By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Everything involving Pleasant Grove seems to take a long time. Take the band's songs, sweet and sour tunes that shuffle quietly along their way, burning so slowly that they appear to be standing still. "Nothing This Beautiful," one of the tracks on the group's self-titled debut, discreetly unravels over the course of its 10-minute running time, not revealing anything about itself until it's almost halfway through. The rest of the seven-song disc similarly plays out at a leisurely pace, like maple syrup spreading to the edges of a plate, covering everything in its path so calmly and gently, you don't realize it until it's already happened.
Which could also apply to the somewhat surprising recent departure of drummer David Mabry, who formed the band with singer-guitarist Marcos Striplin and Bret Egner last year. (Bassist Tony Gattone joined earlier this year.) Mabry left the band a month ago, as Striplin explains, because he's "absolutely concentrating on his lovely family." But even the breakups take a long time with Pleasant Grove: Mabry and Striplin already plan to continue working together, mainly home-recording projects, but "nothing as concentrated as Pleasant Grove."
Of course, it makes sense that it would be hard for Mabry to leave. Soon after the band played its first show, at the going-away party for the Orbit Room last June, Mabry said in an interview with the Dallas Observer, "This is a dead-serious endeavor. The first practice, I swear to God, I had goose bumps. I even have that first practice on video. I have to play what's real, and this band is so damn real." Still, there's nothing more real than a wife and kids and being around for all the cute little things they do. Mabry may have turned his video camera on his home life, but he still has his sticks in his hands.
But even with its lengthy songs and Mabry's protracted departure, the slowest thing the band has been involved with is its first release. The disc took almost a year to make its way out into the public. Late last year, Pleasant Grove traveled to New Melle, Missouri -- where Matt Pence and Matt Barnhart's Transcontinental Recording Company was stationed at the time -- to record much of what can be heard on the EP. The band had planned to release it on Sean and Kelly Handran's label, Direct Hit Records, earlier this year. In fact, if everything had gone as scheduled, Pleasant Grove would be releasing a follow-up disc by now. But the Handrans decided to move to San Francisco, and for a while, it seemed as though they'd taken Pleasant Grove's debut with them and tossed it out along the road somewhere. As Striplin talks about it now, it doesn't sound like he was ever worried about it all.
"Yeah, initially, we were going to try to do it with [Direct Hit], then they decided they were going to move," Striplin explains. "And then we were trying to decide, you know, what do we do if they're going to be in a different state, and all that good stuff. Then we talked to [Last Beat's] Tami [Thomsen], and she was interested. She brought it all together, which I'm very happy about."
The band showed off for its new label at a listening party on December 8 at the Dark Room, where Striplin and Egner performed a handful of songs acoustically. It was the same version of Pleasant Grove that took the stage right after Mabry's departure, except this time, it was by choice. Striplin says the next time the band takes the stage, in late January, a new drummer will be onstage with them. At least, he hopes so. And maybe, by that time, Pleasant Grove will have welcomed another new member into the fold: ex-UFOFU guitarist Joe Butcher.
"Joe's really interested in doing stuff with us, and he's already got arrangements for like seven or eight of our songs," Striplin says. "We're pretty excited about that."
Since Pleasant Grove took so long to come out, the band already has a stockpile of songs, many of them recorded and ready for release. But Striplin says that the group is taking it slow, one thing at a time. As if you could expect anything else.
"We've already done 12 other songs, in addition to the stuff we just released," he says. "Right now, we might start tackling those in a couple of weeks, but we want to concentrate on the drums [situation]. In fact, tonight we're going to try out a drummer, so hopefully that will work out. We'll just have to see how it goes."