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‘I’ on the Prize

Cincinnati’s The Pinstripes set the stage for their biggest year yet

By Brian Baker · March 6th, 2012 · Music
music1_the_pinstripes_photo_paul_shroderPhoto by Paul Shroder
It’s been three years since my introduction to The Pinstripes, interviewing the band in the cramped rehearsal space they dubbed “The Good Stuff.” We discussed their love of Ska, Reggae, Dub, Soul and all points between and beyond, as well as their recordings to that point (Higher Ground and The Decay) while downing a few lightly chilled Pabst Blue Ribbons.

These days, The Pinstripes practice in the Walnut Hills home of vocalist/saxophonist Mike Sarason, bassist Chris Grannen and trombonist/vocalist Leonardo Murcia. Sarason offers a Yuengling ale, noting the refreshment upgrade from the last interview.

“Other than that, nothing much has changed,” Sarason says with a laugh.

The joke is that much has changed in The Pinstripes’ universe. Murcia tagged in for Chap Sowash, who relocated to New York in 2009 and joined Izzy and the Catastrophics. Guitarist Matt Kursmark moved to California for a position with Adobe, but has since returned to his rightful place as the ’stripes six-string genius. Drummer Casey Weissbuch decided his life in Nashville was hectic enough without bugging out to Cincinnati for band business and opted out, opening the way for former Losanti beat-keeper John Bertke. Finally, trumpeter/vocalist Ben Pitz heard Colorado’s call of the wild last year and headed west for an AmeriCorps project, leaving space for new hornblower Sam White. 

“I’ve been incredibly lucky to get to come in after all the work they’ve put in for (the latest album) and all the trials and tribulations,” White says. “I remember different Pinstripes sounds and incarnations over the years and past albums, and I have the convenience and privilege of getting to hop onboard a moving train.”

The most significant news in the Pinstripes’ camp is the release of I, the band’s long-awaited full-length. In process since 2010, I is a stellar representation of The Pinstripes’ estimable gifts, a powerful combination of their broad musical tastes and their formidable technical prowess in channeling those tastes into a singular sound.

The Pinstripes weren’t looking to make any definitive sonic or philosophical statement with I; it simply grew into a project that speaks volumes about the band’s focus and drive.

“When we set out to do it, it wasn’t any different from The Decay or anything else,” Grannen says.

“It was like, ‘We have these songs, let’s record them and put out a record.’ Then it was, ‘Where are we going to do this? We’re going to Chicago.’ We recorded in Chicago and we realized what it was when we heard it, then it was, ‘What are we going to do that we haven’t done before?’ So we pressed (the album on) vinyl. We kept trying to do things we hadn’t done before, up to and including the release show. All of that made it what it is and something that we’re very proud of.”

In many ways, I represents the culmination of The Pinstripes’ efforts to translate their consummate stage skills to the often sterile atmosphere imposed by a studio setting. That translation was largely unworkable previously because of the band members’ wildly unbalanced work, school and life schedules.

The Decay was recorded in Chris’ basement and there was no point where everyone was even together when that was recorded,” Sarason says. “This was much more thought out and deliberate. We actually wanted to make an album that will hold up forever.”

“We made a conscious effort to work with a producer as opposed to doing it ourselves,” Kursmark says, “and get a third opinion from someone who knows the music and styles and coach us through the experience we’ve been through before.”

Anthony Abbinanti, keyboardist for The Drastics and a stellar and sympathetic boardsman who had befriended the ’Stripes when their bands toured together, turned out to be the perfect production choice. His work as both musician and technician, along with the incomparable mastering of Dave Davis, elevated I and The Pinstripes to an impressive new level.

“The coolest thing was seeing (Anthony’s) excitement grow,” Murcia says. “When we started, it was like, ‘I know what you’re doing, sort of. I have a feel of where you’re going.’ But the more we worked, the more he started throwing in his thoughts and making us see colors we hadn’t seen before. We didn’t necessarily take all of them but he started being a seventh member with fresh new perspectives.”

On previous recordings, the members went in with songs that they’d been performing for a while. With I, they were writing material right up to the sessions. That left a little room for fluctuation once they started working things out in the studio.

“We set up camp in the Good Stuff and a lot of those songs were already pretty solid, but some of them didn’t come about until the month before (like the track) ‘The Wokkabout,’ ” Murcia says. “I had written a song right before we went up there, and even some of the songs we were still writing in Chicago. It was very evolutionary for a long time before we got anywhere near going to Chicago.”

“Our previous efforts were almost like a glorified demo, but when were going to make this an actual thing, it was the idea of busting ass beforehand,” Grannen says. “If you’re going to another studio, even if it’s your friend’s living room, you need to have everything as in order as it can be. It was a very intensive process.”

With the release of I, a handful of subsequent new songs and a full slate of upcoming tour dates, including the band’s debut at South by Southwest music conference/festival in Austin, Tex., the potential for The Pinstripes seems almost limitless.

“Everyone’s had their own things that had us spread out doing different stuff, but right now is the time where we have six people who live in Cincinnati and everyone’s putting in this work all the time,” Sarason says. “We have this house that three of us live in, and honestly I feel like we’re rolling and getting stuff done at a rate that’s never happened before. But always, in my head, it was like, ‘This is where I want to be.’ Not that we’re fine and this is as far as it can go, but this is where we all wanted The Pinstripes to be.”  ©

Stream THE PINSTRIPES’ I at thepinstripes.bandcamp.com.



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