by Damario Walden

The Pinkerton Raid is a band that combines touches of everything from dreamer folk to campfire pop, to retro rock to create a sound that reaches out to their audience to form a connection. We got a chance to have a Q&A with Jesse DeConto, the band’s leader, and find out more about what motivates the band. We talk about everything from moving with family, forming connections on the road, and collabing with Dr. Dog in this interview as they get ready for their concert at Flicker in Athens February, 2nd.

I’m Damario, one of the music directors here at WUOG, and I’m here today with…

Jesse DeConto from The Pinkerton Raid.

So, a question that I love to ask is always about the name of a band or artist, so how did The Pinkerton Raid come about?

Yeah, when I was naming the band, it’s been a long time now, 10 or 12 years. I was looking for something that was related to my, my real name, which is Jesse James. I was kind of toying with the idea of having been one of those Jesse James and something kind of names and so I was looking for something related. I found this historical event that happened in Missouri in 1875, where the Pinkertons, which is like a kind of mercenary security force that got hired by train companies and you know, other people protecting wealth, and they were protecting it from the James Gang, Jesse James and Frank James. And so they firebombed the James ranch in Clay County, Missouri and the gang wasn’t even there. I had to sort of dig in and get all that. All that all those details and more history, but I just kind of liked the way that words sounded together and Pinkerton raid. And once I got into the story, I kind of liked how I can’t tell who the good guys are and the bad guys are in that story. You know, it’s just, it’s just like a human story. So there’s a lot about it that I can’t really even relate to, but I can relate to the humanity of it. Yeah, so that’s where it came from? Yeah.

Do you think like those themes, and that theme of humanity, like, plays into the music that you play today?

Oh, yeah. Yeah, for sure. Um, yeah, it’s, I mean, it’s just really important to me to, to write songs that feel real, you know, that, like, they’re based on real human experiences, whether it’s my life, or a lot of times, it’s somebody else’s life. But it’s got to be something that the rest of us can kind of latch on to and make sense of, and fit ourselves into see ourselves in.

I was doing a little bit of digging around and saw that the Beatles were the first band’s music that you learned to play. How much of an inspiration are they to your music and who else inspires you?

Yeah, I mean, I think I think the Beatles are at the top of that list. You know, I’m just really interested in melody. I’m really interested in vocals and harmony. And I kind of come at what I do as a writer first, that was that was my first career, a journalist, newspaper writer. My earliest musical training was in, like, choral singing, I just always come back to a really strong vocal melody supported by harmony. Then the rest of it came behind it,  learning to play different instruments and trying to become a better guitar player and all that stuff. And, I mean, it’s important, all of it’s important, and all of it comes together to make music and make songs. People argue about whether the Beatles Rock Band or pop band, or, or even, I suppose some people will say, well, you know, there’s like folk, there’s folk pop thing going on there. And it doesn’t, to me, it just doesn’t matter. You know, it’s just, those are just words that other people try to impose. I think that it’s all about the song, you know. I think others from that era, Crosby, Stills Nash, and Neil Young, are pretty big influences as well as Fleetwood Mac. I’d say the biggest influences are around the late 60s, early 70s. I guess that style of music sort of came back in the 2000s, with bands like Fleet Foxes and the Head in the Heart. 

With your music and your latest album, The Highway Moves the World, would you say you also follow this mindset when you create music? Not focusing on a genre but more on a sound?

Yeah, I think so. I mean, yeah, it almost becomes a problem, because nowadays, you know, there are just, there are a lot of advantages in terms of marketing to like, really being consistent in terms of the genre of music that you’re putting out. We’re getting people who are discovering us through algorithms instead of real people a lot of the time. You know, so like, you can, you can do a much better job explaining what, what different music sounds like, then then a computer can. And that, you know, a computer is just gonna have it’s like categories, it’s all but it’s all broken down to ones and zeros. Music is more complicated than that. And so, you know, I feel like it’s a push and pull. What comes naturally to me is just to like, pay attention to the song and you know, ask, just keep asking the question like, What is this? What is this melody? One? What, you know, what kind of rhythm supports this melody? What? What kind of arrangement? Is it simple? Is it complicated? Is it really, really rich? And is there a lot of instrumentation? Is it? Is it just a guitar? Is it just a keyboard? Is it heavy on rhythm? You know? I guess those questions are, like, they’re specific in a way that I can do something about. Whereas the genre is just a moving target. You know, I mean, I sometimes do think about what people might expect from me, given what you know, what the music sounded like in the past, but then I might be as likely to try to give them something totally different as to give them what they’re expecting. But hopefully it comes, it just comes back to melody all the time.

So with this latest album, what was the process of  writing and putting it together? Was there a central theme you were looking for?

I usually figure that out once I’ve written a bunch of songs, and so I didn’t necessarily know, from the start,what I wanted it to be or what it would be. But I had a few songs leftover from the last album cycle that didn’t really fit on the album we put in 2018. And when I looked at the songs that I still had hanging around and sort of asked myself, what did they have in common, there seems to be this grounding in intimate family relationships. And so I sort of went with that and started thinking about stories that I might want to tell about my own family, or experiences that I saw, but the my family members having that seemed like they were worth narrating in some way, or that maybe told us something about what it’s like to be human, if I could, you know, if I could put them into language. I wrote a song from my mom, about the way that she had loved us and my family by relocating her life, you know, upbringing, her life and, and, and the lives of my siblings. And my dad’s to bring us all together. I had moved away with my kids, and so and then everybody followed us. We grew up in New Hampshire. I moved to North Carolina and my mom and my youngest siblings and my dad had all moved for a little while to Florida. And then within a year or two, they, they, they moved halfway back north again and settled near us and North Carolina. It’s hard for me, you know, it’s, it’s humbling at some level, it’s just like, well, this is the life that I’ve lived in, it’s easy to take it for granted, but, but if I stop and look at it on one hand, it’s just, it’s just strange, because, you know, people, I mean, families don’t often do this anymore, we’re just like, spread out all over the place, from coast to coast, and people go where they need to go for jobs, or whatever other reasons, maybe a marriage or, you know, their intimate partner relationship, or whatever it is, it’s just hard to keep a family of five siblings in the same place. So it’s that it’s that kind of powerful experience of love and, you know, being cared for that, that I, wanted to try to capture in the album and in songs. 

I know, you have a show coming up February the second, what’s your favorite thing about touring, and do you have a favorite place that you’ve also toured? 

Well, there’s a lot to love about it. I mean, it’s, I’m getting to go out and like do the thing that I, you know, I want to do which is share music so that could, that could happen almost anywhere where people are receptive to it, and you know, want to hear it and, and are willing to listen. I think I really liked the relationship building aspect of it. So I tend to like to just go back to the same places somewhat regularly. And that’s obviously easier to do in some places than others. It feels like we’ve been back to Athens for example. I think we played there three times in the past, maybe a year and a half or a little less than a year and a half. So that’s, you know, that’s a pretty good pace. And it starts to feel like oh, yeah, I’m looking forward to seeing this person that you know, I saw last time I was down there. We just had a video come out today in Flagpole magazine. And we made it with some friends down in Athens. 

We’re gonna do a fun question to kind of wrap up, I always like to ask, what would be your dream collab? It can be living, nonliving, a band still together, not together, just go for it.

I mean, there’s so many answers. So, you know, I’m just gonna kind of pick one. It’s not like the right answer, but it’s an answer. I got to see the last tour that Dr. Dog played live. I think it was the end of 2021. And they were just having so much fun together on stage. And there’s so many different, like little details instrumentally that are happening. You sort of have to be paying attention because you can miss it. But I think I think they would be really fun. You know, it’d be really fun to just like, take a song to them. Or take an album and say, will you guys help me flesh this out. I think that would be that’d be really, that’d be really cool. Yeah, yeah. I’m gonna say Doctor Dog.

Well, I thank you for your time. I’ve enjoyed talking to you. I’d like to give you, you know, just like any final words, if you want to. Is there anything you’d like to say to prospective listeners and the WUOG fanbase?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, I just appreciate everybody listening, and you know, it’s like I was talking about relationships. It just means a lot when people come out to the show. You know, put your email on our list and connect with us, find us on our socials and let’s have a conversation. And I love the fact that music can open up conversations and open up relationships and friendships and yeah, I just want to keep doing that in Athens. So hopefully, we’ll make some new friends at Flickr on Thursday night!