Something tells you upon first listening to Pine & Battery that the San Francisco band has a good shot at a meteoric rise. They have a sureness of foot and level of musicianship that other bands at similar stages in the game just don't. Not to mention that they also write incredibly catchy and potentially marketable pop tunes.
Pine & Battery's hit song "Southern," from its 2006 self-titled release, enjoyed heavy rotation on KFOG last summer, and still gets requests today. Critics have compared the band to Jeff Buckley, among others. Indeed, there are moments when it's hard to miss the nods to Buckley's signature sound most popularized by "Last Goodbye." If this is intentional, the band has certainly set the bar high.
Their name is a play on words: the streets Pine and Battery intersect in San Francisco's financial district, where singer-songwriter Jeff Campbell works his day job. However, Campbell emphasizes different interpretations of their name, citing the dictionary definitions on their web site: Pine: to yearn intensely and persistently. Bat·tery: a group of two or more cells connected together to furnish electric current. Campbell doesn't seem concerned with whether or not one sees this as a clever play on words or a contrived afterthought. Even if it is coincidental, the name reflects the subject matter of a lot of their songs as well as the energy level generated when they play. In the studio the band forms a tight circle, each member holding his own ground while Campbell rocks back and forth, belting out his lyrics in inimitable fashion.
In 2005 Campbell moved to San Francisco from Philadelphia, drawn by the invigorating music scene. He frequented Marin County's Sweetwater Saloon, which he describes as "a staple for singers and songwriters" in the Bay Area. "They had a killer open mic," he says. He was introduced to guitarist Andy Weller, who studied music at UC Irvine. Weller and Campbell came together and produced Pine & Battery's 2006 self-titled release.
Hanging out with Pine & Battery, it's clear that the band is like a small tribe with a language all its own. At their twice-weekly practice at Soundwave Studios in West Oakland, members trickle in and set up their gear on top of crimson Persian rugs that overlap one another across the floor, as banter fills the room. Topics range from the musical legacy of the Bay Area to the innocuous jousting about the minutiae of each member's day-to-day life. Hanging over the collective is an overwhelming (at least to an outsider) cloud of musical knowledge that seems to keep them grounded, perhaps even humbled by what they are trying to accomplish.
When asked what groups they admire or like, a barrage of names come up: Rush, the Carpenters, 38 Special, and bands that came out of the Seattle music scene in the '90s. Despite the eclectic voices in the room, everything comes together in a sound that is distinctively Pine & Battery's own. They're careful not to become too specific about their direct influences. The music should, and indeed does, speak for itself.
If Pine & Battery's first album was a collaborative project between Weller and Campbell, then their next album will be a decidedly different enterprise. Campbell says of their newer material: "In every song I can hear something from someone in the band" and "everything's collaborative." "I Know You Are," from their forthcoming 2009 release, reflects a movement away from the traditional verse-chorus-verse format toward songs that have a series of parts or movements where "all the parts are memorable," as drummer Rick Munoz says. "Each of the members brings his own unique musical tastes to the table," says bassist A.J. Leighton. "There's some arcane knowledge coming out of this group."
The band (wisely) avoids drawing parallels between its sound and other bands' and holds fast to a community of musicians in the Bay Area. They're members of the San Francisco Songwriter's Coalition, started by Jeff Symonds and Jerry Becker two years ago as a support network for local musicians and which has turned into something of a local brand name. Pine & Battery has certainly embedded itself in the local music scene and, at the very least, recognizes the entire pantheon of rock 'n' roll. It might be safe to say that any band that can accomplish this much probably can carve out a lasting name for itself.
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