Eastern Shore-based Penny Pistolero is an alt-county band that really doesn’t it take itself too seriously. The six-piece is made up of Jon Beasley on vocals, guitar, lap steel, clarinet and saxophone; Ben Saltzman on bass and vocals; Jake Powers on lead guitar; Tommy Hambleton on lap steel, banjo, mandolin and guitar; Dave Gleockler on drums; and Rachel Woodward on vocals, guitar and trumpet.
Formed in 2012, the band’s current members have a range of backgrounds nearly as wide as their musical interests. What they have in common, though, is a love of playing together and of making each other laugh — often during shows. They also have a passion for giving back through playing benefit concerts, including one for Baywater Animal Shelter at the Stoltz Listening Room in Easton they’re hoping to make an annual event.
For this month’s “Stage Left,” we sat down with all six members to talk band names, influences and how each found their way to Penny Pistolero.
So where does the name Penny Pistolero come from?
JB - Every band I’ve ever been in, you just kick around names for weeks and weeks until you find one, and that was how it worked for this, too. A girl in our band (when it was formed) wanted to do some alliteration, and of the five or six things she threw at us, that was the one (we) could agree on.
It stuck, and I really like it. I’ve been in a lot of bands where I didn’t like the name, but this one works.
BS - People come up with really creative spellings for it too, so it’s a surprise every time someone makes a band poster for us. It’s good stuff.
JB - I really thought when we picked it, that it would be one that people would remember pretty easily, but it still gives people fits.
BS - They remember it; they just can’t say it.
TH - Pisterollo, that was my favorite.
How would you describe your music?
JB - When we started the band it was supposed to be kind of an alternative country band. Sort of like Wilco, or Ryan Adams, or something like that. It’s sort of kept that over the years, but we are a little heavier now than we started. But we do softer songs, and we do heavier songs.
I think when we promote ourselves, we say alt-country and hope that people know what that means. But I don’t think we’re a country band in a real way.
DG - I play too loud for that.
Who are some of your favorite artists or influences on your music?
JB - Old 97’s, and Deer Tick, and Ryan Adams are three big ones for me. Everybody in the band, though, likes different stuff, and some of us come from backgrounds where they may not have picked this music to be in, originally. But we try to let everybody have their own. I do most of the songwriting, but very rarely do I ever say, ‘Oh Dave, I want you to play this, or Jake, I want you to play that.’ It’s sort of organic, and I just let everybody do whatever comes into their head, whatever feels right to them.
That sounds pretty collaborative.
BS - 99.9 percent of the time, Jon comes forward with a song that he’s written and then we all just sort of sit down and do whatever to it. I mean, occasionally there might be something with the arrangement that we change, but most of the time it’s Jon’s writing and then we get to jam it out. It makes it a lot of fun.
Can you each give me a little bit of your musical background?
BS - I’ve been in a lot of different bands, everything from metal and hardcore bands to doing stuff like this. I had never done anything like this until a band that me and Jon were in together before this. Jon was actually the one who got me into bands like Deer Tick and Drive-By Truckers. It’s weird, because I still kind of draw for this band a lot of 90s bands. I ripoff Cake a lot and stuff like that, just because it has that cool country-esque sound that’s not really country. It just sort of fits.
DG - My kids still can’t believe dad’s in a country band every day I go to practice. I’ve played drums since I was 10; I play guitar and sing in other side projects and bands. This is probably the slowest band I’ve ever played in. But it’s a lot of fun — I just like to beat on things.
JB - I’ve played for about 20 years, and I did ska and punk bands for a long time. Then I got pulled into the band that Ben and I (and some other local people) were in, Down Hollow, and that was sort of country, and metal, and punk, and all the stuff in between. That sort of got me playing guitar a little bit … I had been playing saxophone exclusively before that.
RW - This is the first band I’ve ever been in. I played trumpet all through school; I picked up guitar in college. Then I worked at the coffee shop downtown … and I bartended at night, and that was how I met some of these guys and kind of fell into this.
TH - I’ve played guitar since high school, and just kind of had various little projects. Jon and I — I used him for sax in some stuff — we’ve been friends since high school. This is the first play out band I’ve been in; I’ve been kind of behind the scenes recording and living vicariously through Jon for years. I’ve never played any of these instruments until I was in (this band.) So that’s been kind of neat. I love it, it’s fun but, like (Jon) was saying, at the time it wasn’t my first choice — but I love it.
JP - The only other band I was in was in high school, and it was a death metal band. That was in Michigan, and then I came here and the old drummer that’s not with us anymore introduced me to these guys.
What’s it like being in a larger band versus playing solo?
DG - We need a lot more room.
TH - It’s a wall of sound.
JB - I would say that once we got (Tommy’s) lap steel in, that was the point where it turned and people went from going ‘Yeah, you guys are good’ to ‘Wow, that sounds really great.’ It just adds something new that not really anybody else locally has.
BS - It’s cool, too, to have this many people in the band. It sort of allows the different elements.
There are certain parts where there could be a melody being played, and Jake can just light it up and it’s really, really cool. And Tommy can just do all these really cool ambient sounds because he doesn’t have to carry the entire melody ... Rachel plays trumpet; it’s neat she doesn’t have to play her guitar all the time. There’s a lot of benefits to it.
TH - I also think we’ve been lucky in regards to finding a little family. We all get along like nothing I’ve ever known.
BS - That never happens.
TH - And nobody has a giant ego and is sitting there wanting to show off. We all just kind of put the right amount of everything.
RW - We’re pretty much begging each other to show off more.
Are there any songs or sets that you have the most fun playing?
BS - It all depends on the vibe of the moment. When we play long sets, especially as of late, we sort of pander to whatever the crowd is feeling, how they’re acting. Usually the more into it they are, the more fun. Although … sometimes people will be ignoring us and we’ll be having the time of our lives.
For upcoming show dates, visit pennypistolero.com or find the band on Facebook or Instagram.