The Tall Pines might not have the back-story that their spooky band music conjures, but the New York City duo’s music itself radiates with enough validity and soul to draw the attention it’s been getting. After all their first names are Christmas and Connie – a name that makes Jack and Meg sound first grade.
Connie Lynn Petruk, playing drums on her alligator-skin suitcase and shaking her tambourine, and her guitar-slinging partner Christmas Davis, writes the songs and howls along. If a duo ever sounded bigger than its parts, The Tall Pines sound it with undeniable choruses and songs full of intriguing narratives, reflect the 60’s wizardry of The Zombies and the modern biting edge of the Kills. Soul, country, swamp, heartache and neo-blues are just some of the sounds coming off their voices and instrument, but of course the influences are almost endless here.
The Tall Pines have been gaining notice though a monthly live music series in New York City called The Tall Pines Revue, and have recently been dubbed a “buzz band” at the 30A Songwriter’s Festival last January by American Songwriter Magazine With their follow-up EP Fear is the Devil out in Fall 2015 we had a chance to find out what makes their music spook and thrills.
First of all how has the summer concert season been for you? Were they any outdoor or festival shows that were highlights for you this past summer?
Our favorite festival of the year isn’t a summer festival. We love playing at The 30A Songwriter’s Festival in North Florida. We do it every January and look forward to it as a great way to start off the year. Usually we play three or four shows over a weekend. The audience there has always been great, and every year it just keeps on growing. We visited Newport for the Folk Festival this year, we had some friends playing in it, but we didn’t play this year. Still we had a great time at the festival and it’s one of our goals to play there in the near future. Last week we played at The Communion Music event here in NYC and at The Haverford Music Festival outside of Philly, which was fun, because I have family in the area, and although we’ve played a lot of festivals over the past few years, this last summer was intentionally a bit slow. We’ve been writing mostly and focusing on recording more new music this summer with our producer Joel Hamilton. A light summer for festivals perhaps, but we’ll get ‘em next year!
As mentioned in your press release -The Tall Pines music reflects in the spirits of the late 1960s and early 1970s country-soul, and swamp-rock scenes. How did you first get into these type of sounds and what primarily creatively influenced you? Was it a certain concert or band?
Ha ha, We were not born in time to go to concerts in the 60s and early 70s, but that was a great time for music. A lot of country bands were experimenting with more “soul” style arrangements and there was just a loose, and fun spirit that was riding through the music world at that time. We’re inspired by that sense of freedom as well as the story telling and melody. It just turned out that a lot of the music that Connie and I love, and that we were referencing when we were discovering what we wanted to do in The Tall Pines came from that time, particularly geographically from The South. A lot of our lyrical references are also from characters in the southern side of my family, north Florida/ South Georgia, where my Mom’s family comes from. So it all fits together. The bands that we love from that era are too many to mention, but if you listen to our music, you’ll figure out who they are.
Can you talk about your upcoming EP some and why you decided to go in that direction verse a full length?
It’s simple, we’d rather put out EPs more frequently than wait as long as it can take to finish a whole album. That’s the theory. Unfortunately we’re still sitting on music for way too long. One of our goals this year is to put out more of what we’re working on, so we’re hoping that releasing EPs regularly will help us with that plan.
What songs would you consider the standouts on the new EP? When writing a composition what makes music a Tall Pones sound? Is there a particular sound or word that make it come true?
What makes something a Tall Pines song? Like a recipe? I’m not sure it’s that simple. I guess my writing which is some mix up of country, soul, gospel and/or garage rock, with lyrics that might or might not be churchy, Connie Lynn’s voice, super sparse arrangements that are still pretty percussive and have a lot of motion to them – we call it “the skeleton of soul” and the constant threat of a very nasty fuzz box blowing up the whole thing. This new record has the song “Fear Is The Devil” on it, which has been a live audience favorite for a while. It’s a call and response song like some of the field recordings from the folkways catalogue and the Alan Lomax recordings. The idea is that a lot of the call and response songs came from spreading news, giving a warning, or just communicating something that needs to be said.
Living in America today we are one of the wealthiest nations, with a tremendous amount of power, and yet so much of our information is delivered in a way that’s intended to keep our people fearful. From the news to commercials, aspects of our culture try to get us accustomed to a base level of fear that we can be manipulated by. It’s upsetting and twisted. I just wanted to call bullshit on that – probably after seeing something on Fox News – and it made me want to write a song about it.
Some other songs we hope folks will like on the EP are “Mexico,” about a couple on the run from certain consequences, and our hardest rocking song to date “Sister Rose” which is about Rosetta Tharpe, even though it sounds nothing like her music. She’s a hero. We also put the song “Hooked On You” on this EP, which we wrote for an intimate apparel company to advertise a line of bras online. We originally weren’t going to include it on the EP because of how it came about, but then I read something about Paul Williams “We’ve Only Just Begun” originally being a commercial for a bank and we thought, why not? Also, people seem to like it when we play “Hooked On You” live so now they can listen to it when we’re not around.
The Tall Pines Revue sounds very original – can you tell our readers about it some and how that came to be and how it has grown?
The Tall Pines Revue is a lot of fun. It’s something that we’re proud of and we really love putting on these shows. We’ve had a lot of great guests too: Michael Cerveris and Loose Cattle, Laura Cantrell, Tammy Faye Starlite with Barry Reynolds, Erik Paparazzi from Cat Power, Arum Rae, The Defibulators, Doug Gillard from Guided by Voices, Rockabilly teen age songwriter Jack Skuller, Joe McGinty and Andrea Diaz new project The Duchess and The Fox, songwriter Julia Joseph and lots of talented friends.
We take over the semi-secret “Back Room” behind the bar at a restaurant called Jimmy’s No. 43 on East 7th St. in The East Village. It’s in a great old building. There’s a small stage, lots of wood paneling, a brick vaulted ceiling, and red paint. Perfect. The room was being used occasionally for theatrical shows, and for storage. Jimmy the owner of the place is a great guy and a real supporter. We can’t say enough nice things about him. We bring everything in, the PA, the table cloths, decorations. It’s like producing an event every month.
At The Tall Pines Revues we invite two or three guest performers/ friends, to do a stripped down – solo, or duo – set of 3 songs or 15 minutes. We encourage our guests to try out things that they don’t usually do. Then after the guests perform, we do a Tall Pines set with our band, that’s about 40 minutes long, but we also include songs where we invite our guests back on stage to sing with us, cover songs, old time songs, whatever fits the guests and the night. It’s based on the old idea of “Revue” performances, instead of a bunch of bands each playing a 45 minute like they would at the typical band-mill. The room is intimate, and there are no drum sets, so it feels a lot like a living room concert, or those small Hollywood-TV-studio-lot night-club sets where bands would “perform” on ‘60’s TV shows. We love doing these. They’re usually the third Thursday of the month, but check The Tall Pines Facebook page for info because they move around on the schedule sometimes.
Musically as a duo what advantages does it give you as songwriters and performers and are there other duos that you particularly admire in terms of sound and style?
As performers it’s great to tour as a duo because we can pack up the car and go wherever pretty much whenever. We don’t need to organize a lot of peoples’ schedules, and our overhead is pretty low, which is more important than ever these days with the profitability of recorded music in question. We do have a band that we play with at about half of our NYC shows. Jesse Krakow plays bass, and Katia Floreska plays organ with us. They both sing and that gives our songs a big boost on the choruses with everyone chiming in. They’re good friends and great people and we love ‘em. We’d love to bring them with us everywhere, but unfortunately it gets too expensive to go out with a band right now. Maybe when we have a bigger budget. That would be wonderful.
You recently drew comparison to a few other contemporary artists playing a more throw back sound – what has your relationship been with comparison and as an artist do you feel they add pressure to sound like who people say you sound like or is it all a complement?
We do what we do, and we don’t feel any pressure about it except the pressure to keep getting better ourselves. If people think we sound like someone we like, then we take it as a compliment. If they think we sound like someone we don’t like, we take that to mean that we need to look into whether or not we’re achieving what we had in mind in the first place. As long as what we’re doing sounds like The Tall Pines, then we’re happy. People may hear or see bits of other things in what we do. As long as they don’t say “you sound exactly like so & so” then we take it all as a positive thing. The human brain needs to find something familiar in things as a reference point. We all like to know what we’ve gotten ourselves into. It’s a natural reaction.
What other music communities do you most enjoy visiting and playing?
We love playing in The South. Asheville, NC, Knoxville, TN, north Florida, and Nashville have all been good to us. We’re looking to tour down there more regularly. Moving there isn’t out of the question either. There’s a nice community around the 30A Songwriter’s Festival in North Florida, which we mentioned earlier. Folks in these areas seem to connect with what we’re doing easily and there are a lot of real music fans down there.
Are there any other bands or artists you feel a particular kinship with and could see yourself going out on tour with?
Over the past few years we’ve become friends with Abigail Washburn and Bela Fleck, another “couple” band who we love to spend time with. They are lovely folks and the record they made together, and their performances are really inspiring. We’ve also gotten to hang out with Erin and Bug from the Defibulators a little bit and hope to get to know them better. They’re good people. We like that Nikki Lane, and we’ve hung out with her a few times. She’s a hoot and her last record was a lot of fun. There are some bands playing now that we would like to play with, I don’t know that there is a “kinship” yet, but there could be. Alabama Shakes, Langhorne Slim, Dave Rawling’s Machine, St. Paul and The Broken Bones, are all groups we’d love to do some shows with.
What performance or artist have you seen/heard in the past year that has most inspired you?
We’re inspired a little bit by a lot of things. It’s putting all of those little bits of things together in a pot and mixing it up that gives us our own flavor. Recent stuff…we were inspired by going to the Newport Folk Festival last July. Everyone we saw was really at the top of their game and played inspiring sets, Sturgill Simpson’s guitarist Laur Joamets is very inspiring. Watching Bela Fleck is always inspiring. But really most of the artists that inspire us aren’t performing anymore. We dig back pretty far: Bobbie Gentry, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Hubert Sumlin, Lightning Hopkins, Koko Taylor, Gene Clark, The Cramps, Bill Monroe, R. L Burnside, Kate Bush, Jerry Reed, Townes, Lou Reed, Fleetwood Mac… it’s a long list and we hope it keeps getting longer. The more inspiration the better.