January 4, 2014
“I thought I liked beets until I had a beet,” says Dan. “Then realized, nope, I don’t like beets – that’s not cranberry sauce.”
“It’s the same with pickles in deviled eggs,” adds Wes. “Nobody wants a damn pickle in their deviled eggs.”
“Pickles are gross,” agrees Evan.
That’s the conversation over beers and hamburgers with Pullman Strike. The mood is light and we spend the first few minutes discussing the oddities of typical holiday dishes one might find on the family dinner table.
We set out to discuss their sophomore album, Silver Lining, which will be released soon (January 6). The group spent three years perfecting their latest material and juggling life’s challenges in order to make an album worthy of the Pullman Strike name.
The entire band is present on Daniel’s back deck: Evan Stepp (guitar, vocals), Dan Smith (acoustic guitar, bass), Neil Mauney (vocals, guitar), Wes Hamilton (pedal steel) and Daniel Beckham (drums). Even though it’s a chilly December night, we’re all huddled outside around the grill. One suspects we’re outside because Daniel’s seven-month old is being put to bed. I’m pretty certain this rambunctious ensemble might be a bit too loud for her.
Much like the band’s first album, People We Know, their latest is a collection of toe-tapping, foot stomping twang that will have any listener bobbing their head midway through the chorus. Their ability to blend each individual style – never letting one outshine the other – is alive and well throughout with the perfect blend of vocal and instrumental melodies.
On Get Loud and It Ain’t Yet, the guys remind us that the quickest way to shake off the hum-drum dullness of the work week is to turn up your favorite song, crack open a cold one and usher in the weekend. Each song grounded in the rhythms provided by Daniel and Dan.
Easy Lyin and Come Home give us the easy swing and twang of Wes’s pedal steel mixed with the vocal melodies of Evan and Neil.
Silver Lining takes the unique sound created by this five-piece to the next level. It’s the unique sound you would expect from Pullman Strike but this go around there’s less rush and a greater sense of comfort in who they are and the individual roles each plays in creating their sound.
As we’re discussing their sophomore effort following People We Know from 2011, it’s apparent that the aptly named Silver Lining wasn’t a rushed, thoughtless effort. During the past three years, the guys took time to write, perform and repeat, in an effort to further hone their unique sound while raising the necessary funds to record.
“You just have to be patient and willing to make compromises when possible,” explains Daniel. “We were very fortunate to have the luxury of working with Charles Holloman who got us in the position to make as few compromises as possible – making good, smart decisions about where to focus our attention. The whole self-funding thing is hard because you’re spending what you make, so you have to decide; do we spend it in the studio, or do we hop in the van for a while and play some shows to further bankroll the effort?”
It’s a testament to their passion and innate need as artists to create, even if it requires them to make time amongst all the other demands of their individual daily lives: full-time jobs, families, wives/girlfriends and in Daniel’s case, a new baby. The past three years have been full of everyday demands that understandably might derail others, but no one here seems phased by the challenge of fitting in one more.
“It would be great to have a record label cut us a check and say, ‘Here, go make your album.’ But that’s not how it works for us,” explains Daniel. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing because now we can go and make the album we want to make and have fun with it, not stressing about how to make the label’s money back.”
The lack of a label’s influence might be key to maintaining the sound that Pullman Strike has created for themselves. Often, it seems labels are focused on ensuring a band’s sound fits with a particular demographic or genre to ensure record sales.
Without that pressure, Pullman Strike has developed a sound that is uniquely their own, unbiased by an attempt to win over fans by playing a familiar sound.
Pullman Strike certainly does not sound like any other band, or fit neatly into any one genre. Theirs is a blend of styles including alternative country, punk and rock – and everything in between. It’s clear that all five members bring their individual tastes and influences to the music.
“You always have to call it something, so I guess there are worse things to be called than alt-country,” says Daniel. “At least it isn’t nu metal or nu grass.”
“Is that even a thing?” asks Wes.
“Florida Georgia Line, bro,” answers Daniel.
“That’s a geographic landmark, not a band,” clarifies Dan.
It’s clear these guys each have their own strong opinions about who they are, yet somehow that individuality only seems to make the group as a whole more resolute. Regardless of which genre you want to pigeonhole them in, their sound possesses similar undercurrents of restlessness and perseverance throughout. It’s a relentless pursuit to create that defines the band with their DIY, working class mentality, which won’t allow these guys to merely just “exist” amongst their peers.
“There ain’t no competition like trying to be a successful musician,” as Daniel puts it.
“A lot of people talk about being a musician and people assume you want to be famous and make a bunch of money,” adds Neil. “I’d be cool just being a full time musician and making enough to get by.”
He quickly clarifies his statement though.
“As long as I get to play what we’re playing now and not do Jimmy Buffet covers. Although I think to do it full-time, it requires Jimmy Buffet covers.”
As Neil points out though, the workingman theme that resonates so loudly throughout their music comes directly from their experience. Each band member has a full-time job and no one in the band has taken a pay out from a gig in four years. The money they make from playing goes directly to fund their albums. This discipline and commitment not only to the band’s success but also to each other seems like the thread that binds this brotherhood.
When prompted as to what success for this album looks like, the answers are as you expect – a mix of humor and humility.
“If ten people other than our family or friends buy it,” Wes answers quickly.
“This may sound cheesy but the success was actually in writing the songs and recording the album – going through that process together,” adds Evan.
“Maybe just having people not hate it,” says Daniel. “I really like it and I’m proud of it. But maybe going back in ten years and still having that sense of pride in it and saying ‘I made that’ and feeling good about it. To me, that’s a measure of success.”
“My mom said she loved it so it’s got to be good,” says Neil.
Silver Lining seems to be just that for these guys. Amongst all the other demands that life places onto them, maintaining the ability to create something together that stands on its own and captures this moment in time is worth the hard work and tenacity it takes to pull it off. And in the end, the album is their silver lining.
The Pullman Strike Silver Lining release party with Sinners & Saints & Truckstop Preachers is January 10th at Neighborhood Theatre.
Listen to songs from the album Silver Lining by Pullman Strike
Recorded at Charles Holloman Productions – Charlotte, NC
Mixed by Gregg Sartiano
Album Art and Layout by Ben Gelnett
Jason Atkins – Keys on Suitcase, Friend and Come Home