“Pinenuts” are what they call themselves. It’s difficult to quantify exactly what it is about Pinegrove that has attracted such a zealous, cult-like fanbase. If Pinegrove were a cult (and it might as well be) the leader and religious figurehead would be, undoubtedly, Evan Stephens Hall. There’s a certain air of unknowability and obscurity surrounding Hall that just seems to pull you in. Like the lurking character in a novel or movie you want so desperately to understand, Hall has become a person of incredible interest to fans. There are entire forums dedicated to the band, with most discussion focusing on the lead singer/songwriter and musings about a possible upcoming album.
For such a relatively obscure band, it can seem absurd to see people walking around with interlocking squares and ampersands, both frequently used symbols within the band’s work, tattooed on their body. Hall himself has discussed in past interviews his interest in semiotics (the study of symbol interpretation) and how he incorporates symbol-based metaphors into many of Pinegrove’s songs.
This highbrow, academic approach to songwriting is not entirely surprising given both Hall and keyboardist Nandi Plunkett were students of philosophy and linguistics in their liberal arts education at Kenyon College prior to the band’s formation. During his senior year at Kenyon, inspired by the work of Pynchon, Faulkner and Joyce, Hall wrote the beginnings of what would later become an EP entitled “&” with the hopes of creating “a love album about semiotics or a semiotics album about love.” In an interview with Pitchfork, he cited this project as being the biggest musical risk he’s ever taken. Although the EP did not receive nearly as much attention as the band’s later albums would go on to achieve, Hall remains proud of the literary lyricism.
The album that really put Pinegrove in the public eye was “Cardinal.” On the surface, “Cardinal” is an easygoing indie album, recalling some of the most likeable rock bands of the last two decades. But this album is worth a second or third listen as it’s only when you spend some time soaking in the colorful language characteristic of any Pinegrove release that the deeper, grander meaning emerges. As the album was written while the band was on their first cross-country tour, the action of traveling heavily influenced the writing process. While some of the details are fabricated or embellished, Hall used this experience to shape a narrative about placement and displacement, i.e. where one belongs in this world and how we can relate to the other people in it.
On the track “Aphasia,” Hall uses the eponymous speech and language disorder as a metaphor for the fear the he can’t properly express himself, that somehow he is trapped inside himself. In this way, it serves as an extension of a solipsistic worldview. Not only is it a fear of discovering that we ourselves are the only real thing, it’s also the fear that it is impossible to descriptively and accurately communicate any of these thoughts to anyone outside of yourself.
I’m aware that this might all sound incredibly pretentious, but I genuinely empathize with the intentions Evan Hall has set out for this band. If you spend any amount of time listening to Pinegrove, it will become clear that Hall has agonized over every single word you hear. You can feel the deeply introspective process his writing has gone through before it was even put to music. In the words of Hall, “Being a good artist and good person are essentially the same thing.” And that’s a message I hope more artists in this day and age take to heart.
Mitchell Clark is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.