On the surface, Denver is a city of 300 days of sunshine per year and a sense of goodhearted community. It can be hard to see the underlying tension from a dark past that lives in our subterranean subconscious. With a history of Heroes and Villains, Gunslingers and corrupt, racist politicians, the people who live here have a strange personal dichotomy which is most apparent in our local musicians. Kevin Larkin has tapped into this opposing life of Denver, and exhibits the city’s personality in his Pineross album: Detached.
I went to see The Tanukis a few weeks ago at my favorite venue, The Walnut Room and ended up discovering a beating heart of Denver I never knew was there. Opening act Chimney Choir blew the room apart and left a heavy impression on the headlining acts and audience alike. I don’t really know how many people were there to see Chimney Choir, but those that got the chance to see them play undoubtedly became instant fans.
After the show I got a chance to talk with Kevin Larkin, mastermind behind Pineross and Chimney Choir, who – fortunately – agreed to an interview for 4to12…with enthusiasm.
4to12: How did Pineross come about?
KL: Well when I first started writing songs I wanted to do an acoustic concept album of sorts. Over a few years of writing and re-writing it turned into a loose account of a modern day Don Quixote in some American desert. I was reading Cervantes constantly for a while and recording onto a laptop in a cabin in Lefthand Canyon – I’d also drive to friends houses and record other parts. When it was finally came time to release it the name Pineross seemed a good fit; Ross is a family name and I’ve always liked pine trees – and it sounded better than Rosspine.
4to12: What was the transition to Chimney Choir like? Are both projects simultaneous or is Pineross no more?
KL: Chimney Choir has been great – I just moved back to Colorado in December after about 5 years living in Mississippi to make music with them. I was touring with a bluegrass band down there (Mayhem String Band) and when we decided to go separate ways it seemed like a good idea to record Detached. I reconnected with David Rynhart in the process, he played some piano on the album and showed me some music he was working on, amazing stuff! We tried a week long tour down South and Kris just bought a ticket on a whim – it ended up being an incredible time and moving to Denver happened a few months later. The focus now is definitely with Chimeny Choir but Pineross will always be there – its more of an experimental outlet, something that happens when it needs to happen.
4to12: Where was Detached recorded, and by who?
KL: A lot of it was done in my kitchen in Taylor, Mississippi. Most of the basic tracking was done at Moja Magic in Boulder with Morgan Harris. I also recorded a lot of the horn parts and overdubs in different studios in North Mississippi; Tweed, Black Wing, Delta Recording Service (Jimbo Mathus’ studio). One of the fiddle parts was recorded in Brooklyn by a friend from Boulder, it was the only place I could track him down! It was all mixed at the Lip Studio in Oxford by Tom Queyja, who continued to make changes in California and Spain.
4to12: I like that you include a sheet with the musician lineup for the recording. What was it like organizing such an army of musicians for the album?
KL: Gotta give credit where its due! For most of the recording I had a pretty good idea of the instrumentation and feeling of the songs. Nothing was scored so I would just kind of pitch ideas to the musicians before the take. It ended up being really easy working with such great talent and I met a lot of musicians along the way. Morgan recommended Jon Gray (Supercollider) for the trumpet parts and David put me in touch with Tyson Bennet, who adapted a piano part to something completely new. In Oxford all you have to do is have a 12 pack of Budweiser and the local musicians will spend a couple of hours working up tunes.
4to12: Who plays with you at gigs?
KL: For the last year I have been traveling around as a solo act – sitting on a Sampsonite suitcase with a bass drum pedal and tambourine. For the CD release shows we rehearsed two different bands – one in Mississippi and one in Colorado. The Colorado band in December was David Rynhart (piano, flute, guitar, and vocal), Kris Drickey (vocal percussion), Fransisco Marques (percussion), Jon Gray (Trumpet, keyboard) and Kenny Martinez on upright bass.
4to12: Do you have a favorite venue here in Denver?
KL: The Walnut Room kicks ass. The sound is amazing, people listen, great bar staff, tasty pizza.
4to12: Drink of choice?
KL: Jamison. Although I’d like to think one day it will be rare Scotch.
4to12: What was your thought process for releasing a digital download, block print and deluxe issue of Detached, and your connection between your art and your music.
KL: No one really buys CDs anymore and I hate the fact that .mp3s are taking away the artwork of an album. I really wanted to do vinyl, its an ideal size and feel for great album art, but couldn’t really make that happen. But I still wanted to do something a little extra for people that bought the CD. It started with an idea much like the music, a combination of old and new where it looks familiar at first but there is a whole different thing going on underneath, which then turned into a Russian photo montage: a street shot of people walking around with TVs on their heads, Pepsi cans for buildings, kudzu covering skyscrapers, a record in the sky like the sun. It was too much to cram into a CD sleeve so it ended up being the album release poster. The cover got reduced down to a basic geometry – appealing ratios, shapes, and colors to grab the eye instead of the cluttered images. I ended up doing a linoleum block block carving and rolling 300 covers, each one is numbered and initialed.
4to12: Any shows coming up?
KL: We’ve got a Walnut Room show on May 6th with Chimney Choir, that is really the next big show in Denver – right before hitting the road for the summer! We’re also playing the Springs, Boulder and Nederland this month and I’m doing a few solo shows around town. But there will definitely be more things around Denver popping up that we’ll toss up on the ole’ webpage.
4to12: Any thoughts on the local Folk/Country etc. scene?
KL: I love that dark edge to Denver country – Slim Cessna, Munly, Red Cloud (RIP), etc. And Nathaniel Rateliff’s new album blew me away. Haven’t been to many Denver bluegrass picks yet but I know they are out there. The Irish sessions are always rocking, and the Samba is great too! The Tanukis are my new favorite Denver band though, everyone should go see them live.
I also got a chance to see Chimney Choir at The Oriental Theater this week, and snagged some photos.
Great band, Great shows, Great people.
Thanks again to Kevin Larkin and Chimney Choir.