Published Jan 15, 2020"Let me pull over and be smart and be safe here," Evan Stephens Hall tells Exclaim!, as he guides his car to the side of the road. Hall is on the way home after dropping his girlfriend at her drivers test ("She's 31, but she's from England and didn't have a license here"). He thought he could make it before our scheduled chat, but the distances in upstate New York, where he currently lives, are far. "Nothing is close to anything out here."
Not that he seems bothered by it. In fact, finding patience, with himself, the people around him and the curveballs life has thrown at him, is something that's been weighing on Hall's mind of late. It's one of the key themes of Marigold, the fourth album from Pinegrove, the band he formed with Zack Levine a decade ago in Montclair, NJ. Referring to its first single, "Moment," Hall, the band's singer-guitarist and primary songwriter, notes that "our patience is in this life sometimes tested. How do we respond to that? In that song I'm suggesting we approach frustrating aspects of life with sincere inquiry, not with anger."
Some might interpret that as a call for reasonable discussion in a period dominated by political tribalism. But the song (and the album as a whole) will no doubt also be viewed through the prism of Hall's personal life.
In November 2017, Hall posted a message on Facebook revealing that he'd been accused of "sexual coercion" in the form of "verbal and contextual pressure." At the victim's request, the band were going on a year-long hiatus and he would seek counselling. They shelved their forthcoming album, Skylight, which was later released independently on Bandcamp, with all profits going to charity. When the band re-emerged last fall, it was only with his accuser's blessing. "It's a priority of mine to maintain the anonymity of the person I was involved with," he says. "And that just really kind of ties my hands about what sort of things I can say about it."
Coming just as the #metoo movement was getting increased, Hall's post was simultaneously troubling and confusing. Pinegrove had built their reputation through an open, communal and progressive relationship with their fans. Their 2016 album, Cardinal, significantly expanded the band's audience outside of their tight-knit community in and around New Jersey. Its emo-tinged alt-country didn't grab listeners so much as burrow under their skin. Songs tend not to follow a traditional verse-chorus-verse structure; rather, they unfold, revealing themselves over repeat listens. "I think more about dynamics than sections," he says. "A lot of it is, 'Can I get out of the way, be a conduit to the song's message?'"
They were soon the object of a cultish following, dubbed "Pinenuts," who would sing every word back to them at concerts, and tattoo their logo, two intersecting squares, meant to symbolize an "ethic of tolerance and coexisting perspectives" according to an interview with Pitchfork, on their bodies (actor Kristen Stewart being the most high-profile example). "They want to show their support in the movement for humanism more broadly," says Hall today, who himself had Radiohead's Kid A-era bear logo tattooed on his leg last year. "The fight for justice and equality for all people."
That's a message that still resonates with fans, who appear to be giving Hall a second chance. Subsequent tours have quickly sold out, and the sing-alongs are as loud and emphatic as ever. "I definitely appreciate everybody who wants to listen to our music, that they're taking an informed perspective about our hiatus and that they've looked at the situation and thought about it and said, 'You know what, I want to continue to support this band.' That means a lot to me."
Marigold was recorded and partially written during the period of public inactivity. Along with core members Hall, brothers Zack (drums) and Nick (guitar) Levine, bass player Josh Marré and guitarist and co-producer Sam Skinner, the record included contributions from former member Nandi Rose Plunkett (who now records as Half Waif) as well as Hall and Levine's fathers. It was recorded in the living room of the house shared by Hall and Nick. "I certainly wouldn't have been able to write an album like Marigold any sooner than I did," he says. "Any album that I'm trying to write is informed so much by what I've tried to do before and everything I've ever listened to, or read or experienced in my life."
Those experiences include the accusations that were made against him and the introspection that followed. "It's a part of my life, something that I think about every day," he says. "You'll find a lot of my reflections on the album." But he cautions that the record is neither non-fiction nor diarist. "I am taking things I've learned or things I've observed throughout that year and including them in various ways, starting in a place of friction or distortion and moving towards resolution and then harmony."
But Hall also sees Marigold as the latest in the ongoing conversation that is the Pinegrove discography. It's more direct than Skylight, which he calls "high concept" in comparison, a love letter to music and art in general.
"Now here's a maybe more heart-on-the-sleeve, emotionally direct take, as a response to that," he says. "It's all about doing our best to learn and learn more about ourselves so that we can be more compassionate to other people."