The 2010 SXSW Music Festival and Conference was amazing again this year!!
By Matthew Comer
Biography – The Pines
The Pines are an alt-folk duo based out of Minneapolis. Fellow Iowans David Huckfelt and Benson Ramsey met while living in Tucson. They formed The Pines based on their shared love of the Chicago blues and Jim Beam whiskey. The Pines is a reference to the Iowa landscape and a phrase that is common in old folk songs. They started out playing blues bars in Phoenix and then onto other clubs in the area. After their stint in Arizona, they moved back to the Midwest where they began listening to and eventually sharing the stage with Spider John Koerner.
They released their debut self-titled album in 2004, establishing themselves as songwriters and musicians. They began playing with a jazz band, drummer J.T. Bates and bassist James Buckley, as well as Benson’s brother Alex Ramsey on piano. In 2007, they released Sparrows in the Bell on Red House Records. The album was highly praised in folk circles and loved by the critics. American music critic Dave Marsh said The Pines are “like the great folk-rock bands of yesteryear….I didn’t hear a better band in 2008.” They were named one of the top roots releases of the year by Q Magazine.
In 2009, they released Tremolo, as with Sparrows in the Bell, this album was also produced by Benson’s father, legendary performer and producer, Bo Ramsey. Tremolo spawns the indie-rock hit Lonesome Tremolo Blues and a fan favorite cover of Spider John Koerner’s Skipper and His Wife. The Rolling Stone stated that it was a “Fine new album…quietly gripping.” Like other talented folk artists, they are hailed in the UK and Europe. They are currently on tour and will be playing at this year’s SXSW. The Pines 2008 SXSW showcase was so successful that CMT.com listed them as one of the musical highlights of the festival.
The Pines, a Minneapolis-based alt-folk duo, features the shared vocals and guitars of fellow native Iowans, David Huckfelt and Benson Ramsey. The Pines recently released Tremolo, the follow-up to the critically acclaimed debut Sparrows in the Bell. They will be performing at the 2010 SXSW Conference and Festival at the Red House Records Showcase. Spinner recently interviewed The Pines’ Benson Ramsey.
Interview with Benson Ramsey of The Pines
(David Huckfelt could not be reached)
1. Describe your sound in your own words.
It comes out of where we’re from, American and folk blues, built on that. [The] Midwest is a big part of what we do. There is a lot of space in between everything… that definitely plays a part in our music. Wide open spaces. Spooky how it filters into the music, but it does. Wide openness. It’s like a negative space, like in photography or a painting. What you don’t paint is just as important as what you do. What you leave out, your mind has to fill in, so it is just as meaningful as what you put in.
2. How did your band form?
Organically. We transferred back to the Midwest, [but]we spent a spell in Tucson. Like minded folks getting together… [I met David] in Tucson, Arizona. We’re both from Iowa… ran into each other in Arizona. Both happened to be out there just searching, getting away from things and ran into each other. [We were] really young and into the blues music. We used to play this blues bar in Phoenix every other week, we did that for a while and that’s how it started to gel. It’s really weird. It brings up a lot of things, fate or destiny. Seems like a long distance away, people seem like there are a lot of people, but once you get out there, everyone is connected. If you are following your path, then you will run into those people that you are supposed to meet, if you are just following your heart.
3. What are your musical influences?
Everything really, I don’t know how to put it. I just like music. There’s music for all different times of the day. It depends if it is morning or night… but definitely the Iowa musicians who I grew up around are a huge part of it and I learned so much from them. Joe Price, Greg Brown, my dad (Bo Ramsey), Pieta Brown, Dave Moore, Dave Zollo, they were all huge in my influences, as well as David. Definitely the Chicago Blues, Muddy Waters and all those guys. When we moved out to Tucson we got into Calexico and really dug what they were doing and how they were doing it and it really reminded us of home. When we moved to Minneapolis got to see people like Spider John Koerner and his interpretation of those folk songs, it showed us the world of possibilities and be open to it.
4. How did you come up with your band name, “The Pines”
The Pines is a folk reference, it comes up in a lot of folk songs, as well as to the North. There are a lot of different metaphorical meanings that fit it. We had recorded our first record but didn’t have a name yet. We needed a name. And that one just came out. In Iowa there are always the pines… along the West side of the farm, [they] plant pines there in a line and it blocks winds from battering your house on the Plains. They don’t lose their leaves, so in the winter time when the wind really blows, the pines are there to sort of protect you.
5. What’s your biggest vice?
I’ve never thought about it, I’ve got so many. A lot of them play off of other ones. It’s a never ending cycle. Life is a series of vices. It makes it worth waking up. I like to be able to read at the end of every night, despite how many drinks I’ve had. David and I are always reading and searching. I’m always reading the news, it’s something I’m trying to give up. I don’t know why, I don’t think it’s healthy, I think I’d be better off smoking crack. There is a fine line between being up to speed and having overload. I don’t think it’s natural. I don’t think it’s realistic. [The news] it’s too crazy, it blows it all out of proportion.
6. What’s in your festival survival kit?
We travel pretty light. To be honest we don’t participate too much. I’ve been to SXSW a few times and have never gotten a wristband or gone to any shows. Live music is one of my favorite things. But it’s hard when you’re working you have got to do what you’ve got to do. We do like to have a drink now and then. Well we almost exclusively drink Jim Beam. It started when we started, it’s what we had, pretty much all we drink. Also, I like taking pictures with my camera or phone; I collect those from the different places we go. And I make and draw postcards.
7. Who was your first celeb crush?
Probably Howlin’ Wolf, the first time I heard him. I think I fell in love.
8. What’s your musical guilty pleasure?
I try not to feel too guilty about pleasures, so I’m trying to change my way of thinking. [He is looking through his music catalog for something guilty] It all looks pretty suspect. I don’t see anything too guilty here. I live a safe life, don’t I? I need to get some new jams. I don’t really got anything. I do like the Cure. We’ve covered some of their stuff, they’re my guilty pleasure.
9. Beatles or Stones?
These are tough questions, Jesus! I love them both, but I heard the Beatles first. It’s kind of like the chicken is first hatched the first person they see they think is their mom, so I’ll have to go with the Beatles.
10. What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen or experienced while on tour?
I haven’t seen anything too crazy. Nothing besides drunk people acting drunk and they usually get themselves into something wild. Our music doesn’t lend itself too much to craziness.
11. Any plans while you are in Austin for SXSW?
Try to get some good food at the many great Mexican food restaurants. We’re pretty good of just playing it by ear, we don’t make a lot of plans, we just go with the flow. Texas weather, I’m excited for that.
12. Any plans at SXSW, bands that you would like to see?
It’s a great opportunity to see your friends that are out playing, hook up with them and hang out a while which is pretty fun because so many bands are there. When you are playing music you don’t get a chance to hang out with your friends and music friends who you are always crossing paths with… I think we’ll go check out some shows this year.
Some photos that I took of the Pines, on their label, Red House Records site.
Here are a few of the events, parties, movie premiers, bands, or showcases that I shot photography at this year on behalf of SXSW.
Some shots from this year’s SXSW 2010
A few of my photos from SXSW 2009
Assignments and Non-Assignments: My Schedule
American Bill Hicks Premier at GTech
Cyrus Premier at The Paramount
Frog Design Mexican American Cultural Events Center
NY Export Opus Jazz Premier at Alamo Ritz
Amer Premier at Alamo Ritz
Lebanon PA at Alamo Lamar
Saturday Night at Alamo Lamar
The Barbarian Group StumbleUpon Forbidden Frontier Party Man Or Astro-Man at Mohawk
Lemmy Premier at Paramount
NOLA Party v220.127.116.11 at Lucky Lounge
Film Closing Music Opening Party at Maggie Maes
Citizen Cope at The Driskill
The Pines at Stephen Fs Bar
Broken Teeth at Texas Rockfest
Get Low Premier at The Paramount
Michael Monroe at Austin Music Hall
Motorhead Austin at Music Hall
Zoroaster at Mohawk Patio
Priestess at Mohawk Patio
High on Fire at Mohawk Patio
Adventure at The Wave
Drawlings at The Wave
Ear Pwr at The Wave
Kria Brekkan at The Wave
Lesser Gonzalez Alvarez at The Wave
Light Polution at The Wave
Toro Y Moi at The Wave
Beach Fossils at The Wave Rooftop
Explode Into Colors at The Wave Rooftop
Love Of Diagrams at The Wave Rooftop
Quiet Company at The Wave Rooftop
Skybox at The Wave Rooftop
The Growlers at The Wave Rooftop
Cracker at Auditorium Shores
The BoDeans at Auditorium Shores
Cheap Trick at Auditorium Shores
Lissie at St Davids Historic Sanctuary
Jakob Dylan and Three Legs (Featuring Neko Case and Kelly Hogan) at St Davids Historic Sanctuary
Hole at Dirty Dog Bar
An Horse at Emos Jr
Dirty Sweet at Emos Jr
Love Like Fire at Emos Jr
Lovedrug at Emos Jr
Swimming with Dolphins at Emos Jr
The Static Jacks at Emos Jr