Photos: Adan Carlo

“Pinegrove was always an inquiry about love and how to love better, and I think that it’s pretty important that we’re asking these questions right now.” Pinegrove frontman Evan Stephens Hall is talking about life after the election. It’s early morning in Montclair – the New Jersey township in which Hall resides and after a year of touring the band’s debut LP Cardinal across America and Europe, the 27-year-old sounds reflective.

“I think these are the things that need the most focus right now, because things feel really complicated and huge, and they are, but they should not obscure these really important tenets of humanism,” he continues. “We need to try and be our best selves, which means loving ourselves as well as we can and being the best partner for the people that we know and the people that we don’t know; that means trying to love them as well as we can too.”

“We need to try and be our best selves, which means loving ourselves as well as we can”

Pinegrove have the tendency to invest a nostalgic introspection through their songwriting that creates a proleptic impulse, allowing us to see ourselves between the lines. Through candid lyricism, Hall creates a universal, empathetic discourse that at a time of fear and uncertainty, makes Pinegrove one of the most important bands around. “These were already the things that I wanted to write about but it just turns out that people need them even more now,” he laments.

Hall is a passionate reader – “mostly fiction and lots of newspaper articles” – and he regularly quotes authors throughout our chat. “The writer Martha Nussbaum talks about how reading fiction is important because it helps us strengthen empathy or it helps us practise empathy,” he continues.

pinegrove cover interview

“If you’re reading from someone else’s perspective and it’s really persuasive and you identify with it then you are more likely to understand where they’re coming from and you’re more likely to love them for who they are. And then you may contain a part of them as well. So basically, all of this comes down to wanting to understand each other but sometimes it’s just, the story isn’t told right, or someone’s not ready to hear it.”

Pinegrove is the product of years of playing basement shows and DIY spaces, with Hall enthusing about Montclair’s non-profit, student-run organisation, Serendipity Cafe. But, like a lot of creative spaces throughout the United States, it was recently faced with being thrown out of its meeting space. After the tragedy of December’s Oakland fire, the shutting down of these ever-important locations seems to be spreading.

“I think the thing that was happening with Serendipity is exactly the way it happens, which is incrementally and quietly,” Hall says. “Something that’s being attacked in America right now is our right to assemble and our right to speak critically of people in power. I think they recognise that these creatively-fertile spaces are deeply threatening to the establishment, because these are smart, passionate people who are assembling and I believe that they’re the kernels of the revolution.”

“Something that’s being attacked in America right now is our right to assemble and our right to speak critically of people in power”

He talks of a basement space he helped to run with a friend, where bands such as Connecticut’s Sorority Noise would attract up to 250 people to the house. Hall and his friend quickly realised it had become an unsafe environment, so the pals branched out and went looking for a legal, safe space.

“We were eventually denied the zoning permit or something like that – something very, just bureaucratic basically – that prevented us from doing it legally and now there’s no real space in Montclair that people can do that, with the exception of Serendipity,” he explains. “It’s the result of a country that does not respect the artistic community and I think that dangerous circumstances resulted because there’s not enough community or municipal support for something which I think everyone agrees is the biggest export for America – culture, for better or for worse.”

pinegrove cover interview

Pinegrove’s gradual rise from bandcamp favourites to the critically-acclaimed success of Cardinal has now seen them sell-out New York’s Bowery Ballroom in less than 24 hours, five months in advance. The album is also taking the band back on tour across Europe this month, with word-of-mouth seeing almost all the venues selling out ahead of their appearance. “We’ve appreciated the gradual awareness I think but it still seems pretty fast in a way,” Hall comments. “For years, we were not on the radar of anybody. We were just in Montclair making the music that we wanted to hear.”

The extensive touring however, hasn’t meant that Hall’s nerves have subsided when it comes to live shows. “I feel really nervous when I perform but then when I come out onstage, people are mostly there because they are already on board and they want to celebrate with us,” he says. “I mean Pinegrove as a serious inquiry into the nature of being human, especially myself, especially someone who makes art or wants to or who is spiritual or who is basically asking the big questions,” Hall pauses, picking his words with a notable sincerity. “I think that’s what a lot of listeners need right now and I want to try and be helpful.”

Pinegrove play the Bristol Live Turns Five 5th birthday party at The Fleece on 21st February. Cardinal is out now on Run for Cover Records. The band have just released Elsewhere – a live album with all proceeds going to Southern Poverty Law Center; you can hear ‘Old Friends’ below.