Holler Country Music
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New Artist Of The Week: The Pine Hearts

By Jof Owen

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“I could equate it to soup stock”, says Joey Capoccia from The Pine Hearts, explaining his approach to songwriting. “Everyone has a different style, and the more you hang with them, the more it rubs off on you. A person’s songwriting style is the mix of all the different ingredients going in. For soup stock, if you save your onion bits, and carrot pieces - whatever scraps you have from the week - that’s your stock, that’s a mix of the things you like. Songwriting, and the people you meet while traveling is like that”.

The flavours that have gone into the mix for Lost Love Songs, the delightful new album from The Pine Hearts, have been soaked up from their travels the world over; everywhere from Antarctica – where Capoccia was working as a carpenter for the National Science Foundation – to the California wine country and the Hawaiian island of Kauai, not forgetting the influences of their own home city of rainy Olympia in Washington.

“It’s probably true of a lot of songwriters,” Capoccia says, “that you need to be in a tiny quiet place to write a song. So, while traveling, you end up in these tiny nooks or crannies you find, a closet, a beach, wherever you can go to get away from people and hash the songs out.”

On Lost Love Songs, Capoccia distils the punk DIY songwriting aesthetic of Olympia and blends it with a barrel-aged strain of old timey Pacific Northwest Americana and campfire bluegrass, sounding both reassuringly familiar and uncompromisingly fresh. They make roots music for dancing to – joyous and scratchy, and filled with as much of the world as they can cram into its 13 songs.

Recorded in the tiny rural Oregon town of Enterprise, The Pine Hearts worked closely with the town’s “cultural mayor”, Americana artist Bart Budwig, to produce the album. The band - made up of Capoccia on guitar, Derek McSwain on mandolin and Dean Shakked on bass - was joined by a banjo player and a fiddler to round out the recording.

The backgrounds of the three core musicians in The Pine Hearts couldn’t be more different: Capoccia originally founded an underground punk band, The Pasties; mandolinist McSwain came straight out of Olympia’s bluegrass community; bassist Shakked came from the city’s metal scene. Somehow they all came together to represent a new kind of Northwestern music, something true and original that also manages to tap into a shared past.

The first taste of the album comes in the single ‘Wouldn’t You Know’. Watch the video below.

Holler sat down with Joey from the band to talk about their travels, growing up in Olympia and what inspires his songwriting.

Where are you from and how has that influenced your music?

We’re all out of Olympia, Washington. It’s hard to tell if we live there because we like natural settings, or if living there slowly injects nature into your consciousness. Either way, I love to get out into the woods, up in the mountains, or on the water as much as I can - camping is my favourite. I usually bring a ukulele with me backpacking, so I end up playing tunes at the end of the day by a lake, or looking out over some ridgeline. All the songs wind up being about that in some way.

What did you listen to growing up? 

I remember when I was young, trying to get into music, I didn’t know what I liked cause I was a kid. I knew I wanted to have a favourite band or something, like my older sister did, but I didn’t quite understand the concept. 

At one point I just started flipping through radio channels, just to see what interested me. The first cassette I ever got was the soundtrack to the movie The Big Chill, cause 'I Heard it Through the Grapevine' was on the radio. That was followed by The Fat Boys, G N’ R, and then Led Zeppelin for quite some time, before settling on The Dead. Which I’m still rocking out to!

How did The Pine Hearts meet each other and start making music?

We’d all seen each other around. Olympia is a pretty small town, especially for acoustic music. We’d play tunes together at jams and what not, but eventually we started talking and discovering that we all wanted the same thing. So we got a little more focused, and put some effort into getting together. Eventually Dean (upright bass) got a van, so that was pretty much it!

I read that you wrote a few of the songs for the new album in Antarctica. What were you doing there?

Mostly freezing. But to keep warm, I did carpentry for the science going on down there. It’s a really great scene. Lots of creative thinkers and can-do folks, with a huge appreciation for the arts and music, to my surprise. So I was very encouraged to write a lot. Plus there is so much to learn and experience, you can’t help but be inspired

What part does Olympia’s DIY scene play in the story of The Pine Hearts?

It’s huge. The Pine Hearts learned early on about throwing our own shows, and doing our own thing. We even have a small festival that we put on. We definitely have our favourite venues, but still, we’re always renting grange halls, or building stages in our friend’s backyards, throwing our own shows.

For our last album, Back to Sustain, we rented an old (haunted in my opinion) building, and set up a bunch of tape recording equipment, and made a whole album. At one point I spent the night there. Definitely slept with the lights on..

How has the music you make changed over the years?

Well, I hope that I’m a better guitar player for one thing, and songwriter too, and actually I hope I’m a better singer as well, while we’re on the subject. But that aside, I feel more confident these days about what I don’t want to sing about. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I have some kind of message, but I know what kind of message I don’t want to have. Not sure if that makes sense, but hopefully it grooves.

Where did you record the new album and what was it like?

We recorded it in the small town of Enterprise, Oregon, at The OK Theater with the amazing Bart Budwig as engineer. It was really great, we set up on the stage of the theater, very few distractions, a quiet town.

We all had a blast! The weather was amazing, so during breaks we’d just lounge outside in the late summer sunlight. At one point we got some soft serve ice cream. Swimming in the nearby lake. I’d do it again in a heartbeat!

What’s your personal favourite on Lost Love Songs?

I’d have to say ‘Unit of Time’, the last song. It’s not that it’s the best song on the album, but it’s the weirdest, and I love that. It starts off with almost spoken word, and lousy finger picking (if I can critique my own playing) but then a really great build, and it almost warbles at some point. I love it!

What’s next for The Pine Hearts?

Definitely some touring over the spring and summer, and hopefully a few local shows. Personally I’m dipping a toe into the realm of making videos, so you can look out for some incredibly amateur/poorly made videos coming out in the future.

In the meantime, we have a few amazing videos coming out in the next month done by some great and talented friends. We’ll be putting on a small festival in early August at our friend’s farm in Olympia. Camping, jamming, trying not to throw our backs out building the stage.

Knowing us, we’ll continue working on harmonies, melodies, and our personal instruments. Learning Grateful Dead tunes, making homemade ravioli. Daydreaming about the next album.

The album Lost Love Songs will be released on February 18th