Just blinding white and pale blue – a frozen wasteland that stretches for miles and miles in every direction. The scale of it is mind-boggling, says Joey Capoccia, bandleader and songwriter of American roots trio, The Pine Hearts. He talks about Antarctica, the frozen continent which, for him, is both an empty desert and a beautiful oasis of the soul, separated from the modern world but full of inspiration.
In 2020, Antarctica became the setting for a freewheeling new track called “Wouldn’t You Know” (streamed below), and its creation helps frame the potent mix of folk, bluegrass, old-school country and punk from The Pine Hearts. With Capoccia working as a carpenter for the National Science Foundation, he found a quiet spot in the South Pole greenhouse and started thinking about home — or rather, how he wasn’t so sure he’d missed it. Soon, a standout track from the band’s new album was born.
With a spunky voice – always young and full of curiosity – as well as acoustic guitar, double bass, violin and mandolin, the bouncy track helps explore how travel and new experiences drive the songwriting of Capoccia.
“It’s not like you go out at night – there’s nowhere for come on,” Capoccia says of creating tracks at World’s End. “Not to mention that crazy experience of seeing things you’ve never seen before. Just being in Antarctica is inspiring.
You can hear this inspiration in “Wouldn’t You Know”. With lyrics that celebrate the free life of a traveling musician – “Drinking champagne out of mason jars” – the track is part of the Olympia, Washington-based band’s new album lost love songs (out today, February 18), and Capoccia spoke with Looks like Nashville about where the project will transport its listeners.
Speaking on the phone, Capoccia was actually in another faraway corner of the world – this time the Hawaiian island of Kauai – and said that for him, travel and songwriting were deeply connected.
“It’s a bit like the carrot-at-the-stick metaphor,” he says with an easy laugh. “It’s satisfying to write a song, but at the same time it makes me want to write more!” I never really want more than that.
Over the years, this viscous creative circle has taken Capoccia and the band all over the United States and abroad, and wherever they go, it seems to find new inspiration. Sometimes it’s the surroundings themselves, and on lost love songs, The Pine Hearts sound often has the crisp, clean feel of mountain air, or the slow tempo of Pacific Ocean waves crashing against rock. But often it’s something else.
“See new places [is inspiring], but it’s really about meeting new people,” says Capoccia. “I’m at the Kauai Mission right now and you meet a whole new group of musicians. What I’ve noticed is that everyone plays a little differently in different parts of the world so it’s so cool to hang out with these people and add some color – it sounds so cheesy – but add some color to the landscape of your life. [laughs]”
For “Wouldn’t You Know,” these new people were scientists studying the cosmos in one of the darkest places on Earth. It was early 2020 and Joey’s fifth trip to the icy land, and even though he knew nothing about space, the people he met piqued his curiosity.
“There are only blue skies and white snow as far as the eye can see, for hundreds of kilometres. You look out the window and you almost feel like you’re in the middle of the ocean,” he says. “The cool thing is that you might be a carpenter or an electrician, not a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, but everyone hangs out and eats together, and you end up learning a lot. The scientists are usually eager to show you what they’re working on, you can drop by after dinner and they’ll show you their whole project.
His song itself seems to celebrate that feeling of discovery, while struggling against the natural desire to put down roots. Sitting in the greenhouse, Capoccia has just opened his heart to the question: “Why am I here, so far from home?
“Looking back now, the first word is ‘Don’t you know, I miss my hometown,’ and it’s like ‘Well yeah, here I am thousands of miles from home, and of course I miss it,’ he explains. “But then the next line is “But I probably would have drowned”, and it’s like ‘Do I want to stay in one place? Or keep doing that travel thing? You miss home, but you probably would have drowned if you had stayed there. Even the chorus is about finding lost love songs, the perfect song, and its inspiration. I feel like I’ll never be done looking for the perfect love song.
Elsewhere on the album, Capoccia and bandmates Derek McSwain (mandolin) and Dean Shakked (double bass) continue to present a raw, raw look at life in motion. Through the ebb and flow of love and loss, wild nights and ensuing emotional hangovers, other tracks like banjo-laden “Burn That Bridge” were also written in Antarctica, while “Sugarcane” and its sweet romance was born in an AirBnB in Boise, Idaho. On the other hand, the swinging “Mary the Night’s on Fire” was written on Capoccia’s longtime houseboat in Olympia – which was a big part of the secret behind her almost constant quest for travel and songwriting. The rent was so cheap that he didn’t feel the need to be there.
The band themselves have a mix of influences ranging from classic folk to Olympia’s thriving punk rock scene – which featured Capoccia in a few bands before The Pine Hearts – and the trio cut their teeth playing live shows. under a bridge leading downtown. . It’s just another aspect of a group that never felt obligated to do things according to the Nashville playbook.
“I’ll say this, Nashville seems a long way off,” Capoccia said.
Looking ahead, Capoccia says The Pine Hearts will carry on that tradition of DIY creation – and that it will continue to pursue its muse, even if it takes it to the end of the world.
“I’m just happy to write the next song, it’s a chase, and I can’t help it,” he says. “And to be honest, things are going pretty well with the band and we’re playing well together, so I could keep doing that for the next 10 years and be pretty happy.”