Pink panthers

Calling Pinkston a new band is a bit of a misnomer, even though it hasn't yet been a year since the quartet's first show. Sure, that was Pinkston's first show together, but it wasn't each member's first ever -- not by a long shot. Pinkston is a band of young veterans, the sort often called a supergroup simply because even casual local music fans can probably recognize all of the members. It would be more accurate to refer to Pinkston as a new machine built from familiar parts, the same car with a bigger engine and a better stereo.

One look at them, and it's easy to see how singer-bassist Beth Clardy Lewis, guitarists Josh Daugherty and Ean Parsons, and drummer Ben Burt came together. No six degrees needed, not even to be divided between the four of them. While Clardy Lewis was fronting rubberbullet, her now-husband Todd Lewis' band, The Toadies, often played with Earl, Daugherty's former group. And Burt and Parsons were brothers in Denton's fraternity of noise while in Brutal Juice and Record Player, respectively. They didn't have to look very hard to find each other, because they were all standing in the same place.

It all began to come together in the summer of 1998 when Clardy Lewis and Daugherty were introduced. They worked at neighboring restaurants in Deep Ellum and started talking shop -- music, not food. Daugherty was bandless after the breakups of Earl -- and later, Union Watts -- and it wouldn't be long before Clardy Lewis left rubberbullet after spending five years with the group she formed with drummer Earl Harvin. She had a stockpile of ideas, since Harvin had essentially put the group on hold while he worked with his jazz group, Earl Harvin Trio, and toured with Seal and various other bands. And Daugherty was also ready to find an outlet for the music he'd been writing.

"We started hanging out together and talking about music," Daugherty says. "It worked, so we started writing a few rough songs together. She wrote some lyrics to some song ideas that I had just so we could have some material to work on while we were finding members. We did that for a couple of months and gathered together whatever musicians we could." The pair played with bassists Chad Deatley (Doosu) and Bart Rogers (formerly of Baboon) and drummer Skred, a bartender at Trees. Then Parsons joined the band on guitar, and Clardy Lewis learned to play bass, solidifying the current lineup.

"Skred thought he was going to move, so we stopped playing with him," Daugherty recalls. "Then Ben became available and joined the band. We practiced for eight months and played a show. And a year later, we're releasing a CD."

Pinkston's CD, a five-song self-titled EP, will be released by Last Beat Records at a show at Trees on January 14, which is exactly one year to the day of the band's first show, which was also, coincidentally, at Trees. It's all gone by so fast; in the year since the band's public debut, Pinkston will have recorded an album, signed to a label, and released their first CD.

Though the faces and previous bands are familiar, any assumptions about the band based on prior releases are likely to be wrong. Pinkston isn't a hard-edged rawk band akin to the avant rubberbullet or even the more straightforward Earl; it's far from that. In fact, excepting Burt's stint with The Tomorrowpeople and his current position behind the drum kit in Weener, this is the most pop band any of them has worked with. The contrast between Pinkston and their previous projects isn't lost on Clardy Lewis.

"I feel like the other bands we've been in are always going to serve as an influence and serve as a reference point," she says. "But we've made a conscious effort and will keep making an effort to allow ourselves to experience new sounds through Pinkston. We make every effort to continually explore new sounds we're capable of doing and pulling it off," she says.

Pinkston's new sounds aren't "new" as in experimental like rubberbullet or even Brutal Juice. It's catchy but not simple: The songs are dual-guitar-driven but not three-minute versus-chorus-versus standards. There are layers -- a guitar solo here, a rhythm part there, and harmonies that Clardy Lewis and Burt form so tightly, the distinction between the two voices sometimes gets blurred. Elements are unmasked that were always hidden in the walls of noise constructed by their former outlets, which isn't to say Pinkston isn't loud. It is, and planning to get even louder. But the members aren't planning to throw away what they've found with each other.

"Josh does most of the song-writing," Clardy Lewis says. "He brings in ideas for music, and [using] those we write in rehearsal, the four of us do our own things with them and help each other write each of our parts. Ben does his drum parts and provides the structure for the songs. Josh writes his guitar parts. I write my lyrics and the melodies. Ben also writes melodies. It's very much a cooperative process."

The lyrics are added into the music later during the writing process, with Clardy Lewis tailoring them to the song's tone and structure. Sometimes the lyrics are new; other times they're drawn from the countless notebooks full of potential songs she keeps. Rubberbullet's extended hiatus gave her a surplus of material to work with. "I wait and hear the song and decide what kind of mood and what way I want to take it," she says. "Sometimes I write new or I go back to the old things and find something I want to use there. It all depends on the mood of the song."

With the different style came new experiences. For example, when Pinkston played its first acoustic show at the listening party Last Beat threw for it and labelmates Pleasant Grove (whose self-titled debut has already been released) on December 8 at the Dark Room, it was also the first acoustic show for each of the members.

"Playing an acoustic show is almost like the difference between a studio record and the live shows in that both of those are very different interpretations of the music," Daugherty says. "In both you do whatever you can with the tools you have."

Burt adds, "And then a couple of the songs we've really messed with, made some arrangements the same essentially but different. And I've never really been in the situation to do that."

With its first listening party and first acoustic show behind them, the next step is to wait for the CD to be released in less than a month. They've been concentrating on it since they began recording it in July at Last Beast Studios. Not that they were planning on making a record when they started. It just happened.

"We just booked ourselves some time and thought, 'Oh, we're going to make ourselves a nice demo,'" Burt says. "So we started tracking down at Last Beat Studios. We had five days. We had so damned much fun in those five days we didn't get done. We wound up getting done with that time, and of course they had other projects to do, and so somewhere in that time we figured out that we were actually going to release it with Last Beat. We ended up using 15 days. It's funny how everything came together because we were all freaking out trying to get all the musical stuff done. And there's this battle trying to get the art work done and then mastering. And then it came down to the wire."

Signing with Last Beat was the next logical progression. It made perfect sense: Besides recording there, Pinkston shares a Last Beat rehearsal space with Captain Audio. Plus, rubberbullet had been on the label, and Burt had worked with Last Beat when he was in The Tomorrowpeople. Releasing their debut on another label -- especially another local label -- would have been like wearing sneakers with a tuxedo.

Now that the EP is in the final stages of production, Pinkston plans on spending the next few months playing local release shows and some extended Texas dates, including a trip to San Antonio to play with the Deathray Davies. The only show they've booked between now and the release party (on a bill with Legendary Crystal Chandelier) is a New Year's Eve party at Deep Ellum Live with The Toadies and Doosu. But Pinkston has never been a band that plays a lot of shows. In fact, while most year-old bands would love to get regular gigs in Deep Ellum, Pinkston actually regretted playing there every weekend in October.

"It's hard, because some times it's just too easy to book yourself locally so damned much that next thing you know, you're playing every weekend," Daugherty says. "And when you're playing at the same club every weekend, it's no longer an event. We try to play a few shows here and steer clear for a little bit. I think we've been good at that."

Between the odd show and wrapping up the EP, the band found time to go back into the studio to record its contribution to a Christmas compilation Idol Records' Erv Karwelis is putting together. Or rather, was putting together: The disc, featuring Pinkston's version of The Kinks' "Father Christmas," is being postponed until next Christmas. "It's really great," Burt says. "It's a damned shame it isn't coming out."

He's not awash in post-practice bliss or EP anticipation -- he's dead serious. And those who have been lucky enough to hear it know that it is great, that it is a shame it won't come out until next Christmas, if at all. Pinkston's "Father Christmas" is a perfect update with all the irony and energy of the original. But, as the members of the band say, it just means they're ready for the future next year, which is exactly what Pinkston wants.

"We're trying to keep ahead of ourselves a little bit because we don't want to be complacent and not write songs," Parsons says.

Clardy Lewis agrees, adding, "And then it's like, 'Oh, look; now we have to record a record, and we don't have any songs to record!" But for now it looks like "Father Christmas" will be out around this time next year, a few months after Pinkston releases its first full-length, which the band plans on recording in the spring or summer. They've already begun writing new songs for it and will continue writing until they go into the studio. And they can take their time doing it, making the record they want to make instead of going as fast as they can to get it done. Pinkston has reached the point where they don't have to rush.

"We're really just taking it each little step by step," Clardy Lewis says. "We have the EP direction we're on right now, and we're shooting to have a full-length out in 2000 as well. And we're writing all the time for that and playing. That's just kind of where we are. We just try to do more and make sure that we're getting better. That's just kind of what we do."

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Shannon Sutlief