By Michael Hamad
5:00 PM EDT, October 30, 2013
Two years ago, Daniel Hinman and Sarah Versprille quit the folk-rock band Vetiver, left New York and moved out to Portland, Ore., where together they've been taking Pure Bathing Culture, their own electronic indie-folk act, very seriously.
With Vetiver, the duo had started writing together, slowly. "We didn't become incredibly ambitious," Hinman said by phone from Eugene, Ore. Producer Richard Swift, visiting the duo on the East Coast one day, heard some of the songs and suggested they make it their primary focus. The timing worked out, too; Hinman and Versprille were about to go on tour for 18 months behind Vetiver's Errant Charm record, which meant a steady paycheck and the excuse they needed to give up their pricy New York apartment.
"Deciding to leave New York had a lot to do with taking the band more seriously," Hinman said. "It allowed us to dip our toe in the pool, so to speak."
The couple settled on a "simple place" in Portland, Hinman said, where they began the long process of writing songs and launching PBC. "It started to open up at that time," Hinman said. "I think we wrote a lot more at home, between tours, but we wrote some stuff on the road as well."
The resulting, strong tracks on their Swift-produced, self-titled EP and new full-length album, Moon Tides, effectively transfer their folk-rock tendencies — the type of stuff they might have played with Vetiver, or just on their own with Hinman on an acoustic and Versprille's bright voice — into an electro-pop framework. There are drum machines and synths, underneath Hinman's jazzy, suspended chords. There's a yacht-rock feel to much of it, and a noticeable avoidance of anything resembling dissonance. "Pendulum," the breezy first single, swings along to hand-claps, synth pads and Hinman's agile fingerpicking.
"We were never considering making it an acoustic-based record," Hinman said. "Some of the songs were written in more of a folk style… That's why some of them can translate… We feel like the EP and the full-length are just an extension of each other. Both of them feel together like one big album, really."
Delving into the world of 808s and harmonizers, Hinman said, was partly inspired by listening to J.J. Cale and British post-punk band the Durutti Column. Playing around with various machines led to new song ideas and a needed focus on sharpening their live-machine skills. While it might have been simpler to grab a laptop and Ableton Live, Hinman said they preferred vintage, manually-triggered equipment. "For us, [a laptop] didn't seem like the way forward," Hinman said.
Pure Bathing Culture plays a free show at BAR in New Haven on Nov. 6 with Widowspeak and Hanging Hills. They've experimented with adding band members (they currently perform as a four-piece), which lightens the button-pushing load. There's a philosophical/mythological underpinning to the songs, with certain images— whether it's a raven or another bird, or a color or symbol — suggesting ideas embedded below the surface that are ripe for extracting.
"It's not something that we are trying to be preachy or anything," Hinman said, when asked about their quasi-New Age leanings, which include astrology, "but it is something that we were inspired by, which we weren't really around much in New York, but we've been exposed to touring with Vetiver… It's not frowned upon in New York. It's just something that was new to us."
Pure Bathing Culture
w/Widowspeak and Hanging Hills, Nov. 6, 9 p.m., free, BAR, 254 Crown St., New Haven, barnightclub.com, manicproductions.org