Pink Mountaintops spread the love on "Going Coastal" tour
Check out the itinerary for Pink Mountaintops’ latest tour and you’ll think, “What the eff—has Stephen McBean hit the skids?”
The psych-pop-folk-punk-et-al side project of Black Mountain guitar wizard and homegrown hero McBean is hitting Powell River, Gibsons, and Cumberland (Cumberland!), along with dates in Victoria and Vancouver. And look, these aren’t bad places. These are, in fact, wonderful places! But they’re hardly conventional tour stops for a musician whose band once opened for Coldplay on a strange stadium tour many moons ago, and who took Bon Iver on that outfit’s first tour a couple years later.
What gives, man? The answer, fortunately, is that everything’s hunky dory for the Straight’s old pal. He had some dark times during COVID—but who didn’t? It’s the emerging out of that darkness that’s led to this tour, which McBean’s unofficially dubbed the “Going Coastal Tour,” or the “Relic Beachcomber Tour.” He’s linked up with veteran Victoria punk promoter Marcus Pollard to book shows in corners of the province that don’t typically see this kind of rock ’n’ roll attention. It’s also a chance to catch up with old friends post-pandemic, many of whom McBean knows from his time in Vancouver and Victoria and who have fled for smaller, quieter communities.
The current touring iteration of Pink Mountaintops includes actor-musician Tygh Runyan on bass and Andrew Moszynski on drums, though each stop will feature a rotating cast of guest musicians. Every show will be a unique and celebratory gathering of the freaks.
“It's harder and harder to catch up sometimes. So, I was like, hey, I can just knock out a whole bunch of visits at once, see the friends, spread some love,” McBean says, speaking on the phone from his adopted home of Los Angeles.
McBean’s been living in LA for over a decade now, but had left the Silver Lake/Echo Park area for a house in suburban Arcadia shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. He was in the early stages of making a new Black Mountain album, in fact, when the lockdowns happened.
“Amber [Webber] had rejoined Black Mountain, and her and Jeremy [Schmidt] had come down to LA. So, at that time, we were wrapping our brains around writing a new Black Mountain record,” McBean says. “And then the world closed up shop.”
Instead of giving up on recording, he started “fucking around” in a makeshift studio he’d built in a spare bedroom. Then he noticed other musician friends were holing up in their makeshift studios and looking to collaborate.
“Everyone's tour got cancelled,” he says. “We just started writing and then sending stuff back and forth.”
The result is 2022’s Peacock Pools, the first Pink Mountaintops album in eight years, featuring an impressive slate of collaborators, including Schmidt, Steven Shane McDonald, and Dale Crover from Melvins and Red Kross, former Black Mountain/current Destroyer and Lightning Dust drummer Josh Wells, and Dave Ogilvie, who mixed the record.
It’s a true pandemic album—“a soundtrack or mixtape of a COVID mess,” McBean says—one that never would have been made had the lockdowns never happened: conceived by McBean and featuring a little help from his holed-up and isolated friends. The rotating lineup contributes to the eclectic nature of the album, which hops around various styles that have clearly influenced, from electro-fried psych to thrash metal to ‘80s-inspired cock-rock.
The album opens with the Black Flag cover “Nervous Breakdown,” which McBean initially recorded to make sure his gear was set up properly. He liked it so much that he led the record with it.
Four of the tracks were recorded live in studio—masked up and everything—with McDonald and Crover, with McBean living out his “teenage wet dream” of essentially fronting the Melvins. One of these was “Lights of the City,” which was initially earmarked for the scrapped Black Mountain record. It’s a dusty rocker that showcases what McBean does best—huge riffs, glorious harmonies (courtesy of Emily Rose, formerly of the Ty Segall Band) and a guitar solo you wish could stretch on into infinity.
Then there’s “All This Death Is Killing Me,” arguably the heaviest thing McBean has committed to tape (his hardcore outfit Obliterations very much withstanding), which distills all the weird confusion, anger, and anxiety of the lockdown era into a two-minutes-and-change thrash-metal mind-fuck. Where Pink Mountains was at one time the yin to Black Mountain’s yang—a clearing-house for McBean’s mellower or more experimental tendencies—it instead became a salvation to spare his sanity during the pandemic.
“It was this necessity for trying not to lose your mind and just do something,” he says.“[The album] definitely helped me. It gave me something to do, because there was definitely, for everyone, a lot of emotional ups and downs. Definitely a lot down.”
Which, ultimately, is what the Relic Beachcomber tour is all about—McBean heading back to the evergreen embrace of the BC coast. Chasing the light. Fuck that darkness. He’s heading home.
Pink Mountaintops play the Cobalt on April 8. Tickets for all shows on the tour can be found here.