Pinkish Black Lights Up
The guy perusing the Southside tavern’s beer cooler, with his long curly hair, hoop earrings, and black leather motorcycle jacket, was practically cinematic in the way he fit the metal-dude stereotype. Overhearing a nearby conversation about Pinkish Black, he immediately shifted focus.
“I saw them at South-by [Southwest] this year,” he said. He’d gone to a club but didn’t like the band he’d come to listen to. He was about to leave, but then he heard “this weird music, like if Twin Peaks had a metal soundtrack, or like Gary Numan mixed with Om. They were unbelievable, like nothing else.”
The description — pairing a New Wave icon with a critically acclaimed two-piece known for meditative, doom-influenced jams — is probably as close as one can get to encapsulating Pinkish Black’s sound. And while none of the music will likely find its way into a mainstream radio playlist, their songs bear an undeniable pop sensibility.
Shimamoto described Pinkish Black as “raw, gut emotion.” Like many modern synth-based bands, Pinkish Black harks back to the dreamy pop of ’80s forebears like the Cocteau Twins but deftly escapes the trap of post-millennial irony. “There’s terror in the music, and it’s theatrical by design, but it reminds you of a certain sound,” Shimamoto said. “At the same time, it’s not a throwback. It’s entirely its own thing.”
Still, this is a band formed in the aftermath of a suicide, named for the color of the bathroom walls where Atkins’ body was found, a macabre but sincere tribute to their dead friend. In the way that the second Yeti album was an expression of three men trying to understand the death of Doug Ferguson, Pinkish Black’s first year was a means of processing more heartbreak.
Teague agreed. “The whole process of the band has been like therapy. We’ve been a band since February of 2010, and the two and a half years have been crazy in both good and bad ways.”
“We were both drunk a lot,” said Beck of Pinkish Black’s early months. “I carried around one of those pocket bottles of Jim Beam, always had a handle [larger bottle] of it on the kitchen table. That first year was like that for me, at least until we went into the studio.”
The studio session proved to be an exit from the pair’s self-medication, resulting in the band’s self-titled debut, produced and engineered by Matt Barnhart at Echolab in Argyle and released in 2012 by Denton indie label Handmade Birds. The album quickly garnered critical acclaim from media outlets throughout Texas, eventually catching the ear of Pitchfork.com, the national taste-making site that routinely straddles the gap between the worlds of indie and mainstream music.
In June of last year, Beck and Teague traveled to New York to play the Show No Mercy metal showcase, co-sponsored by Pitchfork and Wierd Records during Brooklyn’s Northside Music Festival. The show would be a major turning point for the duo.
The way Beck tells it, he and Teague both knew the gig was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For Beck, it justified letting go of one of the bits of consistency that had kept him afloat in the wake of Atkins’ suicide. “My dad and stepmom had an interior decorating business that I worked at for seven years,” he said. “Summer is our busiest season, and there’s basically a ban on any time off. I knew I couldn’t take a vacation, so I quit. If nothing worked out, I figured I’d deliver pizza.”
A job at Domino’s, luckily, would not be in Beck’s future. Their performance that night caught the attention of a talent representative from renowned international metal label Century Media.
“We’d played before with this black metal band from New Hampshire called Vattnet Viskar,” Beck recalled. “I think they’d just signed with Century.”
Steve Joh, the Century Media A&R rep who signed Pinkish Black, credits Nick Thornbury, singer/guitarist for Vattnet Viskar, with putting the Fort Worth band on the label’s radar. “Nick called me after that first show,” said Joh. “He said that [Vattnet Viskar] had been destroyed by this super-heavy band that was only a two-piece and that we had to get them.”
When the two bands met up again at the show in New York, Beck talked to Thornbury. “He said it like the label guys were joking, because I guess they thought we wouldn’t even be interested since they’re a metal label, and we’re not a metal band in any traditional sense,” Beck said.
Pinkish Black signed with Century Media shortly thereafter, leading Teague last December to quit his job too — a position at Half Price Books he’d held for a decade.
“It was a big risk for me, but I knew I’d regret it for the rest of my life if we didn’t take our chances,” said Teague. “I asked the Vattnet Viskar guys how they liked the label, and they were pretty positive. They seemed like they were going to be able to quit their jobs, and they said the label had been pretty helpful with tour support.”
Teague pointed out a van, parked outside Beck’s house, that Century Media had rented for Pinkish Black’s recent tour with Kylesa, a well-known doom metal band from Georgia. Kylesa, coincidentally, had been the opening act for Yeti’s final show.
From the valley of despair following Atkins’ death, Teague and Beck, through their new band, seemed to have finally clawed their way back to hope and daylight. Century Media was ready to press and distribute their second album worldwide as well as the remaining unreleased Great Tyrant material. Tour possibilities in support of other national metal acts were bandied about, and Pinkish Black even opened for ’80s goth rock pioneers Christian Death, a “bucket list moment” for Beck.
Despite the upturn of events, grim clouds still lurked on the band’s horizon.
Pinkish Black’s star would climb during the months after their first album debuted, but the period was far from peaceful. Calamity struck Beck even closer to home.
“My sister died in October from a … combination of drugs, and my dad killed himself in March,” he explained.
Beck declined to talk in detail about that time; suffice to say that the coping mechanisms he’d used to overcome the heartache of Atkins’ suicide were not enough. Depression, coupled with the physical toll of excessive drinking, took him perilously close to the edge, to the point where he sought professional help.
“I was in the hospital four times in three or four months,” Beck said. “I’m OK now; I guess it was all about going through some extra steps that the alcohol couldn’t carry anymore. I should’ve expected to have some sort of problems with all that shit happening at once.
“Before, with Tommy’s death, that was a little different. It happened, it was horrible, but we had a vehicle to work it out on. This other stuff that I went through, though, I tried to keep doing it the way I had with Tommy’s death, but eventually I had to put the brakes on and just stop everything. For a bit there, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to play anymore.
“But you know, it’s like, my dad and my sister, they both made those decisions. There’s nothing I can do about it … . What’s happening now is a lot of other craziness, but it’s moving in a positive direction.”
It’s ironic, then, that the positive direction is rooted in sinister, moody music. “It’s part of the reason why I’m not a miserable fuck, because our music is miserable — I save that for the stage,” said Beck.
Teague concurred. “I’m not really happy unless I’m playing drums,” he said.
Pinkish Black, for all its darkness, is at its heart a pop band. Beck claims to know little about metal other than what he learned from Teague and Atkins.
“We’re not really a metal band. I think it’s the easiest way for people to categorize us, but just about every song I bring to Jon, it starts out on the piano in there,” he said, pointing toward his den. “They start out sounding like Carpenters songs almost” — especially on Razed to the Ground, the new album released by Century Media, in which Beck’s baritone is largely free from the distortion and effects of their eponymous debut. “Basically, what we’re doing is if you took ‘Superstar’ by the Carpenters and blasted it through blown speakers.”
Ferguson and Atkins are still their guiding spirits.
“Whatever those two create,” Nathan Brown said, “they’re definitely expressing an energy that goes way back to Doug and also Tommy. Jon and Daron burn with a similar creative light.”
Shimamoto sees Pinkish Black as that light’s best manifestation. “I think what they’re doing, it started out as an amorphous experimentation that solidifies more with each iteration, from Ohm to Yeti to Tyrant,” he said. “If a music fan is open to some darker, more brooding concepts of pop music, then I definitely think that band has a ton of appeal.”
“I learned so much from playing and being around those guys,” said Beck. “It’s like my right hand is Doug and my left hand is Tommy.”
You can reach Steve Steward at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday w/Vulgar Fashion, Cutter, and Duell at Lola’s Saloon, 2736 W 6th St, FW $8. 817-877-0666