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Photo By Laura Roberts
Lucky Pineapple

What's That Crazy Sound? Oh, It's Lucky Pineapple

By Kevin Gibson

Explain the color blue.

You can't, can you? Music is similar sure, you can call a band "indie rock" or "experimental" or even "avant-garde," but does that fully explain every nuance of its sound? If someone tells you their band plays "jazz" music, do you really know what the band sounds like?

Enter Louisville's own Lucky Pineapple. This nine-piece ensemble is as difficult to classify as any one band has a right to be, purveying an oddly alluring blend of rock, pop and world music elements while ignoring the common structures usually associated with indie rock groups. And yet the Pineapple seems to be attracting just such an indie rock audience.

The band's own bio notes that it comprises "classically trained musicians, veterans of the Louisville punk scene, theater performers [and] improvisational noise artists." As one would imagine, the band itself is loathe to identify what it's doing, primarily because it isn't premeditated.

"The whole concept of genres of music," mused trombonist Dan Moore during a recent interview. "I've always hated it, because it limits what you can do with [the music]."

"It makes me think of when people ask what kind of car you drive," said vocalist/guitarist Matt Dodds. "And you say, ‘Oh, I drive a van.' And you might think of this giant van with a wizard on the side, but it might actually be a 2000 Voyager that's green and has a soccer mom in it."

On the bench, from left to right are: William Benton (with the megaphone), Alex Molina (purple shirt, looks asleep), Susan Crocker (orange shirt, laughing), Drew Miller (hooded sweatshirt), JC Denison (mustache, blue shirt, red jacket). On the floor, in the middle, left to right: Brian Sweeney (looking upward, Alex has his leg on him), Matt Dodds (laughing guy with a beard, green plaid shirt) On the floor, foreground, heads propped on speaker, left to right: Dan Moore (black shirt, blue jeans), David Cundiff (slicked down hair, dark blue shirt)

He noted that he feels it is better to let a genre be defined after the fact, because if an artist is creating something new it isn't exactly appropriate or efficient to use an existing term to classify it. For instance, if world music gets defined as something specific over time, "you kind of know that, OK, that's the soccer mom van."

"No," interjected drummer J.D. Denison, "world music would be the wizard van."

So if no one knows what Lucky Pineapple even does, how does one begin to find an audience? That's a good question, and yet LP has done just that.

"I was thinking earlier today," Dodds said, "that I don't know who our audience is. I guess some [bands] have a type of person that listens, but I don't know that person. I would have no idea how to pander to anyone."

Lucky Pineapple is what it is largely because there are nine members in the band, and each one has a hand in the songwriting process. Each band member brings in songs or parts of songs or ideas for songs or random riffs or melodies, and the tunes are then constructed as a collective.

The music can be a bit startling upon first listen, because if you're sticking it into an "indie rock" box, it isn't at all what you will be expecting when you open the lid. Can one turn a kaleidoscope into sound?

For instance, sure, there are jazz influences at work in Lucky P's music, but the person who might hear the word "jazz" and run screaming for fear of 19 minutes of dissonance will still find something to like in these songs. They're insane and yet accessible.

Bassist David Cundiff feels it's dance music, which may be the most simple way to put it except that it could conjure thoughts of disco (see: the Dodds Mini-Van Theory of Musical Classification). Guitarist William Benton described it as, "Old-world new wave. Art-prog-punk-fantasy sounds. Music for a ‘Triffid'-themed prom."

Denison suggested it could be described as "Music played by the house band on a haunted cruise ship," then launched into a lengthy description of this concept that included time travel, naked masked figures and beautiful savage women. He then added, "Or I suppose you could call it indie rock."

It's almost as fun to imagine what it is as it is to listen to it. All one has to do is listen to the opening track to the band's debut album The Bubble Has Burst in Sky City "Moonlight Spiderbite," a five-plus-minute instrumental number, opens with a pleasant drum and xylophone duet, and soon a barrage of sounds interjects into the simple-enough rhythm and melody. Horns come in slowly, adding a jazzy feel, and the song meanders for a time.

Lucky Pineapply. Photo by Laura Roberts

But by the time you get to the 1:45 mark, you're faced with a full-on assault that borders on punk. A minute later and it turns into something … well, almost completely different. Such is Lucky Pineapple.

"My perception has changed a little since I have been in the band," said sax player Drew Miller, "but I first thought it sounded like a tripped-out experimental rock group from South Africa, if that makes any sense. It is definitely rock, but has all this odd meter, juxtaposition, poly-rhythm and crazy textures all mixed together with these singing melodies."

"Get a tequila shot and an abacus, and enjoy," is how one reviewer approached it. Well said.

McKinley Moore is part of the Transpanther Group and is LP's manager. "That is my favorite thing about this band," said Moore of its elusive sound. "Every song is different: punk, dance, world, funk, jazz, new wave, tropical, post-rock. From one song to the next, they move into and out of all of those categories. The only solid label I could put on it is ‘experimental'."

When asked how someone might describe Lucky Pineapple to a friend after hearing the band for the first time, Benton responded, "I think they are making those sounds on purpose."

"Experimental, yet approachable," is how percussionist Alex Molina described it. "It's hard to categorize when you have so many influences and backgrounds within the band ethos."

And there's the jumping-off point. Given that the Pineapple isn't an outfit wherein one or two people bring nearly-finished songs in for the rest to play, it really does make sense that there is no cookie-cutter on the market to define this stuff.

WHERE DID THAT COME FROM?

So let's run this down: We have nine different people bringing nine different musical points of view, from the expected (radio pop) to the unexpected (mariachi) and everything in between (jazz, electronica and salsa, to name a few).

When you have band members citing influences like Cake, Devo, Captain Beefheart, John Coltrane, Elvis Costello, Mike Watt and Michael Jackson, you have the makings of something pretty interesting.

Dodds is quick to point out that Lucky Pineapple never tries to sound like anyone or anything in particular. "Nor do we try to be something indefinable," he said. "We don't do that on purpose. We have an idea or a riff, and then someone grabs it and takes it somewhere else."

He mentions a newer song called "Skeleton" and notes that it underwent a lengthy gestation period and has now become something quite different from what it was initially. Another song, "Elephant," took six months to finish, and literally was written by all nine members of the band. "Every Planet Has a Story" took a year.

And the initial ideas are often not even remotely close to being developed songs or even parts of songs.

"It might only be half an idea," Moore said.

"I'll come in with ideas," Denison said, "and they will be five things that go together like a kindergartner might put together a puzzle. But then everyone will put it together and it will sound good."

For example, Dodds added, "I don't know really what a bossa nova is, but I might write something like what I think a bossa nova is."

"Most bands have a leader of sorts," Moore said. "Generally one songwriter, sometimes two. From Lucky Pineapple's beginning it was large and operated under a philosophy that everyone would have an equal voice. Everyone adds to every song and they all come from different backgrounds and like totally different types of music."

That each band member is individually creative and talented is a key here there aren't any "bit" players, so to speak.

"Any person in this band could be successful leading an endeavor of their own," Moore continued, "yet they all choose to put their energy into this one thing. There's something magical about that."

Trumpet player Susan Crocker and keyboard player Brian Sweeney round out the group of nine. Aside from the album, which was reissued last year by local label SonaBLAST! Records, the band has enough material for another release and then some. People are taking notice.

Lucky Pineapple will perform at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, later this month and has shows booked in New York as well. The band has been selected for compilations such as Louisville is for Lovers, and have been regulars at Forecastle and Lebowski Fest for three years running. And a video for "Moment in an Empty Street," track eight from the album, has become a YouTube cult favorite.

Directed by Andrew Vititoe, the video chronicles a typical day in the life of well, the creepiest puppet thing imaginable. If Jim Henson ever had a night sweat, this thing would have been the bad dream behind it.

The towering creature in the video is yelled at by his father, picked on at school, shunned by a cheerleader, and mugged on his way to a concert by a couple of "Deliverance"-inspired hillbillies, before finding redemption on the dance floor.

"Guy is creepy," Crocker said of the puppet character, and she's right. But all seem to agree the video was masterfully directed, fits the band well, and Cundiff noted he thinks the song is one of the band's strongest as well. Whatever the case, it is defining and is a great marketing tool

"I did definitely hear, ‘Oh, I saw your video,'" Denison said, then joked, "I didn't buy your album and I didn't come to your show, but I saw your video."

Heck, a Lucky Pineapple song even made it to MTV. True story: An LP song appeared on the show "Jersey Shore," a reality series that follows eight housemates as they "live, work and party at the Jersey Shore" (according to Wikipedia.org).

Yeah, it's exposure, but not necessarily something you want to brag about to your buddies. At some point a couple of years back, the band was approached by the show's producers to get permission to use it. No one even knew what the show was going to be about at that point and, really, if you're in a band, and MTV comes calling, what do you do?

"At the time we said, ‘There's no way they're going to use it, so what do we have to lose?'" Moore said. "None of us watches it; we all heard from other people they heard our music on that show. It was on ‘The Soup' too; I was a little prouder of that."

He even bought that episode online for a dollar, prompting Denison and Dodds to poke fun. But there was still a somber feeling regarding being associated with "Jersey Shore."

"I have no on-the-record comment about that," Dodds said with a wry smile.

He finally conceded this much: "It's just a shame, when people get associated with something that is not of their choosing, or has nothing to do with what they are trying to do."

Heck, early on, they were just trying to be a band.

WHERE DID THAT COME FROM?

It's a common story; Lucky Pineapple played a battle of the bands at Indiana University Southeast in October 2004. They only had four or five songs at that point, they won, and the rest is history.

OK, sort of. Think about it a battle of the bands usually draws a pretty streamlined category of acts, and this one was no different. Except, of course, for the Pineapple factor.

"It was mainly indie rock and hardcore bands," Denison said. "Brian and I were going to school there, and a friend asked us to fill a spot. I think the judge made a comment saying he didn't expect anything like that at all."

Imagine that.

At that point, it was a band of six. Moore joined a bit later, followed by Crocker, Molina and Miller. The band released an album titled The New Rainbow, but the recording breakthrough came when a friend in Bloomington won a free day of recording in, of all things, a poker game. The recording time was at a Chicago studio called Electrical Audio, which is owned by engineer Steve Albini (who has worked with everyone from the Pixies to Nirvana to Cheap Trick to singer-songwriter Nina Nastasia). Their friend donated the prize to the Pineapple.

"It was contingent that we pay for another day," Dodds said. "It was too good of an opportunity to pass up. We didn't have money to mix it, so we had to wait until we had enough."

Needless to say it took a while, but it ended up turning into Sky City, which saw an initial release on Noise Pollution records. A few overdubs came into play for last year's reissue and it was mastered by Carl Saff in Chicago, but for the most part the re-release was simply a matter of the band being, well, rediscovered, for lack of a better term.

SonaBLAST! became instrumental in getting the video produced and continues to promote the band. A split seven-inch will be released soon on Karate Body Records, with an April release show scheduled.

But even the band admits that perhaps this momentum has been too long in coming; there is plenty of material, yet with everything going on it's difficult to find time to record.

"We've got a double album worth of material, and we're trying to figure out how to lay it down and get it out in a much quicker fashion," Denison said. "We have so much newer material that we can play a couple shows in a row where we don't play same set, and that's nice."

The hope is to get those songs or at least some of them down this year. He said the new batch of tunes will "highlight how much we've grown as songwriters and arrangers since our last album." He predicts success if and when it happens.

"It could be an awful year or it could be our biggest ever," Cundiff said. "Call me naive if you like, but I am expecting the latter."

"I have a friend who said, ‘You guys are about to blow up and you don't even know it,'" Denison said. "Man, I don't want to have those expectations."

Dodds is equally incredulous. "Since our first show, I have been amazed at how people seem to enjoy what I think is really weird music. I did not have any expectation for this. I have always been in bands that played in basements, so it's really weird."

But it's no mirage; people dig Lucky Pineapple. Dodds related a story that may just sum it all up an anecdote that sort of brings it all home: "On my way to work the other day, I saw a kid standing outside a high school smoking a cigarette; he was wearing one of our t-shirts.'"

Dodds didn't mention whether he was driving a wizard van while heading to work, but one has to assume that he was.