Monday, July 25, 2011

The Pines to bring captivating folk-blues sound to Chicago area; shows set for August and September


From Bob Dylan to Prince to The Jayhawks, Minneapolis has helped launched many innovative acts over the years.

Count Minneapolis-based The Pines among those acts. The band's haunting blend of folk and blues demands attention.

Comprised of Iowa natives David Huckfelt and Benson Ramsey, The Pines has released two critically acclaimed albums on indie label Red House Records. Benson's father, well-known musician and producer Bo Ramsey who has worked with the likes of Lucinda Williams and Greg Brown, had a hand in producing both albums.
The Pines,, will perform Aug. 5 at S.P.A.C.E., 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston,

Haley Bonar also is on the bill. The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets are $10 in advance, $14 at the door, available at

The Pines will come back to the area when the band opens for Mason Jennings Sept. 30 at Park West, 322 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago.

The show starts at 7:30 p.m., and tickets are $20, available at

I had the chance to talk to Benson Ramsey about the band's latest activities, which include working on a new album.

Q- On this tour, are you guys going to be doing any new stuff, or are you just playing off your other albums?

That weekend will probably be the first time we try out some new stuff live. We recorded the new record last week, and a lot of it we haven't played out before.

We'll probably try some of the new stuff.

Q - How long have you guys been working on the album?

Maybe a month. We pretty much wrote and rehearsed about 80 percent of it in three weeks, and then we went in and recorded it in five days.

Q - What should people expect from the new album?

Well, we took a little more time than we did with the other one. We still recorded the basic tracks in two days, and then we took a little more time to flesh it out.

So it's more lush. I think it will be different.

Q - Is that just a new direction you wanted to explore?

Well for this one, anyway. It is something we were wanting to do. We have everybody on this one. Before, the timing just never worked out.

Our banjo player is on some of the stuff, and another guitar player.

Q - Did your dad help out again with this new record?

Yeah, he co-produced it. He came in when we did the stuff with the band, and we sort of took it and re-worked it.

Q - Was it natural for him to produce your last album? Did that just make sense to bring him in?

Yeah, absolutely. He's worked with us since we started making records.

We have this kind of team. It's just like this big group of people and we make a record. Everyone knows each other, and he fits right in.

This one was different because he hadn't really heard any of the material when he came in. So he could come in with fresh ears and help us, so we could just focus on delivering the songs.

Q - What do you think he brings to the table?

He brings so much to the table. He kind of raises the bar, so everyone is sort of on their toes.

We just have a lot of faith in him.

Q - Given his musical background and the fact that he's worked with a lot of people, including Lucinda Williams, was it inevitable that you would become a musician as well?

I think so, just because I grew up in a small town (Washington, Iowa), where I wasn't surrounded by much else, besides my family.

I was just around when he was producing records. I think I just absorbed it. I never thought of doing anything else. It never really crossed my mind.

Q - Did your dad try to get you in the music business? Did he give you advice?

He didn't steer me in that direction. I don't know if he wanted me to get into music or not, but once I left Iowa, I went to Arizona, and was searching how to find myself musically.

When I came back, he was there, right from the get go. He helped so much. He was very supportive.

Q - What made you guys want to move to Minnesota?

We were living in Arizona, which is sort of like living on the moon. Growing up, I worked at Trailer Records, which was a little label out of Iowa City that our music first came out on.

I'd never been to Minneapolis when I moved here. It seemed like an interesting city.

I was really surprised at all the great music after I had been here for a while. I think it was just about coming someplace new and Red House Records was here. We thought if we could be around them, we could eventually work for Red House.

Q - It seems like the label is pretty eclectic. You can't really pigeonhole the label.

We feel like we can pretty much do whatever. But they haven't heard the new record yet.

Let's just hope they like it.

Q - Hooking up with David Huckfelt, did you guys have a vision for The Pines when you first started?

We didn't start out to form a band or anything. It was basically just us grinding it out, playing our strange interpretations of blues and old folk songs.

We would have these funky gigs where we would play for four hours. In Phoenix we did that, we had a monthly gig there.

It was just exploring those songs and finding out who all those blues artists were.

Q - How would you describe it? How do you view your music?

To me, I just call it Midwestern. I don't know what else to call it.

That feels appropriate, even though it's not really a genre. It's like the filter, I guess.

Q - How does it feel to be opening for Mason Jennings in the fall?

He's just an inspirational guy. He's become a good friend.

He has a sincere approach to music, as we do. He's just all about the music.