In Conversation With Pins

Sometimes in life you can time gigs to absolute perfection.  

The night is a Friday? Yes.
The venue is absolute quality, with a decent bar and canteen? Yes.
The band that’s playing have stage presence to die for? Yes.
You’ve loved them for seven years and they’re still on the ascendency? Yes.
And you have the privilege of talking to this band? Yes.  

Although the above does read like that terrible answer/response Meatloaf intro (my fault), there’s no question that this Pins gig was going to be a powerful display of how driven musical hooks can render a crowd insane.  

Formed in 2011 by fashion photographer Faith Vern, Pins very quickly established themselves in Manchester as an authentic post-punk outfit.  By 2013 they were signed, and man alive have they flourished since. Supporting the brilliant likes of Dum Dum Girls in 2014 and Sleater-Kinney in 2015, the same year touring the U.S., incredible KEXP Radio session performances while there, the list goes on and on.  In 2016 the highly coveted British Music Embassy residency was for Pins’ taking at the vast SXSW multi-media festival in Austin Texas (only the very best of the hot-tipped UK bands ever make it onto that stage).  All these high calibre moments only come from creating music that’s powerful, authentic and flawless live. There’s no doubt in my mind that Pins have done this.  

So while sitting in very comfy sofas upstairs by the bar in Belgrave Music Hall, soundchecks done, couple of beers and a few pizzas, I’m with Faith (lead vocals/guitar), Lois (vocals/guitar) and Kyoko (bass/vocals).  

Since November I’ve been smitten with The Orielles remix of Ponytail by Pins, so being curious I started by asking Faith how they all went about it.  “We decided to meet them in person rather than just do all the talking online; it all seems better and more polite that way. We go way back with them anyway – touring locally.  The Orielles are sound.  They finished their remix at Eve Studios Stockport; really cool studio.”  

I looked at Lois to ask her a question but 50% of a pizza slice had just gone in her mouth and she looked like she was in heaven, so I didn’t have the heart to spoil that moment for her.  We talk later; I will be amazed.  

I asked Faith what it was like for Pins and The Orielles all sitting in front of the mixing desk waiting to hear what The Orielles had done with Ponytail. “Well, we were like, oh! my God what if it’s sh*t!? Hahaha!”  We laughed about the whole concept of that dreaded moment of diplomacy, having to pretend that something’s great when it’s not. “How am I going to hide my reaction if I don’t like it?” Faith asked herself, “But we REALLY liked it; we were really happy with it.”  

The first time I played it I was standing in my lounge, volume on full tilt, loved it.  Thankfully I have elderly neighbours who are deaf. “EH?!” asked Kyoko…in full schoolboy error mode I started repeating myself to the very satisfied Pins bassist.  

Thinking about so much of the music scene being online now, I asked Faith how she’s found this. “Today, you can be a person in a band who just kind of sits in a box with a computer, with no experiences.  Your fans can be really famous, clicking like-like-like-like on everything. And it’s ‘So you’re really successful but you’ve not moved from this box, you’ve just posted tunes online’. I wouldn’t want to live like that without proper interaction – having a good time WITH people, getting out from behind the computer and doing something.”  Faith certainly wasn’t having a go at anybody; it was just an observation that the music scene is 90% online now. We mulled it over that this ‘online-in-a-box-music-scene’ is definitely throttling the character and charm of bands and artists who focus on ‘likes’ more than anything else in the whole world.  

It’s refreshing to know that Pins physically got with The Orielles to discuss The Ponytail remix, and physically got with them to hear the finished track, everybody seeing everybody else’s faces as it were.  So there’s zero hypocrisy in what Faith is saying. How they approach creating their music and touring their music, shows that when you have something good, the ‘likes’ take care of themselves. Concentrating on the art is the clear message.

We moved onto the writing process within the band. I asked Faith to break down how they do what they do. “This album (out in May) I wrote quite a lot, solely on my own.  I wrote Hot Slick, Ponytail was the three of us and I wrote the lyrics.” I asked how much of jammin’ things out makes it through. “Well, that’s it, with Ponytail we didn’t have a drummer so we put some beats on a machine.  We just share instruments; we don’t give a sh*t who plays what. I was playing guitar on this and that, but whatever ideas we have, we just play it, on whatever. It’s not like I’M THE GUITAR PLAYER! It just doesn’t matter.”  

We got onto the whole issue of gender equality within the music scene.  The positive shift of egos within bands finally seeming to be disappearing.  This nurtures and builds confidence, so that presenting an idea is now a positive thing, not a scary thing.  All you egomaniacs in bands take note – you know who you are!  

So onto Hot Slick, their new single which actually features on its cover art the legs of Ailís, who delivers some very strong and cool backing vocals live.  If you’re foolishly thinking Ailís is just another backing singer with nice legs, have a word with yourself and have a look on Instagram at Jordanallenuk, and you’ll see that along with powerful vocals she’s also an incredible drummer.  It definitely takes great qualification indeed to be a member of Pins. So thinking about the production side of things I ask Faith what it’s like releasing their precious ‘baby’. “Haha! We’re just finally glad it’s out there now.”  

“GET IT OUT!” fires up Lois.  I’m starting to get flashbacks to two occasions I was on the maternity ward.  Faith continues “We actually recorded it a while ago.” I mention the whole process of getting a record done and ask if it still feels precious in mind for touring. “That song does, ’cause it’s really one of my favourites.” And mine.  

Kyoko smiled “We really enjoy opening with it; it’s really fun, a good buzz.”  Faith thought for a bit then laughed “We already knew it’d be the one that would open the album, even before we’d finished the album. Yeah, that’s gonna be the one to start it, and it’s the one to start the set.  It’s changed from when it was first written, because we’ve had so long working on it, we kept coming back to it.” Kyoko agreed “and also Richard (producer/engineer) suggested a few changes.”  

We had a drooling chat about all his vintage synths and precious authentic tape delays. “Oh yeah, we went down to his studios a lot over a couple of years; we were back and forth.  We got to have a good go on everything!” Faith laughed. Kyoko got pretty animated “He was always keen to get the Juno out, and all these different other synths, ‘right let’s add a bit on this, let’s add a bit on that!’  It was nice to be able to spend so much time doing that.”  

Their sound engineer, Richard Woodcraft, has a very fine portfolio, working on In Rainbows for Radiohead, What Did You Expect from the Vaccines? for….well surely you know who for, The Age of the Understatement for The Last Shadow Puppets (Alex Turner), Form and Control for The Phenomenal Handclap Band, Funeral For a Friend, James Morrison, the legend Neil Young……  You definitely get the idea.  Pins have incredible talent within and also around them, to capture and nourish the sounds they come up with.  

Faith went into the intricacies of using all the studio tools. Basically she said that all the synth sounds they put down using Logic and all the samples were run through it too, not just for Hot Slick but also the rest of the upcoming album, a very vast project indeed.  I asked Kyoko what she used in the process, and Faith answered “She uses her phone – voice recorder!” “I USE MY IPAD!” Kyoko fires back! I just said “Woah…WOAHH! Kyoko went from keyboards to bass; leave her alone man!” Faith reassured me “She’s multi-talented really.”  

Sound checks from other bands finally forced us out of our oh so comfy sofas at the side of the bar, plus Lois had finished fighting her pizza (the pizza lost – it wasn’t pretty) and she was free to talk.  So Faith, Kyoko, Lois and myself ventured backstage where it was quieter. The interview was now about to become informal, incredibly feisty and downright surreal. Pins are officially insane.

Backstage, Faith is up the stairs in our little mezzanine, sitting down on the little balcony peeping at me through the bars.  Lois is next to her on the last step, standing up directly above me. She could quite easily kick my face off with her white leather/gold toe-capped boots, so I’m proper treading carefully with this one.  Kyoko is milling about up and down the stairs like we’re in some kind of real-life Donkey Kong arcade game. Next to me on the corner sofa is Abbi (drums) and Ailís (vocals/Hot Slick Artwork/professional drummer).  Next to them is Ost. This guy is funny. Sound engineer, front of house live mixer, for (amongst others) the likes of Superorganism, The Specials, The Orielles and of course Pins.

Being curious, and keeping one eye on Lois’s boot, I carefully asked him what the name Ost means. ‘It’s German for east….and Swedish for cheese’.  Straight away I’m in the territory of ‘If a tree falls and nobody is there, does it make a sound? His delivery was everything; I wish you could’ve heard it.  

I asked all the Pins if there’ll be any teasers coming out between now and May, following the release of their new single Hot Slick. “There’ll be more singles but we’re not telling you what they are; that’s the tease,” Lois said, with a glint and a smirk.  “Why not?” I asked. “Top Secret! You’d have the title but you wouldn’t be hearing it anyway.” Fair point. Having said this Lois, I have Kyoko’s setlist now with many new titles on it so ner ner!  

(I’ve just realised while holding Kyoko’s setlist in front of me now that one of my favourite new songs performed live last Friday was VERY sneakily hidden between Serve The Rich and Young Girls, so my ner ners to Lois have backfired.)  

I asked Abbi and Ailís when they got together with Pins.  “You first…” Ailís looked at Abbi…”About two years ago, just over.”  How did it happen? “TINDER!” Kyoko declared from the mezzanine. Giggling well and truly kicked in, then Abbi negates the accusation “We just kind of knew each other anyway.”  

Faith made it clear “We were just looking for a drummer; we met Abbi and Serra.  We actually had two drummers for a while; we played some shows with two drummers because the stages were dead big with it being festivals, so we could.  Then we could only use one drummer after that as normal stages are smaller, and it was just Abbi – she stuck. Then Ailís joined.” I asked how and Ailís answered “Yeah, I’ve been with them a year.  I’m mates with Ost.” Ost… a legendary, gifted man of mixing and deep thoughts who leaves you thinking existentially ‘Should I travel east? Should I eat cheese? Should I travel east while eating cheese?’  

Although it’s a while ago now, I was curious about the KEXP sessions they did.  “It’s just one of those things you’ve always seen and admired. I’ve watched loads of bands over the years on it that I’ve liked on there, and then suddenly…we’re there!” Faith said in an excited undertone.  “But in reality, we’d been driving all night; we were completely exhausted. We’d played a gig the night before.” “We had one hour’s sleep,” said Lois. “We were just looking for WATER!” Faith cried. We all had a laugh at the dehydrated Pins for a minute. “But then you do it and then you’re buzzing again afterwards.”  

I had another go at drawing them out on the new album, asking about the upcoming new songs “Well, we’ll be playing some of the songs tonight so you’ll have to guess which ones are in it.  You’ll have to whittle it down from the old ones (‘whittle’ – you can take the girl out of Manchester…), depends how well you know us haha!” I assured them I know their songs well, and also my kids know their songs well.  

I mentioned how they’re all from Manchester and Kyoko said: “No, I’m not, I’m from Milton Keynes.”  Quick as a flash, Lois chips in “ERRR, but you have told us about FIVE times this week that you HAVE lived in Manchester for TWELVE years!”  Nah, you are no longer from Milton Keynes Kyoko, as much as your name does scan well with the town name.

Thinking about touring, I asked what they loved most about life on the road (obviously ignoring the laborious journey time).  Lois, sounding really determined, said: “Just doing something different every single minute of every single day.” I mentioned one thing she definitely does every gig day is bounce and move loads on stage.  “She has a lot of energy,” Faith proudly declares. “That does get amplified actually through touring, because you’re just sitting waiting to get to the next place all the time. But then that’s the best thing I think, just always being somewhere new.  It’s really exciting and stimulating. I would do it all the time if I could. You get into a rhythm: new people, new places, anti-social hours, interesting people, interesting places.”  

It really resonated with me what Lois had to say, and all that she said really does show in her performance.  Her face is absolutely lit, soaking up every nuance from the crowd; she’s totally connected with them. You can’t fake that.  Whether it’s stomping towards Faith while sliding up the power chords for Serve The Rich, or doing a head slide while firing out some killer staccato hooks from one of their new songs, that as you’ve read earlier they will NOT tell me the title of!  We’ll all find out soon…  

Lois continued “We do nine to five but it’s PM to AM!”  They’re all falling about laughing now. To be fair I was too. We’re all kind of acknowledging the absurdity and wonder of it all, while at the same time thinking it’s the greatest music-related thing you can do.  They’re still laughing, firing abuse at themselves, and I’ve had a few beers and they’ve had a few glasses of wine, so I do the fake serious “C’mon, get it together,” then after a few spray laughs we were composed again….ish.  

I asked them what they all did before PINS took off.  

“I worked at Boohoo.com” said Faith, “Who who?” I asked.  “BOOOHOOO.com.  I did fashion photography”  

One down four more to go.  

In the most bemused voice I’d heard all night, Kyoko mumbled “I worked at YO! Sushi.  I had to recommend food I’d never tasted. I’d look at customers, point at whatever and say ‘now THAT is really tasty’.”  

I looked at Lois.  This was going to be good… “I did many many things.  I was a curator of art.” I asked her what this entailed.  “It was called The Lionel Dolby Project, for upcoming curators who took up a residency there to showcase their art installations.  It was based under a railway arch; there was a gallery space. We hosted exhibitions, all sorts of things.” I asked Lois if there was anything about it she missed.  “Hmmm, do I miss it…I remember thinking there are two big things – I’m going to have to just do art, or just do the band; it was all too much. It’s two different worlds and I think the band is something different all the time, more of a challenge and more immediate as well.  It’s something I always thought – the band was just so exciting, really changing all the time, a constant challenge.  

I’m on bottle number whatever of beer now, and for some strange reason I asked Lois “So how did you hook up originally with Vernie then?”  

“With who!?” Lois asked, a little wide-eyed. “I thought you said Bernie!”  

I pause for a few seconds, wondering why on earth I called Faith VERNIE!  Before I know it they’re all chanting “Vernie! Vernie!” I’ve lost the interview control of Pins yet again.  They’re just falling about laughing and I feel like a softly spoken supply teacher who daren’t take off his anorak in class.  But, suddenly I felt compelled to ask in a loud voice “C’mon! How did you hook with The Vernmeister? C’mon, spit it out about the Vernmeister General!”  

Ost, Ailís, Abbi, Kyoko, Faith and Lois have all just lost it now.  I’m suggesting bizarre song titles, asking if the Vernmeister General needs a whip to establish order in our crazy little mezzanine, so I guess I’ve lost it too.  

After waiting so long I get an answer, the benign, magnolia walls answer, the answer that’s dead on arrival, the answer that makes you think of Alan Titchmarsh staring into the middle distance while listening to The Lighthouse Family. “Through mutual friends….hahahahaAAAH!” they said.  I just Segwayed into eating my burger, asking the rest of my questions with my mouth full.  The post-punk philosophy is very infectious; Pins are raucous, very assertive and constantly buzzing.  You can’t help but genuinely love them.  

Finally, Faith gives me an answer. “So in 2012 I was looking to make a band, and then Anna joined, who’s…left” Everyone falls about laughing yet again, including me.  Faith continues “Essentially, Anna introduced me to Lois and got her involved. Lois came along and did a little performance for us; it was dead cute. She sang and played guitar. It was a Breeders’ song.”  

“I played Off Me by Breeders and Rid Of Me by PJ Harvey.” Lois said.  (It’s actually Off YOU by Breeders Lois – winky face.  Yes, I did listen back to this interview like you said I should – another winky face, ahhhh!  Anyway, back to it. My mini-gloat is over.)  

It was Faith and Anna who saw something very special and unique in the cute, that’s right…CUTE audition Lois gave, so they decided she was definitely in the band.  I asked Lois which Breeders song it was again, as I didn’t hear her initially. ‘Do you not remember?’ she asked in a very sinister tone. “It was REALLY rowdy. I tried to listen” I said.  Her gold toecaps were glistening in the mezzanine light. Was she turning on me? Was I about to get a toecap in the temple for my trouble?  

Faith continued “Also at the time (2012) we were looking for someone to be the singer and play guitar, because I just wanted to play guitar.  Then Lois said ‘Why don’t you just sing?’ I was like well…ok, I’ll give it a go. Initially .we both sang two songs each?”  

Lois answered Faith “Yeah, we did a couple each didn’t we, but because you were a bit nervous, I remember you were like ‘Aw, I’ll show you the songs but it’ll just be us.  So we went to play together, but then that’s when I was like, you can sing them REALLY well! There’s really no point me learning it.”  

“Then Lois got more into the guitar and pedals and all of that,  and I just got more into the singing and then…here we are!!! But all this happened while we were just jammin’ in a room for a year; we hadn’t done any shows.  We kept thinking should we do a gig at some point.”

Lois “We didn’t think anyone would come, or be into us.”  Faith “But then we sorted a gig, people were counted and we were like ‘F*&@!?G H@!L THERE’S SEVENTY PEOPLE HERE!!’ Couldn’t believe it hahaha!”  Lois “I thought what’s going on?! We’re getting off the stage like….wow! Yeah, there’s actually people here; it’s happening.” Faith “It’s on YouTube.  You can find it!”  

Lois mentioned that alongside Pins, she was also running a round table ping-pong nightclub and everyone loved it.  She booked bands, alongside the ping-pong matches. She coordinated these as fundraisers for various charities, while also working as a curator for The Lionel Dobie Project, a venture that specialised in research and nurturing of upcoming artists and curators.  To be honest, when Lois first mentioned this whole multi-faceted life of venture for her, I just kind of politely nodded. Following the interview, I looked online and saw for myself the scale of what’s been achieved. Mindblowing. Essentially, this unassuming bouncing, head sliding, stomping, passionate performer that’s Lois McDonald has all the qualities of a kind-hearted entrepreneur.  Who knew that? All concealed on stage by a bouncing, dancing rock star on guitar…

Anyway back to Pins!  I asked where this very special debut gig of theirs took place. Faith and Lois both chorused together “Islington Mill.”  It’s maybe a bit speculative of me, but I could see a little bit of pride in both of their faces, they have achieved so much these past eight years.  This gig at Islington Mill with just seventy people, for me lines up with the likes of The Ting Tings, Joy Division, Stone Roses and Lamb for that feeling of true nostalgia.  

It was time to part company and for Pins to work their magic on stage.  So good to have been able to spend some time with this very special band.  

All photographs by Mark Wheelwright.

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Stal writes on contemporary music, covering gigs and festivals in and around Leeds with huge energy and enthusiasm, teasing out interesting snippets of information from the artists he interviews.

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