Wild Pink

Wild Pink, full Garden Sessions, April 2019, shot by Ehud Lazin

Hey friends, Katie here! It’s probably for the best, too. I have spent the week completely obsessed with three or four lines (depending on where you put the line break!) from a Built to Spill song, and though I have told literally everyone in my zip code, it remains a one person obsession. Better I be here, telling you about another band that plays— and when I say that, I mean they experiment, delight, enjoy— music. Today, I’m introducing you to Wild Pink, who we’ve been lucky enough to have before— but now that we know exactly how impressive they are live, we can’t wait to have an encore performance.

Last time, my friend and Woodstock expert (if you haven’t been listening to the Underwater Sunshine podcast for a while, you’re going to want to catch up with these six…) James Campion said of the band: “To wit: it is a trio that is occasionally a quartet, a rock and roll band that isn’t necessarily or in any way rock and roll, and plays well-structured, singularly composed songs which find their ethereal form in a free association band construct. And that is only part of what you can figure out about Wild Pink, if you try. But why waste your time with such nonsense, when this is a band not blade for “figuring.” It is made for absorbing, digesting, and experiencing: all the things that matter in great art.”

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Well. You can’t really do better than that for an introduction, though I hope that means you’ll take his advice and click “play” on their Garden Session videos. Genre has become so fractured as to mean nothing, and now when bands just make good music that borrows from several traditions, there isn’t really a label to throw at them (I think this started when we decided on the term “college rock,” but that’s another debate). The thing about Wild Pink is that while they’re playing, you don’t care what it reminds you of or where it came from. They are joyful to listen to.

Wild Pink, “Lake Erie,” April 2019, Garden Sessions, shot by Ehud Lazin

Of course, it’s human nature to categorize, isn’t it? I can rail against genre and still feel as though it fits somewhere. My husband and co-producer Andy and I invented the term “impressionist pop-rock” to describe anyone who writes with vague images that, if you look too close, feel unrelated, but if you back up, hit an emotional weak spot. I’d say the two masters of “impressionist pop” are Pete Yorn and Beck— you walk away feeling something, but you can’t always tell what was going on in the song. I’d argue Wild Pink has the same strength: the ability to pick a challenging or interesting subject, and the knowledge of when to pull back to a refrain—

There's a fireman hosing off a metal gurney outside
And my mind goes to the bend in the road and bloody asphalt salt
And I wonder how different some days go
I smell the grass and the trees after the rain in the breeze
And I wonder how different some days go
I wonder how different some days go
I believe you when you say you've been sad for your whole life
Your body looks impossibly small when you hang your head and cry
Meanwhile people on Tumblr unpack neuroses
And all you ever wanted was the one
you love the most not to suddenly leave
You thought you'd never get out

Every line in the song is good, but it’s striking to hear “bloody asphalt salt/And I wonder how different some days go” back to back. The concrete and real versus the abstract and vague. It makes sense to pull away from those images: Wild Pink is doing for us what our brains would be doing naturally. Seeing something awful and then pulling away. 

That’s why it’s so significant that the biggest repeated line in the song— over and over— is “never get out.” This world, where some horrible things keep happening, is a place of being stuck in. And maybe worse than being stuck, the idea that they aren’t, but they still don’t know how to leave. It’s a heartbreaking song despite the lush, beautiful musicality. What is funny is I went to write, “I really love how they use the glockenspiel in this version”— and then I heard the end of the video. I recommend letting him tell you why that’s funny.

Wild Pink, “There Is a Ledger,” Garden Sessions April 2019, shot by Ehud Lazin

“There Is A Ledger” is a striking song that, in the same way of Lake Erie, defies meaning only one thing: the song fades out, for example, with him singing, “Well, I hope we find peace/ Yeah, I hope we find peace” over major chords. But the song is so much more complex than that if you back up a little. Pretend this is a painting. Pretend you’re at a museum. No one else is there. Take ten steps back and now look at the first stanza. 

I believe that there’s a ledger somewhere
Somewhere the days go
They say “don’t think about it oh so much
Don’t take it so bad”

In the first stanza, we get a crowd of voices telling him “not to take it so bad.” Shortly after that, we have him saying he had a panic attack and defending that— and then you get this gorgeous stanza—

You came and sang to me
The clover golden right under our feet
You had my heart in your hands
But I was never enough

Sometimes I see you in my mind's eye blowing on your coffee
There were times you weren't as kind as I thought you were
I don't want to think like that

This is a perfect example of Wild Pink at their best. Obviously, he loves the person he’s writing about— and writing about beautifully. She sang to him. They had clover underfoot. But the lines that jump out once I’ve stood back are “sometimes I see you in my mind’s eye, blowing on your coffee,” which is such a delicate, sweet physical movement to bring into the piece— and the NEXT LINE is “there were times you weren’t as kind as I thought you were.”

Well. Damn. That’s about as good a line as you can write about someone you love but are questioning your relationship with them. But again— the song ends on, “Yeah, I hope we can find peace/ Yeah, I hope we can find peace.” And maybe it’s together, and maybe it’s apart, but either way, he has observed something you never want to observe about your loved ones— and once you’ve seen that, an unkindness or a tendency to snap, you can’t unsee it.

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And you can’t unsee Wild Pink. Once you’ve been in the presence of their music, you know the warmth and power of it. It’s got to be something you return to— and to perhaps carry the metaphor too far, maybe once you’ve seen them, you’re a part of the bigger picture, now. You have become your own individual drop of paint in the scene that they’re creating. You’ve allowed these songs to become a part of the museum of your life, and this performance, if you’re listening right, can change you. Isn’t that what the best art does? You’ve got to come see them, November 8th and 9th, to check it out and become a part of their music.

Lindsay Nie