One family’s music: Pinkerton Raid to celebrate new release

Aug. 07, 2014 @ 10:38 AM

Jesse James DeConto, discussing the composing process of the band The Pinkerton Raid, said he writes a melody with some chords, “and then they start complaining about it.” His siblings, Katie DeConto and Steven DeConto laugh good-naturedly at his jest.

“Usually it involves changing minor chords to major,” Jesse DeConto said. “We tell him to stop whining so much,” Katie DeConto replied. From that point, the process of writings songs is “more of a hybrid,” Jesse added.
Jesse, Steven and Katie are the core members of the Durham-based ensemble The Pinkerton Raid, who will perform a concert tonight to mark the release of their sophomore album “A Beautiful World.” They describe themselves on their page as “a sibling rivalry with musical byproducts both as different and as familiar as the brothers and sister who created them.”
During a recent interview at Mercury Studio (which Katie DeConto co-founded), there was far more cooperation than rivalry among these siblings.
Katie, who sings and plays keyboards, began singing with Jesse when he was a college student, and she was an early teenager. (They are three of five siblings total.) She also plays in a cover band with her father and sister. Steven plays guitar and percussion.
Music has always been central to their family, and “I think we have a background in two spheres,” Jesse DeConto said. They “did a lot of our singing making music together in church,” he said. When they were growing up, their father, Ron, played guitar in venues along the East Coast. “We grew up hearing him play Beatles songs, Crosby Stills and Nash” and other styles.
Jesse first became interested in music when he heard his father and his brother Marco playing Led Zeppelin tunes (“I was kind of jealous,” he said) and learned bass. Playing the music of Zeppelin, which he said is difficult to play because of its intensity, led him to create his own songs.
As musicians, being siblings “gives us something immediately that takes a long time to build, which is mutual trust,” Katie DeConto said. That trust allows them to accept criticisms and suggestions “for the good of the song,” she said.
On “A Beautiful World,” the DeContos are joined by Tim Wooten on drums, his wife Laura Wooten on vocals and keyboards, and Eric Johnson on guitar. That lineup of Pinkerton Raid will perform today, along with other horns and string players. Katie compared the recording of the album to “deconstructing everything and putting it back together.” Her brother Jesse adds: “The way we like to make music is to have lots of interweaving melodies. … A lot of [the melodies on this record] we had developed over time playing live.” He mentions The National, Arcade Fire and other bands as examples of musicians he admires because of the way they employ layers of textures in their sound. 
That layering of guitars, banjo, keyboards, strings and other instruments gives the seven songs on “A Beautiful World” an almost other-worldly feel, but with a strong emphasis on melodies. The title song begins with a drone-like sound from the guitar, a very tasteful use of feedback. The reverb and echo of the vocals and guitars adds to this almost ethereal ambience. You can hear Jesse DeConto playing banjo on “April Flower,” which is largely made up of acoustic instruments. The layering of parts also is present on this tune, as strings and other instruments add to the crescendo on the last verse. Gently reverberating guitars and vocals are the focus of “Sins of the Fathers” and “Voice of Silver.”
While some listeners can hear various folk and pop influences, this music defies any neat genre. The recording, Katie said, has received some good feedback already. “I feel like it’s a good representation of our sound now,” she said.
The siblings have performed as The Pinkerton Raid about four years. (The band’s name is a play on the name Jesse James DeConto, and is a reference to Allan Pinkerton’s raid on the outlaw James gang in the 19th century.) They play locally, but have also toured in the Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., area, and the Midwest, Katie DeConto said. They have built a network with many local musicians, and they often will get calls from venues or other musicians to perform on a bill. “We can be more choosey about what we do” because of those contacts, Katie DeConto said.
All the band members have outside jobs, but Pinkerton Raid is able to make the music it wants. “It has to be a labor of love,” Jesse DeConto said.


WHAT: The Pinkerton Raid album release party for “A Beautiful World”

WHEN: Friday, 8 p.m.
WHERE: Motorco Music Hall, 723 Rigsbee Ave., Durham
ADMISSION: Tickets are $8. To purchase, visit