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Pines - Interview

  by Sarah Rowland

published: 7 / 1 / 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'

It is always a strange thing to meet some one who has been playing in bands and making great music for a long time. You never know what to expect. That’s why going to meet Pam Berry at her London home (so she could get the kids settled and have time for a chat) was something not to be missed. Pam and Joe Brooker have been making music as the Pines since 2000 when they had their first release on a compilation that came free with an issue of Papercuts magazine. A seven-inch on a friend's label came next. For the last four years the Pines haven’t released anything. Now at last there is a new record out, a twenty song collection of singles, compilation appearances, and unreleased tracks, the aptly-titled 'It's Been a While'. It has come out on Matinee Records, which also released the Pines' last record, the 'True Love Waits Volume Two' EP. “It’s great to have a record out, I always wish we had recorded more but you don’t really have time. We started recording more over the last two years and we had several unfinished songs, but Joe has been really busy with his job and I’ve been really busy with the kids so its been difficult,” said Pam. Pam and her husband Mike have two daughters. The youngest happily blows bubbles sitting on the sofa as we talk and her toddler naps upstairs. While Pam was enjoying being a mum recording music took a back seat, but the new album brings together old songs and new songs that have been recorded in the last four years. “What we did was, we took at least one song from every seven-inch, unless it was really widely out there already, but some stuff was released before on CD and it came out again just because we really like it. So we just took little bits from all along the way." “With the seven-inches, they come out with three or four songs on them and it is planend that way. It’s OK for them to stand on their own and they go together. Then when you have just a few songs from different releases it isn’t planned like that at the time.” Some songs on ‘It’s Been A While’ do sound very different from each other, but the album floats along and feels like a fluid body of work, if anything, benefiting from the differing sounds that several years of recording brings. “I was pleasantly surprised at how much I still liked all the songs. It’s a lot of music to be in one place without you thinking, ‘You know what we did this on that song so let's do something else on this other song,’ because you don’t plan ahead like that. I’d like to do another album one day, actually think about it and plan a whole album.” With both Pam and Joe busy with family and work there has not been much time outside of recording to play live gigs, and you will be very lucky to see them do a gig in the near future. Pam said: “We haven’t played in several years. We used to play almost every year. My friend Gail used to do a Christmas show at the Bush Hall in London. We used to play that. But last time it was on I had just had a baby so we couldn’t play and the time before it I was heavily pregnant and just didn’t want to be on stage. Joe is actually doing a show with our friend Tim down in Exeter and it made me think, ‘Oh they’re doing a show,’ and feel really jealous! We might do a backyard barbecue at some point and play something then.” For someone who has played in several bands and has been making music since university it must be strange not to be playing to a live audience, but Pam says that, although she misses playing live, she doesn’t miss the wave of nerves it brings. “I miss it but I hate it when we do it. I actually get really nervous, I get terrified. Once we do a show it’s really fun and I kind of wish we did it more so I could just get over the nerves." “I enjoy the recording because you can sing your part as many times as you want and get it how you like it, or at least until you don’t think you could do it any different.” All the Pines songs are now recorded at Pam’s home on a 16 track recorder. The sound quality,however. is really clear and well put together, the home recording only adding a warm glow to the sound of the music. “When we first started our friend Mark used to record us on his Mac. He has moved to New York now. We needed to record some stuff and we just thought, ‘Hey let's just buy something,’ so my husband and I bought a 16 track home studio. It’s just a little studio with some mics but it’s been great." “You can sit around for a bit, do some recording, then go to the kitchen and make a pasta bake, have a coffee break. When we’ve recorded in studios, it's really exciting to use expensive equipment, but it’s a little more tense. You’ve got some ne at the controls and you can’t go, ‘Can I do that again?’ Plus you don’t have to pay for it, I mean you pay for the equipment up front, but if it’s not working one day it’s not like you’ve booked time. You can go back to it the next weekend.” Pam’s husband is now their resident producer. “Mike just taught himself how to use it. I can’t use it very well, I just pretty much turn it on and off, so without him it wouldn’t sound as good.” Since moving to Britain from America Pam has been incredibly busy. The past two years have been taken up with having babies and moving house, but she is hoping now that things are settling down there will be more time for music and also her other passion, craft making. “I do a lot of crafting stuff, I like to make stuff and sew stuff. I started making button jewellery, mostly just for friends. For my daughter’s birthday party I just made all the party bags, stuff that the kids wont care about but I made play dough for all the bags and things like that.” Crafting has become more than a hobby for Pam, and she even admits to having five sewing machines at her last house. “I only have two now but I’d love to have five again. I always have stuff on the go, but unless there is a deadline for things, like those bags for the birthday party. It’s hard to get things finished." “I’d really like to do it from home as a business. I do a lot of screen printing and baby clothes. I’d like to get more in to making jewellery and stuff like that, start an online crafting business. I just like doing stuff with my hands.” Pam moved to London with her then boyfriend, now husband, and although the decision came at the right time, Pam has noticed making music is harder here than at her native Washington DC. “I had been at my job for eight years and my girl friend, who owned the house I was living in, wanted to move back so the timing was great. And although I’m on several real estate lists to check out what’s going on at home, I don’t think I’ll be moving back to the States." “I do find it more difficult here to get together and just play music. In London unless you all live in the same kind of area it just takes ages to get across town. Before I could just pop around the corner to someone’s house, play a few songs and then go home." “Luckily Joe lives in South London as well, but I have friends that play music that live in North London and we could never just get together. It would involve a lot more planning.” Pam first started playing in Black Tambourine when she was at university. She got together with some friends and, even though no-one could play any instruments, they all decided they wanted to give making music a go. “We were all friends at university. We listened to music a lot and one of my friends, Mike, worked in the best record store ever. He bought a lot of records so we would go hang out with Mike, listen to music, and I think one day we all just thought ‘We should do this.’ There wasn’t many girls so I got to sing and it just happened like that. I worked at the radio station and some of my friends set up shows. It just grew from there." “Everyone just kind of picked up an instrument and in the first band everyone just switched around. No-one wanted to play drums. Everyone wanted to play guitar because they were leaning how to play guitar or bass, so pretty much who ever wrote the song got to play guitar and everyone else would just play the drums or whatever. I didn’t because I couldn’t play any instruments in that band. All I did was sing and play the cow bell or do some xylophone action." “The rest of my friends all got really good, they stuck to it, practiCed and went on to do stuff that we would never have thought any of us could play.” Pam went on to make music with several bands including Glo-Worm, the Shapiros and the Cast-away Stones, but she says this was never planned and just happened gradually. “I got involved with bands just through friends really. The bands weren’t all running at the same time, I would just meet some one who needed some one to sing. Some of the people I ended up playing with a lot, but they were all in bands at the same time as well, different sounding bands, so they’d have a pop band and some crazy noise band. You just ended up doing lots of different stuff." With so many different sounds throughout her music career it must be hard to pick a favourite record. “That changes week to week. I’ve been listening to the Black Tambourine stuff again and really loving that at the minute. It’s as much about the times we had making the music, because we didn’t make that many records or play that many shows but it was the time we had together doing it. I still like the Glo-Worm records a lot too. It’s really hard to pick a favourite. Every record I listen to I hear stuff and think ‘I could sing that better,’ but overall and right now I think Black Tambourine is a favourite." While making music Pam also co-edited a fanzine, 'Chickfactor', with long term friend, Gail O' Hara. After working at the same weekly paper both decided they wanted to write something of their own. “We worked at the same free weekly news paper together in DC, called 'City Paper'. Then Gail moved up to New York and we decided to do 'Chickfactor' so we could interview people we liked, and pick their brains about music. She was working at a music magazine and wanted to write about music she really liked rather than what she was assigned. So we just gave it a go. Gail still does it online and I keep thinking I’ll get around to interviewing people and contributing but I don’t, kind of like it always was."

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Interview (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


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
Please Dont Get Married (2002)

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