INTERVIEW: Pine Hill Haints | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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It seems that every year when booking the outdoor stage for SummerTyne Americana, Jumpin’ Hot Club’s Graham Shipcote manages to include at least one wild card act that blows everybody away. Back in 2012 there’s no question that band was Pine Hill Haints, who tore up the stage and then did it all over again the following night at The Central Bar. Both sets were electrifying – the Haints’ ‘Alabama Ghost Music’ managing to draw on deep roots traditions but sound fresh as hell at the same time. So the obvious first question for guitarist/vocalist/everything-ist Jamie Barrier was: what does ‘Alabama Ghost Music’ mean to you?

“When I was younger I knew clearly what Alabama Ghost Music was, but now I am so deep into it, and have learned and seen so much more, it’s just come to a point that I now don’t really know. I love the Cajun music of Louisiana, the polka of the Great Lakes, and where I am from there is a lot of soul music and Appalachian bluegrass. But if you want to be realistic, it is all a commercial wasteland – music playing in the gas stations and fast food joints with Taylor Swift or whoever… it’s a dead culture.  We can’t grow our own food, we are dying of cancer and music has been taken from us and sold back to us. So now Alabama Ghost Music is us just making music for fun with anything – washboard, fiddle, bones and singing and remembering something that is long dead but alive in us.”

One thing that struck me about seeing the Haints was a ‘last gang in town’ feel they had, a bond born of fellowship and touring, and Barrier agrees. “Although we tour albums and all, that really isn’t what we are about. They are literally documents of what is going on at the moment for us. We play lots of shows where someone builds a big fire and fries a ton of fish and they need music so that everyone can dance. We are a live, living, danceable type of band that travels constantly. The albums and records are tiny snapshots of what is going on.”

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“We can’t grow our own food, we are dying of cancer and music has been taken from us and sold back to us. So now Alabama Ghost Music is us just making music for fun”

The last Pine Hill Haints album, The Magik Sounds Of The Pine Hill Haints came out late last year on K Records, the seminal US indie label which has always seemed a surprising home for the band. But Barrier says their “relationship with K is very tight. Solid, righteous dudes.” Magik Sounds might be their strongest set yet, from the junkyard gospel of live favourite Rattle Them Bones to the punkabilly of Can I Have Your Board When You Are Dead (Jamie Barrier is part of a mysterious ‘skate folk’ scene, along with good friend and collaborator Serious Sam Barret from Leeds).

As well as the roots music that forms a big part of the Pine Hill Haints sound, there’s more than a little punk fire in their belly, songs like You Were Born To Suffer having more than a little Clash in their DNA. “Sometimes I try to write the purest, most simple expression that I can, and Born To Suffer was an attempt to do that, even if the song is just 20 seconds long it’s ok! I love The Clash for the way they encompassed so many styles. And I love English rock and roll, English folk. Born To Suffer was more influenced by someone like Greg Cartwright though [the Memphis garage legend behind The Oblivians, Reigning Sound and The Parting Gifts amongst others]. I wrote it and almost played it with another band of mine, The Divine 6/7. But it seemed to fit the Haints better spiritually.” As for the blend of punk and traditional music, Barrier states: “I love punk to the core, but I come from a long line of farmers and bricklayers, and I am a country boy. I just try to sing about what I know and what is real to me.”

When I interviewed JD Wilkes of Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers for NARC. last year, he cited Pine Hill Haints as one of the few other bands (alongside Slim Cessna’s Auto Club and The Tillers) still doing it right, and I wondered if the feeling was mutual and whether Barrier saw the Haints as part of some ‘southern gothic’ sound? “JD is a good friend. I see him as someone who will starve before he stops doing what he does, he gives 100 per cent and means what he says, no matter what else is going on. He’s an inspiration – by writing books, traveling, playing banjo; but my favourite is the way he blows the harp! And I don’t mind southern gothic. I can see that being a part of what we are.”

Since the last album the band lost Matt Bakula, the handsomely hangdog washtub bass player who took vocal duties on some of the Haints’ best songs and was a big part of their sound. I wondered what happened. “Matt is busy with his job – he plans an amazing pizza party and does it every Halloween, he’s a true original cat. We miss him. He still plays music locally in Huntsville but he lived broke and sleeping on strangers’ floor for 16 years, he just needed a break. So now we have Travis Hightower on washtub, he played in the Haints before Matt did.” As for future plans: “We have a lot of songs that I want to record, but we tour all of the time year round. Maybe this winter we will slow down and try to cut them.”

Pine Hill Haints play Newcastle’s Cluny 2 on Thursday 3rd September.

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