Pinback have a sound that exists in its own vacuum. A clean, well-ordered, and precise sound. The San Diego duo of Rob Crow and Zach Smith fold and unfold an audible origami. Vocals are placid and sedate, guitar strings are muted with palms; they pick through sequences, pinpoint and serene. It's been five years since their last full-length, and the latest, Information Retrieved, continues their meticulous sky-shaded lineage. The new album stays close to what Pinback have done well in the past and there's nothing lost in that—the songs aren't playing it safe, they're further refined. Drummer Chris Prescott (who tours with the band) tracked on the album as well. The video for the track "Sherman" pulls from 1962 Soviet sci-fi film Planeta Bur. Crow and Smith wear space suits and ride a lunar rover through a jagged Mars-esque landscape; the thermal suits trapped in heat during filming, which caused heatstroke. Crow spoke from his home in San Diego. He'd been sick with fever from an unrelated illness.
Sorry you've been sick. It was a norovirus? Please describe a deep dark, strange scene that came from a fever dream.
I probably did dream. But that's the thing with a fever, you don't realize it's happening while it's happening, and when it's not happening anymore, you don't understand what happened. I'm better now. I don't remember specific images. I would wake up and go, "Ahhh. Bleeeeehh." And then go back to sleep. Sleep is the Pinback fever cure, plus rest and fluids. It wasn't that bad for me. Everyone else in the house was projectile vomiting and had explosive diarrhea for a long time.
You're a bit of a sci-fi buff. Have you kept up with the latest on the Mars rovers? I'm glad we're up there, but it seems like there are so many problems on Earth we need to fix before we spend billions on space exploration. Please explain how it makes sense. Win me over on the Mars thing!
I haven't had any time to do any research on it, and I don't really have any thoughts on the political nature of space travel right now. If I speak about anything political, I like to be well read and researched on the subject before I shoot my mouth off about it. Nobody likes a loudmouth musician.
I like loudmouth musicians. You're the farthest thing from a loudmouth.
This interview is still early [laughs].
What is something about you that people might not know?
I don't spend too much time thinking about people's perception of me. So I wouldn't know what the average person would or wouldn't know.
How about some beard secrets. How do you maintain such frothy plumage? And funny beard stories? Like the time you were climbing a fence and your beard got stuck? Or the time you were eating oatmeal and the entire bowl of oatmeal got stuck in your beard? What are your beard-growing tips?
Just being lazy. There's nothing to growing a beard other than being too lazy to shave it. Stuff gets caught in there, of course. But it's just a beard.
As a beard-haver, what are your thoughts on the whole competitive-beard-growing thing? There are cable shows about it and everything. Those guys get after it. Their beards are like chocolate fountains, except made of beard.
Growing a beard isn't that much of a feat. I'm not that much into preening.
So for the record, Rob from Pinback is not a competitive beard grower.
I'm not a competitive anything.
How did you discover the 1962 cult Soviet film Planeta Bur and decide to base your video "Sherman" off of it?
I like films and like to do lots of research on them. I found Planeta Bur and learned it has this amazing history of being recut three different times into completely new ways. It drew me in. I like sci-fi films a lot, but must admit that of all the genres, they have the least amount of good films. Except maybe romance films. Although people like Frank Capra, Ernst Lubitsch, King Vidor, Howard Hawks make good romance films.
What are some other cult films you are into?
Any Albert Brooks movie is usually pretty good, his earlier stuff. I like Billy Wilder. Moon by Duncan Jones was a more recent good sci-fi film. Over the Edge by Jonathan Kaplan, Kenny & Company by Don Coscarelli are a couple more good coming-of-age cult films. Over the Edge changed my whole life.
It was my gateway to punk music. The casting was kinda weird; everyone in the movie is either under 18 or over 30. It was Matt Dillon's first film ever.
You guys produced the new album. What goes into producing your own album? Are you able to be objective about your own songs?
We did have help on a few songs from Ben Moore. We'd mix to a point and then have him listen and help us make them work. He'd help us tweak it until it sounded better. Production is one of those things that if I think about it too much, I won't be able to do it right [laughs]. It takes us forever—we don't know what we're doing. We try not to overthink because if we did, we'd just do the same things over and over.
How did the song structure for "Sherman" come together?
I was cutting up drums and found a section I liked, so I made a beat out of it. Zach started playing bass to it and we recorded it, then I started adding things over top. We came up with a chorusy part, finished up the verses, and it was done in a day. It just kind of happened. It's good when that happens. All the fills I played on the drums myself. We usually play around and do stuff in Cubase.
Your sound is so clean and meticulous—the songs exist in their own airlocked plane. What do you do to get your sound? What effects do you run your guitar through?
I try to use the least amount of effects possible. There's compression on the vocals. Only recently, it seems, I started using reverb on anything. Live, I try to just have a big, loud, clean sound. I use a Mesa Boogie amp and play a Les Paul. A big heavy thing.
It's been five years since Autumn of the Seraphs. What's changed about Pinback in 2013? What hasn't changed?
I don't know. That's a strange question I wouldn't know how to answer. Our family situations are different now, but I try not to lump that into what Pinback is.
Did your side projects Goblin Cock and Three Mile Pilot affect any of the sounds on the new album?
I use my side projects to get stuff out of my system so I don't accidentally incorporate it into what Pinback does.
Why did you all choose the title Information Retrieved? Did you all have your identity stolen or something? Have you been monitored by the government? Maybe you guys monitor other people?
Everything about it is significant. There's a hidden story, from the video, to the first two 7-inches, to the teasers. There's a definite story to it that I'm not telling any interviewers for a year. But I will gladly tell anyone who comes to a show and asks me. If they have ideas about what things mean, I'll totally talk about it.
So Pinback aren't spies. You're not monitoring the world.
I have three kids, ages 1, 4, and 7. I don't have time to monitor much besides them.
Out of all the touring you've done, what's a funny story from the road? Some sort of Pinback high jinks.
I can't really think of anything.
Not one thing?
We work hard. When we tour, we don't really have time to have funny things happen to us.
You're businesslike about it.
No. It's an art that needs work.