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Pinmonkey drives on

By Jeffrey B. Remz, November 2002

The buzz was on the upswing for Pinmonkey around its home base of Nashville over the past few years.

But after two albums released this year, practically unheard of these days in any musical genre, garnering the all important ingredient of radio play, despite the fact that Pinmonkey plays a mixture of bluegrass and Poco styled country rock, touring with Brad Paisley and Lee Ann Womack and a bit of an unusual name, the acclaim is growing.

"We've had a good year," lead singer Michael Reynolds readily acknowledges in a cell phone interview from Salt Lake City about 10 days after the band's major label debut was released on BNA in October.

The self-titled disc from bassist Michael Jeffers, his brother Chad, who plays guitar, banjo, Dobro and lap steel, drummer Rick Schell and Reynolds, includes decidedly unexpected covers of Sugar Ray's big hip hop hit "Fly" and Cyndi Lauper's "I Drove All Night" along with "Barbed Wire And Roses," the first single from the 11-song release.

In this day and age when Faith Hill has abandoned country music with "Cry," and most of what folks hear on the radio isn't your father's country, Pinmonkey knew what it wanted, according to Reynolds.

"We sort of set up a couple of different goals when we first started, and we talked about these with the record label about this before we first signed, so they knew where our head was at," says Reynolds.

"We didn't want to make a collection of singles," says Reynolds. "We wanted to make an album that was a whole in and of itself. We wanted something that sort of held itself together cohesively and nicely as a whole."

"They were fairly receptive because they realized we were a little bit different animal than most. They understood. Not that they didn't have their say and input in what we recorded, but we did have long discussions about why we are recording such and such songs. There were really good songs that we did pass over because they didn't play into (that). It was almost an intangible thing that we were readying for. We couldn't quite put it into words, but we knew it was. It was hard convincing the label from time to time that we really didn't need to put (a particular) song on the album, but we tried not to be difficult (and went) into a logical argument. More often than not, they deferred to us."

Reynolds also says the goal was to make an album that had legs. "The way we looked at it is we could make an album we could point to in 10 years and say we made a damn good album that we could proud of. So many artists will come in to talk about their first album and apologize for it. They come in and talk about the second album saying the first wasn't the album they really wanted to make. That's not what we wanted to do. We wanted to make something we were proud of. This is something we have to live with the rest of our lives."

The first week out, the disc sold 9,100 copies, so a chunk of people may be living with it also.

Reynolds, who wrote two songs, sings lead with some helping harmonies from Schell and Chad Jeffers.

Perhaps the most surprising choices are the covers of "Fly" and "I Drove All Night."

"You know how sometimes you have a song stuck in your head?" Reynolds asks. "I had 'Fly' stuck in my head one day. I was driving (in Nashville). I was singing out loud. Basically, anything I sing out loud comes out (sounding) bluegrass, and I thought, 'huh, that might work.'"

"I presented it to the guys," says Reynolds, not expecting them to go for it. But to his surprise, they told him they thought the band might be able to work it up.

"It's catchy and stuck in my head," says Reynolds. "It pretty much just clicked from the get go."

According to Schell, 'We didn't sit there and say we would do some pop act's song and do it bluegrass. At first, we were laughing, and then we were playing ("Fly") at live shows. We said, 'wow.'"

"I Drove All Night," which will be Pinmonkey's second single, was a hit for Lauper in 1989. Her version of it is a bit industrial sounding. Not exactly a song obviously translatable into a bluegrass-oriented song.

The song found its way to Pinmonkey because Chad Jeffers was dating a woman who was a big Lauper fan. She lent him a CD with the song. ' "He just thought it might make a good song," says Reynolds. "The approach we took on it when he said something about it, instead of the band listening to the song, I said he should give it to me and (have) me break it down to its bare acoustic skeleton and work the song from there. We wouldn't work from any preconceived notions."

Schell, 35, had no concerns about tackling such non-country song. "A good song is a good song," says Schell in a separate interview somewhere en route from California to Las Vegas. "It can cross genres. We had our own style, so no matter what we do, it comes out the way we do it."

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