Cincinnati, Ohio’s The Pinstripes are nearing their 10 year mark as a band, proving to non-believers and those who “Liked Ska in High School” that the genre is still alive and kicking! It’s party music… Don’t you like to party?
With a hefty blend of soulful melodies, groovy rhythms, and the obligatory horn stabs and solos, The Pinstripes are doing their part to show us all that you don’t need a goofy name, silly gimmick, or ridiculous get-up to be a Ska band. It’s a serious form of music, and it’s a serious band. Nothing made me happier than running into the guys in the middle of 6th Street during SXSW and busting out a drunken skank in the crowd!
Just about to embark on a short run of dates with The Slackers, I caught up with lead vocal and multi-instrumentalist Mike Sarason to talk about their tunes, their current take on the Ska scene, and what else they’ve got lined up for 2013.
G- Hi there and thank you very much for taking the time to speak with Live High Five! Introduce the members in the group… Who is everyone, what do they play, and where does everyone come from?
M- Alright, well our lineup these days consists of:
Matt Kursmark – Guitar
Sam White – Trumpet, Vocals,
Leo Murcia – Trombone, Vocals,
John Bertke – Drums,
Danny Kombrink – Bass
Mike Sarason – Lead Vocals, Sax.
Mostly we’re all around the Cincinnati area, although Danny is someone we met in St. Louis, and Leo grew up in New Jersey.
G- So, you guys got started in 2003… How did everyone meet and how did the project get off the ground? Do you remember the moment that you really felt the group “click?”
M – The Pinstripes started as a pretty different band back then. Our original drummer (Jared Goldfarb) was a good friend of mine growing up and he’d been playing in a punk band with Matt, Chris (Grannen, original bass player) and some others. I had kind of been getting Jared into Ska for a while, so when he said that they wanted to try playing Ska, he asked me to join on Sax, and that was sort of the beginning of the Pinstripes.
Since then, there have been several permutations of the group and a constant evolution in the sound. We’ve really honed it a lot and developed it; the band has matured and we have too (somewhat). For me, it’s always been a blast to do this, so much so that I’ve made it the central focus of my life for some time now… I don’t know if there is one particular moment that the group “clicked”, but I know that our hard work is paying off when we get to tour with some of our favorite musicians on the planet and they are genuinely excited about our band.
G- You are currently touring in support of your 2012 release, I. How long did it take you to record the album, and how has the reception been to the new songs? Have you noticed any fan favorites off of the record?
M – I was recorded in the summer of 2010. The bulk of the recording was done in a 10-day span at Anthony Abbinanti’s Dirty North Studios in Chicago. From there, it took us a while to figure out how we wanted to put it out, which songs would be on the album, what it would look like, etc. So it took a while to come out.
But the reception to the album has been great. I think this album really put us into a new realm as musicians and we’re hoping to keep growing and never look back from here.
As far as fan favorites, it seems like everyone has their own songs that resonate with them. “Alright Baby” certainly is one people like to sing, and I know a lot of people like “Mother,” but I’ve had people talk to me probably about every one of the tracks and say it’s they’re favorite, so that’s a good sign I think!
G- What is your writing process like, and who in the band typically comes up new music? Do you have a primary songwriter, or do you write music more organically through jamming during rehearsals?
M – More often than not, I’m the primary songwriter of the group. I’ll usually come to practice with a sort of skeleton version of the song and then the band will work on arranging it together. However, that’s not always the case. Leo has brought in some really cool tunes and, every now and then, we do have songs that just seems to materialize out of nowhere at practice. You can never know when that will happen!
G- Ska is party music, and The Pinstripes are a good time band that makes me want to toss a few back and let loose… Are you guys a group of partier, or generally pretty mellow? What kind of beers and booze do you want people bringing up to you onstage this time around?
M – I think it really depends night by night for us. Sometimes we’ll be up for partying with the best of ‘em, but like most people, we do need to take it easy as well sometimes! The vibe of the show and the crowd probably has a lot to do with it, not to mention how long we’ve been out on the road, how much sleep we got the previous day, etc… You know how it goes.
G- Do you have a favorite song you have ever written? If you could only give 1 song to someone who’d never heard of you before, to try and make a new fan, what song would you give them and why?
M – Hmm… That’s a tough question. I’m generally always a fan of our newest work when it comes to this group. We actually just recorded a few more songs up in Chicago right before we went down out on tour and they turned out great! I do have moments and lines in songs that I’m particularly proud of, but I think I’m still a ways away from writing my best song.
Also, because our influence can be rather wide and our sound pretty diverse, I usually try to get a feel for what someone is into before picking a song to show them. Certain slower, spacey, dubbed out tunes (like “One Drop”) may appeal to a different type of person than our up-tempo energetic tracks (like “Might Be Her Fool”).
G- Are there any bands or artists that you hope to share a bill with in the future? If you could curate your own 3-band dream bill, who would you want to go on tour with in the future?
M- I’m fortunate to say that a number of those artists I’d hoped to play with we actually have gotten to share a bill with, from Antibalas to The Aggrolites to Trombone Shorty to Fishbone. But of course, there are always others.
Right now, I’m pretty excited about the Expanders, a great roots reggae group from L.A. Another one would be the Budos Band from Staten Island… Those dudes are great. If The Pinstripes and those two could hit the road, I’m sure it’d be pretty wild.
J.D. McPherson would be another one to add to that list if possible. We’re also pretty excited for the chance to tour with The Slackers, who are some of the best players on the scene for what they do.
G- Some of those Poison Room shows we used to play at were pretty wild times, but what is the craziest or most memorable show that you have played to date? Where was it and what was it like?
M- Man… Craziest moment!? It’s hard to remember after almost 10 years! I certainly have some good memories from the old days at the Poison Room, and we also had some pretty wild shows at the Orange Cat (our bass player’s basement). On this most recent tour, I was astonished to play in some cities thousands of miles from home for the first time and have people already knowing our songs and singing along. Salt Lake City being one in particular… That was nuts!
Another one that sticks out was at CincyPunk Fest in Cincinnati in 2010. It’s a staple of the Cincinnati music scene and it raises money for charity every year. That year, it was at the (old) Southgate House and we got a pretty good slot, late in the night when there were a good number of people there. We only had a 30 min set, but I remember we just nailed it. We turned a lot of heads that year. Afterward, I was literally jumping around in the green room because I was so excited and energized from the set.
G- Lastly, what advice can you give some of the young, up and coming bands everywhere who want to make it in music, on the road, and as a professional musician?
M- It’s funny being asked this question, because I think everyone in my band is still figuring it out ourselves. But here are some things I can say for sure: If you want to do this, don’t half-ass it. Go for it and make it an occupation. But, like anything else, you give time to in your life, take it seriously. Touring all over the country in the past year, I’ve seen how fans, venues, other artists, and just about every one else will notice if you are on top of your game. If you act professional, work hard and really kick ass as a band, people will notice.
The other thing would be to constantly ask questions and look for mentors. This isn’t an easy business in any way, but the good thing is that there are many others who have had the same dream as you and faced the same challenges. Seek those people out, ask them their opinions… don’t take everything they have to say as 100% truth, but find some meaning in it and look for what you can learn from every single experience.
Thanks for your interest in the group, I hope people dig the music!