Finding ‘Lost Love Songs’ With The Pine Hearts’ Joey Capoccia
Pacific Northwest-based band The Pine Hearts recently released Lost Love Songs, their most “deliberate and polished” album yet, produced by Bart Budwig. Traveling and songwriting have always been a part of life for Joey Capoccia, who does songwriting, guitar, and vocals for the band, joined by Derek McSwain on mandolin and Dean Shakked on bass. Capoccia comes from a Punk background originally, while McSwain hails from Bluegrass, and Shakked has long played, and continues to play, in Metal bands. Together they create music that’s about as Roots as it can get, and combined with Capoccia’s rather timeless lyrics, their songs reflect a really fascinating combination of the traditional and the modern.
Lost Love Songs, particularly, feels like it inhabits an interesting dream-like space between the past and the present, and many of the songs due speak to forms of love and loss. I spoke with Joey Capoccia about how The Pine Hearts developed their fusion of sonic traditions and what was on his mind when writing and recording Lost Love Songs.
Americana Highways: I’ve been saving up an unfair question and you seem like a good person to ask, given how diverse the members of The Pine Hearts are, musically. Is there really a divide between Rock and Metal and Roots music? You all have come over from so many different types of music to make the beautiful music we find on Lost Love Songs.
Joey Capoccia: I blame laziness for this, to be honest. Probably all three of us would say the same thing: It’s just so easy to pick up an acoustic guitar and play it. You don’t have to set up your PA system and plug in amps. You can hear your lyrics and don’t have to sing over the amps and the drums. I think what we’re doing is just the same thing, not plugged in. Maybe if we had more ambition, we’d be a louder Rock band! [Laughs]
AH: I don’t believe it. You’ve had experience doing all that in the punk scene, so did you reach a point where you thought, “I don’t want to do that anymore”?
JC: I was driving across the country, carrying my bass and my bass amp, and my van broke down in Flagstaff, Arizona. I took my bass amp and my bass on the Greyhound bus to Massachusetts. It took five days, lugging them through bus stations. Then I thought, “Or I could just play acoustic guitar. If my van breaks down, I could hitchhike.”
AH: By the way, it’s always Arizona where that happens. Every single time.
JC: It’s a vortex. I have been stuck in Flagstaff many times.
AH: But, of course, when you go down to the acoustic level, you have to be good because people can hear it. You can’t bury the music in layers of production.
JC: We do strive to be good to much personal strife. We always deal with the fact that we’re not as good as we’d like to be. We all like to divide our listening between country, bluegrass, rock, and metal. Dean, our bass player, plays bass in two or three different metal bands. We all love that stuff. Speaking of huge bass amps, he just bought one, and a new electric bass. The influence from one kind of music definitely brings a positive note to the other. If you’re looking at only one kind of music, without any other influences, that’s my least favorite kind of music.
AH: Has the kind of music scene you’ve grown up with always included overlapping areas?
JC: Absolutely, especially in Olympia, Washington. It’s a small town but there’s a lot of music, and a lot of live music, so you inevitably just end up hanging out with everybody. Even the clubs where you play music are not very specific. All venues have all kinds of music depending on the day of the week. That’s kind of what makes the town so great.
AH: What do you think of the term “Americana” and do you think it works for your music?
JC: I love it, to be honest. It’s great. It’s convenient and all-encompassing. With “Americana,” if you play acoustic instruments, it’s probably Americana and you can fit in. It’s easy to describe what you do. It’s almost like saying, “Rock.” What does that mean? Drums and guitar? I would almost equate it to Americana, as a big genre category.
AH: That is the best distinction that I have yet heard, actually. I agree. It sounds like, as a songwriter, you haven’t changed the way that you work based on what genre you’re working with. Do you tend to write in a basic way that would work with different sounds?
JC: I’d say “Yes” and “No.” I think I have two different categories of songs. One of them is always written the same way, that basically sounds like me playing the guitar and singing. But once you’re in a band for a couple of years, you start to cater towards that band, just knowing what your bandmates are going to do. I love that part of it because you can predict, so you start writing for those bandmates. That’s the other kind of writing. You get stuff from that which you wouldn’t get from a solo act. I could take some of my punk songs from ten years ago and play them with The Pine Hearts and that would still work, but the newer stuff that’s written specifically for Dean and Derek has its own original sound that doesn’t sound like anything else. It’s based on what happens when they come together.
AH: That makes a lot of sense based on how skilled these guys are.
JC: I will even write and shape choruses based on how I know the three of us are going to sing a harmony, so I think, “Let me write a chorus that will showcase that harmony.” I think when I was writing solo stuff, the melodies for the chorus would be up and down, with twists and turns, because when you’re just one person, you’re trying to make it interesting. I notice now with Dean and Derek that I can write something catchy, but simple, and bring in harmonies that strengthen and project the chorus.
AH: I’ve just recalled that you also have a couple more musicians on this record, too, banjo player Lob Strilla and fiddler Bevin Foley.
JC: Lob Strilla is actually our original banjo player who wound up moving away but we got him back and call him our “banjo player Emeritus.” He drove a long way to help out. Bevin is from Denver, Colorado and plays in Trout Steak Revival. We’ve gotten to know him over the years, and in the pandemic, we called her up, and she was happy to come out and put the fiddle on the album. She’s so good.
AH: That’s been one benefit of the pandemic, that players who would usually be on tour were at home and sometimes could join albums. Did you write for their involvement?
JC: Speaking of laziness, the three of us make a great trio, and we all fit in one van. It works and we all have the same ideas. As a touring act, we usually just have the three of us. But when we do an album, I still love having a banjo, violin, and all that stuff. Early on, we decided to put them on here. Recording is a chance to showcase like that. We knew we’d have someone on banjo and fiddle, so we wrote those parts in. As far as live shows, we can do those same songs as a trio. But we’re kind of the ultimate rhythm section which means that’s very easy to plug in other musicians, and we often get friends up on stage.
AH: The lyrics for the songs on this album are often general and universal enough that they could fit into traditional songs, for instance connecting with natural imagery like the ocean, sunlight, and fire. Is that intentional?
JC: I think it’s intentional, but I’ve been wondering about that myself. I noticed at a great show I went to recently that their lyrics were very specific. That made me realize that maybe I do try not to write too much about myself in my lyrics. Maybe my therapist would be a better person to ask why that is! Maybe I’m hoping to appeal to a wider audience. If a song is not overly specific, sometimes the audience can get their own meaning out of it. Also, sometimes I think I’m writing about one thing, then a couple months later, I look back at it and realize that I’m writing about something else.
AH: By the way, I find these songs have a really amazing balance between the universal and the personal and there is a lot of emotion. One song that’s a little more personal is “Unit of Time.” It’s almost an experimental song and more lyric-driven, bringing in both universal stuff, like a cemetery, but also very modern stuff, like credit scores and bags at airports.
JC: I’m really happy with how it came out, but one of the reasons that it’s so acapella at the beginning is because I was way out of practice finger picking on the guitar. I’m kind of just plucking the strings. It totally worked for the song though. I think the lyrics are so specific, that I wanted to call them out, and just hang them there. I think the sparse finger picking helps do that. I sometimes play that song to mess with the crowd when people are being noisy. “Now I’m going to play the most intimate song.” There’s actually a Back to the Future reference in the second line, talking about a picture fading, too.
AH: The phrase “lost love songs” is a lyric in the song, “Wouldn’t You Know.” How did that become the collection’s title?
JC: Thankfully, we just thought of it. I think when you’re recording an album, one of two things happens. Either you know the title from the beginning, and you don’t have to stress about it, or you just can’t think of a title, even after recording. During recording, the topic came up, and I said, “How about ‘Lost Love Songs’?” There was no debate. Everyone agreed. After the fact, looking back, the title makes perfect sense because they are all love songs in some way. “Unit of Time,” in particular, is a couple of years old, and there had never been a good album to put it on, so I realized, “That song was kind of ‘lost’.” Not only is the album about lost love, but about songs that were lost.
AH: I thought of the fact that the title could be read in both those ways. I liked the idea of songs that were lost, too, since there’s a traditional feel to a lot of the songs. Also, many of the songs have a sense of searching for something or chasing a feeling, and that chimes with the idea of looking for something that’s lost.
JC: Absolutely. Dean and Derek are so good that it was so great to bring them to some of these “lost songs” that I hadn’t played for years. It was wonderful to see what we could do with them. A lot of those songs took on life that they’ve never had before.
AH: That must bring a great sense of completion to you as a songwriter.
JC: It’s so hard when you write a song and you play it, and the band doesn’t get it, and the audience doesn’t get it, but in your head, you know that it could be a good song if it just had the right energy. When you finally get that down and recorded, there is a sense of relief. It’s probably why you see some bands with the same song recorded a couple of times. They are trying to get it to the way they hear it in their heads.
AH: I noticed that you originally did a Kickstarter to create this album. Was that a learning experience for you guys?
JC: The cool thing about it is that something that’s always been hard for me is self-promotion. In the past, I tried not to put too much pressure on people. But with Kickstarter, you really have to say to people, “This album is going to be great. This is why you should support it.” That was really good for me, to have that lesson in plain old self-promotion. I think we had almost 400 backers, and all those people couldn’t wait to hear the album, which was great. To have that excitement was the best part.
Find more info about the Pine Hearts here: https://thepinehearts.com