Band: Joe Cain Day Celebration featuring The Pine Hill Haints, Sister Sister and The Shunarrahs
Date: Sunday, Feb. 11, 7 p.m.
Venue: The Merry Widow, 51 S. Conception St., www.themerrywidow.net
Tickets: $10 in advance/$15 day of show, available at venue and its website
For many years, The Pine Hill Haints have made an annual pilgrimage to the Azalea City and provided a soundtrack for those celebrating Joe Cain Day. Formed in Auburn in the late ‘90s, The Pine Hill Haints specialize in what they call “Alabama Ghost Music.” Created years before the modern Americana craze, this truly unique, eclectic sound is a skillful blend of early country, bluegrass, traditional folk and blues infused with a punk rock attitude.
Over the years, The Pine Hill Haints have peppered their albums with songs that provide a Romantic interpretation of Mobile culture, which can easily be witnessed in their latest release, “Smoke.” As the group was making their way east, front man Jamie Barrier indulged Lagniappe with a conversation dealing with their new album, modern Americana and the band’s love affair with the Azalea City.
Stephen Centanni: What was your first Mobile Mardi Gras experience like?
Jamie Barrier: The first one was Joe Cain Day maybe 18 years ago. It’s hard to describe it when you’re from North Alabama. When you go to a parade up there, you watch a few fire trucks and a few classic cars, and you wave and clap. I wasn’t prepared to see a casket with veiled ladies throwing moonpies at me. The madness of it all is just incredible.
Centanni: What’s been your most memorable Joe Cain Day show, and why?
Barrier: It’s hard to pick and choose one. There was one at the Alabama Music Box where the Monotonix from Israel played. I wouldn’t say that it was any more memorable than any other one, but it was a good one.
Centanni: I was up at Auburn around the same time you guys were starting up The Pine Hill Haints. I lived in the Neil House/Dexter Arms apartment complex that backed up to Pine Hill Cemetery.
Barrier: Yeah, man! One of our drummers lived in there.
Centanni: One thing that sticks out about your band name is that one night we saw a bunch of ghostly figures up in the cemetery dressed in Civil War-era clothes and candles everywhere. It shook us up, until we found out they were doing an event in the cemetery. Your band’s name always reminded me of that incident, and I always wondered if y’all had seen the same thing and were inspired by it.
Barrier: You know, the only gigs that we could get were the house parties. We played all over Ross Street and Magnolia and Gay streets. I remember the first time that we played downtown on College Street. A Confederate vampire club approached us and asked us to play the vampire ball. I wonder if that’s what you saw.
Centanni: There’s no telling. So, you must have played the Malformity House up there, I take it.
Barrier: Yes, we played there many times. Some people would argue that we had our first show there.
Centanni: The Pine Hill Haints were doing the Americana thing before the industry put a label on the style. With that said, what do you think these days when you see all these bands under that label?
Barrier: It depends on what side of the bed I woke up on as to how I answer that question. I don’t know, man. Back then and to this day, we just love Johnny Cash and John Lee Hooker. It’s a simple thing, and it wasn’t planned. What’s going on today is just a whole different animal. I love to wear cowboy shirts and boots, but I love that the music has nothing to do with that. We’re the last band in the world to set up a Facebook page.
A lot of what’s going on now has no soul to it. It’s a different animal from what we’re doing. We’re like fanboys of old music, and modern music, too. We just have a big love for that old music. We have a big love for the blues. We’re more on the John Lee Hooker side than the Townes Van Zandt side, not to pick on somebody who likes Townes. It’s just how it’s always been with this band.
Centanni: The Pine Hill Haints gave birth to other bands, such as The Wednesdays and Counterclockwise String Band. What keeps all of you coming back to The Pine Hill Haints?
Barrier: There’s a lot of things. With The Wednesdays, we love punk rock and rock ‘n’ roll. It’s like liking Jelly Roll Morton or Louis Armstrong. I would go on tour with The Wednesdays or The Quadrajets. I’d be like, “Yeah, we’re working these clubs and working these towns!” With the Haints, we’re actually doing that. You get to play a lot of places that you usually wouldn’t ordinarily get to do. The audience gets to dance and interact. The Wednesdays is music for the young, and it’s extremely loud.
Rather than pretending like I’m living the dream, I’m actually living the dream with the Haints. I love fiddle music and stuff, but I couldn’t do that with The Wednesdays. With the Haints, some nights we’ll do a whole lot of fiddle. There’s just a lot more than you can do with it.
Centanni: You’re on tour in support of your new album, “Smoke.” What’s it like taking your sound out of the South? What kind of reaction do you get in other regions?
Barrier: It makes it better. A lot of the things that people grow up with, they can’t stand it. When you get far away from home, that’s gone. The music becomes a little more exotic. The new album has a lot of Mobile undertones. We did a big tour in England two years ago, and it was almost like a Mobile lineup. We called it “The Mystic Order of The Pine Hill Haints.” We had a drummer from Mobile. Katie [Barrier] is from Mobile and our bucket player Travis [Hightower]. So a lot of those songs came out of that for the new record, in a way. We wrote another Joe Cain song and a moonpie song. We introduced some brass to the band and gave a little Dixieland flavor to some of the stuff.
Centanni: It’s still Haints, but it’s definitely a little different.
Barrier: Yeah, I know that we’ve played some of the Mardi Gras shows in Mobile, and a brass band would open. We didn’t even need to be there. You can’t compete with a brass band. It’s so good. I come from North Alabama, and I’m into music a certain way. Not being from Mobile, when I first encountered it, it appeared to be the richest, most overlooked thing in the world.
Where I’m from, we get all kinds of attention through Muscle Shoals. Mobile is such a fascinating place. It’s got everything New Orleans does except the tourists. It’s got just as deep a history and beautiful music and food. We’re trying to rep it a little bit.
Centanni: J.D. Wilkes from Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers worked on “Smoke” with y’all, didn’t he?
Barrier: He did. He always wanted to. There’s actually a record we did years ago that’s long out of print, and he played harmonica on that too. It’s called “Tales from the Front Porch.” I’ve seen that album go for $200-$300 on eBay. He came down and did half the record with us. We tour with him a lot. Last year, he came down and did half our shows with us. He’s an incredible harmonica player.
Centanni: For those who have never been to a Pine Hill Haints Joe Cain Day show, what can they expect?
Barrier: It’ll be louder, faster and noisier than usual. We love those slow, quiet country songs, and we do a lot of them. This is the Joe Cain show. You better come with something hard. That’s what they want.
(Photo | Facebook) The Pine Hill Haints are becoming a Mobile Mardi Gras staple. An American traditional bluegrass/folk/honky tonk/country band, the members themselves describe their unique Southern roots music as “Alabama ghost music.”
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