Happy to be here! We’ve been fantastic. 2019 has been a busy but exciting year for the band so far.
*Can you talk to us more about your track “Pepitas”?
“Pepitas” is the opening track on our new album Dear Starling. A pepita is a type of pumpkin seed, so that’s a bit of a reference to the name of the band, as well as a justification for making it the opening track on the record. The tune itself is more or less a jig, although it strays from 6/8 in a few spots. Steven brought us the tune, and then together we wrote a few additional parts and arranged it as a band.
*Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?
[Steven] I was experimenting with playing in the key of D using more of a closed position on the mandolin (no open strings) and “Pepitas” came out of that experimentation. It’s no longer in that key actually because the melody didn’t fit well on the accordion, but that’s where the first seed (no pun intended) for the melody originated. [Maura] *Really* what they were trying to do was to add to our collection of hard-to-play-on-the-fiddle tunes that we seem to come up with…
*The track comes off your new album Dear Starling – what’s the story behind the title?
Around the time that we began seriously writing and rehearsing for this record, we had the interesting experience of hosting a pair of starlings who decided to make a home for themselves in our dryer vent. It was quite an ethical dilemma because we didn’t want to oust the birds, but we also wanted to use the dryer. We decided the most humane solution would be to write some music for them, and maybe coax them out in the process.
*How was the recording and writing process?
For us it seems to be a multi-step process. A lot of the melodic and lyrical ideas had been germinating for a long time – somebody will have a melody or phrase that lingers for a while before they know what to do with it. Then once we start working on a piece together, the songs can take shape, expand, and then contract again, rather rapidly. And that’s exacerbated by being in the studio, where it feels like you’re cramming so much music into a short time frame. Courtney Hartman produced the record, and was in the studio with us during the recording; she was very helpful with that process.
*What was it like to work with Courtney Hartman and how did that relationship develop?
We knew we wanted to work with a producer for the record – somebody who would work very closely with us and also push us in some directions that maybe we weren’t immediately inclined towards ourselves. When we were having these discussions and Courtney’s name came up, she just seemed like the right fit. We didn’t know her personally, but we had mutual friends and were able to get a hold of her, and luckily for us, she was excited by the prospect. Then we worked together virtually and in person a couple of times in the months leading up to recording to get her take on the song choices and arrangement ideas, and finally spent eight days with her in the studio. It was an amazing process.
*How much did she get to influence the album?
Immensely, but never in a dictating or dominating way. We always had the final say on creative decisions, and she was always there to steer us the direction that she thought was right for us; since we trust her taste very much, it was easy to let her do that. She had a lot to do with paring songs down and stripping away anything that felt unessential, and then if we felt strongly about something we might add it back in, but in a more subtle way.
*What role does Boston play in your music?
It’s certainly significant. Fiddle traditions like Irish, Scottish, Bluegrass, and Old-time music seem to be particularly thriving in Boston, and that definitely has a lot to do with how we’ve been influenced as individual players. At the same time, the band doesn’t really make it its goal to play in any one of those styles, or even in a fusion of them. And then there’s always the aspect of music that is social. We met in Boston, we recorded the record in Boston, and the guests are friends we made in Boston, so to that extent, it’s sort of impossible to imagine what the music would be like if we had met elsewhere, although it’s a fun thought experiment.
*Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?
Since we all bring material to the group, it ends up being a diverse collection of experiences that we or people that we know have had. One strong thing that we have in common and that ties the material together is the time we spend together during the writing and rehearsing process; it’s our own version of “nesting,” where we gather in the living room and work on this music and share things. There’s a lot of joy and humor in that process and company, but it’s not without a touch of melancholy either, and that mix tends to be the guiding emotional context of a lot of our music making.
*What else is happening next in Pumpkin Bread’s world?
We’re releasing Dear Starling in March, so a lot of our energy is going towards that right now. We’ll do some touring in most of our home cities and beyond once it’s out, but we’re hoping to keep playing this music for larger audiences throughout this year and into the next. It’s also a transition time; some band members are moving and we’re taking the time we need to adjust to living in different places. It’s very much the start of a new chapter for us. We’re excited!