Getting To The Point: An Interview With PINS

Having witnessed their swift progression over a series of gigs, John Freeman chats to PINS about how they’re carefully crafting a blend of noise, texture and melody; plus watch a new live video of 'You Don't Need To Be'.

Photograph courtesy of Duncan Elliott

"It is power," offers Lois Macdonald. The guitarist is searching for a word to explain the commonality between each and every PINS song. "I think there is a certain power and drive." It’s an insightful diagnosis. I’ve seen the Mancunian quartet play five times this year – including a gig in a disused office block, one in a giant wooden cage on a Salford industrial estate and another in the basement of a Brighton beachfront hotel. Each time they’ve been breathtaking – a mixture of controlled noise, bubbling melodies and a seize-the-moment joie de vivre, all bound up with a palpable kinship between the four band members.

My first PINS experience was back in March. Considering it was only their sixth show, the quartet played with ferocious intent, and were fully-formed enough to impress an early doors crowd. A few days later I met up with singer/guitarist Faith Holgate and bassist Anna Donigan in a first-floor room at a pub in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. While we discussed a mutual love of Crystal Stilts and Frankie Rose and how Holgate wanted every PINS song to be "special," a fire engine arrived and several burly fire-fighters entered the bar below. The unflappable Holgate and Donigan merely carried on outlining their musical vision. I was impressed by their focus, if a little chastened by the potential for our imminent demise.

We survived and three months later I’m sat on the nominated "interviewer’s chair" in Holgate’s house. I’m surrounded by PINS (the line-up is completed by drummer Lara Williams) and the five of us are reminiscing about an exhilarating period in the life of what Holgate describes as "still a really small band." While we talk, Donigan, unbeknown to me, tweets a picture she’s taken of my shoes. It’s been that sort of evening.

For a small band, PINS have made huge strides since becoming a four-piece less than a year ago. A debut single release – a gold cassette containing the brooding ‘Eleventh Hour’ and the garage-pop nugget ‘Shoot You’ – sold out in an instant, as in-the-know Mancunians got wise to the new talent within their midst. The double A-side was an assured introduction. "I think we all have an understanding of what we want to do with a song, without necessarily having to communicate it," says Williams, by way of an explanation of the PINS vibe. "We naturally go to the same place."

A few weeks after my introduction, I caught another PINS show. It was at a venue called the Fuhrer Bunker in Salford’s hinterland and the band played in a specially-constructed cage before the headline act, Savages. It was one of those special nights, earmarked for legendary status, to be spoken about in hushed tones. The room was rammed with A&R grunts and record label bosses with gaping cheque books. Natalie Curtis was taking photographs and PINS delivered a beautifully menacing set. "We loved it," Holgate recalls. "We’d been there before to watch gigs and so it was exciting to be playing there ourselves." By this point, I’m beginning to recognise other songs, be it the sultry ‘Little Sting’ (with Macdonald providing the lead vocals) or the standout ‘Luvu4lyf’ on which Holgate sheds her guitar and summons up the ghost of Siouxsie Sioux via northern soul.

PINS – ‘You Don’t Need To Be (Live)’

The PINS story began in December 2010, when Holgate met Donigan, who’d previously played in school orchestras, and suggested she try bass guitar. "I started the band and did purposely seek out girls," Holgate explains, taking up the tale. "I had tried to make a band with boys before, but nothing excited me. They wanted to have a girl in their band but didn’t want them to have any opinions or write any music. They just wanted a token female for the aesthetics, I guess." After a painstaking search – it transpires Manchester isn’t particularly overflowing with female musicians ("I literally tried every option to find a drummer," Faith reveals) – Macdonald and finally Williams were invited to join the band.

As I chat with the four women, it’s obvious they don’t want to rehash the tired ‘girl group’ debate. However, there is a sense that the PINS chemistry is partially fuelled by a shared feminine insight. "I find the actual process of working in the band easier with other women," Macdonald says. "We are honest and direct with each other, and I don’t know if that is because we are all female or it is just this selection of people. But, lyrically, the songs are definitely from a female perspective and it is easier for us to all get what they are about. We are all trying to work towards the same thing, which generates the power we were talking about."

My next dose of PINS was in Brighton, where they played a headline slot at the Alternative Escape. The band prepared for the show by going for a paddle in the English Channel. "We got giddy before we went on stage so we ran out to the sea," laughs Donigan. "Our manager came to find us and took us back inside. I went on stage with wet socks."

"I had to put my tights back on outside a takeaway which was a classy moment," admits Holgate. When an amp blew midway through their first song, Holgate simply strode off stage and sourced a new one almost instantly while her bandmates ‘filled’ with a sinful voodoo-blues jam. By the time they ended with the headrush of ‘Eleventh Hour’ – a track that showcases Williams’ blistering floor tom-drumming and a driving bassline from Donigan – victory was confirmed.

Behind the impressive gigs and the sold-out singles lies the reality of a group who’ve carefully and laboriously refined their music. "There was a point early on when I was playing drums – which was a catastrophe – but that was part of the evolution process," recalls Macdonald. "It was a mess, but we tried all that stuff and got to where we are now."

On more than one occasion, PINS state – quite rightly – that they are a ‘work-in-progress’. "We still feel like we are figuring out what our sound is," says Holgate. "The best thing about being in PINS is that you can bring any song along and we will give it a go. There is no ‘this is our sound, so this is what we’ve got to do’. When we write a song, we instantly start thinking about what the video might be like or what the lighting on the stage might need to be."

"We are very creative, John," Anna deadpans, holding my gaze.

It seems that the internet has been buzzing about PINS since their very first gig in September of last year. The four friends are, as expected, measured in their excitement. "I guess you could get carried away with reading things on blogs but it is only the blogosphere," Holgate reflects, with an emphasis on the word ‘only’. "We just have to focus on what we are doing and making sure it is about releasing good records and good videos and putting on good live shows. That is what is important to us – we are not going to be millionaires from this band."

I understand her reservations and desire to remain grounded as the UK music press takes aim with its hype scattergun. To date, the PINS career has been unusually bright. I’d interviewed Japandroids a few days earlier and I mention how the Canadian duo had toiled for three years in Vancouver before anyone noticed their talent. "We’ve haven’t had to play shit gigs for months and months," Holgate continues. "We’ve never played an empty show. I’m assuming one day that will happen. But, because we haven’t been in bands before as such, we have nothing to compare it to. For us, this is what it is."

Indeed, the best way to experience PINS is at a show. "Even from our first gig, we didn’t want to be a disconnected, ambivalent live band," says Williams. "We want people to feel like we’ve put some effort into it."

Macdonald is in absolute agreement. "We’ve worked on letting go a bit more on stage and being ourselves," she says. "The initial rigidness and fear is gone. A show is an aesthetic experience; it’s about the atmosphere and being in that space. It’s supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be entertaining. It is important how we put ourselves across in a live setting because we want people to enjoy our gigs."

PINS are a constant stream of ideas. They are determined to control all aspects of their output and talk is punctuated by ideas for future Manchester gigs in "unusual venues," a September tour ("we’ve had a little taste of visiting cities, so a real tour is going to be great," Faith says) and future projects for their newly-launched Haus of PINS label.

"We are going to do another release, whether it is a single or an EP," Holgate reveals. "After that it feels like the next natural step would be an album. That’s what we are aiming towards. It’s just how we go about that – everything we’ve done up to now has been on a shoestring and with lots of help from people."

A couple of weeks after our interview and I’m watching PINS yet again, this time opening for Best Coast at Manchester’s Ritz. The old dancehall venue provides the band’s biggest stage to date and the quartet deliver a razor-sharp set to an already packed-in crowd. It is the best I have seen them play. Donigan’s dad is watching his daughter’s group for the very first time and afterwards he’s proud as punch. PINS progress is pretty astonishing. "It is important for people to know that we are still a really new band," Donigan points out. "I’d never played bass and Faith had never sung before. We are still developing and we still have a lot more to give."

"If you saw us six months ago and you think we are different now, then if you see us in six months time it is going to be a completely different experience," Faith tells me. "I don’t know how long that improvement can go on for. Maybe we’ve peaked."

Maybe they’ve not. The PINS journey has only just begun.

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