Pinegrove’s Strange, Bumpy Ride to ‘Skylight’
A tale of accusation, allegations and misrepresentation.
As 2016 came to a close, Montclair, N.J. indie band, Pinegrove, was riding high. The group had released Cardinal earlier in the year, featuring scruffy indie rock tunes with sing-a-long moments and hit tracks like “Old Friends.” The band completed a tour that saw crowds of dedicated fans called “Pinenuts” pack into small venues.
Pinegrove began working on new recordings in the summer of 2017, ready to fulfill the big expectations their fans and the media held for them.
And then everything came to a strange and confusing halt.
Pinegrove developed from Evan Stephens Hall and Zack Levine’s high school band called Dogwater in Montclair, NJ. Guitarist Sam Skinner and bassist Adan Carlo Feliciano joined later, followed by keyboardist, vocalist, and percussion artist, Nandi Rose Plunkett.
In 2014, the group self-released their first album, Meridian. The success of the record brought the band to Brooklyn, but Hall wasn’t pleased with the city’s hustle and bustle, and ended up leaving. In 2015, the group released a limited cassette, Everything So Far, comprised of their entire recorded library up to that point.
The band’s sophomore album, Cardinal, came out under the Run for Cover label, helping the band reached its largest audience yet.
Their next album, Skylight, came more than a year later on September 28th. During that year-plus hiatus, Pinegrove’s story took an unexpected turn.
On November 21st, 2017, Hall wrote a long and very personal Facebook message titled “a message from evan” on the band’s official page.
“i am about to talk about something serious and i want to begin by saying that my actions have caused someone i care about deep emotional pain and i am so sorry, i have been accused of sexual coercion. the accusation comes from someone i was involved with for a short but intense period of time. i won’t say more about this person because i want to respect her privacy and i ask anyone reading this to do the same.”
Hall expressed that he believed all decisions made in the relationship were mutual and out of love, and noted that “i have never felt remorse like this before.” Pinegrove respected the accuser’s wish to remain anonymous and worked with a mediator to reach a resolution.
Per the accuser’s request, the album was shelved, and a planned tour cancelled for a year-long hiatus, during which Hall attended therapy.
“We wanted to honor that. She recognized that we’ve honored it, and has since approved our plan to release an album and play some shows,” Hall told Pitchfork Contributing Editor Jenn Pelly. However, the reaching a resolution was far from simple.
Many Pinegrove fans speculated about the true meaning of the term, “coercion.” Mediators told Pitchfork that the allegation was strictly in regards to “verbal and contextual pressure.” The weight of fans decrying that Hall was rapist, or wishing him dead, kept him off of the internet for much of the year.
Pinegrove could not provide any information to the public regarding the allegations without the victim’s agreement through a trusted mediator.
The mediator clarified that the accuser “and Evan had a brief relationship, and she was in a relationship when it started. She felt that he coerced her into cheating on her partner with him, and she felt that she said no to him several times… and he continued to pursue her.”
Some observers chalked Hall’s Facebook statement up to pressure from Sheridan Allen, the founder and director of Philadelphia-based Punk Talks. According to their website, the organization aims to “educate the music community about mental health and mental illness, while working to eliminate any stigma associated with seeking treatment.”.
According to SPIN, Allen emailed Pingrove’s record label, Run for Cover, on November 14, 2017, reporting that Hall exhibited “predatory and manipulative behavior toward women attending Pinegrove shows, and women he has been sexually involved with,” and emphasized that her information came from multiple sources.
Allen demanded that Hall take a break from music and release a statement, later threatening that the victims would speak publicly if he refused. Her email also expressed her exhaustion from “working directly to take down the biggest band in indie right now.”
Hall said that his initial reaction to Allen’s email was “spiraling out, like, ‘holy shit, if there are multiple women who have complaints about me, maybe I’ve been completely delusional.’ I was really trying to address that possibility.”
Hall’s next statement, however, left fans confused and concerned.
“I was responding very specifically to one person,” Hall said, referring to Allen. “I wanted to appease them. I don’t know. I was not thinking clearly, and I said some things that I can’t totally stand behind.”
Allen’s actions in reaching out to a festival organizer and Pinegrove’s label were a surprise to both the accuser — who did not want the allegations made public.
The accuser said in a statement to SPIN that she “never asked for her (Allen) to request or demand any type of statement from Pinegrove or Run for Cover.” The accuser also claimed she never had any intention to “take down” Pinegrove.
Allen met Hall at a Columbus show in April of 2016 before the controversy surfaced. Allen offered Hall an opportunity to talk — without informing him that she was not a licensed psychologist. They spoke in the van, where Hall confirmed his patient confidentiality with her, and he understood it to be a therapeutic session. Allen later said that she considered the interaction strictly personal.
Hall felt violated when he heard that his private information was used against him in the media by someone he believed to be a medical professional.
While Allen included “professional therapist” in her Twitter bio, she told Pitchfork that she was “working as a therapist under the supervision of an individually licensed professional,” and tried to make it clear to Punk Talks affiliates “that our therapists are individually licensed and that I am not licensed to practice therapy independently.”
According to the SPIN interview, Snowed In Festival co-founder Cory Hajde said that Allen contacted him asking to have Pinegrove removed from the lineup.
“She sent me a message very vaguely saying something came up with Pinegrove from an anonymous person who didn’t want their story to be shared, and she was in kind of a pickle of a situation.”
Allen told Pitchfork via an email that she had “made egregious errors and mistakes throughout this situation. I was acting without any guidance or a board and I have done absolutely everything I can now and in the future to ensure adequate checks and balances, as well as ensuring this will never happen again.”
She also set up a Punk Talks board of directors, to advise her in future situations.
According to Pitchfork, Hall spent the past year reading, going on walks, and attending weekly therapy. He is considering the ways in which consent applies to all relationships, and how he can be more “democratic” to others. “This situation has demanded a full re-inventorying of myself, I’ve tried to approach that with humility and with focus,” Hall told Pitchfork.
Pinegrove’s female member, Plunkett — who left the group in the fall of 2017 to focus on her solo project Half Waif — told Pitchfork that she did not believe Hall was a danger to young women attending shows, and that the two had been making progress in their conversations.
She said, “I want any young female fans and fellow musicians to know that I’m fighting for them…in order to grow into a more loving and understanding community, we have to work towards healing through sensitive and open communication. And that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Pinegrove decided to release Skylight themselves, rather than on Run for Cover, out of of concern from other artists on the label, according to label head Jeff Casazza.
The uncertain extent to which Hall was being accused of abuse has now loomed over Pinegrove for nearly a year.
The proceeds will be split evenly between Musicares, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the Voting Rights Project. The reason being an accusation of sexual coercion against Hall, who responded with a tweet on November 21st, 2017.
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