on everything as a whole.

ROP: The lyrics are very descriptive, is that something that’s taken you a while Keith? Or does it just come naturally?

KA: It kind of comes naturally, but I think I’ve developed that sort of style over time being influenced by different writers and poets stuff, ya know?

ROP: Does it help getting input from the other guys sometimes?

KA: Yeah, sometimes. There’s a couple songs where I’ll want to collaborate with Brad on the lyrics.

ROP: Is that a more recent development?

KA: Yeah, a more recent development. There’s a few instances where that’s the case. There are a few songs that Brad had written for the album as well.

ROP: So when did you guys find the time to record the new record?

KA: We pretty much had all the songs written before we went on tour.

CS: We started recording before tour

KA: Yeah, or we at least did all the pre-production before tour and we were playing a lot of the new songs on tour and have been for the last two years. We’re excited to have people listen to them on their own and not just hearing them when they see us.

ROP: Do you think that’s impacted the way the songs have developed?

KA: Yeah, that wasn’t the purpose, it was just us playing new songs and the old ones feeling stale in a way, but yeah that was definitely a good thing.

ROP: So you guys have set up your own studio in your home here in Philly, has that been a good thing?

KA: Yeah, it’s made it a lot easier because we don’t have to set up every time. We used to have to travel to New Jersey to practice. Poor Collin still had to travel but it’s not like 5 of us traveling every time.

ROP: How is this new record different from your last one?

SH: Lotta stuff

KA: I think we’ve become a different band over time, yah know?

ROP: In what way?

KA: I don’t know *laughs*. It’s hard to say. It’s an eclectic album for sure. Through the process of recording this album, we found our sound.

CS: Also too, the last album was self-recorded so this is the first time we’ve worked with a producer and someone engineering everything so it’s definitely been a learning experience.

ROP: Who produced it?

KA: Kyle Pulley

SH: It’s Brad’s brother

ROP: What was his role?

SH: It was good to have him cause he really focused on trimming a lot of the fat, like streamlining the ideas and getting to the point, I suppose.

CS: Plus it’s also different when someone’s not involved in the songs but they’re hearing them from that initial outside perspective, their words can mean a lot. And things can go in a really cool direction when someone from the outside offers new ideas.

ROP: What are some of your bigger influences?

KA: Queen was my first influence when I was little, and throughout my middle school years I was into pop punk. In high school I got into songwriters and stuff like Bob Dylan, and recently I’ve been into Tame Impala, they’re awesome, Tom Waits, Animal Collective… It’s all over the place. I’ve been into Leonard Cohen a lot recently. I think we’re getting away from a bit of the more folky stuff.

ROP: Your music and lyrics really back each other up. One is constantly reinforced or represented within the other. 

SH: When I first sit down to write bass parts, I really like to think about the melody and particular words to get that call and response feel sometimes.

ROP: Were there any issues that you guys had with recording the new album?

KA: There was one song in particular that was older, and I didn’t like it. Then we came up with all new guitar parts and then we liked it again.

ROP: Everything seems to be pretty natural you guys with these songs.

KA: Yeah, pretty much. I think the more we play the songs, the more they morph into what we want them to be at the time.

ROP: Do you think your creative process is set then?

KA: I don’t really know.

SH: I feel like with anything there isn’t a pre-determination of how it’s going to happen. Things just sort of happen.

KA: I think that just kinda comes naturally.

CS: It’s something like Andrew Bird said.. A song is what it is for a certain time.. It’s an ever expanding thing, and that’s the beauty of it and that’s the beauty of art. Things are never finished.

ROP: Do you guys place a lot of importance on your tones that you use?

KA: I spend a lot of time trying to get the right tone for a certain part. The tones on the first record probably sound pretty different now than what’s on the new one.

ROP: Do you guys feel like you’re constantly evolving?

KA: I think we’re kind of ever changing.

SH: I hope that’s the case *Laughs*.

ROP: How was touring with the Districts?

KA: It was awesome.

SH: We did our first tour with them before they had a big following ,so we were both playing for no one at the time, but the bigger one was great cause we actually had people to play for in different cities.

ROP: Favorite memories?

KA: There are a lot of stories haha, we’re good friends. One that comes to mind was at the end of the first tour, we tried to camp on the beach and we went to swim in the water. When we got out we planned on sleeping on the beach but we were all itchy. Then we shined our light on our skin and there were all these little bugs on us so we tried to pool hop.

SH: It was in North Carolina. We decided to drive all the way back to Jersey at four in the morning.

CS: We all locked arms and started chanting in this hotel complex. It was a silly night.

KA: We really bonded with them, we didn’t really even know them before hand but we all ended up being really great friends.

ROP: How did you first meet each other?

CS: In an old band I played with those guys and I kept in touch with Robbie. I told him about Pine Barons and he asked us to play a show at his girlfriend’s old house. From there we all met each other. I started talking to Braden about booking a tour and we started getting things going. Those guys are awesome. The first time I saw them was at the Moose Lodge in Lancaster and they were awesome. Their recorded music was so different from their live show. They totally kicked our ass *laughs* and it was great. They’re also the most humble, sweet dudes on top of that. It was really easy to become friends with them.

KA: I think they definitely became an influence on us, and I think we became an influence on them because we became so close.

ROP: I remember the Chicago show was great for you guys.

SH: Yeah, that show was awesome, it was at Lincoln Hall,  the sound in there is so good.

CS: It was really cool because we got to see a show there the night before, it was awesome.

KA: Timber Timbre played.. Was so cool. Was demonist and sexy.

CS: Sooooo sexy. That voice with that lighting… That was baby making music.

SH: Everyone was bumpin and grindin.

ROP: Collin, your drums stood out to me. What do you focus on bring to the sound with your parts?

CS: I remember when I first started a band I loved cymbals, but now I focus on using it as an actual instrument instead of just creating noise. I think live it’s much easier to bring about dynamics. It can create a mood, you really feel that.

ROP: Is it hard to translate your songs live?

CS: I think it’s two different spectrums, we have everything on the record live, but we just let it happen without trying. We really like transitions a lot, they keep the energy going.

KA: We usually practice one set for a while before we play it live, then we play that set continuously for a while.

CS: Changing it up feels good.

ROP: Do you guys like doing more acoustic shows like you did for SoFar Sounds?

KA: We’ve had fun doing some stripped down stuff cause we’ve put some time into it, making new ways to play the songs in a quieter setting. We’ve had fun doing that. but can’t always do it because it does take time.

SH: I think some songs react well to the stripped down setting, while others take us a long time to make a stripped down version.

ROP: What was it like playing your recent show with Brick + Mortar and the Front Bottoms?

KA: There were a lot of people.

SH: It was awesome.

CS: Brick + Mortar were interesting. I was thinking more of a Rock n’ Roll band but they were definitely party boys and they were hyping it up.

SH: Had interpretive dancers.

CS: I’d love to have a drink with those guys.

ROP: Do you guys see yourselves bringing theatrical elements into your set?

KA: Definitely, when we have money *Laughs*.

CS: It’d be great to have dancers.

SH: A rock musical *Laughs*.

ROP: What have the responses been like recently?

KA: We got a really good response at the Front Bottoms show.

CS: Some of those people came to see us at the Spruce Street Harbor Show.

KA: Things have been pretty positive.

CS: I’d love if there was a yelp for bands and stuff. “One star. Fuck these guys.” *laughs*

KA: Just to add to that a little, since we’ve added a fifth member, it’s really filled out our sound and we’ve gotten a good reaction from that.

ROP: Where do you guys value criticism and feedback the most?

SH: From friends and stuff like that.

KA: From anyone really.

CS: I think it’s cool to hear different standpoints from musicians and showgoers cause it’s nice to get feedback from both. It’s not about trying to please but how to make our shows better.  

ROP: What are the things you guys are really excited for in the future?

CS: Tour.

SH: Touring. Getting the next one going.

KA: Touring. We don’t have a tour booked yet because we want to release the album first.

Don’t miss Pine Barons perform Ortlieb’s alongside Tangiers and Harpooner on Thursday, July 28th! Click here to buy your tickets now!

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