Packing Richard's on Richards at 7:30 p.m. is no easy feat for any new band, local or otherwise. To get the crowd moving and grooving at this time is fucking unheard of, but this is exactly what happened when the Pink Mountaintops opened for Victoria's Frog Eyes and singer-songwriter Dan Bejar's Destroyer in June. Rugged and raw, they kicked out songs from their debut self-titled CD/LP. You could tell the band was having fun. The audience fell in love.
"It was perfect," recalls Stephen McBean, the Pink Mountaintops' bearded maestro, singer, songwriter, and guitarist. "We played the night before in Victoria and maybe practised five times. It was one of the things that reminded me of why I love playing music and why I keep doing it as opposed to quitting, because I've been saying I'm going to quit since I was 20. I'm 35 now. I can't stop."
In the press thus far, the word on the Pink Mountaintops' debut has been sex. Down and dirty, with a little "wham bam, thank you, ma'am" thrown in for good measure. And while song titles such as "I [Fuck] Mountains" and "Bad Boogie Ballin' " have graphic connotations, McBean sees it a little differently.
"It's not a sex-rock album," says the amiable musician over a beer at Pat's Pub. "The thing that's important to me about it is the inspiration that someone gave to me to make it. I was on tour, away from my wife, my partner, my lover, and was just missing her so much. I wanted to walk on a beach somewhere and hold her hand, stare into her eyes. It's about being human, and love, and tenderness, and intimacy. It's not about cheap sex or one-night stands. It's for Nahanni. She's the Pink Mountaintops."
After that spark, the rest came naturally. Taking a breather from helming the mind-bending Black Mountain, initial ideas were captured on his home-studio setup. "I came back [from touring] and I was so glad to be with Nahanni again," explains McBean. "I went upstairs into my little room in our house, and I'd write the songs and record them. I didn't worry about anything; it just came out."
Helping out on The Pink Mountaintops were some regular collaborators: Black Mountain drummer Joshua Wells and singer Amber Webber along with wayward Jerk With a Bomb soldier Christoph Hofmeister. "We did the vocals, drank wine, and smoked tons of weed," he adds. "I made sure everyone got to do a guitar solo on 'Sweet '69'. It was like, 'You fucking get in there. You're doing one. Doesn't matter if you can't play guitar, everyone's getting a solo on this one.' "
Once completed, the eight-song album was picked up by American indie-label Jagjaguwar as well as Scratch Records in Canada for a domestic release. A subsequent cross-Canada tour with the aforementioned Destroyer and Frog Eyes saw McBean performing the tunes without the aid of a backing band. "It was just me playing with a sequencer," he recalls. "I do enjoy working with human beings, though. When technology tends to fail it just stops. You're looking around on-stage and you're up there by yourself with something that has flashing lights and all of a sudden the flashing light stops. You feel like a bit of an idiot. If you're up there with friends it keeps going."
On his return, McBean continued to rehearse with an ever-expanding team of merry pranksters to bring songs like the autobiographical "Tourist in Your Town" to life. "It's about this woman that was one of my best friends when I was 15, 17. I was also madly in love with her. We both lived in Victoria, made a stupid mistake one time and we lost that friendship. She went off, became a model, and married a rock star." Sung as a duet with Black Mountain's Webber, the pristine tune crystallizes the experience of a young love lost, and, though touching, it's never bitter, just an extension of the Pink Mountaintops' landscape.
"Since I was a kid, I've always viewed the world as a big ugly place that's terrible and scary," admits McBean. "I lived that way for all my teen years. I was a punk rocker, hating this, fighting that, and ended up just bottling it up, full of hate. But I've come to realize that the world is not a terrible place. It's actually an amazing, beautiful place, and that's the only reason people can survive. Terrible things happen all the time, and will continue to happen, but horrible things can bring out great things in your life."
Music can be one of those great things, and those who attend the Pink Mountaintops' album-release party this Saturday (August 7) at the ANZA Club are bound to feel McBean's enthusiasm. "I want people to come and have fun," he stresses. "Couples that are there, lovers that are there--I want them to hold hands a little longer, go home and kiss. Express themselves. Come out and let the love fly free. Well, not too free."