Impossible to Pin Down
San Diego’s Pinback rejects categorization as well as critics’ push for duo to evolve
Pinback is a tough nut to crack. The San Diego duo takes its name from a John Carpenter sci-fi flick, and band members Robertdale Rulon “Rob” Crow Jr. and Armistead “Zach” Burwell Smith IV exhibit all the characteristics of musicians who should be fronting hopelessly obscure nerd-metal bands. They have genteel names, diehard gaming addictions, an obsession with self-recording and producing and a penchant for dismissing nearly all media attention surrounding Pinback.
But Pinback’s sumptuous sound over the course of five full-length albums hasn’t wavered; instead, it's solidified into a sonically pure, achingly beautiful brand of multi-textured indie rock. Many critics like to tear into Pinback’s auditory reliability, or its thorny relationship with the music press. But you can’t fault a band for 15 years of consistency — especially when the result, no matter how similar to past work, still takes listeners’ collective breath away. That’s what Pinback’s lush, subtly powerful last album, “Information Received,” does — and that’s what the band, backed live by drummer Chris Prescott, does on stage, as well.
Folio Weekly: Do you and Zach have a lot of experience bringing Pinback to Florida?
Rob Crow: Yeah. But it takes a while to get there and back.
F.W.: Have songs from the most recent album, “Information Received,” been fully integrated into Pinback’s current set list?
R.C.: Well, we play for about an hour and a half, so there’s a mix of everything. And everybody seems happy.
F.W.: Reading past interviews with you, it seems like the music press’ efforts to categorize Pinback’s music don’t make you happy.
R.C.: Those things don’t affect what I like, and I’m not going to change what I listen to based on people’s characterizations or definitions. So why should I change what I make?
F.W.: You’ve talked in some of those interviews about prog-rock and heavy metal as your major influences. Is that what you listened to when you were younger?
R.C.: Oh, yeah — I was never into the radio or anything like that. But it wasn’t on purpose; that music just sounded so great to me. It sure didn’t help to not fit in with the other kids.
F.W.: Your music — and especially your lyrics — have connected with so many kids just like that, though.
R.C.: I usually spend a lot of time on the lyrics. Zach and I are different people; he’s not so much into lyrics. He maintains that he doesn’t care about lyrics in other people’s songs, so why should he [care about them in Pinback’s songs]? He writes one small sentence that gets repeated over and over, and I’ll write like a novel on some dumb thing. [Laughs.] But it means a lot to me to set a mood or a scene for something to take place in.
F.W.: Does it mean much to you that critics often accuse Pinback of not evolving? Of playing music that essentially sounds the same?
R.C.: I don’t see anything wrong with doing that. We’ve created a sound, so we’re always going to sound like that sound. That’s just who we are and how we make music when we get together. To try and do something different on purpose only to be truly reactionary would be wrong. Obviously, we could make other kinds of songs, but these are the ones that sound good to us and are fun to play. I think people say those things purely to try and get a rise out of us. Those are the people that like Black Sabbath’s third singer. [Laughs.]
F.W.: You live in quite possibly the sunniest city in the United States, yet you make dark, atmospheric music. Is the contrast significant?
R.C.: It’s only sunny if you leave the house.
F.W.: Pinback’s reach is legendary in the indie-rock world. Have you ever run into any younger bands that directly cite you as influences?
R.C.: I guess so, but I try not to think about it. For me, that’s a scary realm to let the mind wander into. What’s the best-case scenario of thinking about things in that way? “Oh, I’m great!” [Laughs.] I’m still learning.
F.W.: What about Pinback’s fans, who are notoriously obsessed with every detail of the band? Do they scare you a little bit, too?
R.C.: I’m very appreciative of every minute piece of acceptance that we’ve ever had. Very, very thankful — there are a lot of people way better than us that nobody ever hears.