Clubland: Peyton Pinkerton emerging from the Honeycomb Hideout
Peyton Pinkerton’s Easthampton home has a spare second-floor room, in which he recorded the majority of his just-released debut solo album. It’s an attic-like workshop, and it has a lot of nicknames.
One is the Honeycomb Hideout (a nod to the sugary breakfast cereal’s famous '70s commercials). His wife, Anne, sometimes calls it The Clubhouse or The Fun Room.
A gaggle of guitars leans against the walls. Rippled soundproofing foam covers the window. A weathered photo of the band Hüsker Dü hangs from the angled ceiling of the vocal booth (aka closet).
“Usually everyone wants to be in here when I’m working,” Pinkerton said during an interview last week, relaxing in a corner chair. Sure enough, keeping him company, sprawled out on the carpet among the keyboards and cables and candy-colored stomp boxes were Hank (a corgi) and Trixie (a corgi/border collie mix). Levon the cat made an appearance, rubbing up against the base of a Victorian-esque, two-tiered coffee table, on which balanced a small tower of vintage gear.
Pinkerton has toured the world as a member of the Pernice Brothers and the Silver Jews, but all the while continued to make records and play gigs with his main group, New Radiant Storm King. The passionate Northampton-based indie band, known for its math-rock grandeur, textured arrangements and serious intensity, went through numerous lineups (a short-lived one included this writer) before calling it quits after 20 years.
Pinkerton said he began working on his solo album right after Storm King broke up — and he still knows the exact date of the end, the band’s final show, at the Iron Horse in Northampton opening for their old friends, Polvo: Sept. 24, 2009.
“We went out the way we came in,” he said with a slightly weary laugh. “Disinterest. It was our hometown and no one bought a disc or a shirt. I fell and broke a bone in my hand because I couldn’t see [while] getting off the stage.”
Pinkerton described the last Storm King tour as being “like a plague ship,” and rattled off stressful details.
“A band disintegrating on the road, weren’t sure if the van would make it, weren’t sure if some of the shows on our itinerary were going to happen, we left $1000 worth of T-shirts in Seattle and no one could send them back to us in time [for the rest of the tour],” he said. “The van did break down. It got fixed, we did make it, so in one way someone could look at it as a success ... but I went massively into the hole.”
After 20 years of Storm King, Pinkerton said, “I didn’t know who I was outside that band.”
He gradually discovered the answer in his Hideout workshop.
“I had a really rough time [after the band break up],” he said. “I just kept writing music. I hid in the ‘making’ part.”
The 10 songs on the self-titled record, mixed and mastered by Mark Alan Miller at Sonelab and out now on the Darla label, were whittled down from a group of 50. Pinkerton tried countless song orders before hitting upon the final lineup, which paints a particular picture.
“It’s not a linear story,” he explained, “There’s suicide in there, there’s ‘I love life, what was I thinking’ ... and a couple non-sequiturs. It’s a document. Not that I intended it to be, but [anytime] you make a record, it’s a document of something.”
Though the Darla label signed Pinkerton as a solo artist upon hearing the completed record, he points out that he “made it for nobody. I assumed my recording and musical career, everything, was over for me, and I was well depressed. I was just doing this to maybe get it out before I died or something. I thought, ‘I’m going to make the best record I can.’ I wanted it to be honest.”
That honesty connects, whether it’s through a simple line (“I can’t read in moving cars”) or a noir mood that builds up palpable, unsettling steam. “They got agents in a dark ROOM,” Pinkerton’s voice rises to a sudden shout for that final word, adding with sinister quiet, “... developing things ...”
The song “Pharmacies and Bars” contains the heavy lyric “These crevices we’re nestled in / leave me pining for oblivion,” but zooms along with new-wave propulsion, some bright with the dark.
“There’s some breeziness,” Pinkerton agreed. “I didn’t want it to be a Joy Division record.”
“The Three of Me” is another upbeat tour-de-force. J.J. O’Connell’s tireless drumming, recorded in a Cummington barn while it was 100 degrees in the Hilltowns, anchors a shifting musical panorama that moves from tropical sunshine to video game war.
Pinkerton’s love of texture and detail gives cinematic power to songs like the moving “Arshile Gorky” (named after the Armenian American abstract painter who took his own life after a devastating string of hardships) and “Blackout ’77,” which sneaks in ghostly backing moans from Mark Mulcahy among the flitting, melancholy hooks.
“Popes and Kings” closes the album with a bombastically danceable instrumental, with helicopter guitars that chop like The Edge on speed while O’Connell pushes the pedal to the metal; the title came out of lyrics that ended up on the cutting room floor, though Pinkerton had an alternate name for the song.
“I was going to call it ‘Potential Subaru Commercial.’ There’s a spot where whenever I hear it, I see this door closing on a car, driving along some Nova Scotia highway.”