When I came across Pinback, an obscure alternative rock duo from San Diego, it was because of an obscure dark comedy with a cult following.
Pinback is named after a character in “Dark Star,” a spaced-out odyssey that came out in 1974 which focuses on four men that have been in outer space for 20 years. The movie climaxes with a negotiation between one of the men and a self-aware bomb who wants to blow up.
Reading about the movie I discovered the band and have been a fan ever since. Their song “Good to Sea” is catchy enough to pull any listener in but their deeper cuts like “Concrete Seconds,” “Boo” and “Some Voices” take many listens before leaving your ears with a craving.
Since Rob Crow and Zack Smith started Pinback back in 1998, they have released five albums, but they have never received much radio play or mainstream attention. For better or worse, they prefer an audience who enjoy their songs, which are intricate and deliberate, layered by instruments and sound bites.
While touring for the last 14 years, Pinback has never played a show in Aspen. That will all change next Tuesday, Jan. 29 when they headline the Belly Up for their first time.
I got a hold of Rob Crow when he was en route to Santa Cruz, three days into his tour. Talking to Crow is like negotiating with a self-aware bomb that wants to blow up.
His answers were short and secretive, and while he seemed kind I was constantly aware that he could be easily angered by stupid questions. He seemed non-plussed because the answers seem obvious to him, or else unimportant to what he does.
“That’s something that I’m not supposed to talk about,” he says about obsessed fans.
“I don’t know. It’s not something I care too much about,” he says about bands who sound like Pinback.
When I asked him how he would describe Pinback’s sound: Crow is unexpectedly sudden and casual, “I wouldn’t; I’d just play it. I describe it by doing it.”
I understand his intentions and I respect them, but I’m left with the task of describing their sound. I would explain them as a dark alternative rock band that comes across in most songs with a synth feel. Pinback clearly wants to make music that is challenging to the artist and the listener, yet somehow remains naturally attractive.
On their albums, both Crow and Smith create tracks with their vocals, guitar, bass, piano, keyboards, cello and programming. At one time they had five members in the band when they went on tour, to recreate what they were able to lay down in the studio. After trying that for a long while, the duo now tours as a duo.
“We decided to do the same sort of things but with backing tracks and it has been working out much better for everyone,” says Crow. “The audiences like it better, we like it better, everything is a lot more focused. It’s cool and fun.”
Along with Pinback, Crow has been working on random acts for a long time. He’s fronted bands whose names sound like every possible disaster, including Goblin Cock, Thingy and Heavy Vegetable. He once even started an act called the DevFits who mixed Devo and Misfits tracks.
“I have a history of putting a lot of time and effort into artistic prospects that aren’t expected to be successful,” says Crow. “But nonetheless, when anybody likes anything I do: It’s great, and I’m supper thankful for all of it.”
I’ve yet to see Pinback live, but I hear the tempo is faster, the energy is higher and I can’t wait. They look at what they do as an expression of art and understand recorded music and live music to be two entirely different art forms.
Crow seems to prefer the live form: “It’s more fun to share.”
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