Pleasant Grove from Austin, Texas were founded in 1999. The guys called it a day back in 2005, playing the odd gig here and there, then a twist of fate brought them back together in 2010. I caught up with them at the Orange Blossom Special Festival in Germany on May 14, 2016. The last time the guys played in Europe was at this same festival 14 years ago.
You’ve been back together since 2010, how does it feel? Is it just like old times?
JR: It is just like old times. I think because we spent so much time together in the past 16 years there’s a kind of familiarity to it. You finish each others sentences, You know where each other is going and what we say…….
MS: And my hangovers are still the same!
How big a decision was getting back together?
BE: I think it was actually a pretty easy decision to make. The driving force was a fan and friend of ours who had helped us out in the past. He was like “Guys, you have this record that you started 12 years ago, I wanna help you get it out there”.
TH: We released Auscultation of the Heart through Glitterhouse records and played a ten year anniversary show. We hadn’t played any of the songs since the last time we played here 14 years ago, during rehearsals for the show we were like “why don’t we do this again”. So we revisited some of our old material.
MS: It was one of those moments when you’re like “what the fuck else are we gonna do with our lives? Let’s just do this until we die…….done. Finish our dinner basically”!
You released Heart Contortionist earlier this year. Was it a difficult album to write given the time lapse?
MS: Not really. We were just kind of sitting in the studio and the stuff sounded really good. We had time to assess some of the material and reflect on parts that needed tweeking and the parts that were like “man what the fuck was I thinking back then”? There were some really cool moments.
BE: We were also right there at the cusp of the move to digital, so all of our original material was hard drive recorded which made it immediately accessible. Our earlier stuff was on tape, which I prefer. It sounds so bad ass. We are discussing going back to tape when we record the next album. It’s much more expensive as tape is harder to come by but, it gives a more honest sound, like this is what we sound like live.
Music and the way it’s produced has changed a lot since you started out. Is it still possible to draw inspiration or influence from modern bands and artists?
BE: Absolutely. In this day and age it gets really difficult to keep up with what’s happening. I don’t know many of the artists or the record names I’ve been hearing, but there’s a lot of good stuff out there.
CM: In the days of DIY, when there were record labels, there tended to be a bit of curation of who would rise up to make a record. Now anyone can make a record in their bedroom.
JR: I’ve become addicted to BBC 6 Music over the past 4 years. I’ve now got a list of bands, not just songs, bands. I still don’t know who the all are but I hear it and it gets added to the list. The beauty of BBC 6 Music that it’s not mainstream, they give everyone a chance. I have a side project and Gideon Coe, one of the DJ’s there, played one of my tracks. I was like “he doesn’t have to do that”. He does it because he cares about artists and music.
BE: I’m inspired by younger bands who are really getting back to how Rock n Roll sounded in the 1950’s and 60’s. These guys are 20 years old and it must be such a foreign sound to them, even their grandparents probably were not around in those days. It’s really cool to see these young guys playing kind of primitive sounding material.
MS: Something we have talked about recently is the next producer we work with. It is going to be someone who 100% gets us. Like, these kids making music today know exactly what they want and they know exactly how to get it, that’s pretty fucking amazing. So it easy to listen to a modern band and be like “man that sounds great”.
BE: If someone had asked me 25 years ago if kids would be producing the kind of music they do I would have been pessimistic. I would have seen them producing music on their laptops and just pressing buttons, I’m so glad that’s not the case.
You’re here in Germany playing a festival, in terms of exposure how important is the festival circuit to you?
BE: To us, at the moment, not very. Most of our shows have been pretty regional around Texas, we haven’t toured the US in around 12 years. I guess we’re kind of starting over and recently we have only played one festival back home. However, after coming back to Europe and playing 14 years laters, it’s like “why haven’t we been doing this before”?
TH: We have a different perspective now, we’re older. Let’s face it, last time we were here we were kids. In fact, we were just talking about how nervous we we were last time, now it’s like “let’s do this”.
CM: Yeah, now were jaded old bastards!!
Sometimes, as Europeans, we don’t grasp how big the US is. Artists are able to tour year round in the States and not play the same venue twice. Is accessibility one of the attractions of touring in Europe?
CM: There are artists who tour Texas year round and don’t play the same venue twice! Accessibility is a absolutely an attraction and also there is a built in crown for whoever is playing.
TH: Yeah, I mean we played a show in Dortmund, a small venue that held around fifty people. We were a bit unsure if anyone would come, but around forty turned up, most had never hear of us before. So it seems like people here also like to listen to music. Generally in the States, if they don’t know you they won’t come and see you.
BE: European audiences are so quiet and respectful. You can tell they are really listening to your music and kind of soaking up the experience. Totally different from US audiences.
JR: There are some quieter moments during our set and in the US there can be times when the chatter is almost drowning out the music. I’m now like “man, this wouldn’t happen in Dortmund”! During the quieter moment here, we have to check with the audience to make sure everything is OK!
TH: To be fair though, my wife often reminisces about the music scene in Denton, back in the day and they were very respectful, they still are.
What’s next for you guys?
MS: We gotta get back in the studio and start working on the new record.
BE: We have a few more shows and a couple of festivals back home. The plan at the moment though is to take the Summer off and re-group. Working on and playing this old material has been great, but it’s just that. It’s old material. So we’ll get our heads together and hopefully produce something new.
TH: We still have a back catalogue of songs that these guys wrote 10 years ago which still sound really fresh, which we’ll also revisit. Heart Contortionist is a really dark record but it was written at a dark period in the band. We wanna kind of write something that reflects where we are at now.
Would you agree you are in a better place now?
MS: Absolutely. Mentaly and spiritually for sure, but it doesn’t mean I’m never gonna write another sad song. It’s the only thing I know how to do!
Will we see you back on the road?
CM: Absolutely, and sooner rather than later. Certainly not 14 years later anyway!
Pleasant Grove’s current album The Heart Contortionist is available from the usual digital outlets and record stores.
All photos by Spike Porteous
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