Piney Gir releases her sixth album, mR hYDE’S wILD rIDE, this June via Damaged Goods. The album collates twelve multicoloured bittersweet pop stories about ‘a young woman coming to terms with the hope and regret that accompanies love and loss.’ Progressing from her background as a quirkly electro pop act, Piney’s first single from her new album Keep It Together is a fizzing multi-instrumental delight, her deft melodies and twinkling percussive rushes bristling with the ghosts of 60s pop, The Flaming Lips, Feist and Stereolab.
Piney has pulled together a stellar band for this release, with members of Gaz Coombes and Emiliana Torrini‘s touring band jumping in on guitar, bass and drums alongside The Smith Brothers & regular collaborator Garo Nahoulakian taking a seat in the producer’s chair. Andy Ramsay of Stereolab makes an appearance on drums, and the bulk of the album was recorded in his South London studio. The rest was whipped-up in Piney’s little Hackney Studio. To celebrate the album’s release we caught up with Piney Gir for a question and answer session.
You’re about to release your sixth album mR hYDE’S wILD rIDE – please explain who Piney Gir is and what this album is all about.
I’m Piney Gir. I’m from Kansas, but I’ve been living in London for a while now. I make make indie-pop and embrace what I do with a kind of mixed-media hat on. I think that in order to portray myself as the kind of artist that I am, I’ve got to have strong imagery, artwork, merch, videos, the live show… it’s more than just having strong songs, it’s about tapping into an aesthetic that makes the whole thing more of an experience.
The album has a few themes running through it, the mR hYDE bit refers to the duplicity within us all, there are two sides to everything and everyone: a Dr. Jekyll and a Mr. Hyde. A lot of these songs refer to darkness and light, there is optimism in bad things and there is darkness in good things. Nothing is pure, nothing is black and white, we live in a colourful world and colourful things happen to us every day and sometimes we handle it like Jekyll and sometimes we handle it like Hyde. The Wild Ride bit refers to my favourite ride at Disneyland “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” because life throws us all kinds of roller coaster moments and sometimes you just gotta go with it & enjoy the ride! I also like the Britishness of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, because I ended up here in Britain, something I couldn’t have foreseen when I was riding Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride for the first time at Disneyland, aged 9.
Tell us more about the woman behind Piney Gir – where did your moniker come from and when did you first realise you had to start writing music.
Piney is a name I made up when I was very small. Nobody knows where it came from, but people would say “What’s your name little girl?” and I’d say “Piney!” Sometimes they’d give me a confused look and look to my parents to see if that was true. Other people accepted that I had this name. My family called me Piney as a nickname growing up. And the Gir part is because I never could say girl properly, so I’d say “I’m a GIR!” because I had a bowl hair cut and never wanted to be confused with a boy. So a common sentence from 2-3-year-old me is “I’m Piney and I’m a Gir!” So, when it came to having a stage name I realised I already had one…
As an American living in London; I moved to the UK over 10 years ago. I had just earned my music degree and didn’t know what to do with it. I knew I didn’t want to stay in Kansas and I didn’t want to go to New York, Chicago or LA because that seemed to be where everyone went after uni. I had spent a semester in the UK on a foreign exchange programme and I loved it, so I came back, took some evening courses at St. Martin’s and worked in a cocktail bar to meet people and just figure things out. I ended up in a synth-pop duo called Vic Twenty, which was my first band. It was then I realised indie-pop music is something I wanted to do for real. I had carved a niche for myself in the indie music scene here and it felt natural to stay and see what would happen.
Your signed to Damaged Goods – tell us how that came about?
Initially I was signed to Truck Records, but when Truck folded I self-released my album The Yearling on Paris Motel’s label Hotel Records. I remember making a bunch of singles by hand in my front room, sticking stickers onto CD wallets, stamping each one with a bumblebee stamp and hand numbering them, it took hours! I sent a mail-out to the Piney fans saying “Buy my new handmade single, please.” Apparently Ian from Damaged Goods was on my mailing list, because he e-mailed me back and said something like, “If you’d like to release a real single, let me know.” I was very excited because I’ve always been a big fan of Damaged Goods, he puts out so much great stuff, and I like that Ian is very straight-forward and straight-talking. So he put out a vinyl 7″ of “For The Love Of Others” for his Christmas single that year… it’s great, the sleeve looks like a Christmas present & the song has a timeless sentimental quality to it. From there he put out my next 2 albums, “Jesus Wept” and “Geronimo!” now he’s putting out this “mR. hYDE’S wILD rIDE.” I’m really excited about it!
How important is it these days to have a label – indie or otherwise – what are the pros and cons?
With DIY release being simpler than ever, it does make it very hard to get noticed, because anyone who has a computer can write a song, record it and instantly upload it to soundcloud and connect with an audience. I think that’s great! But it does feel like a posting a new song is like tiny drop in a big ocean and it can be frustrating if you feel like your music is not connecting with a wider audience. Labels are important because they curate and provide a platform for artists. It helps someone like me, at this stage in my career, to get noticed. I’m really grateful to have a label.
The album is really pop inspired but from all eras – what is your favourite pop era and why?
I don’t really have a favourite era, I just love strong melodies and really hooky riffs. My favourite lyrics tell stories. So I am inspired by people and songs, rather than specific eras.
What other music inspired you whilst writing tracks for this album?
We were working in Andy Ramsay’s studio (he’s from the band Stereolab) so we used a lot of the same vintage gear they used to use and there is a tactile quality that we share with some early Stereolab stuff… you can’t replicate those sounds with midi and it’s fun to play around with real analogue sounds in the room and manipulate them with tape echo and stuff. It’s given the album a sort of shimmering indie quality like Mercury Rev or Flaming Lips and there are some catchy riffs like Pixies “Here Comes Your Man” style or Grandaddy synth-riffs likes “A.M. 180” which is largely down to buying a pocket piano when writing the album. There’s also a bit of grungy riot grrl in there, which is a nod to Sleater Kinney and Babes in Toyland. I think it’s a pretty diverse album, but it’s got a continuity to it, I’m hopeful it marries these influences well.
You’ve been in the UK for a decade now, what has been the best and worst thing about making music here?
The best thing is by far the sense of community that I have discovered here. London is such a huge place, but the indie music scene isn’t so big actually. If you hang out at the Lexington enough you’ll see the same faces there, or if you’re more of a Dalstonite you’ll find your people at the Dalston Superstore or Cafe Oto… I guess it’s a bit like having a tribe; it’s a way of finding community in a huge, difficult city. London is an inspiring city too, full of diversity and culture. I love it, there’s an energy always pulsing through London. But it’s also one of the most expensive cities in the world, the housing crisis is a problem, creative people keep getting pushed out of their neighbourhoods to the edge of the city & then the locals in the edges of London get pushed out to the suburbs and I do worry the centre of town will just be full of bankers and oligarchs and the creativity that makes a place vibrant slowly trickles away. I guess we’ll see if that happens. But I tell ya what, don’t do music for the money! It costs a lot to keep a band going, recording, touring… it’s a labour of love. And I do love it.
You’ve worked with lots of superb bands and musicians – tell us who your highlights were?
I am so lucky to have worked with so many wonderful musicians, some of them are names some of them are not names. I can’t really pick a favourite person! But if you’re asking me to name drop, there is of course Andy Ramsay of Stereolab who I mentioned earlier. It was fun putting him on the spot and getting him to overdub some drum parts. He didn’t know we were going to ask him (and that was part of the strategy, to see what he’d devise out of the blue rather than learning and studying the tracks). I love what he did, there’s a spontaneity to it! Rob Campanella from Brian Jonestown Massacre was amazing to work with, he’s so laid back and easy to be around. We’ve since remained friends and he even played with me for my NPR Mountain Stage Session in West Virginia, which was great fun! Nelson Bragg is the percussionist for The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson‘s Band and he put a lot of finesse on my last album Geronimo! the song “Oh Lies” wouldn’t be the same without the castanets and “Let’s Get Silly” was essentially an excuse for Nelson to show off. I also had one of the brass players from Sgt. Peppers on my last album, which felt quite legendary. We had him playing in a big reverby recital hall and it was beautiful. The list goes on and I’m blessed to have met and collaborated with so many people, but I guess another highlight would be singing with Garth Hudson from The Band. I mean, what a legend he is, and what a dream to get to sing with him when he was over for Truck Festival a few years ago. I will forever cherish that memory.
Where can we see you live next?
My single launch for “Keep It Together” is at the Islington in London on the 23rd of April. I’m then playing the Alternative Escape in Brighton on May 16th & doing a little UK tour in June.
What do you hope mR hYDE’S wILD rIDE will achieve that other albums haven’t done before?
I don’t know if I am comfortable saying “no album has ever done this…” but what I am hopeful this album will do is that it will feel like a breath of fresh air, this album is laced with optimism because I wrote it at a dark time and I didn’t want the darkness to get the best of me. It’s got its complex and contemplative moments, but with the shade there is light, with the rain there is a rainbow. I want this album to make people happy and to inspire, if someone is down, I want to encourage them to see the silver lining, to ride that storm out because it does get better when the clouds clear. I want this record to make people happy even though it’s not a saccharine album. I want people to find hope in it for themselves.