Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday September 30th 2014

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Giving Up the Ghosts

By Sarah McCartan

A typical interview with local band Pioneers! O Pioneers! consists of sipping on beverages of choice, including PBR and orange juice, while engaging in what I like to refer to as “down-home porch talk.”

Our most recent encounter was no exception.

Despite this interview being conducted at the home of drummer Jason Leger and lead guitarist/vocalist Michael Bishop, this time around I sat down on the front porch with the other two Pioneers—guitarist Ben Rockwell and bassist Joe Napier—to converse about Pioneers’ first full length album, “New World,” and their upcoming release show.

In keeping true to this album being their most honest effort to date, Pioneers elected to do a live recording, working with Pensacola native and friend, Paul Kimsal. Thanks to the support of family, friends and fans alike, through the Indiegogo fundraising platform, the band was able to raise enough funds to cover the actual recording costs.

Although scheduled for official release Friday, Nov. 8., I had the privilege of getting my hands on a copy of the 10-track album early so I could take a sneak listen. The album contains updated takes on a few established tracks, interspersed with ample new material.

“If you’ve come out and heard us live you’ve probably heard a couple of the songs. But even those didn’t come out exactly the way that we’ve been playing them,” said Rockwell.

“It was the last six months leading up to recording that we really wrote the majority of the album,” he added.

The lineup includes title track “New World,” and “Back Into the Dust,” the first two tracks the band released online last month. While “New World” carries a slightly heavier weight, the upbeat “Back Into the Dust,” catches on so quickly you’ll find yourself singing along before you even know the words. The remaining tracks on the album possess a similar synergy and balance.

As an unexpected element, listeners will find themselves greeted with a different voice on one particular track.

Not only is “And, How Will I Find You There?” the longest song on the album, it’s one that serves as both an interlude and a heartfelt ballad. A follow up to the track directly preceding it, it’s a song Rockwell brought to the table, and one he takes the lead on for both guitar and vocals.

One line in particular stands out: “It’s all for you.”

It’s a song Rockwell wrote to his wife—a love song.

“I hope that other people can find something in that as well where they’ve had to carry out selfless acts of love for somebody and that this can be a song that touches their heart,” he said.

As a whole, the album is communicated like a prayer and seeks to paint a picture of the Pioneers’ search for honesty and truth, as it gracefully carries you through from one song to the next.

“There’s definitely a set order to the album,” said Rockwell. “Each song was meant to run into the next one—almost like a concise story.”

While the album represents the band’s own search, the hope is that it resonates with listeners much in the same way.

“It’s almost like we found some of the answers and some of the truths we were looking for in writing it,” said Rockwell. “We hope that some question we pose resonates with the people who are listening and maybe helps them search themselves and our music to find an answer.”

Though the album signifies a new chapter for Pioneers, their newest chapter happens to be Napier himself.

“I came in two weeks after they finished recording,” said Napier. “I’ve sort of adopted the album. It’s funny because it’s not mine and I didn’t have a hand in writing it, but I feel partial ownership. It’s a very inclusive album—especially playing it—it really feels like I have a part of it.”

“I think that speaks to us hoping that it resonates with people,” noted Rockwell. “Joe coming in is almost a testament to that.”

On top of being the most vulnerable they’ve been individually, the album serves as both a bold statement and true testament of who Pioneers has grown into together—a true collective entity.

“It’s definitely got its own life and it’s definitely us. It’s not just little pieces that we’ve each put in. It’s collective,” said Rockwell. “Every note and every word is a small piece of the entire prayer of the album to our friends and family and the people who just want to listen. The hope is that they’ll not only find a piece of themselves but a piece of us in it too.”

“Every lyric and every note is very intentional and placed where it is for a specific reason,” agreed Napier. “It doesn’t sound like any part of the album is meandering around, it just sounds very purposeful.”

For the album release show, in keeping with the story-like essence of the album, Pioneers will be playing the album in its entirety.

“We want people to hear and feel what we put into it so that way when they get their album and take it home, they’ve got the same thing. And that’s the entire reason we did it live too—to capture the feel and the emotion and even the quirks,” said Rockwell.

On the visual front, the album art, designed by fellow local musician and artist Nathan Dillaha, was inspired by a painting found just outside of the Pioneer household, next to a trashcan. The painting temporarily lived on Bishop’s speaker cab but acted as a sound muffler, and was nearly discarded, that is, until it was resurrected to guide the artwork.

The painting was deemed by the band as “epic, unknown and emblematic” and seemed to capture the essence of the album wholly—almost as if they were riding down the river into the unknown, or into a “new world.”

But, what about the ghosts?

If you are familiar with Pioneers, you surely have made note of the ghost references, after all, it is the title of their first EP, “There’s No Ghost Left to Haunt this Home.”

“New World” is living proof that rather than focusing on the representations of past hopes and ideas coming to an end, the band is clearly moving forward—continuing their quest for honesty and truth. As a natural part of their story and progression, they have given up some of the ghosts along the way, so to speak.

“We’re exorcising the ghosts,” said Rockwell, with a lighthearted laugh. “It is Halloween and we’re sitting by a Jack O’ Lantern after all.”

Still there remain strong influences of spirituality, and the powerful presence of expansive sounds that perhaps redefine the otherworldly essence, presenting it in a newfound light.

“It’s a new world for Pioneers,” said Napier. “I think it is representative of where we’re going.”

PIONEERS! O PIONEERS! CD RELEASE SHOW
WHAT: Pioneers! O Pioneers! with other acts TBA
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8
WHERE: Vinyl Music Hall, 2 S. Palafox
COST: $5 cover; CDs available for $10
DETAILS: pioneersopioneers.bandcamp.com