For those who’ve only seen the travel brochures–the sailboats on Mission Bay, the hang-gliders at Torrey Pines, the Windansea surfers–it can be jarring to learn that sunny San Diego is home to some of the darkest bands in the indie rock scene.
Take Pinback, for instance, the home-studio duo of Armistead Burwell Smith IV (aka Zach) and Rob Crow, formed eight years ago in San Diego. Smith graduated from the 3-Mile Pilot petri dish that spawned the gloriously gloomy Black Heart Procession. He’s also maintained a solo side project, Systems Officer.
Crow’s hometown pedigree includes the progish punk of Thingy and Heavy Vegetable, and a ludicrous number of side projects including The Ladies, Goblin Cock and Optiganally Yours.
But, together as Pinback, Smith and Crow create multi-textured, angular pop that’s addictive as audio crack and melancholic as hell–summed up succinctly in the title of their last release, Summer in Abaddon. Summer is a sunny season. Abaddon is Hebrew for hell.
“That’s what we use the music for, to take us to another place,” says Smith. “Having the same weather all the time, day after day, you kind of gravitate toward that contrast.”
Summer in Abaddon, their Touch & Go debut, made it to several best-of lists in 2004, and it’s easy to hear why. The record is full of gorgeous counter-harmonies layered over interwoven guitar licks, high hat-centric drumming and Smith’s complex bass-lines. Throw in some Eno-esque synth and piano runs, and Summer in Abaddon is the band’s most sophisticated and successful effort yet. There’s a propulsive forward momentum to Pinback songs, like time ticking away–from a place where time often seems to be standing still.
Recreating that sound onstage provides another contrast, as Pinback grows from its laid-back two-piece studio incarnation into a live juggernaut that includes guitarist Erik Hoversten (A Minor Forest) and drummer Chris Prescott (Jade Shader).
“I like the fact that Pinback’s live thing isn’t the same as its recordings–it’s much more raw,” says Smith. “Everything tends to be faster, just because when you’re two guys sitting in a living room you’re mellow and you’re chilling out and going at a quiet, relaxed pace, so when we’re live it’s got more energy. You’ve got a live drummer versus us playing to a drum machine, and then you’ve got other people playing your parts, so that puts a new spin on it, too.”
Crow and Smith are returning to the road after a six-month hiatus during which Crow became a father and Smith got married. The duo plans to begin writing the next Pinback record when this, the Summer in Abaddon, Part Deux tour, ends in June. But, somewhere between those chill-out Pinback sessions and side projects, Smith will reunite with his old 3-Mile Pilot pals drummer Tom Zinser and current Black Heart front man Pall Jenkins to record the first 3-Mile record since 1997’s Another Desert, Another Sea. They hope to have something ready for Touch & Go, who also releases Black Heart’s material, by early 2007. Smith and Jenkins, who share studio space in San Diego’s Little Italy district, have already been writing.
“We spent a month together recording and we wrote one song,” Smith laughs. “It’s been difficult, but we’re really good friends, so it’s been a good difficult. We don’t want it to sound like some fragmented thing, one-half Black Heart and one-half Pinback. We want to feel like we have a whole again.
“But in the end we have some good ideas and I think it’s just going to get better as we get to sit down longer with each other and really hash things out. We’re going to get it done, though, distractions or no distractions.”
Now that’s a sunny outlook we can live with.
Pinback plays Cat’s Cradle on Saturday, May 13 at 9:15 p.m. with Pleaseeasaur. Tickets are $12-14.