Pinback’s Rob Crow On The Band’s New Album And Life On The Road

Paris yesterday and London tonight, today marks the last in a string of shows Pinback’s played since they kicked off their international tour in New York on November 12. I was sorry not to catch them live, and apologize for failing to alert readers to their Big Apple appearance, but I did secure a short and sweet interview with half of the primary pair, Rob Crow, while the guys were bouncing around (literally) on the road.

Together Crow (guitar, vocals) and Zach Smith (bass, keys, vocals) comprise the indie rock outfit, which they founded in 1998, with Chris Prescott presently providing percussion at concerts. For the past five years, Pinback seemingly took a backseat to other projects the guys were working on, but October 16 brought their fifth studio album to music store shelves. Slow and steady wins the race, right?

Entitled Information Retrieved, I wouldn’t tout it as their strongest record to date, though it’s pristinely produced and in the same vein as their previous output so, if you’re as smitten with their aesthetic as I am, it’ll do the trick in a pinch. I’m more of an Autumn of the Seraphs (2007) and Blue Screen Life (2001) fan myself, but tracks like “True North,” “Drawstring,” and “Sherman” make the 40-minute romp worthwhile.

As you’d expect, the tunes are mostly mellow, featuring the multi-instrumentalists’ tight and precise guitar and bass strumming and easy-on-the-ears singing, alongside samples and other sounds. Not surprisingly, it’s the best background music, and the disc flies by, compelling me to then play favorites “Penelope” and “How We Breathe” before calling it a day.

Crow and I caught up over the phone while he was between cities and chatted briefly about what music means to him, his stance on formal education, and why sometimes it’s so scary to take the stage. Read on for more from the San Diego-based band, then explore upcoming engagements beginning mid-January, if you happen to live or visit pretty much anywhere except the East Coast.

So, how does it feel to at long last complete another Pinback album?
It’s a relief to finally have it out.

Why the five-year period between Pinback releases?
Five years, off and on. Zach was working on a Systems Officer album and a Three Mile Pilot album, and three kids were born [between the two of us]. Ugh. Lots of life stuff went on.

Do you listen to your own music much?
Not often. Sometimes I will, to remind myself what I did. I usually listen to it a bunch until it comes out. Once it comes out, I work on new things.

Do you have a favorite track on this record?
I’m open to the concept of having a favorite, but right now I don’t.

What does music mean to you?
Next to my family, it’s my favorite thing. I spend a lot of time researching it and getting as involved with it as I can, even when it’s stuff I have nothing to do with, I’m just super interested. I [want to] know as much about it as possible. I always want to champion the groups that I don’t think people hear enough. I’m fixated, that’s for sure.  

You also once said that music helps alleviate being down about the universe.
It’s such a strange environment to talk about such things. You can’t believe how much this van is bouncing around. Whenever I think about all this stuff, I start getting depressed. I’m not very good at being introspective at the moment. I’ve got, like, five guys around. [Laughs]

Is there any place you’re looking forward to playing in particular?
The whole thing is interesting to us because we’ve got so many new songs that we’re trying to play for the first time ever. It’s bad enough when we have to throw one new thing in there, but now we have a ton of new things all at the same time. It’s super scary.

How does the set break down between songs new and old?
We try to make sure we have all the things people really want to hear and a bunch of the new stuff to see how people receive it. From there, we learn what to keep in the set.

What’s your live concert like?
I don’t know how to describe it. I’ve never seen it. [Laughs]

Are there visuals?
Yes, there are. In fact, I’m working on them right now.

Are they like your video for “Sherman”?
Some of them are like that. The video for “Sherman” was based on visuals I made that we played when we played that song live.

It’s very eerie.
Thank you. Yeah, there’s a lot of that. Edited together public domain stuff and some animation that I made and things of this nature.

Anything funny happen on tour thus far?
Not really. Thankfully it’s gone all right. Usually a funny story means something horrible happened. But, nothing horrible has happened yet.

Is it difficult being away from your family while on the road?
Oh yeah. We just try to throw ourselves into the work and focus on playing as good as we can. That helps.

Do you write on the road?
Usually on tour it’s hard to write because there’s not really room to play guitar or anything like that. I [come up with] things in my head and try to write them down, but I’m not so much for that.

You once said you don’t want to be famous and you’re happy not to be.
I’d be ecstatic to earn a living doing what I do. And I almost do that. I would be happy with just that.

What do you like to do when you come through NYC?
I visit Marvel. I go to Mama’s [Food Shop] on B and 4th. It just closed, but it was around for many, many years. They had the best vegan disco fries and country fried tofu steak.

I’m sorry I missed that. What would you do if you weren’t working in music?
I have no idea. There’s things I would have liked to do, but I was not much for school. My grades were all right, I just wasn’t into doing it. But, I don’t want it to sound like that’s the way to go through life, because I totally encourage going to school.

You’re never going to stop making music, though, are you?
Why would anyone want to?

Photos by Chris Woo.

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