It’s 11am in Athens, Georgia when Hunter Pinkston, front-man of The Pink Stones, joins our Zoom meeting. Though he’s managed to take half an hour out of his shift pressing records at Kindercore Vinyl, it becomes quickly apparent that even when he is working, the 24-year-old tries to keep himself at the heart of band business. “I guess I just work with music all the time”, he says, sipping his coffee and settling into our call. “We’re actually going to be pressing the Stones’ record here too”. Whether by chance or simple fate, the six-piece also recently signed to Normaltown, a subsidiary imprint of New West Records, where Pinkston once interned. Despite a tumultuous year faced by the music industry, it seems as though The Pink Stones have navigated their way through the storm - and everything is settling perfectly into place.
Inspired by the likes of Gram Parsons and the Grateful Dead to Mazzy Star and Kurt Vile, it’s clear to hear this is a band that, quite simply, make the kind of music they truly love. Their forthcoming debut, Introducing… The Pink Stones, is as energised and spirited as it is heartfelt and reflective. Wrapping moments of melancholy in the warmth of subtly self-deprecating wit, Pinkston’s country storytelling is humble and relatable, told across 10 tracks that range from sleepy acoustic sunset numbers to honky-tonk rock jams fit for poorly dancing and spilling a few beers to. There’s a vulnerability to the record, but it’s the approach of seeing it through without taking life too seriously that’s what The Pink Stones are really all about.
As we chat about what the band hope to have in store for the future, Pinkston shares his own story, discussing what he’s learnt from punk culture, the emotional depth behind country songwriting and how discovering new music will never lose its special charm.
The Pink Stones’ latest single, ‘Barroom Blues’ premieres exclusively at Holler today. Listen to the track below.
This album has been a long time coming for you guys! It must’ve been a bit of a mad year for you all.
Yeah! We actually haven’t spent much time together during the pandemic. We did some live stream stuff at the beginning, and I did some work on the new record with a few of the guys here and there, but then everyone was in lockdown so we couldn’t hang out or anything. It was kind of hard to balance life before covid, because every night here in Athens there was a show happening, but then so suddenly all the bars and stuff in town closed – it was all over, which felt so weird.
Did you manage to get everything tracked in the studio before lockdown or did you have to do it individually?
It’s a funny story. We had everything done before lockdown – we’d made the entire record at the studio, took a couple of months off and came back to mix it - only to find that the whole thing had been deleted. When the producer got to the studio the hard drive was corrupted. 10 songs worth of music fully recorded with the whole band was gone, so we had to do it all over again.
I guess the danger of re-recording and listening back all over again is that you’re at risk of becoming overly critical – it’s harder to leave things in their essence, especially with songs that you’ve had for a long time.
Exactly. I can be a little over intense about the music, and I wrote some of these songs like three years ago, so that's something I was definitely struggling with.
In what way do you mean intense?
Obviously most people are perfectionists, but I'm in between the lines of someone who can kind of let stuff go and not care so much, and then someone who’s super perfectionist. So it was that mix of having recorded them so many times already and then actually finalising them that became confusing. I listened back, and I was like, "Oh, maybe we should’ve recorded that differently", or, “We should’ve put acoustic guitar here”. You know, it’s like, do you just continue to add all sorts of tracks, or do you just let it be how it is?
You’ve had a lot of experience in writing and recording, but you actually come from more of a punk background. The leap from that to country - both musically and in terms of each genre’s community - is pretty substantial. Did the transition come with any challenges?
I’ve been playing music since I was pretty young, but mostly in hardcore bands, which I still do here and there. So, when we first started considering the Stones’ image and talking about this album cycle, something I was scared would be a problem was how people might perceive my change in direction. Everyone was always like, “Oh, but you're that hardcore dude!”. And sure, I am proud - everything that I've learned about music comes from punk rock and hardcore culture, and I still love that - but it does become kind of a stereotype, you know, that whole ‘Punk Guy That Plays Other Music’ thing. But I'm only 24, so I'm just constantly learning. I could find something in five years that might be my favourite thing that I didn't even know about. That's the cool thing about music.
"The country songwriter thing is a little bit more emotionally developed"
Do you find yourself tapping into a different part of your psyche when you write country? Does it feel like a different kind of expression to punk songwriting?
When I was writing the hardcore songs, it was more of an anger-based kind of thing - you’re throwing those emotions out, but it’s always in a kind of pissed-off way. That's a good way to express yourself, but the country songwriter thing is a little bit more emotionally developed, I guess. With country it's just cool to be able to talk about anything - from a super personal break-up, all the way to something larger like politics. You can take topics that are sad or upsetting, but you’re able to make music around it that doesn’t necessarily sound so – you could write a fun, dancey rock and roll song that still has a kind of sadness behind it. A lot of this album is about heartbreak, so for the first time for me it’s a lot more reflective than any hardcore stuff.
The Pink Stones have created a sound that's suitably reminiscent of cosmic country’s rock-inspired past, but you've also found your own authentic place in the present. Do you generally have quite an eclectic pool of musical influences?
I love the late 60s and the 70s. As a kid I listened to Motown a lot with my parents. They’re both from South Georgia, so there was a bit of southern rock too, like the Allman Brothers and the Marshall Tucker Band and stuff like that. When The Pink Stones started, I was super into 90s proto-indie rock stuff, like the Jesus and Mary Chain and Mazzy Star. But as a band I feel like we're ever-changing. With this first record, Gram Parsons was a really huge influence for us – we were really leaning heavily on his music. Also, it doesn't transfer as much into the songs as I would think, but Neil Young is a massive one for us too.
What does country mean to The Pink Stones?
What I like about country is that there’s lots of room. I haven't been around forever to see how things go, but it does seem lately that the smaller people in the game are starting to succeed more, which is exciting. You know, as a kid you would only really hear about super mainstream famous people, but now I feel like even people that I've been in the same bars as are succeeding in becoming that artists they want to be. Sure, there's the superstardom stuff, but there are tonnes of people like me behind the scenes who play on those records! So for bands like The Pink Stones, there's room to succeed whilst not having to comply to that stereotypical commercial country thing.
The Pink Stones debut album Introducing... The Pink Stones is out on April 9th via Normaltown Records.