I had never seen Hank Pine’s face prior to our interview. On stage, Pine is a man of many masks. From the iconic and imposing gas mask artifice Pine dons whilst sharing the stage with his long time collaborator, Lily Fawn, to the Mexican wrestling mask he wraps tightly around his head for his solo project, the Hank Pine Experience, Pine is consummately protective of his anonymity. Pine’s face was conspicuously bare, however, when he came to the red door of Chinatown loft to welcome me to our interview: the illuminated transparency of Pine’s glasses foreshadowed his gentle, quiet candor throughout our conversation.
Even without a mask, Pine provided much in the way of distraction. As we took our respective seats on adjacent couches next to his apartment’s yawning, open windows, it was almost impossible to focus on the subject at hand. Pine’s home is a testament to he and his partner’s respective sustained, inexhaustible creative urges. Their palace abounds with colour, texture and antique aluminum toys: splintered sounds from the Gates of Harmonious Interest’s crippled speakers drift through a window propped open by a lone and abandoned Canada Dry bottle along with November’s cold and biting wind. Pine, the jeweled center of his own imaginative storm, sat still for the entirety of the interview; his composure sat in stark contrast to my own distraction.
Fittingly, our interview was conducted in Pine’s contemporaneously ancient Chinese loft. Most of the songs comprising Pine’s most recent release, Late Night Spirituals, were recorded at his loft shortly after he moved in. Pine borrowed a wide assortment of instruments from a now defunct music store in Fan Tan Alley for the recordings. Aside from Carolyn Mark’s piano splashes on the song “‘Epitaph’, Pine plays all of the instruments on the album: he plays them well. Former Pine-House inhabitant, Megan Boddy lends her distinctively elegant and tasteful harmonies to many of the songs as well.
Late Night Spirituals is the genesis of Pine’s commitment to the inevitably impoverished life of a real musician. While the album was released early this year, it was recorded in the fall of 2006. A close listen reveals the sullen sounds of October rain falling upon window pane on songs such as “None In Ev’ry Port”. Late Night Spirituals lends itself to the season of night quite nicely: it breathes in darkness and exhales light.
Ironically, Pine’s musical origins were preceded by a confrontation with his own mortality. Months prior to the sessions which produced Late Night Spirituals, Pine nearly died of blood poisoning while en route to New Orleans.
“That experience gave me a different perspective” Pine says “It gave me a hunger and a will to survive that I didn’t even know I had. It made me think that how you spend your time is up to you. You should do what you feel is most honest: for me, making music is the most honest thing I do, whereas all the other stuff isn’t really who I am or what I want to do. It was a wake up call.”
Late Night Spirituals, like most of Pine’s recordings, is accompanied by a comic book.
Unsurprisingly, the book’s rendering of Pine’s affliction, even in black and white and blue is much more colourful and vivid than his own corresponding biographical reality. As Pine says, “my comic book character is me with all the positives and the negatives exaggerated”. Whereas a fleshy, dirty cavity of Pine’s absent wisdom tooth nearly killed him as he was en route to New Orleans and forced him into life as a musician, the comic book analogue of his story depicts Pine’s poison in more dramatic terms: here, Pine is attacked and killed by a swarm of giant scorpions.
While Late Night Spirituals is best experienced while flipping through the record’s complimentary comic book companion, the album stands on its own as well. Pine’s diversity of musical styles, arrangements and vocal approaches is astounding. Sometimes Pine sounds vaguely reminiscent of Tom Waits (“Yggdrasil”) sometimes he manages to match Rufus Wainwright’s sonorous vocal beauty (“Island Republic”) and yet, in all his splendid, singular diversity, Pine always sounds like Pine.
Late Night Spirituals reaches its mournful climax with “Life After Penelope”, a song which confronts death head on, albeit flinchingly so. The song is written in character, yet is so evocative and so emotionally involved, that Pine refuses to play it live. “Life After Penelope” engages a bleak reality of the absence of afterlife. The crippling, dead weight such knowledge infuses into the death of a loved one is simply too much to bear.
Pine’s vocal tone throughout the song can only be described as perfect: it has made me cry every time I listen to it intentionally. The song can be found on analogue’s first mix tape at the end of side A: please listen.
Pine has kept busy since the recording of Late Night Spirituals. Along with Lily Fawn, Pine has released five albums, each with their own accompanying comic book drawn and written by Pine himself. More recently, Pine has been involved with local theatre company, Atomic Vaudeville, regularly designing sets for their acclaimed “Ride The Cyclone” which is set to hit Broadway in the foreseeable future. And still, Pine’s primary affections reside in the musical realm. As Pine suggests, the release of Late Night Spirituals is a mere sip of a musical chalice, overflowing.
Pine has two albums worth of material waiting to be recorded and released, however, in his own words he “couldn’t, in good conscience, release them without giving Late Night Spirituals its due. It’s probably the work [he] is most proud/ashamed of so far, and it would be ridiculous to keep it in shadowed shelves any longer.”
To this day, I am unsure as to whether or not I met Hank Pine the night we spoke. I met one Hank Pine, that’s for sure, but his solitary, quiet voice has since been drowned out by the multitude of masks and voices that purvey his recorded work. Hank Pine is difficult to define: at once a sketch and a full, poisoned-blooded human. Hank continues to captivate with the veritable myriad of voices and instruments at his disposal. We are looking forward to his next record very much.
Listen to Late Night Spirituals at www.hankpine.com
words by Nick Lyons
photos by Ilijc Albanese
for the full photo gallery, click here
originally published in analogue magazine’s Dec 2013 issue