Posted by: – Aug 18, 2009
It comes on like rolling waves, steady and precise. The glassy-eyed vocals floating along effortlessly, then crashing like body-surfers into the melody-saturated shore of the chorus. And that’s just “Golda”, Pendleton’s contribution to the RVA Magazine Irregular Broadcast compilation. Are they poppy? Hell yes. But in their case, “pop” is not a dirty word. Their technical precision, indie sensibility, and capacity to entertain the soft and hard edges of musical experience elevate them far beyond the cheap auditory swill of commercial radio.
Jonathan Parker, or JP as he’s known to most, says “We’re a confused pop rock band that’s influenced a little bit too much by Ryan Adams and not enough by The Itchy Hearts.” And the rest of my questions disappear, like my reflexive loathing of anyone who sites emo as a current or previous influence as he had earlier in our conversation.
Here’s the chat JP, Andy and I had in the basement of The Camel, (where JP also works as the events coordinator,) before he effectively blew my mind and sent me back to the office to figure out something more eloquent and insightful to say about their music than he already had.
S. Preston Duncan: Where did it all start? What are your roots?
JP: I came to VCU, I wasn’t playing with anybody. Hunter, our bass player came up to me in the dining hall, and asked me if I wanted to play music sometime. I had known him for a while. We started playing songs together. I’ve known Andy for a while, since elementary school, so when it came to be summertime, we started practicing a few songs. This was like 2005. We were all gung-ho about it at the time. We wrote like three songs, recorded them with Lance at Minimum Wage over in Oregon Hill. Sort of played mostly house shows that summer. Did we play anywhere else that summer?
Andy: Nah, we played at the Nancy Raygun that fall. I think that was actually our first non-house show.
JP: I feel like we didn’t play again till that winter. Andy went to UVA, we never really had a guitar player, but the one that we used, the lead guitar player went to Tech. So we never played during the school year much, only on breaks. So we played that winter of 2005 down in Yorktown, just a random show, and then didn’t play again until that summer. And then we didn’t play for another year until summer ’07, and then we played in 2008, when we kinda got back together. We basically weren’t a band, we just wrote a few songs and played them once a year.
Four years? How did your sound develop, because it seems relevant to what’s popular now, without being too poppy, if that makes sense. It’s definitely got that indie rock flair, but there’s something more unique. What were your stylistic influences back then and how have they changed and evolved with the band?
JP: Personally, when I was writing songs when we started, I was big into second generation emo, say what you will. Sunny Day Real Estate and shit like that. I was getting down on the Goo Goo Dolls and shit like that too, so I feel like I was always trying to write catchy. I’ve always been drawn to what’s catchy.
Andy: it’s definitely changed. The first wave of songs that we wrote in 2005, you can tell it’s the same band, but you can clearly see the differences over four years of writing. But I think Jonathan’s right. It’s never about really what you’re listening to at the time, or what you’re into, it’s “how can I make this without being referential, or reverential.” It’s always trying to be unique.
JP: Yeah, whatever he said. Reverential (laughs)...
Andy: I guess it’d be “reverent.”
I kinda like “reverential”. [which, as it turns out, actually is a word]. So who writes the songs, or is it more of a collaborative thing?
JP: I’d say half the songs were written totally on my own, and then we brought it in at practice and did the best version of it we could, the best thing we could drum up. Or, the other half would be somebody has an idea, just one idea, and we kinda go with it from there, at practice, just whatever jams, man, whatever jams. (Laughs)
Andy: sometimes it’ll be, we have this one song we’re doing in D but it needs another part, so there’s another completely different idea in D, so we just add that on.
JP: Same old shit everybody does.
Andy: Yeah, it is what everybody does.
What are your ambitions, your goals, or expectations? Are you going for gold, just trying to have a good time, or something in between?
Andy: Jonathan’s the ambitious one, so he can answer that.
JP: Whatever. It’s always been about fun, almost to the point where we make it our business not to be one of those bands obsessed with adding Myspace friends, or trying to over-promote ourselves. Obviously playing once a year we just never gave a fuck about... we gave a fuck about the band, we just never cared what people thought. Every show back then was just about having fun, sort of a one night only, like New Years, just go all out.
You draw a lot of people when you play that rarely.
JP: It’s always been a friendly crowd. It’s all of our buddies.
Andy: We definitely are serious about making songs, that’s what makes it all work. But I think if we were serious about our image, probably the songs wouldn’t sound as good and it wouldn’t be fun, and I wouldn’t do it.
It’d be too much like work?
JP: in the past year we’ve gotten more serious because we’ve all gotten better as musicians, sort of, and we started rehearsing more than we ever had and writing more than we ever had. So it’s sort of come together to the point where we can go on little 4 day, 5 day tour stints, but all the while knowing that we’re just doing it to play music.
You’re going on one of those this weekend, right? Where are you going?
JP: Sunday morning we’re going up to NYC to play. We have one show in Manhattan at Arlene’s Grocery, and one in Brooklyn two days later at Trash Bar. I’ve never played either of those. Andy’s played one in a previous band.
Andy: Arlene’s is good. I feel like a lot of Virginia bands go play Arlene’s. I don’t know what the hookup is with that but…
How did you guys get booked? Was it a friend’s band or something?
JP: All of the tour dates that we’ve had have been through The Camel in one way or another. The booking contacts I have, I guess. Just the realization that most bands out on tour are DIY touring, obviously the majority of the bands that come through here. It’s a lot easier than I ever figured. If you want to go play a place in say, New York where you know people, everyone knows somebody living in New York, you can kinda make a turnout of it.
Andy: Yeah, I think recently I’ve seen how easy it is to book shows. I used to think “Oh, gosh, those people are going out of town, what, do they have a manager? How are they doing this?” It’s really not that hard.
Ya’lls style is very different from The Itchy Hearts, but I feel like there’s this same sort of personality behind it. I’ve never seen you on a bill together, but the last time I saw you play you all had Itchy Hearts t-shirts on. What’s the relationship there?
JP: The Itchy Hearts, they’re younger kids, came out this past fall and were playing Rumors and stuff, and I had always heard of them, and I wanted to get them on a show with us. So I told them I wanted to put up a show with them in January, and I totally forgot that I asked them. A week or two before the show, Andy Cobb hit me up and was like “Hey man, you still want us to play?” and I was like “Shit” because it was packed, the bill was full. But we got them on, and they played with us, and I remember watching them, and they’re just a lot of fun to watch because they’re having the time of their lives up there. It’s what they all want to be doing. It’s pretty similar with us, I think. And I remember Andy coming up to us at the end of our set, and I had never really met him in person, but he was like “Finally man! A Richmond band that I really, really like!” But I feel like he doesn’t even really like our music, he’s just into the idea.
Andy: That’s how I feel about them. I like plenty of bands in Richmond, but they’re the ones that I understand where they’re coming from. (Awkward silence)
Andy: I kept joking that I was gonna mention Josh Small.
Josh Small was not mentioned during this interview.
JP: On the record, Josh Small is the shit. I don’t have anything else to say, except that I don’t really know what we’re doing. Andy here is still in law school…
Kinda like Weezer.
JP: We’re just like Weezer.
Andy: We’re basically like Weezer.
JP: And then my brother, Allen, who plays guitar with us is up in New York City most of the time. Hunter, who plays bass, moved down to Asheville recently.
Great city. You ever play down there?
JP: We did. When was that? May? We went down to Asheville, it was awesome.
Andy: I think we’re all actually going to move to Japan, start a dance project with all Japanese artists.
I could see you guys on a bill with Peelander Z.
Andy: I want to play at Mojo’s we’ve never played there. I also want to play at Cous Cous and play all the wrong instruments.
JP: Wrong Instrument Night at Cous Cous.
Sounds marketable.So how would you label yourselves, if you had to? Where do you fit in? What part of the musical spectrum? Shitty question, I know, but it’s one I can’t answer for you.
JP: We’re a confused pop rock band that’s influenced a little bit too much by Ryan Adams and not enough by The Itchy Hearts.
Andy: That’s exactly what I was going to say.
As it stands now, Pendleton had their August 15th show at The Camel with The Itchy Hearts listed as their “Last Show Ever”. I’m hoping this was some kind of fan base marketing trickery, like the first of Kiss’s farewell tours, but I have a feeling it wasn't. If you dig ‘em like I do, show up and buy them drinks until they promise to stay together.
by S. Preston Duncan, photos courtesy of the band