Pinback returns with Information Retrieved
Rob Crow (left) and Zach Smith of Pinback (Handout)
Rarely is the gulf between critical acclaim and commercial success as vast as it is with Cali indie-rockers Pinback. The core duo of Rob Crow and Zach Smith – or more precisely, the richly detailed, angular and weirdly dreamy pop they create - may well be the best stuff few this side of Pitchfork.com has heard of despite press raves.
That could change with the release of their jaw-droppingly excellent fifth studio album, Information Retrieved, the long-coming follow-up to 2007's Autumn of the Seraphs, and easily one of the prettiest, most striving yet accessible releases of the year. Think Yo La Tengo chops set against Sunny Day Real Estate timbre with a smidge of Idaho atmospherics (sorry, sorry… busted: I am an indie nerd).
It’s not like Smith and Crow have been sitting around waiting for the world to notice their quietly brilliant sonic bursts, however. Smith is also the frontman of Three Mile Pilot, while Crow has moonlighted with Deftones frontman Chino Moreno’s Team Sleep side project and Drive Like Jehu, along with many others, not to mention his own solo work. Still, Pinback clearly holds a special place in the scope of their ambitions.
On the horn from hometown San Diego before embarking on a far-reaching tour with stops in Europe, the U.S. and Canada (at Toronto’s Lee’s Palace November 21 and January 22 in Vancouver, venue TBA), singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Crow discusses Information Retrieved with a sardonic mix of reverie and cautious optimism peculiar to those who appreciate positive reviews but know that those – along with two bucks - will buy him a cup of coffee.
It’s been five years since the last Pinback record. How much of that time was actually spent on Information Retrieved?
A whole lot off and on. Zach and I both did other things in the meantime; we both put out records. It’s hard to figure exactly how much time was spent.
Reviewers seem to regard you guys as perfectionists. Guilty as charged?
Probably. I only have my point of view to work from. I’m not someone who will tinker with stuff forever. I mean, I am more than happy to think that a song is done. Sometimes I’ll listen to something for a bit and think, ‘That really should have something else.’ But there’s no definitive answer to that. It’s a case-by-case basis. And because we tend to write in the studio, everything just kind of flows together. I try to get everything right. Sometimes I’ll change the lyrics, like, five times or if I don’t get the vocals I want I’ll do them over and over until I get something I like all the way through. And then other times, things just come out right.
There seems to be a melancholic, almost candlelit quality to your music which can’t be easy to conjure in sunshiny, smiley San Diego.
I think we both spend a lot of time indoors (laughs). We try and get out to the beach. I mean, I’ve got three kids and I’m trying to write and work and do all these things and you really have to plan out things like beach visits. And something invariably goes wrong. This year for example, when we tried to go to the beach, there was giant jellyfish that had only recently been discovered. They came out from the sea because of global warming or something, and they just filled the beach. They were three feet in diameter and they were all over the place. And propellers from boat had kind of chopped them up, so they were floating around waiting to sting you. And you’d say to people, ‘So how bad is the sting,’ and they’d say, ‘Well, it won’t kill you.’ Which is enough. But I’m not going to have my kids go swimming there.
Are your kids old enough to have an opinion on your music, and is that something you welcome or fear?
Both. I have a one-year-old, a four-year-old and a seven-year-old. I need to listen to what I am doing in the car just to figure out how it sounds out of the studio in a regular environment. Is it too soft, too loud, what needs to be fixed? And the kids just call anything I am working on ‘Daddy Songs.’ And they’ll sometimes call out, ‘Hey we want to hear Daddy Songs!’ The four- and seven-year-old really like Devo and things like that. But they’re also really into the SpongeBob SquarePants record which is put together pretty well – it’s a good homage to Brian Wilson – but they listen to it constantly. Ugh.
I know you’re a horror fan - any ambition to follow in the footsteps of Rob Zombie and make movies?
Sure I’d love to. I look at videos like the one we just made (for the song “Sherman”). I like writing and working out shots and things. I do try and make films at home, like little short things – I have a green screen set up in the dining room, so if we get an idea for something I can go put it together. But I don’t know much about Rob Zombie. I’ve seen his first two movies (2003's House of 1000 Corpses and 2005's The Devil's Rejects) and I really enjoyed the second one. It was silly but fun.
So what’s your sense on how this record is going to go down with the masses?
I have no idea. I mean, so far I have only heard good things from fans though I still don’t know how to take that or understand that. People will say it’s their most favourite Pinback record but I worry it’ll end up being their least favourite Pinback record. I dunno. I try not to think about that stuff too much. This record took so long and we worked so hard on it that I of course hope people will like it. And hopefully just thinking that won’t ruin it.