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For the past few months, I've asked friends who know Dallas music the same questions: Can I bum a cigarette? And who are your favorite local bands? Right off, I noticed two trends--too many people smoke Marlboros, and people love Pleasant Grove. That doesn't make Pleasant Grove the city's most popular band, necessarily. "We're everybody's favorite band that they never come see!" jokes co-founder Bret Egner. It does, however, mean that Pleasant Grove's gorgeous, heartbreaking songs appeal to the melancholic sots I know. The band's second album, Auscultation of the Heart, is a marvel of melody and music, but despite a CD release in Germany, Pleasant Grove never found a label in America. Until now. Recently, Pleasant Grove signed with San Francisco-based Badman Records to put out an album next year, which will feature new songs along with three of Auscultation's best tracks--"Only a Mountain," "Cone Equation" and "Calculated Approaches."
"I loved them right away," says Badman's Dylan Magerik, who signed the band after a trial run in San Francisco. The album came to his attention through the label's A&R rep, Sue Kim. As the story goes, she was vacuuming and listening to demos when "Only a Mountain" snagged her attention. She immediately quit cleaning and called Magerik: You gotta hear this. The affection was mutual. Drummer Jeff Ryan had given Last Beat Studios (which released the band's self-titled CD) a wish list of label names--SubPop, Jetset, Saddle Creek, etc.--but his first choice was Badman, based on the label's strong lineup (Hayden, Spinanes singer Rebecca Gates, Call and Response) and its commitment to art over commerce. Months later, the tracks are now being sequenced. Asked to compare the new songs with Pleasant Grove's previous output, Magerik says, "Their sound has a lot more elements--strings, piano, harmonies. A few of the tunes are rockin'. Some are really lush."
Last week I met with Pleasant Grove at practice to discuss the good news. Like any good reporter, I came armed with incisive questions. For instance, "What does the new Shiner Light taste like?"
"It's wheaty," Ryan suggests, handing me a bottle.
"No, it's more like a hefeweizen," Egner says.
Pleasant Grove plays through three of its new songs, but I have to stand in the hallway to prevent my ears from bleeding in the small rehearsal space. They sound great through a doorway. Later we all migrate to the Meridian Room, where we order more drinks and settle in to talk about the album. "You'll freak out when you see the artwork," says co-founder and vocalist Marcus Striplin, sipping his wine.
"It's a picture of Marcus naked," Egner says.
The interview isn't exactly--what's the word?--serious. With that in mind, here are the things you should know about Pleasant Grove's upcoming album: It will be out in the spring. They will go on tour, maybe with another Dallas band. Some of the tracks were recorded in San Francisco with Badman, and some were recorded in Dallas with engineer Stuart Sikes, who also has worked with The White Stripes and The Promise Ring. Striplin calls him "a fucking badass." "We were in a crappy space I hated because I thought it sounded like dogshit," he says, "but this guy conjured the spirit of rock. And it was beautiful."
To be sure, the band is enthusiastic and proud. "This is beyond anything I could ever imagine," Striplin says. "Especially being a bunch of boys from here." But right now, they're also a little tired and possibly a little drunk.
Egner grabs the microcassette and turns to bassist Tony Hormillosa. "Tony, what extreme sports were you engaged in before you joined Pleasant Grove?" he asks in a mock-serious voice. "Were you into extreme Christian snarfboarding?"
While Hormillosa is distracted, Striplin steals a bunch of french fries off his plate. And while Striplin is distracted, I steal one of his cigarettes. Foiled again. Freaking Marlboros.