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Pines - Interview

  by Julia Willis

published: 11 / 6 / 2002

Pines - Interview


The former frontwoman with Black Tambourine, Glo-worm and the Castaway Stones, and now singer with the Pines, Pam Berry is one of the most influential figures in indie pop . In a rare interview, she talks to Julia Willis about her long career

Pam Berry is a rare mixture of genuine warmth, character and individuality. Meeting me at the station in a quiet suburb of London, we agree she’ll carry a tulip umbrella for identification. Later I learn this is indicative of Pam’s love for quirky, vintage things. Her house is a treasure trove of to-die-for vinyl and 1950's and 60's kitsch that fits her personality perfectly. As we chat idly, sifting through her back catalogue and old editions of 'Chickfactor', the fanzine she co-edited with Gail O’Hara, I find it hard to believe this intelligent, grounded, soft-spoken woman, whose current group is the duo the Pines, has become almost a cult figure in indie-pop circles, but she’d hate me saying that… "Oh pur-leaaase!" When you know where to look for it, you can find evidence of Pam Berry’s influence on the indie-pop scene just about everywhere. Having fronted a number of collaborations in her native Washington DC, she moved to England in 1998. "I came over for love basically because my now husband I met one Christmas when I was over here with friends. I came back to give it a go and I never left. Now I’m legal !" From Black Tambourine in the early nineties to Glo-worm, the Shapiros, Seashell Sea and the Castaway Stones and a couple of others in between, Pam was a prominent figure on the indie-pop scene in DC. Influenced, according to critics and by Pam’s own admission by UK bands such as The Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, they very much created their own sound. "We always played music with people we knew. Dan, our drummer in Glo-worm, the Castaway Stones and the Seashell Sea was my next door neighbour and good friend. The only reason I ended up the singer in Black Tambourine was because I was friends with all the guys who wanted to form the band and there weren’t that many girls around singing at that time. Dan had this fantastic basement, so we used to play shows in his house." As I leap on the Castaway Stones’ sold out CD, 'Make Love to You", I notice familiar names. Pam and her fellow band members moved with each other from one collaboration to the next and each was fairly short-lived… "It was just people moving or doing other projects that took too much time up. Everyone was always into different kinds of music and wanted to explore that. Archie (Moore) and Brian (Nelson) eventually wanted to concentrate on Velocity Girl. In Glo-worm, Terry and his wife won the Australian residency lottery and went off to Australia for a couple of years. When I left DC, the Castaway Stones had to end." To me, these bands, putting out records so different from the rather more prominent punk scene in DC at the time seem almost like a mission statement, as if they were trying to say something… "It was a lot like that. "We’re doing this and we want you to hear it." Black Tambourine came about out because Archie and Mike (Schulman) had started the Slumberland label and wanted to put out records. Nobody else was putting out stuff like it so we thought we’d do it ourselves. We never really had a plan. We just thought, "We’ll play. We’ll do some shows. We’ll put out records" ‘cause that to me is the most fun, to put out records" "Did you consciously set out to do something different?" I pull out a big pile of paper and explain that from what I’d researched, if you ever want to be considered as knowing anything about the indie-pop scene, you had better know about Black Tambourine! "Well I guess it was different from anything else in the States at that time. I know a lot of people over here listen to it and go – "ah, that’s the shoegazers…". I just don’t think we sound like that. To me it’s more like Sixties girl groups with Jesus and Mary Chain combined with Suicide or something like that … you know, all the different stuff we were listening to, just because we couldn’t execute it well… we came out sounding the way we did. So no we weren’t, I’m sure, thinking "Ah this is gonna change people’s lives". We just thought it would change our lives. It was something we wanted to do. " I read through the track listing of the impossible-to-find Black Tambourine 10” compilation she hands me, lauded by the critics as being seminal indie pop, even credited with influencing bands today. "Oh God, now that’s funny! It’s just strange isn’t it?! (She shakes her head, genuinely flummoxed as to what the fuss is about…) I guess people get to hear it more now because Mike and JJ from Fantastica put out that Black Tambourine compilation" "Things like the Castaway Stones and Black Tambourine are like gold dust." "That’s strange to me…" ‘It’s become almost cult’ She laughs… "Seriously? It strikes me as really odd that people over here have heard of us because it was just fun and noisy guitars. I suppose I would kinda expect some people in the states to have heard it, but not over here…" It’s odd she mentions that people may not be aware of her music here in the UK as she’s previously been quoted as being profoundly influenced by the music released on Sarah Records. Sarah was a Bristol based label "dedicated to the dying 7” single, to cheap pop, to emotion’" (Julian Lawton) – rare values she clearly espouses herself. Their aim was to "release 100 of the world’s greatest pop records". The release of Sarah 100 was accompanied by an announcement in the Melody Maker: "stopping a record-label after 100 perfect releases is the most gorgeous pop art-statement ever" (Sarah Records) "I was still living in the States when they were coming out with records that were just completely musically inspiring, like the Orchids. I mean I thought I’d died and gone to heaven when I first heard the Orchids. I just felt like people were doing things that just had my name on ‘em, like I should be listening to this stuff and that’s always exciting. As I get older I find so much less stuff excites me that way and so much of Sarah did, beyond the politics of them, just the actual music. I just don’t listen too much any more. It’s only Sarah records that I go back to. I never got to see any of them live at the time. I have since and it was exciting, but it wasn’t like I can imagine living here at the time of Sarah. It must have been amazing.’ Rather, I feel, like it would have been living in DC when Black Tambourine, Glo-worm and The Castaway Stones were playing and releasing records. Although on reflection, I remember reading somewhere that most of Pam’s bands didn’t actually gig that much officially. She’s been quoted as saying she enjoys smoking more than she does playing gigs. A grin spreads across her face and she laughs "I don’t smoke any more!" "Didn’t Glo-worm only play a few gigs and only really get together when you were recording?" "Yeah. We didn’t get together really to practice unless we were recording or if we had a show, but we only played maybe… I have a terrible memory!... I think we only played about five or seven shows the whole time. When we did practice, it was usually just the once a couple of days before the show. That’s why it was a bit nerve wracking. We always pulled it off, but it was never structured. Especially with Glo-worm, Terry would have his guitar part written and I wouldn’t have my lyrics written until I was at the studio and like,on the way to Archie’s in the car." "So, is everything unrehearsed and unplanned? Does the improvised style and the number of short-lived collaborations in bands say something about the way you view the performance of music?" We both look at each other, as we realise what I’ve just said, before both shaking our heads and giggling: "Nooooooooo!" Pam and I come from the same school of "winging it" . There is no plan dammit. "I have this fear of sucking when playing live and doing a terrible job in front of people. But, I’m also very lazy so it’s kind of a combination of that too. I probably practice more now. We don’t play Pines shows without practicing at least a couple of times. Back then maybe it didn’t matter as much to me if we pulled it off or not and we were just all busy and lazy. I know it sounds crazy to be both of those but we just were. We just had too much going on but at the same time sitting down to practice seemed like a chore, until you actually did it and then it was fun. Castaway Stones always practiced regularly or tried to, just because it was a social thing, and Glo-Worm was social , but we just never got around to it more than anything and you know, it was a lot of …’ She shrugs as we both say together, "winging it!" I pull out a copy of her latest 7”, which is pressed on reassuringly chunky vinyl that we both decide makes you feel like you really own something. The Pines, her latest collaboration with her friend Joe Brooker, take their name from her old neighbour Dan’s basement, which was pine-pannelled in the 1950s. "It’s got a built in pine bar so we used to have shows done there, a great place, a checkerboard floor…. they had a huge pine tree out the front of the house which is gone now sadly. it died." The Pines are often spoken of in the same breath as the Clientele as having a "London sound". Pam’s even sung on one of the latter's records – '(I can’t seem) to Make You Mine'. "I suppose the fact that your roots are firmly in the DC indie scene, means that automatically anything you do here will be considered influenced by London" ‘Well Joe’s from London…" "So do you think that makes the Pines sound different?" 'Yeah, I think the Pines sounds different to any other band I’ve been in. The others had a lot of the same members, played very differently and were influenced by different things than Joe. Any kind of band I’ve been in that had a certain sound is usually down to the way they play guitar. I’ve played guitar in some of the bands. I’m just a singer,. Mostly I don’t write guitar parts in a lot of the songs, especially in the Pines, probably less than quarter of the songs, so they’re gonna have the sound of the other person. I love the Clientele, I adore them but I don’t think we can sound like them just playing Pines stuff. People very often when they haven’t heard something before will associate bands that have the same instruments as sounding like them… I think a lot of the Clientele sounds are very melancholic and moody in a way that I think we can sound sometimes…" "So, how did you end up working with Joe?" "Joe knew my husband and we became friends before I knew he played music. He’d heard some of my stuff and said, "well, I play guitar." I don’t know. We didn’t really have a plan. We just decided to get together and try to write some of our own songs.’ I notice the box Pam’s been looking through as she speaks contains old copies of 'Chickfactor' ‘Zine which, started in 1992 and still going strong today, she edited with her friend Gail O’Hara for a few issues. In an interview I had read with Gail previously she’s said that Pam has the right idea about music. "(She's)totally devoted to it, yet she does it without making demands on the music to give her a living." "I would be crazy to say it wouldn’t be great to be able to support yourself doing music. Iit would be fantastic to do that. But often way the industry is set up, there are few occasions when people can have complete control over what they do and still make a living from music. I think you have to do things you don’t want to do. You may make decisions you might not otherwise make to sell records. If someone started buying millions of Pines records I wouldn’t say no to earning a living doing it , but I wouldn’t tour eight months out of the year either..." The pile next to me grows larger as she generously thrusts vinyl and magazines into my hands to take away with me, telling the story behind each one. We talk on and on… sifting through the vast vinyl archives of her past… surrounded by curios from the 50s and 60s who have almost as many stories as Pam… I could stay here all afternoon… Editor's Footnote : Pam Berry rarely allows photos tto be aken of herself. The phot at the top is one of the very few of her in existence. The remaining photos that accompany this article are pictures of some of her various singles and albums

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Pines - Interview

Pines - Interview

Pines - Interview

Pines - Interview

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Interview (2007)
Pines - Interview
Sarah Johnson chats to Pam Berry, the former front woman with indie pop cult acts Black Tambourine, Glo-worm and the Castaway Stones, about her career and her current band the Pines recent compilation, 'It's Been a While'


True Love Waits Volume Two (2003)
Well-performed, but somewhat indistinctive new mini album from indiepop duo the Pines, whose singer is Washington C86 veteran Pam Berry
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