The Pinkerton Raid on Durham’s Venues, Musicians and Their New Album

The Pinkerton Raid on Durham’s Venues, Musicians and Their New Album

Plus, the greatest - and worst - parts about creating songs with family

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Siblings Steven, Jesse and Katie jam at Mercury Studio. // Photo by Briana Brough
Siblings Steven, Jesse and Katie jam at Mercury Studio. // Photo by Briana Brough

The Pinkerton Raid is poised to release their most collaborative album to date: “Tolerance Ends, Love Begins” is a sequel to their second album, “A Beautiful World.” The synergetic sensation is compounded by the fact that, in addition to working with seven other great musicians, the project will be crowdfunded through a Kickstarter campaign, which ends with a show February 19 featuring Matt Phillips & The Philharmonic at Cat’s Cradle‘s backroom. We interviewed the sibling-formed band in our February/March issue (pg. 26). Here, an extension of that conversation:

What can people expect from your upcoming third album? What was different about creating this album vs. your first two?

Jesse DeConto: A couple of years ago, we were actually toying with the idea of releasing [both “Tolerance Ends, Love Begins” and “A Beautiful World”] as one double-album with 15-16 songs. But we decided to hold off, and we’ve let these songs simmer. The three of us worked out arrangements for them as a trio, and those iterations of the songs have been our templates as we’ve added more and more instrumentation. “A Beautiful World” tells the story of being young and naïve and getting into a difficult marriage. This new album will narrate the aftermath. The ideas of beauty, tolerance and love are way bigger and more universal than these personal experiences, and I hope the stories will resonate with other people’s lives, too.

On tour in the Midwest last spring with our friends Lowland Hum, we played a lot of these songs on banjo, acoustic guitar and a little cocktail drum kit of snare, floor tom and one lonely cymbal. In order to capture the emotional dynamics of the songs, we couldn’t just get louder or softer; unlike with a full drum kit and lots of electric guitar effects, these three instruments can’t get all that loud. So instead, we had to learn how to move together like we never had before. This album will be much more percussive – you might even say “explosive” – than anything we’ve done in the past. We’ve always relied on layered instrumentation and vocal harmonies in order to create big, dynamic moments. We’ll still have those moments, but we’re creating them out of more stops and starts and complete silence, rather than just layers and crescendos.

We’re also recording this album live, with nine or 10 of us all playing together in the studio. We’ve got two electric guitar players, Eric Johnson and Michael DePue, plus Steven’s recording some electric, which he’s never done before. We’ve got Michael’s brother Jon on bass, Steve Anderson (Kamara Thomas, David B. Dollar) on drums. We’ve got David Cullen and Michael Petersen (Lila) on trumpet and trombone, plus Mailande Moran joining me and Katie on vocals. We’ve never recorded this way. On our first record, Katie and I were the only members of the current band to play or sing. I did record five of those songs live with three former band members, but we ended up replacing all the drum tracks in the final cut, and we overdubbed a lot of other instrumental and vocal parts. For the other five songs on that self-titled album, and for all the songs on our last album, we worked with producer-engineers to build up the songs instrument by instrument, track by track. By recording this new album together, live, we’re having to work a lot harder in rehearsals, and it’s forcing us to make more precise arrangement decisions before we get into the studio, and I think we’re ending up with a much tighter, more dynamic sound, with everyone moving together as a unit to support the delivery of the lyrics.

This is probably the catchiest, poppiest batch of songs we’ve ever written, and working with this huge collection of friends is really super fun, and I think that will come out in the music.

Katie DeConto: Jesse seems to have it pretty well covered here!

Steven DeConto: What Katie said about what Jesse said.

What has been the greatest moment for The Pinkerton Raid, thus far?

JD: A couple of years ago we got to open for Noah Gundersen and Denison Witmer at Rumba Café in Columbus, Ohio. It was the last show of one of our longest tours out to Minneapolis and back. The place was packed, the crowd seemed to really like our stuff, and a bunch of friends had driven all the way up from Durham to see us (Thank you, awesome people!). I had a little too much to drink and was talking a little too loudly with some old friends from Ohio during poor Denison’s set, but other than that it was kind of perfect.

KD: Yeah. That was a pretty excellent show. We were at the end of our tour and when you play every night for a week or so, you get pretty tight. We had a packed room and sounded great. That’s really all you’re looking for out of a show. Our album release in 2014 was pretty great, too. We filled up Motorco and I think at one point had about 14 people on the stage. Playing with a bunch of friends to a full, large venue in your hometown creates enough adrenaline to make up for any musical snafus.

SD: The first thing I thought of … was the Rumba Cafe show. That was great. I would also have to say the day I was born. I’d like to think I was the last piece to the puzzle that is The Pinkerton Raid. I really brought us all together and made us the band and family that we are today.

Favorite venue in Durham, and why:

JD: I can’t pick one. The Carrack, Fullsteam and Mercury Studio’s Listening Room all fill particular niches that are important to me, but The Pinhook and Motorco are the only really full-service venues for the local indie music scene in Durham proper. There are reasons to love them both. The Pinhook is a catalytic rallying point for Durham’s counter-culture, and the sense of community that Kym Register and others have built there is sacred. The Pinhook is also the perfect size for most of us local bands who are really excited to draw 150 or 200 people to a show. Save the Pinhook!!

Motorco is bigger, which has its pros and cons. But being surrounded by its own restaurant, Parts & Labor, plus Fullsteam, Cocoa Cinnamon and Geer Street Garden makes it part of a broader, more mainstream social scene that I think feels a little more inviting or approachable to your average Jane or Joe.

KD: This is a tough one and I don’t think I can choose either. There are so many factors. Motorco is definitely the easiest and most familiar venue for us, but The Pinhook has a very special The Pinhookness about it that always makes for a fun night. To tell the truth, I miss when Parts & Labor used to be the garage bar venue, but the udon salad is pretty killer, so I guess I’m not too upset about it.

JD: Yeah. Count me in for udon salad. Mmm. But Luna is across from The Pinhook now. The patacon pisao is also killer.

SD: I love playing at Motorco because right before the show I can walk through one door and order an udon salad.

Name a Durham musician (or a few!) who you enjoy listening to, and share why you are impressed with his or her music:

JD: Mount Moriah – the combination of Jenks Miller’s guitar lines, Casey Toll’s grooves and Heather McEntire’s melodies and lyricism brings an intensity that’s hard to beat.

Brett Harris – boy knows how to deliver a melody!

Wild FurWylie Hunter and Nick Jaeger sound simultaneously familiar and experimental at the same time.

JKutchma and (separately) Curtis Eller – true performers, these guys.

Canine Heart Sounds and Blanko Basnet – these bands have overlapping line-ups, and their musicianship is fantastic

Skylar Gudasz – there’s an effortless playfulness in her songs.

Look Homeward – there’s something very traditional and familiar about their sound, but it’s also full of the exuberant energy of some young guys having a good time

KD: The Old Ceremony and Mount Moriah were my original local favorites. Heather McEntire’s vocals are so artful and full of conviction, I would probably believe anything she sang was absolutely true. And The Old Ceremony is just fun to listen to and to watch. I love to perform and so I really appreciate those who do it well like these two. I’ve also really enjoyed watching Beauty World since they started up a few years ago. Their sound is unique and precise and Duncan and Leah are just lovely humans, so that always helps.

SD: I really like most everyone that Katie and Jesse listed. I’m also a big fan of Toon and The Real Laww. Though they don’t perform as a duo anymore, I feel like they have done a lot for the local hip-hop community through supporting other artists, organizing the Durm Hip Hop Summit, and their music itself.

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 3.53.53 PMWhat are the best (and/or most frustrating) aspects about creating music with your siblings?

JD: We always know we’re going to try to help one another if we can. It might be a little easier to practice longer or be in the car all day and sleeping on floors on tour because we’d want to hang out with one another anyway. We just keep getting to know one another better and better, and it gets easier and easier to anticipate what each of us might want to hear in a particular moment of a song. There is this mythology around sibling harmonies, and we do love singing together, but I think understanding one another’s psychology is more important. We’ll have one another our whole lives, so it forces us to really listen. No one can “win” in an argument or conflict, because the same fight’s going to keep coming back. We have to find unity within our differences; you can’t have a sibling band where one person is always getting his way. The frustrating side of that is, it’s hard to call one of us out if he/she’s wrong, because no one wants to be in conflict for very long. Sometimes you just find the peaceable resolution, even if it’s not the best one. But, you know, it’s probably better for the music to suffer than for our relationships to suffer. Hopefully, we manage to do both as well as possible.

KD: We get this question a lot and it’s hard to answer because most of what I’ve done is play music with my siblings. I can imagine that it’s similar to doing anything with people you know really well – it’s more fun. We’re comfortable, understand one another well, know how to disagree, and don’t mind riding in silence through Wisconsin because we’re all getting tour-grouchy. The flip side is that when there is conflict, we have to work things out peacefully. If I criticize Steven’s guitar rift thoughtlessly, it might make his birthday dinner the next night kind of awkward, and I might get in trouble if he tells mom.

SD: I can tell them when something sounds bad, they can tell me when something sounds bad (even though they’re wrong), and no one can get mad or else we’ll get in trouble from our mom. That’s both the best part and most frustrating part. If they weren’t my siblings I would have quit this band a long time ago because I hold grudges, like to argue and have a pretty different musical style than Jesse. Instead we have to actually work through those differences, which results in (we think) good music.

Describe your ideal day in Durham:

JD: I can’t fit all my fun Durham stuff into one day. Recently, I got to see my daughter play at The Pinhook with her band of other 12- to 14-year-old girls. They killed it on “Stairway to Heaven,” plus a couple of songs they wrote themselves. She played bass, which is my first instrument. That was pretty cool. I actually just love that I get to walk my youngest daughter back and forth to school at E.K. Powe almost every day. That’s a sacred time, if I can get out of my head enough to recognize it. Also, we go into Monuts just before 4pm on a weekday, order her a doughnut, and they always give us extras because they’re about to close for the day. In general, my best day would involve watching people I love make music; more often it’s friends, but sometimes my own kid! Or playing music with people I love. Leading the Durham County Beer & Hymns singalong at Fullsteam once a month is one of the most fun things I do. I get to stand up there and watch 200 people singing, drinking and laughing together. It’s amazing. Or dining at one of Durham’s fine eateries with people I love; you didn’t ask me to name my favorite, so I won’t, because it’s too hard. I will say that from where we live, when the weather’s nice, at dinner time my wife, Julie, and I can take a short walk to Dain’s, a longer walk to The Federal or an even longer walk to Geer Street Garden, and that’s one of our favorite things to do. We just really like being with our family and friends around good food and music.

KD: Oooh. This is tough. I am the co-founder of The Makery and Mercury Studio, and so I get to witness all kinds of local creative awesomeness on a daily basis. And now that the food scene has exploded, I’d need a dream week to mention all my favorite eat spots. I will say, though, that a Bloody Mary at Motorco on a beautiful day really makes me happy. Let’s call it a weekday, though. That place is pretty nuts-o on the weekend. A Bloody Mary on a weekday afternoon is okay, right? Good. That’s why I’m self-employed.

SD: Apart from coffee in the morning at any of the amazing coffee spots, lunch at any of the amazing lunch spots (probably tacos), dinner at any of the amazing dinner spots (more tacos), a beer or cocktail at any of the amazing bars, and more tacos at a late-night taco truck, my ideal day in Durham would definitely (and most days does) involve hanging out with my family. I live five houses away from my two sisters, 1.5 miles from Jesse, his wife, and his two daughters, two miles from my parents, and four miles from our other brother, his wife and three kids. Every day in this town for me is pretty wonderful. Except when someone from my family is being annoying like asking for help with stuff. That’s the worst.

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Amanda MacLaren
Amanda MacLaren is the executive editor of Durham Magazine. Born in Mesa, Ariz., she grew up in Charlotte and attended UNC-Chapel Hill, majoring in journalism. She’s lived in Durham for five years now. When she’s not at work, you can usually find her with a beer in hand at Fullsteam, Dain’s Place or Bull City Burger or getting takeout from Chubby’s.