And then there’s a band like Pleasant Grove, an adored outfit that has managed to stay intact for more than 20 years now, while not exactly being around all that much. This Friday, the group will celebrate the re-release of its stunning, near-mythical 2002 LP, Auscultation of the Heart.
It’s important to note here that Pleasant Grove has never broken up. Marcus Striplin, Bret Egner, Jeff Ryan, Tony Hormilosa and, since 2005, Chris Mayes have never stopped being Pleasant Grove. Striplin has admitted in the past that in 2006 his alcoholism led him to slow Pleasant Grove down, and to be fair, it has been a while since we last had an extended dose of the group. That happened in 2016, when they released their fantastic record The Heart Contortionists.
That was the group’s first record in a dozen years, following up 2004’s gorgeous Americana-tinted, indie-rock-leaning collection The Art of Leaving, which was released only a couple years after Auscultation of the Heart. So, sure, things have slowed in Pleasant Grove-land as of late, but they’ve never truly ground to a halt.
“You know, we're brothers,” Striplin says. “And the band really is a family for us, so it's not like you can just kind of dissect it. For instance, the whole idea of changing group members and calling it Marcus Striplin and Pleasant Grove, or something else, like if I went on and tried to do some stupid shit with a backup band or whatever, would not be right. I think there's just far too much heart, love, passion and talent invested into what we've done. And even though it's at a glacial pace, that's what it is.”
Drummer Jeff Ryan adds with a laugh, “Yeah, we don’t move real fast, do we? But we all talk to each other like every day and have talked almost every day for 20 years.”
Given the “glacial pace” of the group’s output, it might be the most Pleasant Grove thing ever that the cause for the band’s first concert in quite some time is not only for the anniversary re-release of a 2002 record, but for a record that was never available in the U.S., let alone in the band’s North Texas home. Regardless, whatever you do, don't call it a comeback or a reunion.
Initially released only in Europe by German indie label Glitterhouse Records, Auscultation won a fair amount of critical praise. The band toured around Europe to promote the record, both capitalizing on the buzz it had created and generating more with their always epic live show. But for some reason, the band never found a home for the record the Observer described as “a marvel of melody and music” in a 2003 band profile.
“You know, we're brothers, and the band really is a family for us, so it's not like you can just kind of dissect it." – Marcus Striplin, Pleasant Grovetweet this
Instead, a few Auscultation songs found their way onto The Art of Leaving, released by San Francisco-based Badman Records. It wasn’t an ideal fate for an album they had worked so hard on, but it wasn’t the end of the world, either.
“I would have to say that there was a bit of disappointment,” Striplin says. “But then there was also this enthusiasm just because we were getting our first really good indie label release of an album, period. There was just a duality of like, ‘Hey man, we're super grateful, but yeah, we're super bummed too, but fuck it, who cares? Let's get it done.’”
Ryan is happy that Auscultation is getting its moment in the American sun because, to him, that album was something that the recording that followed it just couldn't be.
“The Art of Leaving had some amazing songs, but they were mixed in with some other, older, amazing songs,” he says. “It wasn't like a complete piece of art on its own that we had just created with all new songs, you know?”
And to prove that Pleasant Grove isn’t only a band that exists to look back, Striplin says there’s a bunch of new Pleasant Grove music being written. Bassist Hormilosa has also been writing a lot. Looking ahead and working on new songs in the present is great, but it is Pleasant Grove we’re talking about here.
We don’t know when we’ll hear the songs, and the band isn’t sure either. It's not about if or when new music will appear, but about the likelihood that Pleasant Grove will indeed still be around for many more years as a band of brothers, whenever the occasion calls for it.
“At the end of the day, I think what really matters is that realization, especially when we are in the room together and we're performing, that these puzzle pieces just click,” Striplin says. “And that's just such a rare thing. It's a magical thing. So it's something where I think that if you have it, if you find it and it fulfills your soul and it makes you feel so good, then why the fuck would you ever give up on it?”