Pure Bathing Culture Talks Dank IPAs and the 'Holy Grail' of BeersSeptember 10, 2019
On a cool, “can it just be fall already?” Monday night in Portland, Pure Bathing Culture’s Sarah Versprille and Daniel Hindman are happy to be home. In a few hours they’ll entertain a sold-out crowd at the iconic Doug Fir Lounge, a log-cabin inspired venue, bar, and restaurant in Portland’s Buckman Neighborhood located a stone’s throw from Base Camp Brewing, Wayfinder Beer, and the highly anticipated Mikeller pop-up. Finding a quality pre-show pint nearby is nearly effortless.
Hindman and Versprille have spent the past two weeks traversing the country opening for likeminded indie-pop group Generationals. When the tour wraps in Seattle, the duo will have clocked over 6,000 miles promoting the 1980s-indebted Night Pass, their latest studio release and first for newly minted Infinite Companion.
Following 2015’s Pray for Rain, PBC remained relatively quiet aside from a stunning re-imagining of Hats, a 1989 LP from Scotland’s The Blue Nile that has since gained cult status. Produced by Tucker Martine (R.E.M, My Morning Jacket) Night Pass hits harder both sonically and thematically than previous efforts. Having withstood numerous trials and tribulations of a fickle music industry, their partnership both as songwriters and companions regenerated. The result—a highly dancabale, ten-track album laced with deep grooves, anthemic hooks and frustratingly beautiful guitar and vocal performances. Songs like “All Night” and “Devotion” are especially poignant on stage with non-verbal communication between players reaching Grateful Dead levels of automaticity.
Speaking with them over beers from a snug corner of the venue’s upstairs bar, it’s easy to sense that their commitment to this project is unwavering.
The craft beer scene is massive here in Oregon. Was it already in full-swing when you first moved to Portland?
Sarah: It’s definitely bigger than it used to be—between touring a lot and moving to PDX, that’s when we really got exposed heavily to beer culture.
Daniel: We were becoming aware of particularly heavier beer—stouts and IPAs, through coming out here. Before that, we weren’t drinking those kinds of beers. They weren’t on our radar. We knew about Sierra Nevada, but not much beyond that. On the East Coast, that was one of our only options for a long time.
Sarah: One of the first beers we loved when we moved here was Double Mountain’s I.R.A. There is a bar by our house called the Night Light that had Double Mountain on draft. That and their pale ale, the Vaporizer. We drank a lot of Ninkasi—we’d see that on tap everywhere too. Those were a few of our go-tos.
Any recent beer trends you’re particularly excited about or turned off by?
Daniel: I think it’s cool that lighter beers are coming back. Sarah and I usually only drink light beers now. We definitely had filled our quota of heavy, hoppier beers.
Sarah: We saturated ourselves with Sierra Nevada! We used to have it on our rider for a long time. We overdosed on Sierra Nevada there for a minute. These days I’m on a pilsner kick. The Deschutes (“Da Shootz”) one I’m drinking right now is super good.
Where does beer enter the equation on the road? Are you seeking out local breweries/trying local beer at the venue?
Daniel: We’ve been seeking out food more than beer. Up until recently, everyone in our band has been in their 30s. We had simultaneously all gravitated toward lighter beer on the road.
Sarah: We definitely try to sample the local brewery on tap wherever we’re eating before the show. That’s absolutely in our wheelhouse.
Daniel: Now it’s more of a treat to have a super dank beer. If you don’t drink it all the time, it’s even better. If I’m going to have one drink during the day, I’ll opt for an IPA or something heavier.
What about while writing? Is alcohol present for that process?
Daniel: We don’t drink or smoke while we’re writing. Just lots of coffee and tea.
Sarah: Writing music is work for us so we try to put that on hold until we’re done for the day. There’s a lot of attention required; it’s not necessarily a relaxed environment. When we’re done we’ll grab a beer but there’s a clear delineation there.
Daniel: We’re so focused and in the zone while writing. There’s a lot of communication that's happening between us since we write lyrics and music together. It’s not like one of us is a singer-songwriter and the other is helping produce it. We’re making something from scratch.
Has your relationship with beer/alcohol changed over the years of touring?
Sarah: For me, when we started doing PBC, I kind of stopped drinking on the road. I might’ve had half a beer at the end of the night. I’m having one now because it’s early and we’ve got time before we play. In other projects where I wasn’t taking on the lead singer role, there was a bit more leeway in terms of feeling like I could have a couple of beers and still perform well. For this project, drinking hasn’t entered the equation quite as much. On performance days, I tend not to drink very much at all.
Daniel: I’m drinking more on this tour and I think it's because we are opening. There’s a bit less pressure. The shows are earlier and the sets are shorter so the window that you have to remain focused is smaller. It doesn’t require quite as much endurance as when you are headlining. We’ll have a drink around load-in/soundcheck and maybe one more right before we play.
Night Pass carries themes of perseverance and self-determination. Is there a song or two on the record that embodies either of those?
Daniel: Every song is telling a different version of that story. A song like “Remember” is a fairy tale version of it. Making up stories helps us a lot in our writing process. Songs like “Ad Victoriam” and “All Night” are more straightforward and anthemic where as we wrote “Remember” about a woman who we made up—she’s an immortal witch. She falls in love with a mortal man. He doesn’t even love her back, which is crazy because here is this incredible goddess who loves him so much. He’s just so stupid. She’s more or less telling him, “It’s OK, I can wait forever for you, eventually you’ll be mine.” That song ends with the lyrics “I want you to believe in make believe / I want you to believe in things that you can’t see.” It still has the theme perseverance but we’ve found a new way to introduce it. Moments like that are what keeps me coming back to songwriting. I find it super inspiring.
We still fight about other things—I’m not saying we have this perfect relationship—but we write songs together because it really works for us.”
The changes you’ve weathered to see this record through would be enough to have most bands throw in the towel. How’d you keep the wheel turning?
Daniel: It was an interesting time for us. You’re totally right—it was an opportunity to stop. If it had been right for us to stop, we would. We’ve found that our bond and what pulls us together as writers and our inspiration source was untouched. That it was pure and unstoppable. Through the changes we found our center and realized that this could go on forever.
Sarah: In terms of our support system, we have to talk about Tucker Martine. The record would not have gotten made without Tucker. He came in and told us, “I will make this record with you, I believe in this project. Just come and let’s start working.” He buoyed us through that process.
Sonically it feels like you both went for it on this record—grooves are deeper, guitar tones are bolder, etc.
Daniel: We’re getting better at making records. Not so much in terms of commercial success, but getting closer to making the record that we hear in our head. Working in our own studio space and then bringing things into Tucker was so helpful. He really believed in the material we brought him. He wasn’t saying, “Let’s recreate this.” In that way this record remained personal and a lot of parts could stay true to their original forms but still leave room for growth.
What are some common misconceptions people may have about being in a band with a partner?
Sarah: People do ask us this regularly. We are fine with the question, but we’ve always said that we wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work for us. It did find us in a very natural way. We have been stewarding that since the project started.
Daniel: We’re so lucky. We don’t have to work to surmount the challenge of being a couple and making music together. If we had that challenge we wouldn’t be able to write songs. It’s the opposite of that. We still fight about other things—I’m not saying we have this perfect relationship—but we write songs together because it really works for us. Both of us have been in musical projects before where the writing process didn’t feel like this. We’ve had more success in this setting any other project we’ve written for.
Astrology and tarot became of interest to you when you arrived in PDX. Sarah, you’ve described both as giving you a “path forward to think about something in a way you haven’t thought about before.” Now that this record is out, what new perspectives are each of you carrying?
Daniel: Not to be overly dramatic, but I’m carrying the perspective that for as long as I live I will continue to tell stories through song and melody. I am comfortable and ready to dedicate my life to that. That’s a newer perspective for me. I turned 38 this year. I’m not saying this as a 20-year-old. I’m going to make whatever sacrifices I need to live in this way. I wouldn’t be comfortable otherwise.
In regards to tarot and astrology, we both grew up in religious families. At an early age we both abandoned religion. Finding our way back to spirituality in a different form was intoxicating to us.
Sarah: It’s a pathway to self-actualization. This band for me has been a lot about who I really am because I didn't sing lead vocals in a band before we did this. I have absolutely grown as the band as grown and have had the opportunity to find out a lot about myself through this process. It’s really rewarding and hard at the same time.
If PBC made a beer, what kind would it be?
Sarah: It’s definitely a light beer, or maybe one of those cask beers.
Daniel: It would be a beer that you would have to climb to the top of a mystical summit for. You would have to answer riddles once you got there. You’d have to endure this quest to get it. Maybe it would be called “Quest for the Holy Grail.”
Who would be serving you this beer once you made it?
No one. You serve yourself.