Pillar Point Discusses the Beautiful Sadness of James Murphy

Pillar Point was supposed to play its debut Seattle show this past Wednesday at Barboza with Delorean. But sometimes bands get kidnapped by notoriously violent Mexican drug cartels, and shows have to be cancelled.

When I sat down with Scott Reitherman, the man behind Seattle’s Pillar Point, he had just gotten word that the Delorean show was cancelled due to “travel difficulties.” Neither of us knew just how difficult those difficulties were, hostage situations and death threats and all of that. Over on this side of the world, Reitherman was just jonesing to finally show his stuff.

“We’ve been working on the album for two years,” Reitherman said, “I’m anxious to get out there and play.”

You might know Reitherman from his previous project Throw Me the Statue, responsible for Catchiest Song of All-Time “Lolita,” which earwormed it’s way into television commercials, hearts, and minds thanks to its sticky glockenspiel and melodica melodies. Reitherman’s new project Pillar Point is taking those pop writing skills to the world of electronica, dropping the guitar and featuring much synth-heavier songs with a dance emphasis in mind. Despite the desire to get people shakin’ it, Reitherman’s new songs are also much more emotionally bare than before, tackling his parent’s divorce and a split with his long-term girlfriend (don’t worry, they’re back together now).

Pillar Point’s record is all done, and slated to come out sometime next year on Polyvinyl, home to of Montreal, Japandroids, and The Dodos. In the meantime, Reitherman’s released two singles, one of which “Diamond Mine,” you can listen to here.

Pillar Point will be playing KEXP’s Audioasis on Saturday at 6:30 p.m., so tune in to hear more.

While the indie electronica version of Taken was playing out down in Mexico with Delorean, Reitherman and I got together to talk about Pillar Point’s cosmic origins, sad dance music, and James Murphy.

Seattle Weekly: Tell me a bit about how Pillar Point started. There was Throw Me the Statue, and now there’s this, what’s the conceptual difference?

Scott Reitherman: Well, with Pillar Point, I think thematically it’s a lot darker. Darker sounds, more synthesizers, dancier. I would hope through the dancey elements of the songs, it has a more cathartic element dealing with more painful subject matter.

SW: What kind of painful subject matter?

SR: Well my parents got divorced. I also had a separation with my girlfriend. Most of the songs deal with that, and the project was kind of born out of that. I had been writing a lot of songs that seemed like they would be for a new Throw Me The Statue project, but it seemed weird to call it Throw Me The Statue because they were so different. It’s scary to start over with a new name, but I hope people who were into TMTS will be into this. I’m not disbanding TMTS, I’m just shelving it for now.

SW: What is diamond mining? In the song Diamond Mine, what does that mean to you? I don’t imagine it’s literally about harvesting crystals.

SR: No, it’s not about actual diamond mining. It’s mostly a song about obsessive love, and the diamond mine is a place within a girl that’s a dark place you search for and then find.

SW: Well, did you find the diamonds in there? Is this a postivie mining excusion?

SR: Yeah. It’s like an alluring, mysterious, dark, positive thing.

SW: Well if it’s about a separation, is this alluding to whoever you were dating?

SR: Oh, well that song’s not about separation. Some of the songs stay pretty true to my life, and some of them are abstractions.

SW: What’s it like writing about sadder, darker things? TMTS seemed pretty sunshiney.

SR: It feels natural. You know, maybe when you get older you just naturally don’t want to bop along to music quite as much. You take your lumps as you go and you change and grow up. For better or worse, that’s just where I landed right now.

SW: Have you been listening to darker music?

SR: I’ve been listening to more electronic music, but yeah, I tend to like bands that seem like they are working through some real shit. I look up to James Murphy, and some of the truly dance bands on DFA, but I love darker weirder stuff like Suicide and old synth-pioneer bands.

SW: Where’s the name Pillar Point come from?

SR: For a bit I moved back home to Half Moon Bay in California. Pillar Point is the name of the harbor I grew up next to in Half Moon Bay,

SW: Why’d you decide to name it after that?

SR: I was googling Pillar Point and found out there’s also a Pillar Point, WA. I decided that if I was really considering this name, I’d better go out there. I wasn’t sure that was going to be the name, but I felt that maybe that’s where I needed to go to find the name. So I drove out there, and it was beautiful, this little beach area with a picnic area and a cove. I was looking around anywhere for clues, even the graffiti on the park benches. But ultimately Pillar Point just felt right, I liked that it existed in both places where I lived.

SW: Did it feel like some sort of cosmic destiny thing?

SR: The one thing that felt pretty cosmic was, Pillar Point is surrounded by this tree farm, and when I was driving by there, I saw this sign that said it was called the Merrill Tree Farm. Merrill is my girlfriend’s last name. That was the moment where I was like, “this feels right.”

SW: Is it strange to write songs about your split with your girlfriend even though you got back together?

SR: She probably gets a little uncomfortable listening to some of the songs. It’s not the first time songs have been about her. There have been multiple songs about her, I’d guess she is probably over the weirdness of that.

SW: Well this is also about your parents’ divorce too, is it weird to experience that as an adult?

SR: I guess if I was a kid it would be scarring in a more permanent way, but as an adult it’s strange because you can kind of see everything as it’s happening, which makes it shittier in a way. It’s not just that it’s shittier, it just seems more human when you are a grown up. Thankfully I can write songs and talk about it there.

SW: Did you hope these songs would spark dialogues between you and your parents or your girlfriend?

SR: I guess I didn’t really expect for that, but I would hope that people, my parents and girlfriend most of all maybe, hear it know that it’s honest. One of the things I wanted to do with Pillar Point is to have it be very naked and very unguarded. TMTS was often very cryptic.

SW: Did that at all come from you listening more to James Murphy? He’s very much just like, “I’m getting older and I’m kind of sad and here it all is right here in this song. Now also, dance!”

SR: Oh my god, I mean, he’s so good at that. Did you see his movie, Shut Up and Play the Hits?

SW: Yeah, what a great sad thing that was.

SR: That scene where he says goodbye to his gear and starts crying. Man. And that interview he has with Chuck Klosterman, when he says “You seem like somebody who’s accutely self-aware all the time.” I think that’s definitely why his music resonates with all these people. You see the looks on some of those people’s faces at his final concert in the film, just pure devotion. That one kid just losing his mind, crying.

SW: I’m guessing you like Russian Literature, what with Lolita and all.

SR: Oh totally.

SW: Well are you familiar with Gogol’s concept of “laughter through tears?” Addressing these serious topics through lightheartedness and humor? It seems like you are trying to do a similar thing with Pillar Point, you know. Sad dance music, James Murphy.

SR: Definitely. Some sort of redemptive feelings thorough that dance catharsis. Maybe it’s not as dancey as I imagine, but I hope it makes people shake their butts for sure, and work something out emotionally at the same time.

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