If you need an injection of enthusiasm, sit down for a couple of Lone Stars with Hunter Pinkston, frontman of The Pink Stones.
Hailing from the famous musical city of Athens, GA, and currently making waves with the announcement of their sophomore album You Know Who (June 30 via Normaltown/New West Records), The Pink Stones made a stop during their tour in Memphis, TN, to perform at the World Famous Hernando’s Hide-a-Way.
Having just celebrated the second anniversary of their debut album, Introducing… The Pink Stones, he delved into what’s changed for the band since then, his love of Athens and the band’s background, revealing that their music is heavily influenced by legends like Don Williams, George Jones, James Brown and Jerry Lee Lewis.
After our conversation, the band put on one helluva show for a small but eagerly attentive crowd, sharing a slew of songs from the new record, including ‘Poppies’, inspired by Pinkston’s hometown in South Georgia, and ‘Josephine’, a song about when it’s raining and you’re smoking flower.
It was Fenders and mustaches for everyone but the drummer. The lead guitarist, Logan, played a killer set with wah-wah out the wazoo while his head almost hit the ceiling the whole time. The historic Hide-a-Way — originally built in 1891 — provided a perfectly intimate setting to catch this dynamic act.
It’s cool to be here at Hernando's Hide-a-Way. You dig the spirit of this place, the revival of old haunts instead of building something new.
We came in looking at all the stuff like, holy fuck! This place is real special. Jerry Lee Lewis is one of my favorites, despite the shit with him. His country records are quite literally some of my favorites.
I recently came across his cover of Ray Charles' 'What I Say', and it's unreal.
Yeah! Ray Charles is from my hometown. Albany, GA.
So what's your background?
I grew up playing in punk and hardcore bands through middle school and high school. I moved to Athens, GA, two years into college - I transferred halfway through - and that's when I started doing The Pink Stones thing. Living in Athens, I was surrounded by different sounds and got away from the people I was playing with, so I tried my own thing. It's been nice!
What were the names of the previous groups you were in?
I played in Pay to Cum and Dope Fiend, primarily. Naturally, in the hardcore way, I played in a million bands, but those were the main ones I played with and recorded with.
You just celebrated the two-year anniversary of Introducing... The Pink Stones. What's changed in your life or the life of the band since then?
We got a new member in the band, Neil Golden, and a different drummer played on the new record. But he's no longer playing with us because he's too busy, too good. The real difference is that we're all a little bit older now.
What are some highlights of your career so far?
Getting to put out records is the coolest thing in the world, especially with Normaltown and New West taking care of us. For the new one, we just locked ourselves in our producer's house with all of our gear and made a record in our own time, the way we wanted to. Being able to do that is so awesome.
But honestly, just doing shit like this, getting to play these older rooms where cool people hung out. This place for sure. I knew the history, and when I walked in the guy was like, "That's Jerry Lee's couch over there". I was like, holy shit! Some really neat stuff...
What can you share about the upcoming sophomore record?
I'm really stoked about it. We're a lot more mature as a band; the songs are more mature. There are some excellent guests on the record, too. Teddy and the Rough Riders, Nikki Lane and JJ from The Deslondes all feature on some songs. It's a good bunch of our friends that we got to work with us on it.
Label mates and pals.
Definitely. We made it in Athens, which I'm always proud to do. Anything Athens is always great for me.
When you collaborate with someone like Nikki or JJ, how does that work?
I'd met Nikki a couple of times, we get along really well. I'd written this song which we've been playing for years. I was thinking we should try it as a duet, and she was the first person we thought of. She did it in like an hour - she'd never even heard the song, but she did great. I'm stoked to have her!
With JJ, I knew I really wanted some fiddle on the record, so I just texted him and was like, “Hey, when you have a second, can you put some fiddle on this?". It was very quick.
With Teddy and the Rough Riders, we're like best friends, so we had to have them on the record. We've toured a lot. When we come to Nashville, we typically stay at Emily Nenni's house with Jack. They're sweethearts.
And you made it in a house where you all stayed? How long did you work on it?
Yeah, we made it with Henry Barbe again, live-tracked the entire thing at his house. Almost all the sessions were just the six-piece band. We did overdubs there, too, and we mixed it at Chase Park Transduction, and then Pete Lyman mastered it. Lyman’s done Sturgill, Isbell, Stapleton… some of those super huge people. That was really cool, getting him to do it. And then Jeff Powell from Take Out Vinyl here in Memphis got it ready for vinyl.
So you mixed the record at Chase Park Transduction?
Yep! We took it from the house over there because they have an old Neve. We took it and put everything through the Neve, and then took it back to the house and mixed it some more. It's this awesome recording studio that's been in Athens since the 90s, owned by David Barbe, Henry's father, who's made a million awesome records. It's like the studio in Athens. He was also my professor at the University, teaching the music biz program.
Speaking of home, in what way has Georgia shown up in your songwriting?
The first song on the new record is a hometown tune, talking about pine trees and all that imagery from my childhood growing up in South Georgia. We take a lot from Little Richard, James Brown, Ray, Otis - we obviously don't sound exactly like all that stuff, but we're huge fans. I'm a big, big supporter of Georgia as a cool music place. You've got Gram Parsons from Waycross, and Joe South and Jerry Reed from Atlanta. I think a lot of people know that, but Georgia gets swept under the rug sometimes.
And does John Neff from Drive-by Truckers still play with you?
He plays pedal steel guitar with us.
What have you learned from John as an older cat?
I met John working at the vinyl factory. He worked on the other side for another company. I would see him for coffee in the morning, and that's how we became friends. When The Pink Stones became fucking full-on country band, we needed a pedal steel player. I asked him because he was always really nice, so he just started playing with us.
There aren't a million pedal steel players around, usually. Maybe in Georgia, there are?
There are a few in Athens, but he's the godfather of Athens pedal steel. I'm very luck to play with him. He played with the Truckers and this awesome band called Star Room Boys - very Yoakam-esque. They made a couple of records. He's a phenomenal musician, a really great ear. But he's also a really great hang. He's down to play the music, which is the coolest thing for an older, seasoned veteran kind of dude. He'll still pack up that heavy-ass pedal steel guitar and play with us. He's a sweetheart. I've learned a million things from him.
You can't properly call yourself a cosmic country band without some pedal steel in the mix. What cosmic or outlaw discoveries have blown your mind recently? There's always more to discover.
It never ends, really. My favorite thing about music, and especially music in the modern age, is that it's so accessible. There's so much. Every time I think I know everything, there are a million other things I could find, which keeps it fun.
Jim Reeves has been a huge new one for me. I'd always kind of heard of him but never checked him out. His singing... I guess it's not cosmic or outlaw, more Nashville Sound, but it has that kind of cosmic thing. It's crazy sounding. I've been listening to a ton of Don Williams, too. It took me a little while to get into him, but it's soft, kind of sexy country. That comes through on the new album a little more than the first one, the Don Williams stuff.
And then Tom T. Hall, on the songwriting kind of thing, I'm trying to get more into that. On the new record, I tried to sing a lot more. On the first one, I obviously sang each song, but with this one, I'm trying to be a singer and care more about it. With that, a lot of George Jones comes through - Jonesisms.
Singing is tough.
I want to be better at singing and care more about it. Henry, who produced the record and engineered the whole thing, is a phenomenal singer. He and I did a ton of singing together on the record. A lot of the backup vocals are him, and when we were doing harmonies, a lot of it was just me and him. I'd go into the booth and do a 5th, and he'd go in and do a 3rd. We tried to do some Jordanaire backing vocal stuff with tons of vocals.
Any other records you're enjoying?
We all fucking love Beaucoups of Blues, the Ringo country record. When I was with my previous partner, who's still a good friend, we found the record and it blew my mind. It's been a favorite ever since. I love the cover - Ringo smoking a cigarette, crossed legs with the white Converse and jeans. Oh, man.
Our buddy Ramsay who owns Sam’s Town Point in Austin always plays the song 'Loser's Lounge' from that album. It's straight up all country songs, written by the A-team for Ringo and produced by Pete Drake. When Pete Drake did All Things Must Pass, he met Ringo. He got in Ringo's car, and Ringo had all these country cassettes, I guess. Pete was like, “What the fuck, you love country music? You should come to Nashville and make a record.” Ringo was all, “I can't come to Nashville for six weeks and make a record. It takes too long.” And Pete was like, “No, we're the A-team. We do it in two days.” So Ringo flew down there, and they wrote him all these songs, and he recorded it in two days.
Who are some of your favorite illustrators or graphic designers?
Taylor W. Rushing is kind of our guy. He's been making so much stuff for us. Spoiler alert: he made the new album cover for us. He did all the art and layout for the new album. It's beautiful. All of his posters and all of his work, I'm like, “How do you get better?” I'm proud to work with him.
Favorite record store? I know you tour a lot.
Low Yo Yo Stuff in Athens. There are two in Athens, Wuxtry Records, which is a little bigger, and then Low Yo Yo, which is right next to our favorite bar Flicker. It's this small record store that has literally anything you'd ever want. If you ask, they're going to pull it out of the back. It's fair-priced and cool stuff. They support bands, got flyers on the walls all the time. You can take them your record and they'll sell it. If you're coming to Athens, that's the one. I've pressed an assload of records that are for sale in there.
What's your favorite Jerry Lee Lewis song?
'Another Place, Another Time' is the one when it comes to the country records. The first time I heard that, I understood Jerry Lee as not the rock and roll guy, and got to figure out that he also made brilliant country records. There's this great quote from Kenny Vaughan that's something like, “George Jones is the best country singer of all time, but Jerry Lee is my favorite,” which is kind of how I feel. Despite all his crazy shit, the records, the singing, it's super top-notch.
Well, we could cheers, but our beers are empty.
That's the sign of a good interview.
You Know Who is out on Friday June 30 via Normaltown / New West Records. For more on The Pink Stones, see below: