Economists are sometimes known for lacking humility about our views, and we can embarrass ourselves when we venture into topics that are far from our professional training. For example, former Harvard President Larry Summers memorably got himself into trouble with some ill-considered musing about women in science. I am objectively aware of my own limitations, both within and outside of economics, and I want to be clear when my assessments are grounded in professional training and when they are the assessments of an amateur.
With that humility out of the way, I have this to say: it is my position, and it is the official editorial position of the Waltham Review, that you need to drop whatever you are doing right now and go listen to the new band Pinedrop. Pinedrop, based in Brattleboro, Vermont, is an acoustic string band featuring Derek Sensale on guitar and vocals, Dan Bisson on bass and Charlie Peckar on violin. Please – the Waltham Review is begging you here – just give them a listen.
Perhaps you typically come to this outlet (America’s Choice in Nanomedia!) looking for the hard-hitting, muck-raking, dirt-dishing cynicism for which we are becoming famous. You know – the Verblendungszusammenhang and whatnot. Not today. Today we just genuinely love the music of Pinedrop.
You can find their music at https://pinedrop.bandcamp.com/ – see also their website: http://www.pinedropmusic.com, and their facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pinedrop802. I would recommend that you begin with the track “California” on their album Stories Untold. Their music captures with sound the sensations of a happy road trip with beloved friends across this beautiful country.
And I want to remind you of my track record (which the relatively new Waltham Review inherits) when it comes to recommendations. Maybe you remember when I saw Bottle Rocket in the theater and said to you “hey, this unknown Wes Anderson guy really makes a good film?” Or perhaps you recall when I saw the now-classic Bujalski film “Funny Ha Ha” and said to you “hey – you need to see this film and this director?”
Seeing Pinedrop is like that. At this stage in their career, seeing them live is like seeing a pre-fame Paul Simon singing in your cousin’s back yard. It’s like seeing Marshawn Lynch run for 3,000 yards and 37 touchdowns in a high school football game. Or like watching Barack Obama as a 6th grade debate champion. Just drop what you’re doing and listen to them.
I ran into the band while covering last weekend’s FreshGrass Music Festival in North Adams, Massachusetts for the Waltham Review. FreshGrass is eclectic but rooted in America’s bluegrass tradition, offers three days of performance spread across multiple stages at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MOCA) complex, which now occupies the massive industrial site formerly occupied by the Sprague Electric Company.
The festival’s lineup this year was outstanding and diverse, and included established acts such as Glen Hansard, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Roseann Cash, Ruthie Foster, Rana Santacruz, and many, many others. Pinedrop, as one of the newer bands at the festival, was playing on a smaller stage. Still, even from this smaller stage, their music immediately stopped me in my tracks; their songs transported me to the spot within my soul that only great music can access.
I caught up with the band after their performance, and over email, and asked them a handful of questions:
WR: In the context of a fawning review, I want to ask a fawning question. Your first album Stories Untold came out in December of last year, your second album Pinedrop came out in May of 2016. You’re a new band, yet all of your songs feel crafted and refined – the song “California” in particular feels to me like the work of a mature group. How did you guys get so good so fast?
PD: We’re not sure it’s a matter of getting good fast. It is more spending a lot of time getting songs right to where we want them. Most of these songs, for example “California”, Derek has had for a long time and has had that time to craft them into just the desired shape.
It’s been really cool bringing this together as a band, with Dan and Charlie putting their own spin on the music and really making it come to life. It’s something we certainly would have never imagined happening so quickly. And now that we are developing our specific style, we are finding that our new songs take form much more quickly.
WR: What are your backgrounds? How did you come together to form this band?
PD: Derek grew up in a small rural town in New Jersey, and growing up hoped to leave as soon as possible in order to experience other places, people and things. Derek met Charlie at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, New Hampshire. After college Derek moved west and started writing songs about his experiences, trying to play as much as possible. Charlie and Derek didn’t even play music together until a few years after college, when we both had moved to Brattleboro, Vermont.
We were both more or less homeless before we started playing music together, so we reconnected when Derek moved back from Colorado and we both needed a place to live. Brattleboro has really nurtured us as a band. The people in this town are very appreciative of music, the arts and community.
Dan has been playing guitar since eighth grade, and he went to college in order to study music. He’s been playing the standup bass for four years. Becoming so involved with the Americana or folk genres has come as a surprise, but he is now immersed in it. Our first bassist had moved out of town and we were on a mad dash to find another, so we met Dan at just the right time in Greenfield, Massachusetts, at the Wheelhouse. That leaves us where we are today.
Once we started playing music together, it came together really easily – first working as a duo for a little while and now with Dan playing bass. We seem to be building a lot of momentum.
WR: What does playing at a festival like FreshGrass mean for a band at your stage of development?
PD: We were absolutely thrilled to be at FreshGrass, and it was really shocking to be invited to play here because we’re a newer band. Having that opportunity was really amazing. It was a really good chance for us to meet new people, make more connections, and play for new ears.
WR: What is your band’s strategy right now for breaking out? How has the strategy developed and how has it changed over the time you’ve been together?
PD: Basically, we want everyone to hear us, even if it’s just once. We’d really like to make an impact on the folk music scene. Show up, play great shows, be personable, and get invited back to venues, whatever the venue. It could be a dive bar in the middle of nowhere, and it could be something as big as the FreshGrass festival.
When we first started out, our strategy was simple – just get a bunch of shows booked, let people hear what we’re all about. Let our music speak for itself.
Now the strategy is more or less the same, but we also take occasional breaks in order to tighten up our songs and work on new ones. That means that we’re ready when an opportunity like the FreshGrass festival comes along.
WR: Were you able to catch any of the other performances at FreshGrass? Which performances particularly moved you? Which musicians were particularly interesting to talk to?
PD: We particularly enjoyed Mr. Sun, Aoife O’Donnovan, Old Salt Union, as well as Damn Tall Buildings and the Pageturners on the courtyard stage. We got to talking to the latter two and they were pretty cool guys!
WR: What have you learned about America as you’ve toured as a band? What things about this country can you only learn by traveling from city to city and sharing your music with people?
PD: Though we haven’t been too far outside of New England yet, we’ve learned that people are really welcoming everywhere we go. People always have really nice things to say whether it’s an emotion they’ve been able to relate to or just an endearing compliment. When playing music, kindness seems to be prevalent.
WR: What would a world in which everybody listened to your music be like? Would war and violence even be possible in such a world?
PD: In a perfect world war and violence wouldn’t be possible at all. We can’t speak to whether or not violence and war would be possible if everyone listened to our music, but it is true that the songs we play are really meant to inspire positive feelings. We want to create songs that you can travel to, smile to, and that will bring back fond memories of love and laughter. We want our music to evoke that feeling.
WR: Thank you so much!
(Artwork: Egon Schiele (Austrian, 1890-1918) Woodland Prayer 1915.)
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