The Pine Hearts bridge bluegrass and Americana with punk roots

Article Contributed by HearthMusic | Published on Thursday, December 2, 2021

It’s not many artists that can say that they’ve written songs in Antarctica, but for Joey Capoccia of Olympia, Washington Americana band The Pine Hearts, the South Pole was just another place to stop and look for inspiration. Working as a carpenter for the National Science Foundation, Capoccia holed up in the South Pole Station’s greenhouse to write the song “Wouldn’t You Know” on The Pine Hearts’ new album, Lost Love Songs, coming February 18, 2022. Traveling and songwriting are two constants in his life, with other songs written while playing with friends on Kauai, or traveling through California’s wine country, or rolling around in Nashville. “It’s probably true of a lot of songwriters,” Capoccia says, “that you need to be in a tiny quiet place to write a song. So, while traveling, you end up in these tiny nooks or crannies you find, a closet, a beach, wherever you can go to get away from people and hash the songs out.” On Lost Love Songs, Capoccia brings together the punk DIY songwriting aesthetic of Olympia, Washington with a lush strain of Pacific Northwest Americana and bluegrass. His songs call to mind lost times with old friends, moonshine passed around a campfire, and late night jam sessions afterhours at festivals. It’s music made by three friends for a rainbound Northwest community looking for reasons to dance.

Recorded in the tiny rural Oregon town of Enterprise, The Pine Hearts worked closely with maverick Americana artist Bart Budwig to produce the album. The core trio of Capoccia on guitar, Derek McSwain on mandolin, and Dean Shakked on bass was joined by banjo player and erstwhile Pine Heart Lob Strilla and fiddler Bevin Foley (of Trout Steak Revival) to make a well rounded ensemble for the recording. Though Enterprise is home to a surprisingly rich world of roots music, The Pine Hearts had been touring through the area for years, playing a little cowboy bar called The Range Rider. Hearing stories about the album’s recording, you get the impression that the week of recording passed quickly, with after-work swims in the local lake and picking parties on the side. That’s The Pine Hearts ethos: music as an excuse to travel and travel as fuel for their creative fire. It might be because they all hail from Olympia, Washington, a small city known for its insular DIY scene. While punk musicians in town came up with revered local label K Records, music was largely made for the local community, rather than made to be toured outside of the area. Capoccia founded an underground punk band, The Pasties, and remembers well his favorite gigs at the time: playing under the bridge in town for an impromptu crowd of friends and fans, singing so hard and for so long that he started tasting blood in the back of his throat. While Capoccia came out of the punk scene, mandolinist McSwain came straight out of Olympia’s bluegrass community, long fueled by the Wintergrass festival and by expat communities of North Carolina Tarheels in little logging towns tucked into the woods. Bassist Shakked adapted quickly to bluegrass bass, though he came from Olympia’s metal world before joining The Pine Hearts. Each member of the group came from a different background, but they all came together to represent a new kind of Northwest music, something original in nature but that harkens back to a shared past.

With Lost Love Songs, The Pine Hearts are making roots music for dancing, using travels throughout the world to find little moments of time to write something new, to try out a new idea. If natural themes keep popping up in the music, mentions of verdant forests or windswept ocean, the natural beauty of their home is surely to blame. “Do I write songs about nature because I live in Olympia,” muses Capoccia, “or do I live in Olympia because I like nature?” Either way, the result is that their music echoes with the dense tangle of Northwest rainforest, rings beneath the eaves of Washington's Cascade Mountains.