The Kids Are All Right

The Pinehurst Kids overcome lineup shuffles and the Grim Reaper with a stellar sophomore effort

"It's kind of like God let us come back," muses drummer Marnie Martin, "but only if we played together and really kicked ass!"

Martin is posing a metaphysical theory that explains how the four current members of Portland's Pinehurst Kids survived individual near-death experiences -- Martin was nearly electrocuted; guitarist Devin Morrow accidentally got a face full of chlorine gas; bassist Cal Gates had meningitis; and guitarist/singer Joe Davis lost the use of his limbs for three days after a chicken-pox vaccine injection -- and eventually became bandmates in a group that seems to thrive in the face of challenge -- physical, mental, logistical, you name it. The Kids have endured much hardship, yet they continue to wail.

The Pinehurst Kids derive their name from the town of Pinehurst, Idaho, whence sprang bandleader Joe Davis nearly three decades ago. The nearby operations of the Sunshine Mining Company allegedly poisoned the water table with dangerous levels of lead, and now everyone who ever lived in Pinehurst is on medic alert and subject to a variety of illnesses. Davis blames his asthma and poor circulation on the now-bankrupt company's environmental negligence. This disaster has never been highly publicized and the town residents apparently have no legal recourse in seeking compensation. One might think, with such a profound injustice inflicted on him, that Davis would have a bottomless reservoir of rage to draw from. Indeed, in Kids songs like "Pretty Whistle" or "Johnny Mercer," Davis is howling like his soul has been set ablaze and intermittently stoked with high-octane gas.

The Pinehurst Kids: From left, Marnie Martin, Caleb Gates and Joe Davis (not pictured: touring member Devin Morrow).
Vernon Schmidt
The Pinehurst Kids: From left, Marnie Martin, Caleb Gates and Joe Davis (not pictured: touring member Devin Morrow).

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"The long and the short of it is that there's a place in me that already feels likes it's dead and I'm just so glad to be alive," he says. "I get angry when I see people who just sort of take life for granted. I mean, I joked about having a midlife crisis at 4." It is with this unlikely combination of grim humor, determination and awed wonder of life's curve balls that Davis and the latest incarnation of the Pinehurst Kids address their songs and their volatile live shows.

Though not exactly deserving one of those tacky "family tree" graphs that chart the comings and goings of various itinerant band members, the Pinehurst Kids have weathered some significant roster changes, even as their fiery emo-pop appears to get louder and better with each new addition.

Back in 1995, the Kids were a paltry two-piece combo, with Davis and drummer Robler Kind squeezing out combustible volleys of punk-pop gumballs to the Pacific Northwest's hard-drinking hipster crowd.

"That's what being a two-piece was all about. It was the ultimate, 'Well, we can't get a band together, so we'll just do it this way,'" Davis says of his band's humble origins. "Then we were a three-piece. Then a four-piece. Then a three-piece again."

The songs concocted by Davis for his minimalist combo were just fine (many of them ended up on the band's first record). But a punky duo commands little attention or respect (unless you're the Spinanes), so bassist Cal Gates (whose sister is in the Spinanes) bulled his way into the mix, and suddenly the goofy little pair became a "for real" band.

On the strength of their impressive 1997 self-released debut, Minnesota Hotel, the Kids were signed to 4-Alarm Records in Chicago. 4-Alarm bought their album and rereleased it. It was around this time the Kids ballooned to a quartet with the addition of second guitarist Gene Pool, but he left the following year, the touring requirements being too extensive.

In early 1999, the Kids recorded Viewmaster, their follow-up to Minnesota Hotel. As luck would have it, their first record was still doing respectable business, so 4-Alarm sat on the new record for nearly a year before giving the thumbs up for a mid-February 2000 release.

After another lengthy tour, original member Robler Kind decided that life on the road didn't suit him, either. "Touring life can be really fucking fun, if you like seeing the country, rocking out and not knowing where the fuck you are," says Davis, regarding the necessity of the road and the loss of two band members. "If you're the type of person who needs to shit in your own bathroom every day, then the road isn't going to treat you very well."

Fortunately, Davis and Gates lucked into über-drummer Marnie Martin, formerly of punk outfits the Delinquents and All Out. "Marnie put a collective kick in our ass," Gates enthuses. "Something good seems to happen to us every six months or so.

"There have been times when we've thought about giving it up, when we're not having enough fun or when people aren't giving a shit," he continues. "But we know we've got great songs and we know we rock."

After a scant number of rehearsals, the new lineup played out in August and the difference was immediately apparent. Martin, with her flailing punk and metal background, added a visceral percussive brutality that boosted the Kids' already raging pop several intensity levels. "Marnie hits the drums terrifyingly," Davis admits. "I'm afraid for a lot of things when Marnie hits the drums. Like the drums themselves, or anyone who gets in the way of a stick that flies out of her hand, or eardrums within 100 feet. It's a good fear to have."

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