Singer-songwriter and Kentuckian Jeremy Pinnell is a veteran to the local scene having played in the folk-rock outfits the Light Wires, the Great Depression and the Brothers and Sisters, but with the 55’s, this is his first foray into pure country music.
He formed the band this winter with drummer Chris Alley, bassist Ben Franks (who also played with Pinnell in Brothers) and Cameron Cochran (of Pop Empire) on pedal steel guitar.
Pinnell’s roots are steeped in punk, but he’d always loved country music and decided to start a country group. For the past couple of months they’ve maintained a Thursday night residency at The Avenue Lounge in Covington for Honky Tonk Thursdays where they play both their own songs and covers of some of their favorite country artists all night.
Pinnell and band have played some shows around town this year but will make their Cincinnati festival debut at Bunbury this week and then play the Whispering Beard Folk Festival in Friendship, Ind., next month. Metromix caught up with Pinnell, Franks and Alley at the crowded Avenue during a brief break from their weekly set.
How did the band form?
Pinnell: I started playing some songs and asked Ben if he wanted to play. I was hanging out with Chris a lot and I asked him if he wanted to play drums, and then Cameron came down one day. We played some music and then we figured out we wanted to do country music. It’s what I always wanted to do.
What do you like about country?
Pinnell: I’ve always liked the honesty in country music. There’s a lot of honesty and that’s a big part of me. I like honesty. I feel like if someone’s honest, you can connect with them. If someone’s telling you the truth, you automatically know it and you connect with it.
How’s this new band going?
Pinnell: Everything seems to be going real easy. It’s something we get to do.
Are you going to record album?
Franks: This month, I believe.
Pinnell: We’ll be giving it out for free online.
How would you classify your music? Is it honky tonk?
Franks: I guess it’s old time country. It’s definitely aimed toward the older styles. We like a lot of those older singers.
Who do you like?
Franks: We all love George Jones.
Pinnell: Waylon [Jennings]. Buck Owens, Ray Price. All of the goods.
Franks: Hawkshaw Hawkins.
Are those also your influences?
Pinnell: I’m a big fan of the Band. They’re probably my favorite band. The best band.
Are your songs pretty personal?
Pinnell: I try not to talk about anything I don’t know. Whatever’s going on at the time. If I’m being an a--hole, I’m going to write about being an a--hole.
Like when you sing about drinking gin?
Pinnell: I talk about drinking because I used to drink but I don’t drink anymore. It was a big part of my life.
Is it hard for you to play in a bar?
Pinnell: It’s not what other people are doing, it’s what I am doing. If I’m able to come here and show people a good time, that’s good enough for me.
It’s all about making people happy and telling people the truth and being honest with people. And I think once you do that, people will see it and they enjoy it. Even if we do play other people’s songs it’s because I relate to that song or we relate to it as a band.
How is being in this band different from the others you’ve been in?
Pinnell: It’s a lot different. This is more different than anything I’ve ever done. We get to play a lot of people’s songs, a lot of people I love to listen to.
That’s a big stretch for me because I’m used to writing. You hear a lot of older country musicians doing other people’s songs and it’s just something we kind of wanted to do. We kind of wanted to own other people’s songs and own our own.
Alley: It’s probably the tightest band I’ve ever been in, though, as far as musician quality. We’re here to play music. It’s not here for a party or anything like that. We’re here to play this music and play it right and play it good each night that we’ve come out. It’s not about getting wasted and trying to look cool.
Pinnell: I think people really want that. I think people want to come see a band that does something good, that is behind what they’re doing.
Franks: And we’ve been doing a lot of songs with other musicians and having them come up.
Alley: It’s kind of country tradition. It’s a family affair.
Franks: If we see somebody sitting out there and we know they know a song from the band and we’re getting ready to play it, we’ll just invite ’em up. It’s been fun. Last week, I think we had 10 people onstage.
Alley: It’s not an open jam. You have to be invited. You don’t show up with your guitar and expect to just jump onstage. It’s not like that.
Are you looking forward to playing Bunbury?
Pinnell: Festivals, you never know what to expect. You could be playing in front of five people or 75 people. You never know.
We’re just going to go there and try to have good time and hope people like it.
Do you have any expectations with the band?
Pinnell: I try not to put expectations on anything. I’ve done that before and that never works. I just want to play music. I just want to have a good time. I want people enjoy it and be happy.
Franks: We’re lucky enough to have people dance for us sometimes. That’s really cool.
Pinnell: Honestly, what I’d like to see happen is us all remain playing and us all remain friends. And that’s it.