Evan Stephens Hall already has an idea of what heaven looks like — creatively speaking, of course. The frontman of New Jersey indie rock band Pinegrove, Hall seems like the kind of musician who just has to get it out via whatever medium he has at hand. Luckily for him, he's good at more than a few of them.
"I think I have this sense of an ideal space: a big room which would be set up for recording, with all the instruments that I play, and also a desk where all of my paints are set up and organized, and also maybe a small library," he says. "I could just go to all corners of the room, however I felt like it, and either feed my brain or empty it."
Embraced wholeheartedly by critics and the Tumblr crowd alike, Hall and drummer Zack Levine are responsible for some bitingly beautiful work that began with 2012's Meridian, an album full of bleating pleas over lush and intricate instrumentals. It was the catalyst that began a buzz around the band that's now turned into a well-received roar in indie and emo circles. Now, the simple interlocking geometry that graces the cover of Cardinal, Pinegrove's latest record, is the same art that fans are getting tattooed on themselves. It's nothing shy of crazy, a testament to the band's appeal.
As part of a wave of modern-age emo bands like Sorority Noise, Modern Baseball, and Joyce Manor, Pinegrove is a unique breed. There's the obvious heart-on-sleeve direction of their work, but the inclusion of folk elements in their songs call to mind Rilo Kiley or Bright Eyes. If nothing, Pinegrove is a massive contributor to the revision of the term emo, as it's a genre that's rapidly pushing for exemption from the four-letter-word status it once carried.
"Since my lyrics are emotionally direct, in the same way that a lot of these groups are, I see the comparison, but my ambitions are more about creating or distilling American melodies and things that speak to me," he says. "I listen to a lot of folk music and country and indie rock from the early 2000s — like Death Cab for Cutie, Days Away — that I love, or even like alternative rock from the '90s. I'm drawing from a few different melodic traditions."
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Environment is just as important to Hall as his musical influences. He and Levine briefly made the move to New York in 2012 after the release of Meridian, with Hall soon thereafter returning to New Jersey to focus on upcoming works. (It's no surprise that Pinegrove requires a certain quiet to either make or absorb.) His artwork, like that on Cardinal, is an extension of his music, and the music is an extension of his artwork. As he designs all the visuals that accompany Pinegrove's music, one has to wonder if there isn't also a synesthetic element to his output. Given the homegrown melodies of Cardinal's work, his music could be seen as soothing forest greens, clearwater blues, the wood-paneled brown of a friend's basement, and the sepia-toned cadmium yellows of filters looking backward.
There's a very specific color palette that corresponds to Pinegrove's sound, and the geometry of structures, there's something about the way songs will feel to me that seems to be a metaphor for spatial interactions, Hall says. I think that what I'm going for visually is sort of akin to what I'm going for sonically, which is that there are these big, emotional sensory experiences that I am seeking to compress in an accessible or mellifluous way. The complex can be distilled into something simple.
Pinegrove is scheduled to play Rebel Lounge on Tuesday, July 12.