Northern Transmissions interviews the affable Pink Mountaintops main man Stephen McBean. Their album Get Back drops April 29th on Jagjaguwar.
Northern Transmissions: Your move to Los Angles seems to have had an influence on some of your songs on Get Back. Can you talk about how it influenced your writing?
Stephen McBean: It had a really big influence. Joe Cardamone, who produced the album, is an LA guy. Pretty much everyone who worked or played on the album is from LA. It is one of those places that everyone kind of loves or hates. The place really is kind of magical; it has such a strong history and culture of music and film-making. Also, the city is definitely not hell-bent on re-inventing itself. I mean, you can look around and see places like Sunset Sound and the Capital Records building that are still around. It’s pretty cool that those places are still around.
NT: There are definitely a couple of bangers on the album, were you kind of itching to get back and play some more heavy stuff?
SM: I think there was definitely some wanting to play more heavy music. But again, living in LA and the history of the city really helped bring out that sound. Also, meeting Joe also inspired me quite a bit. However, I also enjoyed the minimal stuff as well. I enjoy and am quite happy to play with different musicians who are into playing different styles. Some of the songs on the album were written five years ago, so there were definitely a few different inspirations in there. I was lucky. So many musicians lived in the area and came in and added these cool parts. Joe really pushed me at times — on the song “Ambulance City” he told me to sing like a 21 year old, so I did, and really enjoyed it. Lol.
NT: What took so long to get a new Pink Mountaintops’ album out?
SM: It’s been five years since the last Pink Mountaintops’ album. We really toured the last album for a very long time. After that, The Black Mountain album came out. I became so busy with writing that record and playing shows. When it was time to make Get Back, everything really kind of clicked. The album just gelled. The timing really worked out well and everything kind of fell into place.
NT: The Motorcycle Shop owned by Michael Barragan (Plexi) also played a big part in the recording of the album, how so?
SM: It’s weird because when you are making a record, people seem to always drop by. They will want to see the studio and all the equipment, listen to the mixes. The shop was next door and all these motorcycles and bikers were there. It was cool. It turned out a number of them were Black Mountain fans. At first, they were quite surprised with how the songs sounded but I think they kind of dug it. It’s kind of funny, to Black Mountain fans the album sounds kind of soft and vice-versa for fans of Pink Mountaintops.
NT: Getting back to part of one our previous questions, you had quite a number of well-known musicians working on the album. Did you have an idea beforehand that you wanted most of those people to play certain parts?
SM: I wanted to have a band that was pretty much the initial group, but part of it really came down to who was available at the time. Annie was available because she was around the studio. J Mascis was in town doing a show. I had played for him for a show of his one night, and the next night we had lunch and I asked him to play some guitar on the album, he said sure. He was totally down with it. I had asked him beforehand if he wanted the chords, he said “Nah.” He just came in and wailed — it was really great. J and I go back, we’ve done some touring together.
NT: You worked with Annie Hardy (Giant Drag) on the video for “North Hollywood Microwaves.” It’s a pretty dynamic video. Were you part of the concept or did you give her complete control?
SM: She asked if she could make a video for the song. I said, yeah, of course. I was in Seattle and I filmed myself dancing and sent her the footage. She put it all together, the whole thing kind of came from Space, Lol.
NT: Which five albums are still inspiring you these days?
Big Star – Third/Sister Lovers
The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico
The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers
The Beatles – Rubber Soul
Nina Simone – Live in Paris