I'M SITTING ACROSS from Joe Davis, frontman of prodigious Portland punk three-piece Pinehurst Kids, attempting to pry information from him on the history of his band, his thoughts on the etymology of the term "emo," and his connection to the '90s punk scene in this city. Honestly, he looks like he'd rather be somewhere else. To me, however, this is fascinating shit. I'm relishing the opportunity to speak with a local indie luminary. (Full disclosure: Luminescence aside, Davis day-jobs as the Mercury's production manager.) But even when I try and throw him a curveball, I get the sense that I'm boring him.
It's possibly just exhaustion I'm picking up on. In his 40s now, Davis is slightly grizzled, with a perpetually sapient and somber expression on his face that even manages to oppress his wide smile and suggests a thoroughly calloused heart. He's nursing an Americano, recuperating from the previous night's debaucherous photo session (pictured above), when he tells me precisely where he believes his band fits in the emo continuum.
"I like to joke that we're 'pre-emo' or 'premo,' because the term wasn't around yet when we started," Davis says. The reason I'm so curious is that the Kids' first three records, released in 1997, 2000, and 2001, are considered landmarks of the genre by many, myself included—but apparently this isn't a label Davis and his bandmates, Gene Hall and Robler Kind, personally embrace or apply to their music.
Davis says, "We started about the same time that Sunny Day Real Estate did, and I wrote most of the songs off our first album before I had ever heard of them, but when I finally heard their record, I was like, 'Oh shit, we're drinking the same water.'" He explains that the band wasn't consciously a part of any scene, and was retroactively lumped into the coterie of emo forebears.
"We were around when it all started—but I started playing that music literally before it was defined," he says. Pinehurst Kids cut their teeth playing what Davis describes as the "new old-school scene" on the heels of grunge, sharing basement bills with lodestars like Richmond Fontaine and Sunset Valley, evenings that were defined by "a lot of weed, momentous turnouts, and appearances from the police." After releasing the three aforementioned records to moderate fanfare, they went on hiatus before returning in 2009 with an exquisite comeback EP, Later'd (which Davis professes was written during his "dark period").
The band disappeared again for a brief three-year period, but with two releases in 2012—two songs on a split 7-inch with the Wolfman Fairies, and a brand-new five-song EP, Nobody Talks—Pinehurst Kids appear back for good. And in spite of mortgages, parenting responsibilities, receding hairlines, and expanding waistlines, Pinehurst Kids have thankfully retained the aggression and youthful zest that defined their earliest work (as opposed to mellowing out, which many artists and critics alike equate with "artistic maturation").
"There was a time when our shows were well attended and the sort of music that we play was what people were into," says Davis on the current state of music in Portland and, specifically, its fixation with what he describes as "bucolic" folk-rock. "I don't think there's a huge market, or any big scene for loud music in this town, but that's fine. There will always be people who like that stuff and it's not a reason to stop playing. I mean, we could start a new folk band and call ourselves the Bearded Birds of Yesterlore...."
Don't even think about it, Joe.