ABOVE: PINK MOUNTAINTOPS’ STEPHEN MCBEAN. PHOTO COURTESY OF OLIVIA JAFFE
“Click clack claw, wish you were dead,” Stephen McBean sings on Get Back, the newest release from Pink Mountaintops. After a five-year hiatus following 2009’s Outside Love, McBean brings us a record that encapsulates the nostalgia, nuance, and erratic heartbeat of rock-‘n’-roll. With a blending of punk rock, garage, grunge, and even blues-tinged melodies, guitar riffs lead the way into an exploration of sound, one where the DNA of rock-‘n’-roll’s soul is reflected in every beat.
Recorded in Los Angeles, McBean has brought together a group of musical greats including J. Mascis (Dinosaur Jr. & Witch), Rob Barbato (Darker My Love, The Fall & Cass McCombs), Daniel Allaire (Brian Jonestown Massacre), Annie Hardy (Giant Drag), and Gregg Foreman (Cat Power). Over a span of two weeks, the group explored the multiple pitches of rock’s soul and with this album, listeners are tossed across frenzied rhythms.
We recently spoke with McBean about the recording of Get Back, Rod Stewart, and food.
J.L. SIRISUK: Are you in L.A. right now?
SIRISUK: Did you see the blood moon lunar eclipse? I wish I had been there for that.
MCBEAN: I did see it. I fell asleep before it took full effect, but I saw the beginning of it. It was looking pretty cool.
SIRISUK: I know you’re originally from Canada. How long have you been in L.A.?
MCBEAN: I’ve been here for almost four years.
SIRISUK: It’s been about five years or so since your last album with Pink Mountaintops. What made you want to record this album?
MCBEAN: I had a couple years where I was trying to make it, had a bunch of songs and, you know, the timing wasn’t right. Then everything fell into place when we started recording. I was hanging out with Joe Cardamone, the producer, and then put together a list of friends that I wanted to play with, and saw who was available. Then we kind of got together and just had fun, and once we started doing it, it was a pretty easy record to make.
SIRISUK: Did you just get together and play? Did you write with the group or mostly alone?
MCBEAN: I had a collection of songs. Some were new and some were old, so I would play them the song. Sometimes the song would be the lyrics and the chords, sometimes it would be a bit more involved and everyone would dig into it and put their personality onto it and kind of make it their own. It’s fun. Everyone that plays on the record, I wanted to play with because of their style and how they play. It’s cool to hear people play songs that you’ve written.
SIRISUK: At one point, you sing, “I sold my soul to the rock-‘n’-roll.” What was one of the first bands you heard in life that kind of injected your soul with rock-‘n’-roll?
MCBEAN: It happened almost, it seems like, the day that I was born. I remember being a kid and seeing the early ones—definitely KISS, Bay City Rollers. I remember Ziggy Stardust—that Bowie record was a really early record that I heard through my older cousin. All of a sudden, seeing this stuff, I was like, “Where does this come from?” Especially if it was like KISS and David Bowie, it’s so outer space, and from there it just kind of snowballed. The beauty of punk rock is that you kind of discover that, “Oh, I can do this too,” you know. It’s like something that a lot of the world is just obsessed with, and there’s endless amounts of it to discover and re-discover and listen to on different days and wonder what it’s all about—or get you through hard times or celebrate good times. It’s just like a weird magical thing that human beings do that’s kind of mind blowing when you think about it.
SIRISUK: What other things populate your mind with creativity aside from music?
MCBEAN: I was listening to a bunch of Allan Watts lectures around that time, some British philosopher. I don’t think he’s a monk but he studied a lot of Eastern philosophy, Zen and Buddhism. And trying to keep the mind clear at certain points in your life, when things get too cloudy and cluttered and you want to make it all go away with negative influences. It’s sometimes much easier to just have a few positive thoughts clear it all up for you. You know, sometimes a good movie. I find food very inspirational.
SIRISUK: Food? What kind of food?
MCBEAN: Pretty much all of it. I know that when we were making this record we were going to Pinocchio’s in Burbank, which is old Burbank, kind of old-school Hollywood Italian cafeteria with big red vinyl booths. Once in a while a famous person will roll in and get something to go. Yeah, just have lasagna, whatever, and follow it with wine.
SIRISUK: So if you were to describe this album in terms of different food ingredients, what would a few of them be? [laughs]
MCBEAN: [laughs] There’s probably some carne asada in there, and then some jalapeños. I don’t know, a bunch of cheese, there’s a little bit of vegetables.
SIRISUK: And maybe some booze.
MCBEAN: Yeah, there’s definitely some whiskey in there, and cheap beer.
SIRISUK: [laughs] There was an interview you once did where you talked about that line “Come together” by the Beatles and how you really liked that. The title of this record is Get Back—is this a reference to the Beatles?
MCBEAN: I think I had a bunch of different titles that were swimming around, and I can’t remember where it exactly came from, but it came up, and that was the one that kept sticking with me. And then when I told Joe and the label, they were like, “Oh yeah, that’s the one.” I guess I like this because I remember reading that Paul McCartney wanted to originally call “Let It Be” “Get Back”—I think—and I always like the fact that The Grateful Dead were originally called The Warlocks and Black Sabbath was originally called Earth—is that right? I can’t remember, but I kind of like the whole history with rock-‘n’-roll, and kind of thievery… everyone borrows off of each other, because there’s only so much of it to go around. And there’s that really cool label, I think it’s from Germany, called Get Back. I don’t know, it suited a bit of the loose theme of the record.
SIRISUK: How long did it take all of you to record this?
MCBEAN: Maybe two weeks total. Not two weeks straight, but maybe two weeks of rehearsal, recording, and mixing, you know.
SIRISUK: Did you record in L.A.?
MCBEAN: We recorded it here in Burbank at VRC Studios, which is Joe Cardamone’s studio.
SIRISUK: I really have to ask you about “North Hollywood Microwaves.” When that song came on I was dancing, and then I started laughing.
SIRISUK: What can you tell me about that song and how it was born?
MCBEAN: That song is just a good example of the fun of people getting together, because it was basically the end of the night and I had a riff and I was like, “I have this riff. Let’s just jam on it, maybe something cool will happen.” And we played it through once and were like, “Okay, that’s pretty cool,” and then I wrote some lyrics and because I had heard Annie’s rapping through Joe, I was like, “Can you see if Annie can come down and rap on this?” She came down and she basically just freestyled that, and yeah, that was that. It was basically just a happy accident train wreck of good times.
SIRISUK: I like that she [Annie Hardy] mentions Rod Stewart in it as well.
MCBEAN: Yeah, someone just told me that he was recently on Oprah and had to clear up that rumor. Is that true?
SIRISUK: I don’t know.
MCBEAN: That rumor’s been going around since I was a little kid in a small town in Canada, so the urban myth has traveled everywhere.
SIRISUK: He should hear this track. You should send it to him.
SIRISUK: So what are you doing next? You’re going on tour, right?
MCBEAN: Yeah, we’ll start touring in just over a week and kind of tour until the middle September. North America and Europe.
SIRISUK: You’ve played with so many different people. Is there anyone else you’d dream to do music with?
MCBEAN: Yeah, there’s so many I’d love to play with, you know. Kind of endless. It would be cool to sit around and play guitar with Keith Richards. It would be fun to sit around and play guitar while Karen Dalton sings, or like jam with the Wu Tang Clan. I’ve met some people that were big influences on me, and sometimes I don’t wanna know them, though. I want them to stay magical in my mind.
SIRISUK: How did you feel when you were recording this album?
MCBEAN: Generally great. There were so many people playing on it. I didn’t have a lot of doubts, you know what I mean—so a lot of times I’d just sit back and listen to them play a part and be like, “Okay, that sounds great. I don’t have to do that, because they did it better.” There’s usually a bit of stress before it starts. Then once it actually starts and it’s going good and it’s fun, it feels great. Playing music is strange because when you’re doing it, it’s one of the greatest feelings, you know. And sometimes it’ll be that thing where I’ll be lying in bed at three in the morning and I’ll be like, “Fuck, I just wanna play a show right now.” It’s a good time, really.
SIRISUK: The fact that you want to play a gig at three in the morning shows you really have that rock-‘n’-roll in your soul. It’s just there.
MCBEAN: Yeah, it keeps you alive, it keeps you in tune with the earth.
GET BACK IS OUT APRIL 29 ON JAGJAGUWAR RECORDS. FOR MORE ON PINK MOUNTAINTOPS, PLEASE VISIT THE GROUP’S FACEBOOK PAGE.