08 October 2010

(More than) 10 questions with...Pinnacle (part the second)

I’ve known the guys in Pinnacle for a while…differing amounts for most of them but still, we go a ways back.  If you’ve been lucky enough to spend time at NEARfest or the NJ Proghouse shows, you know them too, even if you’ve not spoken with them personally.  Drummer Greg Jones is the master of coffee (a beverage that sadly I have to refrain from these days…damn you, heart!), a wonderfully warm and funny guy, and a fantastic timekeeper to boot.  Karl Eisenhart is always quick with a quip, but has always found time to discuss some minutiae with me whenever necessary.  And bassist/keyboardist Bill Fox, DJ for several Lehigh Valley radio programs, has always struck me as the normal one of the bunch.

Apparently I was wrong.

But more about that soon.

Greg was kind and generous enough several years back to front me a copy of the band’s debut release, A Man’s Reach.  I enjoyed it…limited in a lot of ways, but there was a spark there that I knew could be nurtured into something more impressive given time.  Their sophomore album, Meld, saw that spark turn into a steady flame.  With much improved production values and an amazing cover, it showed me a band growing by leaps and bounds faster than I even imagined.  And with the news that they added a fourth member in keyboardist/vocalist Matt Francisco, the thought that these two albums are just the beginning of something even greater still brings a smile to my face.

Yes, these guys are friends (well, 3 of them are…I’ve not met Matt yet), but I also happen to think that they are fine musicians working very hard at crafting some interesting and very enjoyable melodic progressive rock.  It’s a pleasure for me to return the favour they’d granted me in sharing their music with me by spending the next two days (cos this is a hella long interview!) offering you some insight into the workings of a band that more of you should be checking out!

I usually spend this final paragraph thanking the band for their time, and it goes doubly…or trebly here.  Not only have all of the band members taken time out of their busy lives to answer these questions, but they’ve shared their music with me long before this blog/site was a gleam in my eye.  I hope this comes across in the questions and answers that follow.  So, major thanks and bouquets of Martian Fireflowers to the members of Pinnacle!

And…we’re off!

10. What would you say has been Pinnacle’s, well…pinnacle moment so far?

There have been a few so it's hard to pick just one.  Supporting Nick D'Virgilio on three songs in concert was probably the first highlight, chronologically.  Opening for Spock's Beard was definitely a blast and an honor.  Playing at ProgDay and contributing tracks to Tuonen Tytar II and The Haiti Project are definitely up there.  Opening for Riverside was amazing.

GJ: Bill listed most of the big ones - so I'll add meeting famed prog producer Jeff Glixman, sitting in his studio while he listened to our music and made suggestions and seeing him really digging it.

KE: I was thinking about this, and there have been a few great ones. One that really sticks with me was a show we played at a little, awful place called Brenda and Jerry’s a few years ago. The gig had EVERYTHING working against it. It had all the potential to be one of the biggest nightmares of my musical career, and in some ways it was…you wouldn’t believe me if I told you. BUT, when it came time to play, I looked out and a relatively large number of people had driven a fair distance just to hear us. Some I knew, some I didn’t. I was blown away. It was my first real proof that anyone gave a rat’s butt about what we were doing. I’m pretty sure we played every song we knew and at least one we kind of didn’t know in an effort to make sure everyone left happy.

MF: I can’t speak for all. Speaking for me, our appearance at Dave Phillips back in November. Playing with the band in front of a wonderfully appreciative audience for the first time, and then meeting long time friends and fans of the band afterward. Very rewarding and encouraging.

11. Sort of countering that…have you had any moments where all you could do is laugh at how difficult things were, because the only other option was to pack it all in?  Sort of a Spinal Tap-type moment?

We played a local venue called Brenda and Jerry's which is basically a little music school.  During our break, Brenda and Jerry hopped up on stage to regale our prog audience with schmaltzy show tunes.  I have no problem with show tunes, having played in a number of pit orchestras.  But Brenda and Jerry chose the wrong crowd to inflict their music and all we could do was grit our teeth and cut short our break.

GJ: Well there was this Earth Day benefit we got asked to play, and my bandmates got me to promise I'd behave myself and not poke too much fun at the more extreme "earth biscuits" in the room. Well we walked in the door and there was a woman my age wearing a diaper, made up as one of those new squiggly light bulbs, with duct tape around her butt to be the threads. I turned to look at Karl and Bill and said "Forget it - all bets are off!" It was my extreme pleasure that day to be able to tell the audience from the stage that "my two band mates really care about the earth; I, however, am just pretending to care about earth - to make Saturn jealous."

KE: Again…there have been SO many. Probably the big standout would be the little festival we played in upstate NY. The guy who organized ProgOctoberfest had obviously worked his ass off in so many ways. Promotion was EVERYWHERE: radio, newspapers, magazines, posters…there might have even been a billboard. I sincerely believe he went way above and beyond the call of duty. Sadly it was all for naught. After driving four hours to get up there, we set up and played first. I believe we had the biggest audience of any of the bands because my uncle and a couple of his friends came, and all of the other bands had more members than we did. That was it. That was the audience: My uncle, his friends, and the members of the other bands. The other bands were awesome, but I don’t think there was a single other paid admission. The club was HUGE, which made the emptiness that much worse. The whole thing was a benefit for school music programs, too. Very sad indeed.

MF: None that I’ve experienced yet. I’m sure there will be moments, but the group always seems to be able to back off when necessary, talk openly, then have a laugh. That’s really the best way to keep a relationship of any sort going.

12. When you’re not playing or rehearsing, what do you do to relax?

I go on an annual hiking vacation and try to get some local hikes in as time permits.  I host three shows on FM stations that stream on-line so listening to music isn't always the relaxing past time it used to be.  But it's certainly not a stress except when previewing submissions that are not appropriate genre-wise or are of, shall I say, lesser quality.  I've started cooking a little more than I used to which is kind of relaxing in a way.  I'm addicted to TV, which is probably the most relaxing thing I do since my participation level doesn't need to be very high.

GJ: Laugh. (wait...is this interview going to run in Alaska? I don't want to give Eskimo women the wrong idea...) (Editors Note: Yes Greg.  Yes it is.) I love to laugh at comedies, both stupid ones and dark ones. The Best of Triumph The Insult Comic Dog is a favorite DVD of mine. And there's always drinking coffee.

KE: Relax? What’s that? I have another band—an acoustic adventure called RED—which plays out quite a bit and is working on its first album. We’re hoping to have that done in the next couple weeks. It looks like Brett Kull from Echolyn is going to mix and master it for us. Other than that, I like to do juvenile and dangerous things on bicycles. I’m also currently finishing my Elementary Teaching Certification, so hopefully I’ll have a “real” job at some point in the not-too-distant future. When the need arises, I do guitar repairs and some small recording projects.

MF: Time spent with my wife and my kids is the best relaxation therapy EVER. A highball glass full of Gentleman Jack is a close second.

13. I’ve got a couple (potentially irreverent) questions now that are just for one of you (Matt got his earlier).  Greg…what’s the secret to a perfect cup of coffee?

To quote Sean Connery from his Oscar winning role in The Untouchables, "What are you prepared to do?" It takes total commitment to do everything that you learn will make it better. I'll give you an example. Everyone who's reading this, what's the best cup of coffee you've ever had? Do you go to that place every morning? No? Why not? The answers to these questions will show you why the world remains doomed to serve bad coffee and why you're all accessories to the crime. If you're going somewhere because it's convenient rather than go support the place you had amazing coffee, shame on you.

BF: My secret is to have Greg brew it!  He brings an airpot of amazing coffee to every rehearsal.  Pinnacle is the most caffeinated band on the planet!

14. Karl…do you (or did you) ever get sick of people mangling the intro to Stairway to Heaven, or flubbing the Smoke on the Water riff?

You know what? I worked at two different music stores for a total of 8 years. I’m not sure I EVER heard anyone play Stairway or Smoke on the Water. Compared to what they were playing, that would have been a nice break. Now people can’t play Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” and that God awful Blink 182 song…”This is growing up?” Maybe? I don’t know what the hell it’s called. I heard those songs absolutely brutalized over and over again. And “Crazy Train.” Ozzy would throw up his bat.

However, I have to mention that I did notice a swing in the last few years. All of a sudden there were kids who could play…like REALLY play. It’s starting to become less of a liability to be a good musician. Obviously, it was fun in the early 2000’s when people thought I was the guitar god of the music store because I never bought into the whole grunge/punk ethic and could still play guitar solos, but I’m gleefully happy that “real” playing is starting to make a comeback. I can’t believe I have to thank that stupid Jack Black movie and a video game for it, but, hey, whatever works.

15. Bill…do you ever look at your band mates and thank whomever that you’re the sane one?

You obviously don't know me very well!  ;-)  I'm the most insane one of the group!  I retired at 46 to take a midlife crisis break from the rat race.  Unfortunately, I have to rejoin it soon.  But I knew that this day would come.  I just couldn't predict that the economy and job market would be in the toilet.

GJ: Bill? He's the craziEST one. He's our endless enigma, if you will...and a great friend.

KE: Bill is not the sane one. He’s the least-obviously crazy. Ironically, I’d have to say that the lead singer/keyboard player guy is the sane one. Weird.

16. Interests change over a lifetime.  Are there any newer bands or artists you find inspiring or enjoyable today?

I am, have been, and always shall be a Beatles fanatic.  Klaatu was my discovery of the '70s.  Toy Matinee was my discovery in 1990 and Spock's Beard in 1999.  In the '00s, it was the Vinyl Kings.  This excludes my interest in electronic music where I must cite Robert Rich, Ian Boddy, RMI, Red Shift.  I'd better stop there or I could go on for too long.

GJ: Besides my favorites Spock's Beard and The Dixie Dregs, I am inspired by and/or in awe of IZZ, 3RDegree, Echolyn, Those Men, Mars Hollow, District 97, It Bites, Singularity, Advent, etc. I love Mike Visaggio of Kinetic Element's organ work and the incredible drummer John Camaratta who just joined Healing Agony. There's so many great bands now, a veritable embarrassment of riches if you will. For me, what sets all of those artists apart is the quality of the songwriting.

KE: I wish I had more time to check more of them out. As far as Prog goes, I’ve really been liking Frost*, Mars Hollow, IZZ and Magic Pie. Outside of the Prog realm, I have been digging Jack’s Mannequin and, while they’re not a “new” band, the newest It Bites album, The Tall Ships, is one of the best things I’ve heard in eons.

MF: Yes, but way too many to mention, and my taste in music is all OVER the map. I will mention that I’ve really gotten into Shadow Gallery. They’ve got tunes out there I wish I had written.

17. Taking the new album out of the equation…what’s next for Pinnacle?

We would like to play at festivals and will be sending out the new CD to try and make that happen.  There certainly isn't a local prog scene for us to play in the Lehigh Valley.  The only prog event here is NEARfest and that comes only once per year.  The rest of the time, the Valley is a musical wasteland... unless you think that three chord Blues in 4/4 time is the pinnacle of musical achievement.

GJ: Hard to see beyond the excitement of new material but I hope we get some more gigs. We always love playing for Jim Robinson and the New Jersey Proghouse series, and we'd love to bring Matt's great voice to a stage anywhere we can.

KE: Money, women…You know….the usual.

I’d like to play more, certainly, but we have to find the “right” opportunities. There’s nothing worse than playing music you’ve slaved over and poured your heart into for an audience that really wants you to play the same songs they heard on the radio on the way to the club. I’d like to get into some of the festivals. We played ProgDay a couple years ago, which was a complete riot, but it didn’t turn out to be the starting point we were hoping it would be.

MF: Isn’t the new album enough for now?? Actually, I don’t think you can take the new album out of the equation, it’s going to be an unveiling of the “new” Pinnacle. And I think that we should start concentrating on the ‘new, new’ album right after that. (No doubt Karl just read this and smacked himself on the head). We have enough material for it already (well, I do, but I haven’t shown any of it to the boyz yet.)

18. In closing, do any of you have any final words to share with our readers?


GJ: Just a huge thank you to everyone who bought a CD, came to a show or read this interview. And thank you, Bill, for your interest.

KE: If you liked everything we’ve ever done before, the next album will be exactly the same, but WAY better. If you hated everything we’ve done up to this point, the next album will be TOTALLY DIFFERENT AND WONDERFUL!

MF: Hope to meet all of you soon!

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1 comment:

Mike Face's Blog said...

Great conversation showing the great personalities of these fine gentlemen. And Karl, I think I have embraced the trio. You guys rock.