“We have been down a difficult road,” explains Marcus Striplin of the near-decade that has passed between commencing work on the upcoming Pleasant Grove album "The Heart Contortionists" (February 5th, We Know Better Records), the group’s untimely dissolution, and the album’s ultimate completion.
Recorded by Grammy-award winners John Congleton (St. Vincent, Modest Mouse, War On Drugs) and Stuart Sikes (Loretta Lynn, White Stripes, Cat Power), "The Heart Contortionists" reminds listeners of what they loved about the Pleasant Grove sound – a folk band’s command of melody and a psych band’s command of reverb – while also giving clues to what led to the group’s untimely departure from the scene.
“In short, "The Heart Contortionists" is a divorce record,” says Striplin. “And through all the hazy days, I had completely forgotten that we had recorded it.” Indeed, Striplin survived drink, divorce, and a two-year case of writer’s block to get here. An eventual move to Austin by way of NYC, and a new relationship led him back to musical projects, but he says “it was nothing close to what Pleasant Grove could make me feel.”
Then, in late 2012, the band started flirting with the idea of getting back together.
“We crept up on ourselves and played a little show and the sparks flew,” Striplin remembers. “So, Bret [Egner, Pleasant Grove co-founder] and I went back and listened to those old sessions with open hearts and minds and found that we’d made a contemporary album that happened to be recorded ten years ago!”
With that realization, and Striplin’s newly rehabilitated state, Pleasant Grove – which along with Striplin on vocals, guitars & keys, Ryan on drums & keys, and Egner on vocals, guitars & keys, includes Tony Hormillosa on bass & guitar, and Chris Mayes on guitar, lap steel, keys, vocals, and trombone – decided to move forward.
The spring and summer of 2014 was spent recording overdubs and fixing some minor sonic hiccups with producer Sikes before longtime Pleasant Grove friend and engineer, John Dufhilo (Old ‘97s, Apples In Stereo) came on board to mix the record. The result is a classic-sounding album that reflects the sonic maturity of a band that released its first recording of “shimmering majestic pop and lethargic country music” in 1999, and should be rightly recognized as an architect of that sound today.
Apparently, the band is feeling it too. “A lot of these songs would be on our personal ‘Top 10 Pleasant Grove songs’ list,” Striplin says.
Nearly ten years in the making, "The Heart Contortionists" by Pleasant Grove arrives on Feb. 5th, 2016 via We Know Better Records.