This Saturday in Fort Worth at Dia de Los Toadies, on a line-up filled with promising talent and proven veterens, there may not be a band that represents the past while pointing to the future as vividly and dramatically as Pleasant Grove does.
The five-piece, formed in late 1998 by Marcus Striplin and Brett Egner, quickly became a prime local purveyor of stellar, contemplative, folk-tinged indie rock. Their excellent self-titled debut in 2000 certainly impressed, as did the locally beloved 2001 LP Ascultation of the Heart. The group's final album, 2004's Art of Stealing is a stunning collection that holds up remarkably well a decade later, much like the better albums from a couple of the revered bands they'll be sharing the stage with on Saturday such as Old 97's Hitchhike to Rhome and Too Far to Care, and of course, the Toadies Rubberneck.
But for many years now, the group has oscillated between dormancy and regrouping. Indeed, it has often seemed as though Pleasant Grove was destined to be the local band that many of us in our late 30s and older would try to tell younger fans about, that band that was "almost great." They never landed that massive "Possum Kingdom"-sized radio hit, nor catapulted into the big-time in the way the Old 97's have. So a new generation of local music fans might've been left without any Pleasant Grove in their daily diet.
Thankfully, that type of destiny has been put-off for the time being as Stripin, Egner and the current lineup of stud local music vets, including drummer Jeff Ryan, multi-instrumentalist Chris Mayes and Tony Hormillosa have banded together to not only play some shows but to complete work on a new Pleasant Grove album that will consist of unreleased tunes Striplin and Egner wrote years ago along with some fresh ones. While the record doesn't have a title yet, Striplin expects it to be released in February of next year on a label he calls We Know Better Records.
In anticipation of the band's Dia De los Toadies set at Panther Island Pavilion on Saturday evening, we chatted with Striplin and Jeff Ryan to get a taste of the group's past, present and future, as well as that of the local music scene.
DC9 at Night: Why did the band stop performing together and recording in the first place?
Marcus Striplin: My alcoholism had really proved itself stronger than my focus on the band and my family. I take a lot of responsibility for those extremely dark days. It put so much strain on my band mates and girlfriend at the time. I was an asshole.
DC9: What did you do during your non-Pleasant Grove time?
MS: I moved to New York City in 2008 for a bit and found that I was working on making money more than figuring out a way to break my writers block. After some deep consideration and an annoyance of a kick-ball game that went south, I decided to move to Austin. I started a project named A.D. BLOOD that never quite took to flight. But the highlight of the Austin move has been that my writer's block dissipated and Bret and I have become closer than ever.
Jeff, you've played drums for numerous acts. Who all have you played for?
Jeff Ryan: I've been very lucky to have toured or recorded with St. Vincent, the War on Drugs, the New Year, Baptist Generals, Daniel Johnston, Keren Ann, Thao with the Get Down Stay Down, Sarah Jaffe, Myopic, Crushed Stars, Daniel Hart, he boomboombox, Sean Kirkpatrick (of Nervous Curtains), Fury III, Doug Burr, Blue Mountain, Chao, Jeff Whittington and Trey Johnson.
In your opinion, what are the most notable differences in the local musical landscape now compared to 10 years ago?
JR: I don't know, really. t just felt kind of splintered or discombobulated in a way. There weren't new bars like Twilite Lounge and established clubs like Dada and Three Links bringing in people to Deep Ellum. There was no thriving Oak Cliff scene like the Kessler booking great bands and restaurants and hotels like Smoke, the Belmont and the Foundry working with venues and artists to bring in great talent. It seemed like the city was fighting against us or just didn't care, I don't know. But now we have all these things in our grasp and the right people making these things happen.
In the past year, we've seen albums and celebrations the Toadies, Old 97's and Centro-matic. Has this type of vibe in the local scene helped inspire your Pleasant Grove thoughts?
JR: Well, we love and are lucky to call all those guys our friends and I'm lucky enough to also be in the Baptist Generals. So there's always been a great vibe between all of the bands listed here and their relationship with us. So yeah, what's most important is that these bands are not only important, but probably are just now really hitting their stride. I mean, come on, Rubberneck is 20 years old and the Toadies are more popular now than ever. Centro-matic and the 97's are making amazing records. It's a great time to continue to try and make something we think is important and keep doing what we've done for a long time now, which is play and record music together.
DC9: Marcus, after going so long with hardly any shows from Pleasant Grove, was there a moment where you realized it was time to get rolling again and working on a new album?
MS: We played a one-off show at Twilite Lounge last year and that did it for me. I had a vision that if we were all on board mentally and emotionally that this band was worth saving. We are extremely lucky that we have had support on all fronts. It's never too late to pick up these pieces and put them back together. I guess the keys are discipline, focus and love.
What can we expect from the new album in terms of a possible theme or material taken directly from the major events of your past few years?
MS: Bret and I were listening to play-backs here in Austin and we had multiple moments of just looking at each other and kind of sharing these microbursts of emotion with the "N.O.S. [New old Songs]. "We Lost the Maps" is a new song that puts the needle back onto the record for us. As far as a theme goes? Batten down the hatches and jump in the tub because a twister is coming!
Fair enough! So why is now the right time for more Pleasant Grove shows and a new record?
MS: The world doesn't have long to go and thus life's too short. The five-year break recharged Bret and I in a big way. It'll reveal itself in this and the future records. We still have moxie. Basically we're getting back to work as older and wiser dudes in a üntz-üntz world. It's inspiring to listen to the War on Drugs and [British psychedelic band] Toy and realize we have a full tank of gas and all the maps!