Pinegrove's Return Raises Complex Questions
Forming in 2010, rising to fame and receiving critical acclaim between 2015 and 2017, New Jersey indie band Pinegrove were hailed as cult heroes; dubbed “one of the greatest bands in the world right now,” in July 2017.
Then at the height of the #MeToo movement, when numerous previously-beloved male figureheads inside and outside the realm of entertainment fell from grace, so did Pinegrove as bandleader Evan Stephens Hall admitted – in a Facebook post - to being “accused of sexual coercion” by an unnamed woman he had been in a relationship with.
In this long and wordy message, Hall seemed to accept responsibility for his actions, apparently remorseful for the hurt caused first and foremost to the accused, then his bandmates and his supporters. And though there clearly was an attempt to rationalise what he was accused of within the post - “I believed all of our decisions to be based in love” - there was no attempt to deflect.
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The band shelved their third album ‘Skylight’, announced a year-long hiatus from touring and went silent. As a group previously known for being open and clear with whatever they wanted to say, their ambiguous announcement and subsequent disappearance raised more questions than it answered; Pinegrove retreated, leaving questions such as “when will they come back?” and more importantly “should we support them when they do?” hanging in the air.
The first question was easily answered when they self-released ‘Skylight’ in September 2018, followed by a physical release in February 2019, and announcement of tour dates for February and March.
The answer to the second question however was and continues to be understandably more complicated. Even with sold-out dates, packed venues and fans lining streets, there was a sense of uncertainty as those who previously supported the group with religious fervour now grappled with their own values and opinions; were they cheating their own principles by paying for the band merch, or paying to listen to Pinegrove’s music? Or were they simply enjoying the music they’ve always enjoyed?
There’s no simple answer to this question, and that’s possibly why despite the relative success of their technical comeback - their tour earlier this year - and the news that the band is truly coming back in January 2020 with new album ‘Marigold’ (already having released new track ‘Phase’) the question still remains unanswered.
But it’s a clear fact that during the band’s time away - by first taking responsibility for his actions- and then seeking therapy, Hall has tried in earnest “to do the right thing.” For some fans this effort was more than enough, because it was an indication that he was on his way to being a better person.
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However for some it isn’t enough and will perhaps never be. And in a post-MeToo world, with knowledge of the horrors faced by so many women out in the open, the blame cannot be placed on the rigid values for those that choose not to forgive Hall. Choosing to forgive him is not wrong, neither is choosing not to.
There is a danger of going wrong, however, where living in a society rampant with the increasingly popular “cancel culture” people end up taking away someone’s – anyone’s – chance to be a better person.
This toxic culture isn’t feminist or empowering, what it promotes is the message that everyone is watching you only for your first mistake. Famous or not, people make mistakes - some more grave than others - and while forgiveness is entirely subjective, a message and culture that is so obviously unsupportive, leads only to these people hiding their wrongdoings, firmly halting what could otherwise have been an eye-opening lesson for them.
Thus begins a vicious cycle of hiding and deflecting from mistakes in fear of isolation only to end up alienating people if or when the truth comes out, by clinging onto defensive narratives and twisted rationales.
Evan Stephens Hall – and by extension Pinegrove - is better off because he took the path less trodden by not engaging in this cycle of hide, rant, repeat. Hall did what he did, said what he said and came back with new music alongside his band because that’s his job. So, on the surface the question is “do you continue to support Pinegrove?”, and the answers are varying, complex and entirely individual in nature.
But there’s another layer to this question hidden away under the obvious topic of discussion; and it’s whether you want to wait and see if people like Hall repent, learn and improve from their mistakes, or if you’d rather reject them without waiting to look at and understand the person they’ve become at the end of the experience.
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Pinegrove will release their new album 'Marigold' on January 17th.
Words: Malvika Padin
Photo Credit: Daniel Topete + Caroline Tompkins
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