Behind the Beat: Homecoming Kings

Led by dual songwriters Matt Hunter and Peyton Pinkerton, Valley-based band New Radiant Storm King has been blasting its brand of angular, anthemic indie rock for two full decades. The two longtime friends—who both also sing and shred guitar in their long-running rock outfit—have managed to somehow hold things together while negotiating an ever-churning music industry and a cavalcade of ups and downs that would have torn weaker bands asunder.

Formed at Hampshire College in 1990, the group's two remaining originators, augmented by Western Mass luminaries JJ O'Connell and The Mitchells' Caleb Wetmore, are currently on a month-long cross-country tour—their first in over a decade—in support of their ninth and most recent full-length, Drinking in the Moonlight (Darla). The trek culminates with a celebratory homecoming show in Northampton on Sept. 25th.

The quartet's lineup is as rock-solid as ever, both live and in-studio, thanks to drummer O'Connell and Wetmore on bass. The two musicians contribute an impeccable rhythmic foundation and were integral in the recording of Drinking in the Moonlight, an album that maintains the melodic and musically adventurous nature of past NRSK works while revealing an even deeper layer of emotionalism.

Pinkerton took a break from some quality tour-van time to talk about the music industry, long-term relationships and rocking out onstage with Guided By Voices' Robert Pollard.

Valley Advocate: When you started the band, did you imagine that you'd still be playing music together today?

Peyton Pinkerton: I couldn't imagine not doing it, but I always knew that bands broke up. I knew you had to run with it when you could. We've always done what we could to keep it going: replacing band members, changing labels. I think about it like a relationship—you're happy being together, so you want to keep it together. But no, I didn't think we'd be together this long.

Is the "band-as-marriage" concept applicable to NRSK?

Between me and Matt as band leaders, I guess there's something there like a second wife; wife or mistress. I've been with Matt longer than any girl. But there's probably a better analogy than marriage. More like a long-term relationship, as in people say to you, "You've been together a long time. When are you going to tie the knot?" or, between the two of you: "Hey baby, where do you see us in five to 10 years?" But we just always wanted to make one more record, go on one more tour. I don't think a real relationship would withstand it.

What's been the response to the latest album? How was it, playing it live sequentially start to finish?

Playing it live recently in Noho was great—no one had heard those songs, but they had heard a lot of old songs, so they knew us. Unlike with other albums, we worked on this record without playing things live before we recorded them. So we're playing shows and people are showing up for our shows, but I'm not sure if they've actually heard the new record. We aren't sure about the response to the new record, but audiences are really responding to the new songs live. When we've loaded new sets with new material, it has made them really successful. We are playing the new songs with gusto.

How has it been reconnecting with fans on this tour who haven't seen you in a decade or so?

It's been very cool. You think people forget, but we have people come to see us who are coming out for the first time in 15 years. And we see younger people who never saw us before, like those whose older brother introduced them to our records.

Could you list a few band highlights over the years, or favorite moments?

Going to England and Scotland on tour in '98 was great. We never thought we'd get overseas and always wanted to do that. It was a pretty important moment. Being joined by Bob Pollard of Guided by Voices onstage in Chicago in '96 playing "Outdoor Miner" by Wire was another highlight. Last summer, we opened for Polvo in Boston. They're a band we always admired and have been friends with—partly because they came up out of the same thing. They broke up and now they're back and it's reassuring that they're not trying to sound like some new thing, throwing electronic drums and synths into their music or something. Seeing a band like that is about making great music: it's timeless, it doesn't go away.

What's next for NRSK?

With the current state of music and the music business, I truly have no idea. I've never been certain of anything, actually. I'm always going to write music. Matt's always going to write music. Unfortunately, no one's making money selling records. But no one's holding a gun to our heads to do this—it's all self-drive.

New Radiant Storm King plays with North Carolina natives and alt-rock legends Polvo Sept. 25 at 10 p.m. at the Iron Horse in Northampton. For more information, visit http://www.newradiantstormking.net.

Author: Matthew Dube

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