Mike Pinto has been fairly quiet since his last album Truthful Lies was released in 2013 as fans have been anxiously awaiting more shows and new material. The Pier recently caught up with the storyteller-songwriter during his current West Coast tour on his stop in Tacoma, WA. The Pier took some time to get the latest scoop on where he’s been and what new music he’s been playing live, along with progress on his next studio album influenced by his relocation in addition to some surprise collaborations, and more!
Interview: Mike Pinto
So what’s new in the world of Mike Pinto?
Mike Pinto: Everything! I’m in a new city. I was really looking forward to a move for the creative side of it. I’m very influenced by my environment around me. I’ve been in San Diego for nearly 10 years and I wanted to see what else I had to bring to the table. So I think moving to Oregon was a good move for me and for my relationship, which has been great and also brings new additions to my material. So everything’s exciting right now.
I’ve been teetering between 2 genres: the reggae and ska that I’ve been kind of known for, and then the folk and rock that I’ve definitely been getting drawn into. My last record was basically split and may have confused people. Basically, folk mixed with a “Johnny Cash bravado” is making it’s way into my music, and I’m still trying to tell a good story. So that’s all new; trying to navigate where I want to go creatively. It seems like right now, I’ve been wanting to put out the different stuff individually and that’s why you haven’t heard much from me lately; all my new stuff has been kind of split down the middle. I have more than a record’s worth of material, but it’s split between the two [genres] and I want to separate them.
When I do release something new it will probably be a double album with the 2 different genres. There’s a flow to one record and then a flow to the other that are independent of each-other. Because as far as listeners go on my last record, they were drawn to one side or the other, but you don’t realize that until after. So I decided I better take my time on the material and put it where it’s supposed to be. I think it’s the right thing to do, artistically. Last time I was just firing out songs and letting them land wherever. I didn’t really care, I just wanted to show a certain type of range. But I didn’t realize at that time that the album needed to have some context. I’m not a singles type of guy and I know people like singles, but I like to have a concept. And now that I’m in Oregon and the Pacific North-West, I can use that in my music.
What made you decide to relocate again? How do you think living in the PNW will impact your music?
Mike Pinto: I think folk music is definitely going to thrive; I think there’s more folk in this particular town (Eugene) and quite a few bands that I still need to check out. I’ve heard their names around the scene but I just haven’t got around to it yet.
Yeah, you’ve got Ethan Tucker up here and Rocky Votolato…
Mike Pinto: I know they’re up in the Seattle area, but I’ve been hearing about this band in Eugene called Sol Seed, they’re the only reggae band that I’ve heard of so far that’s actually in Eugene and that I’ve seen through The Pier or stuff like that.
When you were in Seattle last year you introduced us to a new song, “Supply and Demand” — are you playing any of the new songs you mentioned live, yet?
Mike Pinto: I don’t think I’m ready for most of them. I might play one or two but it’s tough, especially with the acoustic shows. I have some acoustic shows coming up and then some full band shows and when you only have 9 minutes and so much material, it’s hard to do the new stuff. I want to give people what they want and what they know. But I might throw in some of the folk stuff in the middle of set when it’s appropriate. You know, where it belongs during the more mellow part of the set. Most of my sets are mellow in the middle with two extremes in the beginning and the end — take the people for a ride. So if it fits then I’ll squeeze in a couple. I always like feedback but also I don’t want to give too much away early.
Do you prefer to play live with a full band — or acoustic? What leads to the decision to do one or the other?
Mike Pinto: I think its logistics as of right now. I’m in Oregon now and the guys that I play with are down in Hornitos, CA and they’re the guys playing with Tribal Seeds now and some other LA and Long Beach cats. Right now, because I knew I was moving, it just made sense to do the Washington and Oregon shows acoustic and then have the guys join me down in Arizona and California. And you know, I haven’t as much in WA and OR as I have in CA and AZ; those are probably the states I’ve played the most so I can get a full band in there and there’ll be enough people in the crowd to cover it. If someone up here wanted to pay a bunch of money to bring the guys up then I’d play with a full band all the time. So we’re just working towards that.
Are there any songs that you can only play with live band one way or the other?
Mike Pinto: Definitely! There are definitely songs that don’t sound as cool acoustic as they do with the full band. I don’t play “When the Beach Meets Ocean” acoustic, honestly, because it’s driven by the bass and drums really hard. Even “Backburner” I end up humming or whistling the horn lines. I don’t want anything to sound janky, so anything like that doesn’t make the cut. But you know, if someone bugs me enough, I don’t try to take myself too seriously when it comes to set lists, but if someone keeps telling me before the show they really want to hear a song and I’m comfortable playing it then I’ll probably end up playing it. I want people to come and not be aggravated that I didn’t give them the songs they wanted. Plus it’s just me up there so I have to take all the brunt of it, or the slack if I don’t give them what they want. But how I see it is that I drove all this way and I’m not going to play just what I want to hear, I can do that at home. I like to play what other people want to hear, it makes me feel really happy.
Tell us about the acoustic show you did recently in San Diego with Iration and Through the Roots…
Mike Pinto: Oh yeah, it was great! They all had their full bands but it was a very stripped down set for everyone and there was more acoustic guitars. It was a very chill living room kind of vibe but with 1,400-1,500 people. It sold-out and that’s always a rush. I was the only one that played solo and I opened the show, but I had a violin player for a couple songs which was really cool, and which will be on the next record. It’s this chill kind of dark song I have that I really like, “Last of a Dying Breed.”
Did you do any collaborations with any of those bands? What songs? Any plans to work with any of them again in the future?
Mike Pinto: You know, they were on all tour and we just didn’t get a chance. I especially really wanted to work with Micah Brown, he’s a really good friend of mine and he’s still on a track with me that I haven’t even released yet. I like his guitar playing and he’s a hell of a singer, which is why Iration picked him up! He’s just a very talented guy.
So you have an unreleased track with Micah?
Mike Pinto: Yeah, it didn’t make the record last time, it just didn’t get finished. There’s a few songs that I didn’t get finished in time for that record and I almost feel like that record got a little rushed. I booked a 9-week tour… I’m independent so a lot of the work is just mine and then my agent’s at the time. And now, I just kind of took a step back from touring to experience life and get new experiences. I don’t want to make shitty music or put shitty records out. When you’re on tour all the time and your only experiences in 3 or 4 months are seeing a van and going from gig to gig, it makes it hard to be creative like that.
Getting back to your question, there was a lot of touring for both of us and we just couldn’t get it finished. I still want to release that track though, and it’s more folk too. He’s got a great folk sound to him. So I’m hoping we can finally re-cut that and tweak it a little to get it on one of the next records.
Regarding your upcoming tour, what triggered you to go back out on the road? Do you want to play some of those new songs live before finalizing them for the next record?
Mike Pinto: You know, I had a lot of vocal issues over the past 2 years and I’m finally getting over that. Part of the reason I didn’t tour as much is because I couldn’t get past it; my vocals were just burnt-out. So it was kind of a crazy experience to go through that. A lot of singers go through it, but it was a little longer than I would’ve liked. My voice is finally feeling really strong, so I wanted to get out there and start pushing a little bit. I’m hoping to get my crew, with horns, to hit the road again but there’s still a lot of things to put together and I’m still searching for a new team to work with out here [in Oregon] as far as management and booking.
Watch: Mike Pinto – “Tricky Nicky” (LIVE and ACOUSTIC at Jazzbones in Tacoma)
Watch: Mike Pinto – “Last of a Dying Breed” NEW UNRELEASED (LIVE and ACOUSTIC at Jazzbones in Seattle)