Note: This interview took place just prior to the anonymous accusation of sexual misconduct against Evan Stephens Hall, the details of which are murky as of this time. We do not at all endorse or condone any inappropriate or coercive behavior on the part of bands we’ve interviewed. Read our full statement here.
Café Coco isn’t normally the go-to venue for bands as suddenly popular as Pinegrove. Though they easily could have filled Exit/In next door—where their friends, the edgy punk duo PWR BTTM, were coincidentally playing tonight—they instead packed Coco, where eager fans filled the space with anticipatory energy.
That being said, the familiar comfort of Nashville’s staple 24-hour hangout spot was fitting for the band. Like the part-café-part-bar-part-study-spot-part-venue, Pinegrove doesn’t quite fit one category. Weaving somewhere along the lines of alt-country, emo, and warbling lo-fi, they appeal to a niche audience of devotees. Their audience would go from screaming lyrics to sobbing them, sometimes both at once.
We sat down with Pinegrove’s two core members, singer/guitarist Evan Stephens Hall and drummer Zack Levine, on Café Coco’s porch after the show to talk about Cardinal, touring, their hometown, and their direction. “We’ve eaten here at Café Coco before, actually,” Levine remarked. “We didn’t even realize it was a venue until recently.”
Speaking with animated momentum, Hall described how he and Levine got their start in Montclair, New Jersey. “Our parents are friends. And so we knew each other from a pretty young age, we started playing music together as early as 7 or 8, but kind of casually.” They continued to have a band from middle school through the end of high school, and after college formed what became Pinegrove.
Being from Montclair, Hall explained, naturally influences Pinegrove’s music. “I like to put as many details as I can in the lyrics,” he said thoughtfully. “So, you know, I’m writing about Montclair a lot incidentally. I mean, I love being from there, I loved living there, and a lot of the songs were written there—and Kenyon College in Ohio,” where he attended school. “I really value a casual delivery, and to me, that involves talking about things I’m thinking about, things I’m experiencing, things I’m encountering. And a lot of those things happened in Montclair.”
That casual delivery is plainly honest and raw—and is a huge part of what Pinegrove fans seem to love. Because Pinegrove sits at this enigmatic intersection of emo and alt-country-rock, they manage to evoke all sorts of emotions simultaneously on stage. They also manage to draw in fans from all over the map.
Ending up in this unique intersection of genres, though, makes a lot of sense. When asked about their influences, they wryly mentioned a whole host of bands they grew up on—Green Day, Soundgarden, Nirvana, My Morning Jacket, Radiohead, Sublime. Pensively, Hall explained this was a natural transition into their own sound. “I loved grunge,” he then said.
Hall and Levine have the rapport of a duo who have clearly been friends for years. At the same time, they both speak with conviction and candor to everyone—no matter what the topic—and had an emotive articulation for whatever they spoke about. At one point, they got into an extended discussion about the “top five fruit juices.” Hall is a big fan of grapefruit juice. Levine argued in favor of orange-strawberry-banana.
At another point during the interview, “My Own Worst Enemy” by the late-90’s band Lit blared through Café Coco’s speakers. “Lit!” Hall exclaimed. “Another band that was so important to us.”
“Lit! Yes,” Levine continued. “We were in a Lit cover band called ‘Lint.’ We opened and closed with this song.” They laughed at the memory.
Hall said, “It was a five song set: this song, three others, this song. We have a big place in our heart for this band. Good, melodic rock. Melody is paramount.”
It’s not lost on Hall and Levine that, since the release of Cardinal in February, Pinegrove has suddenly been pushed into the spotlight. On that topic, Hall explained, “it gets easier to play for people who are there to see you and know your material. You don’t have to prove yourself, really. You’re already in the audience’s favor. You get to fool around a little bit more, you feel a bit more at ease. It’s been fun recently.”
Levine continued, “since the release of Cardinal, we’ve noticed more of a stark uptick in attendance and excitement. And for both of us, playing live is really what this is all about, and is the pinnacle what we want to do. So when people show up and you look out and see them smiling….it’s great.”
Levine also expressed a bit of relief: “You can take risks live. And not worry about winning the crowd over.”
See our video of the show and our interview above, or click here.