Deep below the Mason-Dixon Line, where kudzu covers the trees and the rebellious South will supposedly rise again, lies the Pine Hill Cemetery in the city of Auburn, Alabama. It's been said that the cemetery is haunted by one Jethro Walker, a local resident who was murdered in 1858 while sitting alone in his parlor, reading the Good Book. But if dear old Jethro does indeed roam those hallowed grounds, he might have run into a young Jamie Barrier, lead singer for self-described "Alabama Ghost Country" band, Pine Hill Haints.
"I didn't know how to play guitar and sing at the same time," says Barrier. "So I used to go out to the cemetery and practice doing that. It was the only place I could go where no one could hear me or see me." Except Jethro, of course.
In addition to being an ideal late-night practice spot, the Pine Hill Cemetery was the inspiration for the band's name ("haint" is Southern slang for ghost) and their haunting country sound. The band performs on a bare-bones instrumental setup of washtub bass, mandolin, washboard, a lone snare drum, guitar, and a little accordion here and there. It's all capped off by Barrier's accented howl, a molasses thick voice that exudes a Southern charm, but can let loose and howl like a man buried alive. The foundation of the Haints' songs lies in wandering spirits (Jethro, again), shallow graves (2004's Calvin Johnson recorded Bury Your Hate in a Shallow Grave), and, of course, hobo-haunted ghost trains.
"I've always been told there was a ghost train that went through Auburn, Alabama, along a place called Wire Road—it's an old train bed," explains Barrier. "There are all these accounts of hobos 50 or 60 years ago talking about one going through there." The lyrics to the song—titled "Ghost Train," of course—tell a similar story, "Here it comes, 11:59/Ghost train/I ain't ever seen that train again."
While it might damage the air of secrecy that lingers about the band itself, the Haints are about to become a whole lot less mysterious. The band recently inked a deal with Olympia's K Records, which is set to release a brand-new full-length, titled Ghost Dance, on November 6. Until then, it's more tour dates, as this gypsy caravan full of haunted musicians rolls through town after town, sharing their ghost stories along the way. Jethro would be proud.
Pine Hill Haints perform at Valentine's on Sunday, August 12, and at the Alberta Street Public House on Tuesday, August 14.