Running up that hill with Vancouver’s love-song mountain man.
On a smoke break outside his East Vancouver practice space, Stephen McBean is waxing poetic about his latest Pink Mountaintops album, Outside Love. The album, a collection of tobacco-stained psych pop, blends the ambience of Spacemen 3 with Lou Reed-style songwriting and hints of timeless country. Its influences are more conceptual, owing a debt to Norwegian black metal forefathers Darkthrone. “When you listen to [Darkthrone],” he says, “it really engulfs your spirit and takes you to a different world.”
Outside Love’s vintage production makes for a fitting entry into McBean’s growing oeuvre, which also includes the thunderous neoclassic rock of Black Mountain. “Both bands are becoming further and further apart in their intent and direction,” McBean explains between puffs. “Still, certain things that are intended for one end up being with the other. They cheat on each other every once in a while.”
The fact that McBean uses the language of relationships is no coincidence, as his work as Pink Mountaintops focuses on broken love. The first self-titled record from the project was highly sexual (where songs like “I (Fuck) Mountains” took a slow-groove approach and “Sweet ’69” dripped with garage-rock sweat), while 2006’s freedom-obsessed Axis of Evol played with metaphors of love and war. Outside Love takes a simpler route: straight-up love songs. “It’s a bit more of a romance-novel vibe,” McBean says. “There are some love songs, some break-up songs, and some celebrations of friends.” Hazy, two-chord drone anthems like “Axis: Thrones of Love” and the vaguely digital pre-punk of “The Gayest of Sunbeams” find McBean achieving new levels of sonic diversity while he wrestles with similar themes.
Perhaps this album’s romantic tone owes something to how it was conceived. McBean was the best man at a friend’s wedding in Montreal when he met A Silver Mt. Zion violinist Sophie Trudeau, who played on the majority of the album. “We didn’t even know each other at the time, but they made us play a song at the wedding,” he recalls. “They did their vows, and then we played ‘Closer to Heaven,’ the last song on the record. We played around in Sophie’s kitchen [afterward], and we were like, ‘We should make a record together—this is fun!’”
Besides love, McBean is also fixated on nurturing the perfectly scorched textures that are born during the recording process. “I obsess forever over reverbs, or finding the right fuzz pedal to make sure the space echoes perfectly,” he says of his recording hang-ups. “I probably could have spent another year trying to mix things until it was right in my head, but you have to let go at a certain point.”
Letting go is a key step—McBean doesn’t want to lose the special essence of Pink Mountaintops in the technical hustle ‘n’ bustle. “There’s the threat of becoming jaded by music and not being able to enjoy just listening to it,” he admits. “It’s that balance of trying to stay sane and staying true to your heart.”