Pinback's Rob Crow on Denver and writing acoustic-doom jingles for charcoal commercials
Like a gnarled old cottonwood that you remember as a kid that now is all shaggy and stately, Pinback has aged well. From early efforts like 2001's Blue Screen Life -- an understated masterpiece that fell somewhere between early Police and stonerfied math rock -- on through the albums that followed, Rob Crow and Zach Smith have made music that's more likely to stoke the intellect than incite riots. This is laid-back, melancholy stuff to be sure, but hearing it in an iconic theater in the middle of a Colorado winter -- well, that's probably just about as perfect as it gets. In advance of Pinback's show at the Gothic this weekend, we spoke with Crow about Denver and his side gig writing jingles for charcoal commercials.
Westword: What are your memories of playing in Denver?
Rob Crow: I've been coming there for about twenty years. I usually like to hit the WaterCourse -- always enjoyed it. Where am I playing?
The Gothic Theatre in Englewood.
Oh. I like the Bluebird, too. Let's see...memories of Denver. The comic bookstore up the street, I always try and get to [All in a Dream Comics]. When I was in this band Physics in the '90s, they'd bought this old crappy half schoolbus thing. It broke down there, and [the band] was trying to get it fixed in the middle of the tour, and we rented a big U-Haul and used it for the last part of the tour. At this point, everyone was sick and tired and freezing. That band was so weird, it seemed normal at the time. That was a band that had nine members, and we played one chord for an hour.
When did you start writing songs, and why?
I've always been writing songs.
Like, right out the womb?
It was the first thing I ever wanted to do. The first band I started writing for was called Heavy Vegetable. I wanted to write songs unlike everyone else. I wanted to have a vague idea of what the formula was.
How would you describe Pinback's live show nowadays?
Everyone seems to agree they're the best live shows we've done. It's a three-piece band with visual accompaniment. Apparently we put on a good show. I don't know. I've never seen us.
What effect, if any, does the audience have on your playing?
Being in a room with fun people makes for a fun time. But also being in a room with grumpy people can be a fun time. In Europe it's sometimes a competition between who can look the most bored, but those same people in the end are sometimes the biggest nut jobs about the music. That doesn't happen everywhere, just certain places. Besides, all bands will tell an interviewer, "We did great!" I mean, I'd tell you that. I'm just so thankful people are there. I know there's no difference between people in the audience and the people on stage. Anyone can do it if they wanted to; it's just the way it worked out.
You and Zach both have families of your own now, since starting Pinback. Has that affected how Pinback works?
Yeah -- in terms of I want more time. When I spend time with my kids, in the back of my mind, I'm thinking I should do music to support the kids. And when I'm playing music, in the back of my mind, I'm thinking I should be with my kids.
What was your last day job before you devoted all your time to supporting yourself with your music?
It's been full-time for at least ten years. It's not like I'm wealthy or anything, but I can just about support my family with all I do. I do other kinds of work, but it's all musician work. I work on commercials and things like that. I think the one everybody knows is, I did this charcoal commercial where I did an acoustic-doom version of a Human League song, "Fascination."