By Michael Hamad
1:09 PM EDT, September 11, 2013
In the mid-’90s, a San Diego mathcore band called Heavy Vegetable, led by singer-guitarist Rob Crow, strung together minute-long snapshots of their world: the theft of a spatula, watching Jackie Chan kicking ass, achieving multi-ball status on a pinball machine.
“Song For Wesley,” which lasted all of 1:22, paid homage to outsider musician Wesley Willis. (Crow added “Wesley Willis: he was whipping on a mule’s ass with a belt” to Willis’ catch phrase “Rock over London, rock on, Chicago.”) The middle section of “Ratchet” (“a Q-tip can be a dangerous thing / circle the lobe, keep it away from brain”), characteristically mundane and funny, stays with you. HV’s music was angular and distorted, full of meter changes and distortion. Not many heard it, perhaps, but people who did usually remembered.
That band — and Thingy, another contemporaneous Crow band — broke up. Crow found bassist Zach Smith (Neighborhood Watch, Plum Daisy and Three-Mile Pilot) and started Pinback in 1998. They sound very little like Heavy Vegetable; the circular, progressive tendencies got filtered out and replaced by more conventional song forms. But Crow’s guitar and voice are unmistakable. They’ve cycled through several drummers (currently it’s Chris Prescott).
“I just wanted to do something else,” Crow said by phone from a tour stop in Pittsburgh. “I wanted to continue to do the aggressive stuff and complicated things, but also see if I could do a different kind of thing. The theory was that I would continue to do Heavy Vegetable and Thingy this entire time, but with people moving and stuff, I just couldn’t keep everything going at once.”
Geography and life changes had a lot to do with those groups disbanding. “I kinda didn’t move on, but everybody else did,” Crow said. “By the end, I was the only person who still lived in [San Diego]. I figured, ‘I should probably take a break from writing this kind of stuff. It just makes me crazy. Nobody listens to it, and nobody in the band even knows how to play it, or lives here.’ Someday I’ll start writing like that again. I do other complicated stuff, but just not in that genre.”
Heavy Vegetable drummer Manolo Turner and bassist Travis Nelson, Crow said, also needed to take a break “because [vocalist] Eléa [Tenuta] and I were so crazy, probably,” Crow said. “Everybody in that band was crazy, but in their own little ways.” When he, Tenuta and drummer Mario Rubalcaba tried to keep Thingy together, everybody was constantly out of town. “By the end, Eléa was in Los Angeles, and we were just going through bass players and drummers,” Crow said. “Mario: he’s doing a million things to this day, and they’re all awesome.”
Pinback’s fifth album, Information Retrieved, is their first for Temporary Residence Limited. “It’s just pretty much Zach and me, and we force the drummer, Chris Prescott, to do what we need,” Crow said.
Earlier this year, Pinback played Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, their late-night television premiere. Crow, Smith and Prescott were joined onstage by Roots guitarist “Captain” Kirk Douglas and several musician friends. “That was thrilling,” Crow said. “Everybody there was super nice. It was fun and easy and everybody was cool and outgoing and fun to talk to.” They had only one run-through with Douglas, who didn’t need anymore rehearsal. “I sent him mp3s, and he just knew it all. Some of it was kind of complex, but he just had it... He’s a big sweetheart, is what he is.” Immediately after the taping, the band hit the road for a 14-hour drive to Louisville, but they stopped at a diner to watch the performance. “We asked the waitress if we could change the channel,” Crow said. “We were the only people there. She was like, ‘Is that you guys?’”
The experience of watching themselves was bizarre. “It was purposely surreal because we had a bunch of extra friends in there,” Crow said. One of Crow and Smith’s friends, who plays a character in the band named J.P. Ink, helped out on keys. “You can’t use any backing tracks on Fallon, so we had to enlist our friends to play all the extra parts, and that’s why Kirk was there too… It was a good experience to hang out with a bunch of friends too.”
On the road, Pinback, between hitting up vinyl stores and hobby shops, writes very little. “I wrote a few riffs and things of that nature and just kinda put them on my phone, but it’s hard to do any more than that,” Crow said. “I think Zach works on stuff in the back of the bus, but I don’t know what he’s working on.” It’s also difficult to get anything down on a recording device.
There’s no Pinback material for a follow-up to Information yet, but there are a number of outtakes that could kickstart a new album. “Some of our favorite songs never made it onto this album, but, you know, we have different opinions about things,” Crow said. They have material they could start with if they wanted, but they may not want to. “I’d kinda like to, but also it would be refreshing to just start from scratch.”
Pinback will play Hamden’s Spaceland Ballroom on Sept. 12, with Deathfix opening. When we spoke, the tour was just hitting the midpoint. For Crow, who has three children, and Smith, who has two, being away from home can be tough.
“My family shows up today, my wife and kids,” Crow said. “So that will be a whole new level of something. It’s my daughter’s second birthday coming up, so I can’t miss that. I would hate myself. I have never missed a kid’s birthday yet.”
Pinback, w/Deathfix, Sept. 12, 8 p.m., $18-$20, The Spaceland Ballroom, 295 Treadwell St., Hamden, manicproductions.org
Copyright © 2014, WTXX-TV