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INTERVIEW: The Pinkerton Raid

Hi guys, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Hey, VENTS! Jesse here. We’re great! Thanks for asking.

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Ghost In My Bed”?

I wrote the lyrics and the basic melodies a long time ago, maybe eight years. We’ve been tinkering with it for awhile, changing keys, minor vs. major chords, instrumentation. My brother Steven and sister Katie have pushed me away from my brooding, atmospheric tendencies into a sound that’s more dynamic and percussive, and this is one of the songs where it really comes through.  Eventually, I just felt like I wanted to get people’s hips moving with this one, rolling with the sensual spirituality of St. Teresa of Avila, the inspiration for this song. The big sing-along “whoa-whoa” part with the horns matching the melody is one of the latest additions, and it’s one of my favorite parts on our new record. In the wee hours one morning after a long day of tracking, we had a dozen of us singing along like a choir in the giant live-tracking room at the Fidelitorium outside Winston-Salem here in North Carolina. It was a lot of fun.

Did any event in particular inspired you to write this song?

I went through the end of a seven-year relationship. My two daughters were really small at the time, and I had built my life around this marriage and my family, so it felt like the ground was disappearing underneath me. I needed to feel inside me that I was going to be OK, that I had the strength to be a single dad, and I found a lot of comfort in the Psalms of the ancient Jews and in the mystical writings of St. Teresa, this Catholic nun from the 1500s. I think human relationships are really, really, really important – they are what shape our lives into what they are. But it turned out that even  — and maybe especially – our most intimate relationships can let us down, and I had to find a my sense of being worthy of love in something more reliable than another fragile human being. Teresa wrote about an “interior castle” – this fortress deep inside us where we can tap into a divine, cosmic force much bigger than ourselves. I think I was writing to convince myself that I’m not alone. Teresa writes about this spiritual encounter in very sensual terms, which the Italian sculptor Bernini captured in his piece “The Ecstasy of St. Teresa.” That’s the statue image that Adam Neuebauer sketched as the centerpiece of our album cover.  

Any plans to release a video for the single?

We’ve definitely got a video in the works, but we can’t say much about it just yet! We’re leaning toward another song, “Deeper Than Skin.” But we do have a live video of “Ghost in My Bed” recorded by our friend Will Gehrman at the Cat’s Cradle Backroom, during our celebration for hitting our Kickstarter goal last February: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wk5E3J-mq10.

The single comes off your new album Tolerance Ends, Love Begins – what’s the story behind the title?

I used to drive this back road on my way up to the county courthouse as part of my job as a crime journalist. I’d always pass by this traffic sign that said TOLERANCE ENDS. It was meant for big-rig truckers, telling them to get off that country road and onto the sturdier interstate highway. But my own marriage was ending, and at the courthouse I would see people’s lives in various states of disarray. In one case, I watched how this family had tolerated and explained away some really anti-social, violent tendencies in their teenaged son, and eventually he killed his father and shot up a local high school and injured a couple of kids and went to prison for the rest of his life. It got me thinking about the human capacity to twist and turn ourselves to try to accommodate the people around us, to tolerate stuff that, when you look at it from the outside, isn’t really good for anybody involved. So the album title is grounded in a very personal experience.

But I think there’s a universal human need to move beyond tolerance and into love – where people in relationship are willing and able to give and take, to cherish the differences that reveal our true selves and to challenge the differences when we’re hurting ourselves. Tolerance isn’t a bad place to start, but can we find a way to come together, to find a compromise, a synthesis where everyone can thrive? Nobody wants to just be tolerated. We want to be loved. Are we just tolerating people whose race or religion or sexuality is different from ours? Or are we trying to understand and let others’ experiences shape our own?

How was the recording and writing process?

I do most of the songwriting. I come into rehearsals with a lot of ideas for arrangements and individual parts, and we go through a lot of give-and-take from there.

The recording process for this album was really fun. We fine-tuned our arrangements with a 10-piece band over several months of pre-production. I want to mention their names here because not all of them are still playing with us in the live band, and I want to make sure people know who was involved with the recording. Steve Anderson (Kamara Thomas & The Night Drivers) played drums. We had my brother Steven, plus Michael Depue, Eric Johnson and Wilson Greene (Look Homeward, Mipso) on guitars. Wilson played banjo too. I tracked most of the bass parts and some acoustic guitar and this really cool electronic carillon called a Chimeatron that we found at Fidelitorium. The churchbell sound you hear in some of the transitions on “Ghost” came from that Chimeatron, and we used its other vibra-harp voice throughout the album. My sister Katie and I split lead vocals, and she played some keys and ukulele. On “Ghost in My Bed,” she used Mitch Easter’s Yamaha grand piano, a really glorious instrument. Mailande Moran added background vocals. We had David Cullen on trumpet and Michael Petersen on trombone. Those brass guys did something really special with this song, I think.

Mark Simonsen (The Old Ceremony, Dead Tongues) produced the album, and Thom Canova engineered and mixed it. We live-tracked all 10 of us at once thanks to the Fidelitorium’s many isolation spaces. Mark, Thom and I overdubbed a few more percussion and keyboard parts back at their Studio M in Durham. Mixing all those instruments together into a cohesive sound is no small feat, and those guys really killed it.

We raised the money for recording this album through Kickstarter, and we’re really grateful to all our backers. One really awesome thing that happened is, we got an email from Morgan Sizer at Mozu Mastering in Connecticut saying he wanted to master the album for free as his contribution to our crowdfunding. He mastered separately for digital and vinyl, so it wasn’t a small amount of work, and we’re really happy with how it turned out!

Would you call this a departure or follow up from your last material?

I’d say it’s a follow-up in the sense that we’ve always built our songs on big, dynamic arrangements and lots of layered vocals. But the horns are more prominent on this album, and we took a more rhythmic approach to these songs. In the past, we’ve tended to build dynamics by adding and taking away instruments and swelling volumes. On this album, we’ve tried to leave more empty space so that we don’t need as much going on to maintain the flow of power and subtlety. I think the way we stop and start together throughout these songs gives them more energy and forward motion than anything we’ve ever done.

What aspect of tolerance and love did you get to explore on this material?

Tolerance is cautious, right? You want to respect the other, but you’re not so sure how much you really belong to one another. There’s a lot of that inner dialogue on the first part of this album, trying to figure out how another person’s sharp edges have hurt or might hurt you, and how you can protect yourself. Throughout these songs, we’re searching for what love really looks like – not a romantic feeling, but that sense of truly knowing and being known. That’s where we arrive at the end of the album, a depth of mutual understanding so that we can imagine a love that might last. On the surface, it’s describing my own experience of a new and beautiful relationship, but I hope someone listening can find his or her own stories in it.

Any plans to hit the road?

Yes, for sure! We’ll release the album on February 7. Just after that, we’ll have shows all over North Carolina and head up through the Mid-Atlantic region in late February and early March. In the middle of March we’ll tour out through the Midwest and back.

What else is happening next in The Pinkerton Raid’s world?

We’re pressing vinyl for the first time, and we’re really excited about that! Vinyl also takes a long time to manufacture, which is why we’re not releasing this album until February, even though it’s been mixed and mastered for a few months now. We’ve been using the time to work on a bunch of new songs for what will eventually become our fourth LP. We’ve started playing some of those songs at shows too. Like I said, “Ghost in My Bed” and some of the other songs on this album are several years in the making, so it’s really energizing to be working on some totally new music.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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