Pinback broke its five-year hiatus from the studio to release 2012's Information Retrieved, another round of intricate though effortless guitar-and-bass interplay courtesy of rock 'n' roll's synchronized sound team Rob Crow and Zach Smith. Since 1998, the San Diego, Calif. duo has carefully released only five studio albums in their decade-long career, each watermarked with signature ears for meticulous compositions and confessional lyrical imagery framed in layered harmonies and bright guitars.
The band performs at One Eyed Jacks (615 Toulouse St.) at 10 p.m. Sunday, March 10. Smith talked to Gambit about the band's return to the road (again), paternal jam sessions, San Diego, and the passing of longtime friend and bandmate Terrin Durfey.
GAMBIT: How does it feel to be on the road, again, but with a new album?
ZS: It’s just work, really. Yeah, we have fun. Music is what we love. Your view of the city is down to a four-block radius, then you go. ... We’ve been touring more in the last year before the record came out, more than we ever have. I guess it’s nice to have some new blood in the set. Not like, "God I got to play 'Loro' for the 7,000th time." Not that I don’t love the song. It’s great to throw something in like, "Oh, great, I get to fuck up this song now. I’ve never played it!" ... A little challenge makes it a little more exciting in there.
Did you have rehearsals before tour? That’s a pretty dense catalog to choose from.
Usually we will, but we were just on a tour on the West Coast in January, so we’re sort of doing the same set. We were only home for a month. We wanted to chill with our families for a bit. So our first show had no practice. We had our first show in Memphis, our first time being together again since our last show in San Diego a month before. Usually if we do something new, we’ll get together. But it’s true — I don’t know how many songs we have. Somewhere between 75 and 100. There’s always like a, “Oh, let’s remember that one,” then like, “Oh, how does that go?” Then you get it and it throws a little twist in there.
With the way you both play, the dynamic you have and orchestrating that live, do you ever throw anything out? Do you ever decide you’re definitely not playing something?
If we do songs for a new album and then practice it, sometimes it sounds like crap. “I don’t know why we can’t make this sound good.” You try and try and try and give up on it. Then for whatever reason you come back to it three years later. “Why was this song so hard to play? It’s so easy.” It’s everything in between, too.
You’ve played in several bands over the years. When did you first pick up an instrument?
I grew up around music. My dad and uncle would always have jam sessions. I grew up around it actually disliking it. My parents were separated, so when I’d visit my dad and hang out with him, and I would, then he’d have some marathon four-hour jam session that I’d just be hanging out in. his friends were all great, but for a time it was like, "Oh, god. Music."
Like a chore.
Yeah, like, “Oh, I got to go to a jam session,” and I didn’t play anything. I was just a 10 or 12 year old who wanted to kick around a soccer ball. But probably around 15 I picked up bass, sort of off a whim. I was really into reggae and so were my friends, and we did the high school thing: “Let’s form a band!” And of course everyone wanted to play guitar. “I’ll play bass. Whatever. Sure!” Immediately I was like, I really love this. I dove right in with it.
I got invited to one of my best friends’ punk bands, and that really changed my whole look on music completely, and just kind of went from there.
Bass players are often in that position. They either don’t have a choice or they get assigned.
It’s not like you choose it usually. Just, “You’re the bass player.” There’s guitar of mine all over all our albums, but that’s a great thing about bass that I’ve learned — it can do so much more than a traditional bass. That kind of comes out in the playing. Many people come up to me, like, “I always thought that was a guitar part.”
I heard when you first hooked up with Rob it wasn’t exactly a friendly meeting.
Oh, no, not at all! We were really good friends. Let’s kill that rumor. He was in Heavy Vegetable, and I was in Three Mile Pilot. Both those bands played all the time in San Diego. That’s where we met each other, just like any band camaraderie. Three Mile Pilot took a very long break, but at the beginning it was like, “What else am I going to do?” Half went to Black Heart Procession, and I thought Rob might be interested in playing some music together, so we went from there.
What was the San Diego scene like when you all started?
There was a little special moment there in the early ’90s. The camaraderie, which I think is something lacking a lot of scenes, it was strong. There was Rocket from the Crypt and Drive Like Jehu — two great, awesome bands. Everyone supported each other, and everyone was friends with everyone. Sure, there was some competition, but it wasn’t that way as much. Much more like, “Let’s get together and play at Che Cafe,” which was this little, nothing place — but when you were 18 or 19, it was only place you could play and was all-ages. All those bands played there. That’s where everyone hung out. Everyone learned from everyone. Everyone fed off each other, and I feel it really built a strong scene for us there — which I don’t think exists in San Diego anymore, or it’s rare that it exists in most cities now. Everyone is off in their own little world.
This is your first album in five years. From when you started working on the album, was there a noticeable break from where you were five years before then? Or did it click?
We’ve never really stopped being a band, and I think people trip out on the five year thing, and when you look at our other albums, it’s like, “Wow, they take a long time to make a record.” Life things happened between the two of us — three kids were born, we’re older now, Rob moved in a different house, I wrote a solo record, got together with Three Mile Pilot and wrote a record with that, Rob wrote a bunch of records. At the same time we were touring like mad with Pinback. And between that, we started writing for Information Retrieved. It just takes a long time. Nowadays you can’t rely on record sales as much. You’re starting and stopping so much writing an album you’re constantly touring. For Pinback to survive we had to tour a lot. That’s the nature of the music world nowadays. Everyone just downloads your shit. There’s plenty of people at your shows, but everyone kind of got the album for free. Which is cool. But as you get older you’re like, “Oh, fuck, I got to get on the road again? I just got back.”
You’re still a working band.
Yeah, it was just like, “OK, now I can write for a month. OK, I have to stop now. OK, I’m home — I don’t want to do anything for a couple weeks. Oh, gotta go again.” That start-stop nature for me is really hard to write an album. I want to be at home for six months and not really think about anything else. Starting and stopping is not very conducive for me but I’m learning. (laughs)
But the quality doesn’t suffer.
In some parts it does, but I think that about every record. (laughs) You try to make this vision in your head, which is fully unattainable, but you try. That’s what makes it fun to do. You just hear this perfect sound and want to recreate it. Like, I 60 percent got it. Next time I’ll get it.
That’s like a D.
We hang out in the D territory. (laughs)
In 2004, touring bandmate Terrin Durfey died after a decade-long battle with cancer. In Information Retrieved's liner notes, the band writes, "Special thoughts and feelings towards our fallen friend and bandmate, Terrin Durfey. So much to say. Don't know how to say it. We really miss that guy. Every day."
How has the band changed since the passing of Terrin?
It’s just debilitated the band. Terrin was an amazing person we all cared for and miss a great deal. The thing extra amazing about him, he’s a bass player, and he’s really enthusiastic, and when he gets his hand on a thing he just goes for it. He’d never touched a keyboard, really, besides noodling on them here and there. I remember getting together with him when Rob suggested getting Terrin Durfey from Boilermaker, who I loved. I knew Terrin for years. “You want him to play keyboards? But he’s a bass player.” We got together a lot, and he had this, “I’m going to sit down and learn it and do this.” And he did. I’m a bassist first, and piano is a far second from me.
Most people say they’re going to do something and they don’t. (laughs) He was this kind of guy that had that energy. He put his heart into it. I’m getting bummed thinking about it. He wasn’t a writer for the band but he contributed so much for us. We would never have gone to a three-piece if he were still around. And he was an amazing singer. It came naturally to him.
The friendship is gone. He had full-on cancer and managed to play this one last show with us at Del Mar, Calif., near San Diego. He was sick. But he pulled it off. He said, “I really want to play this,” and this was when the cancer was getting really bad.
He’ll be very missed. We just go on, just like anybody when you lose somebody.
And now moving on as a three-piece.
Yeah. You’ll get to see us make a bunch of mistakes. (laughs) I’m kidding. We’re looking forward to it.