Is This Real: We catch up with The Pinheads

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Back in June, just as the warm weather was really making its presence and we were settling into the British summer, I met The Pinheads at their show at the Old England in Bristol. Stolen Body Records had brought the Aussie five piece to town after releasing their new record Is This Real. After a day of them exploring the city and Jez having a skate around the band played a ferocious and incredible set on the small stage of the pub. We kicked back after, and the next day I found myself hoping into their mystery bus to take a drive deep within the realms of the Welsh countryside. After the last sight of civilisation, an All Saints concert (of which I call them Spice Girls because my knowledge of girl groups isn’t the finest, surprisingly), we were deep within the forest. Accompanied by the soundtrack from guitarist Luke’s phone, which featured Donovan, Meic Stevens and some of the most far out music found in his library, we explored the forest looking for the rock that bleeds.

Now, back in the real world, we catch up with Jez who’s keeping it real in Australia.

What’s up Pinnies. What’s happening down under?

Not too much. We just finished doing our Oz album tour a couple of weeks ago which was fun, now we’re just settling back into reality. Apparently one of our worst droughts ever is happening, quite possibly our worst, but it’s been snowing down the road from my place at the moment. So I’m in a general state of bamboozlement.

We caught you on your UK and European tour. How was that experience for you?

That was great fun, we love being over there. It seems as though Europeans have much more respect and gratitude for people playing music over there which is great, they make us stinky sleep deprived freaks feel part of the family. The UK is always good, my dad was English so I always feel a wee bit at home whenever I’m over there.

It was in support of your latest record, Is This Real. What can you tell us about the record?

We were pretty keen to try something a bit different with this one. We spent some more time honing our songwriting and attempting to explore new realms and angles. As it went on, it seemed to emit some sort of apocalyptic vibe, almost to the point of it becoming a conceptual album. I was reading a lot of that kind of thing at the time, the classics plus a few more niche ones, and I guess all that’s happening on and around the planet helped with that a bit…

Tell us a bit about the recording process of Is This Real.

We basically chucked up a couple microphones and went at it. We recorded the album straight off the back of our Euro/ UK tour prior, as we were feeling pretty sharp as a unit at that point. We decided to try and utilise that and record ourselves live in the room together. I feel we wanted to capture more of a visceral element, and to let the songs speak for themselves, rather than mess around with all the funny biz. All up it only took us about a day and a half to get the beds down – we had four mics on the drums, one on bass, one on each guitar and one on the lead vocals. After that we laid down some percussion, backups and keys over a couple days. I then mixed the record which I hadn’t done for us before, that took some time. The whole process was part happy accident, part experiment, part success and part miserable failure.

The record has some dark undertones to it, with Pure Hate and So Alone for example. How did these themes come up in the song writing?

Well there are those overarching themes to the record I mentioned earlier, but on some of the songs it might take a while to scratch the surface and get to that sort of nitty gritty. That’s something I’ve always admired in other people’s songwriting, deeper or darker undertones, and double entendres. I’ve found that’s usually what brings me back to songs or albums – to crack the code or something like that. I think on the ones you mentioned, some of those ideas are more at the forefront, they aren’t trying to masquerade from the listener at all. Pure Hate was meant to be some sort of call to arms thing, or manifesto, so that’s gotta be all out there on the table. So Alone is much more of an intimate song, from a character’s place of isolation and resentment, so that’s gotta come through with sincerity and an emotional impact.

Jez, you’re big into your skateboarding. Did watching early skate edits influence your musical style?

Skateboarding was a big thing for myself and my brother Luke (guitarist) growing up. It’s such an amazing pathway into alternative cultures and off the wall groups of people. I’m forever grateful for some of the stuff I learnt or was exposed to through a bit of wood and some wheels. Musically it definitely steered me in the right direction from a young age. No doubt that getting put onto stuff like Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, Patti Smith, The Velvet Underground, The Only Ones and The Saints is going to fuck you up as a kid, particularly when it’s your idol skating along to it.

Your live shows are something else, they’re abrasive, engaging and incredibly fun. Do you find this to be just a natural response to your music? 

Yeah, I think energy and sounds definitely have the ability to take one into another realm. It’s pretty important to succumb to the plane, whether that be higher or lower, that playing live opens up. It’s a bit like going back to a primitive form of oneself, a dimension of Homo Sapiens that might’ve been weened out over time. I think the world might be a better place if we gave all to this dimension a little more. As James Chance so profoundly put it, ‘You better try being stupid, oh, instead of smart’.

We spent the day with you deep within the realms of forests, appreciating the vast Welsh landscape. We also visited an abbey and Luke was particularly into it. Do you guys dig these tales of folklore? If so, whats your favourite tale in folklore?

Tales of folklore are great, it’s pretty important to hold onto them, no matter how absurd they may seem, as they probably make up a great deal of our culture and DNA. I think we’re all pretty interested in this sort of thing, we listen to podcasts on subjects like that quite often to pass the time. Luke’s particularly onto it, everywhere we go he’s done his research and has a tale or two to tell us. I think folklore and myths are the people’s way of dealing with some of the strange, unexplainable and downright terrifying things that happen within this world. Personally, I’m most interested in tales told within some Indigenous Australians’ circles, like the Bunyip, which is said to live in swamps and waterholes, and eat children. The Australian landscape and environment can be pretty surreal and peculiar, so it seems quite likely that there are strange things inhabiting the place. Apparently we have a panther that lives up in the hills above our hometowns.

I suppose one day we have to return so Luke can find the stone that bleeds… Perhaps it was hidden back at that Spice Girls, or whoever it was, concert we drove past?

I believe that group was actually All Saints, I also believe that the bleeding stone is the source of their power.

What’s your downtown activity if you need to calm from the recklessness of the Pinheads?

I’m probably more inclined to get out of town and get into the bush. I also like to walk my greyhounds and make conversation with strangers.

What’s your hometown like for being a creative?

Well everyone in the band live mostly in the northern suburbs of Wollongong, which is an old mining and steel city on one of the most beautiful stretches of coast around. A few kilometres back you’ve got this encompassing escarpment with really luscious forest. The whole area is a bit of a paradox really, which has to affect the way people create – I can’t tell you how though. Lots of people are starting to cotton onto the place and are moving in from places like Sydney. There are heaps of creatives – artists, designers, musicians and such moving in, which is cool in some regard, but I don’t think it’s really for me. I recently moved up to a little country town called Robertson, which is where they shot the movie Babe (to give you a bit of a visual.) It’s a slow place and I think that’s definitely starting to impact on my thought process and creative practice, but how, I do not know. It’s been very humbling.

What’s been spinning on the Pinheads turntable lately?

I can’t speak for everyone but personally I’ve been catching up on a lot of the great singer songwriters. I’ve been obsessed with some of Richard and Linda Thompson’s records and quite a few of Elvis Costello’s earlyish ones. I’ve also been getting really into some of Lucinda Williams stuff lately – she’s great.

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