Pinegrove: Rooted in the Underground, Moving Earnestly Forward

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There is a certain threshold a band must cross when releasing catchy music. When music has emotion, consciousness, and the ability to transcend beyond the basement shows and VFW halls, the artists are inevitably faced with a choice: stay true to the integrity of the underground scene or become enveloped by the limelight. The Essex County alternative band Pinegrove have crossed that threshold, bringing their tunes from the rehearsal room to the farthest regions of the United States. Yet despite their experiences playing throughout the state and beyond, they have succeeded without the need for a record label, distribution deal, or anything other than their own dedication, allowing them the freedom to stay connected to their local fans.

The five-piece project formed around 2010 and has been taking the Jersey scene by storm ever since, via a steady diet of DIY basement shows and an ever-growing fanbase. “I began writing songs with my dad as an elementary schooler and just kept at it,” vocalist Evan Stephens Hall admits. He is joined in the ranks by Adan Feliciano, Nick Levine, Zack Levine, and Nandi Plunkett, an original member who left the group to work on a solo project under the moniker Half Waif, and has since returned in time for a recent tour.

“Regrettably, the songs have grown less silly with time,” Hall continues, “but I’ve been challenging myself recently to write songs with a goofier touch. One of my favorite songs I wrote recently is about going to the grocery store with a person you have a crush on, and picking up a gourd and riding home together on a tandem bicycle to cook it up.”

It’s this playful nature that makes it so hard to dislike Pinegrove. The experimental alternative rock band puts on a sincerely energetic and well executed performance that captivates the listener, running the gamut from occasional screams to quiet sing-along passages. Contemplative lyrics flank the guitars, which hover around the tightly played percussion.

Though the members have now spread to Brooklyn and upstate New York, the band is well known around their hometown of Montclair, thanks to the variety of venues they have played in the area. “New Jersey is a great place to be from and to play music in. Of course, DIY moves up and down in relation to what spaces there are to play, but I think we’ve had a lot of success recently with house shows and that sort of thing,” said Hall on the recent expansion of local venues.

While the basements and houses are fun, the band is seeking to grow along with the scene itself. “What I’d really like to see is an all-ages space with a little more longevity, a place I could always help bands out with a show, where I know they’ll be paid well and treated right. Some good people are working hard to make that happen, and I know it’s just a matter of time before the NJ scene becomes even better and more vibrant. There have always been good bands coming out of New Jersey, and now it seems like we’re on the cusp of having one of [the best] DIY circuits in the country, too. It’s all very exciting. New Jersey’s a good place for music.”

It’s not just the band’s home state that’s keen on them, though. Pinegrove has been well received by the New York scene, even playing at Shea Stadium in May. While it’s great that they have been able to emerge within the tri-state area, what’s really impressive is how they have orchestrated their tours around the country. Within the last two years, the band has embarked on tours throughout the Northeast sector, and all the way out to Washington, Texas, Illinois, Tennessee, and several other states along the way.

When asked about the band’s favorite touring spot, Hall responded, “I feel really fortunate to have been able to travel to most states at this point with Pinegrove. I definitely have some favorite places, but I think it’s important to remember that for a lot of these spots, we’re just there for a single night, so it’s not really a big enough sample size to form an opinion about a city. That said, we’ve had awesome experiences in New Orleans, which is the most angular jungle, and recently we played in Montreal, where everybody is friendly, earnest, smart, and good-looking; we’ve had awesome times in Chicago where some of our best friends live, and it was incredible playing in the Pacific Northwest last summer, where the air is foggy and close and the basements all come equipped with fog machines.”

The majority of the top bands in the competitive market got where they are today through hard work, but there’s no doubt that some compromises had to be made to get there. Pinegrove isn’t one of those bands. They are a living example of how to continue playing the music you love while also gaining exposure and making connections. With all of their studio efforts and time spent touring these past few years, it’s safe to say they’ve made a splash. And with over 3000 Facebook fans, support for the group is clearly growing. But for them, it’s all about the future: “I love writing songs more than anything, and I do it as often as possible,” Hall says, “We are working on new material for sure, and playing [a] bunch, basically doing everything we can to reach new listeners!”

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Feature Photo by Catalina Fragoso

This article first appeared in Issue 05