FOR PINEGROVE'S Evan Stephens Hall, making music is his life's hub. Everything else is just a spoke in the wheel.
"I took [college] seriously, but if I was writing a song I would always prioritize that. Even if I had a homework assignment, if there was a melody running around in my head, I resolved that I would catch it," Hall says from the back of a tour van somewhere between Houston and Austin, Texas. "Because I see all of these other aspects of my life as supplementary to writing songs. I love reading novels, especially in as far as it informs my songwriting and makes me a better artist. I love visiting museums, especially because it makes me think about songs differently."
Hall's intense dedication to music has tripped him up here and there—he says he "pulled so many all-nighters" at Kenyon College—but it also fuels Pinegrove's power and precision. Last month the band debuted one of 2016's best albums so far, Cardinal, on Run for Cover Records.
At just eight songs and with no particularly boisterous peaks or bleak valleys, Cardinal is emotionally accessible and effortlessly appealing. It sets Hall's restless vocals and anxieties about life and loneliness against the warmth of an unassuming guitar-rock band and, most distinctively, healthy doses of twang—a rollicking banjo here, the swoop of pedal steel guitar there.
Hall formed Pinegrove with friend and drummer Zack Levine in their hometown of Montclair, New Jersey, where their fathers played together in roots-rock bands, and still do. "They practice at the house, just like us," Hall says.
The dads' band covers "the adult hits," as Hall puts it—think the Beatles, Little Feat, Bonnie Raitt, and so on. Around the house, Hall's mom played records by Gillian Welch, Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, and Gram Parsons. Roots music naturally seeped into Pinegrove's sound.
"I'm attracted to that stuff. That's good American music," Hall says. "Maybe there's a part of me that wonders what authenticity means in American traditional music. And [as] a kid from New Jersey, how can I tap into that in a meaningful way and learn from songwriters... that I consider really authentic? That's definitely a huge question for me."
What's more certain is Pinegrove's future. Hall and Levine went all-in on the band after college, and only now, at 26, is Hall making enough money to move out of his parents' house. Shows since the release of Cardinal have been increasingly well attended, and the tour that brings the band to Portland—headlined by nu-emo faves Into It. Over It. and the World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die—is Pinegrove's biggest yet.
Hall's taking the surge in stride. "We have a lot of momentum right now, I think. We've been playing really well, so I just want to do it in front of as many people as possible at this point," he says. "I say that now, but as soon as we walk out on stage at Irving Plaza and there's 1,000 people there, I may wet myself a little bit."
He's kidding, of course. Hall is quietly confident about his songs and ready for wherever Pinegrove's heading next.
"I really don't feel happy unless I'm making music and writing songs," he says. "Finally I think I'm graduating into adulthood, where I've made the thing I love into the thing I'm just doing."