Pine Barons: Raised in Jersey, Made in Philly.
The five guys in Pine Barons like to think that they’re like the “Terminator” movies—they’ve only gotten better with time. At least drummer Collin Smith uses that analogy.
Nestled in a small booth at Front Street Café in Kensington, a few blocks down from where guitarist/vocalist Keith Abrams, bassist Shane Hower and keyboardist Alex Beebe live, the guys reflect on their handful of years as a band and the new album they just finished recording at The Headroom Studio.
The yet-to-be-named album, produced by Kyle Pulley, was special. After all, Pulley’s younger brother Brad plays guitar in Pine Barons. The album also marks the beginning of the band members’ lives as full-time Philadelphians after moving here from the small Jersey towns of Shamong and Southampton about a year and a half ago.
“My older brother has lived here for a long time,” says Brad Pulley, 24, of West Philly. “So I guess I was always coming here to do stuff and see shows. I also go to school here. I always imagined myself coming here, though. It always made sense.”
“We moved here for music,” Abrams says. “We kind of, I felt like, established ourselves here.”
Now that they’re here, they can go see bands and build friendships with other bands whenever they want, not just the nights they trek up Route 70.
“It kind of allows us to feel like we’re more a part of it, at least for me,” Brad Pulley says. “I feel like I’m more a part of it. Before, I felt like somewhat of an outsider.”
“It feels like less of a night out and more like our neighborhood,” Beebe, 24, adds.
For Beebe, Abrams and Hower, they really did record right in their neighborhood at Headroom. And Brad Pulley obviously had a familiar face in his older brother behind the mixing board.
When asked if the Pulley brothers butted heads, as brothers tend to do, Smith assures that they duked it out when they were little. Smith, 25, who spent his teenage years in South Philly but put down roots in South Jersey, tends to sit back in conversation, saving his words for a well-placed joke. It’s a lot like how his drumming is full of thoughtful fills that abruptly pop out of the steady foundation, adding to the overall depth of the songs.
“Brad knows I’m the boss,” Kyle Pulley, 32, says with a laugh. “I’m eight years older than him, so he knows his place.”
Jokes aside, the elder Pulley says his experience working with Pine Barons was nothing but positive.
“It was so much fun,” he says. “There would be days that I’d be doing long sessions with other bands or working on other stuff, and the days I got to do Pine Barons honestly felt like a day off. We weren’t too hard on ourselves. We tried to just make it fun. Most of the time it was cool just to hang out with my brother, you know?”
Keeping it loose and fun is a fitting approach to recording Pine Barons’ sound. It’s got the jaunty nature and melodic, riffy, ethereal jams of outdoor-festival-ready rock, but with a poetic and emotional nature that brings the typically soft-spoken Abrams’ voice to peaking highs.
Add to that just enough distortion and crash cymbal to make them right at home in a Philly basement show. It’s a cohesive unit of five friends who have not only practiced hard together for years, they practiced being friends for even longer.
“I would say that this record was a turning point,” Hower says. “We started to really learn more about working with each other. I think the point was always to make the songs really good, but I think it became more of that we would play things because they were fun sometimes. And with this record, it was like, OK, these parts are fun, but do they serve a purpose? Just learning to be more critical about our songwriting process.”
As both producer and older brother, Kyle Pulley has an insider’s view of the band’s growth.
“They started out as being, you know, someone’s first band, and now they’re really great,” he says. “They’ve always been musicians. Their musicianship has gotten better over the years, but I think their tastes and their songwriting and their aesthetic has just matured. They’re all good players. They can all play whatever. And I think, between the first record and the full-length we did together, they figured out a little bit of the less-is-more kind of thing, and just doing stuff that’s more tasteful.”
So now, after wrapping up their debut full-length (which is due out next year, and follows their 2013 self-titled EP), finalizing their five-man roster and putting a real-deal tour or two under their belts, the future looks promising for Pine Barons. And, with a metaphorical pat on the back from not only an older brother who is also a major player in the Philly music scene, they’re on their way to big things.
“I think they’re already on that journey on their own,” Kyle Pulley says. “I just kind of helped them along the way.”