Albums can exist outside of context. Even as a person that’s connected to the internet 24/7 and controls a Gmail account that receives hundreds of music publicity emails a day, moments still occur when a friend will play a song from their phone of an unsigned artist or a TV show will prominently feature a tune cloaked in mystery that can’t even be Shazamed. These moments still do happen, but for the most part, we live in a world where every song has a story, ever musical note contains the years of experiences that led to its being played, and discovering the mysteries behind them is just a couple Google searches away.
Pinegrove will never really be able to exist outside their own complicated context, and in 2018, that feels like a really good thing. On the heels of the #MeToo movement last year, the band were surprisingly swept up in their own controversy that felt equally confusing and infuriating. But even if I didn’t completely understand what Pinegrove leader Evan Stephens Hall was being accused of and what was forcing him to retreat from the spotlight and hold off releasing their anticipated new album, Skylight, it didn’t really matter. What mattered was solidarity in the moment, awareness that a man’s ability to create art and have an audience is not more important than women’s need to be heard and to feel safe. Getting to the bottom of the Pinegrove case felt distinctly less important than giving whoever felt wronged by the band the respect enough to tune out. There’s so much music in the world, is it really that hard to move on from just this one?
Of course, that’s coming from someone who considers themselves to be a fan of Pinegrove’s much-adored album Cardinal but doesn’t, like, hold that fandom as a core element of my identity. Reading Jenn Pelly’s deep-dive into the Pinegrove situation is a quick reminder of the many young people that do identify that way. They have tattoos on their body that match those of bandleader Hall, they have lyrics in their Twitter bios and closets full of merch. For them, simply abandoning a band for allegations that they didn’t understand wasn’t an easy situation to navigate. For them, the past year has been full of questions, with everyone’s own way of continuing their relationship with Pinegrove’s music a highly personal matter. As Pelly wrote: “We bring ourselves to music… Our experiences dictate what we are comfortable with, what we can possibly forgive, and what we cannot accept.”
The article sheds as much light on the accusations against Hall as we’re likely to get. We know that a mediator describes the incident from the victim’s perspective as follows:
“She and Evan had a brief relationship, and she was in a relationship when it started. She felt that he coerced her into cheating on her partner with him, and she felt that she said no to him several times… and he continued to pursue her.”
We know that Hall thinks the relationship was more mutual, but also that he doesn’t want to negate how the woman experienced him, and he admits he “could have conducted himself better.” We know that his original accuser did not want the allegations of sexual coercion to be made public, that the intention was never to “takedown” the band, and that the year off and therapy that Hall engaged in was her idea as a way to show that he was serious in his contrition. We know that the “multiple victims” that were originally alleged don’t exist in the matter that they were presented, resulting in one of the alleged victims denying as much.
But maybe the most enlightening part of the story comes from Hall admitting that the fans he wants of his band should care about these events. Hall said:
“We don’t want listeners who are like, ‘We don’t care about this sort of thing.’ We care about this sort of thing. I’m way more sympathetic to people who are like, ‘I don’t understand this situation, it seems f*cked up, f*ck this band,’ than people who are like, ‘I don’t understand this situation, f*ck this situation, I love this band.’ We are thoroughly in favor of the dismantling of patriarchal structures, and the movement right now to elevate survivors and victims of abuse. And we are not interested in a listenership that doesn’t care about that.”
The uneasiness that Pinegrove returns to the spotlight is palpable. There hasn’t been a promo campaign ahead of Skylight‘s offering, instead just a casual announcement of the album two days ahead of its public offering is slipped into the Pitchfork article. Hall admits that the album hasn’t been changed in the time since stepping away, so what is being released is a snapshot of a band and songwriter that very much doesn’t exist anymore. Skylight functions as a glimpse of a musician before he was undoubtedly changed by his own actions and the subsequent fallout, and unsurprisingly it’s a record that’s inherent strength could have easily catapulted the band to the next level of their career had the circumstances surrounding it been different.