Indie Rock Group Pardoner goes viral for a new record
The people of River van den Berghe and Colin Burris met at the Teen Center behind the old Saturn Cafe site years ago. Van den Berghe was 12 years old and played in the group DogBone. Burris was 13, had a mohawk, and was there to see his older brother’s band, the Lost Boys. They saw each other a lot at concerts at 418 Project and Vets Hall, and then started their own band.
A few years later, as students at San Francisco State University (SFSU), their musical relationship resumed. Now their current indie rock band Pardoner is set to release their third feature film, Came down different, on Bar None Records, to a lot of media buzz like Rolling stone, Dough and NPR.
“We started playing music together again, jamming, going out, still playing music together somehow,” Burris says.
As of 2015, Pardoner’s original lineup included Max Freeland (guitar / vocals), Trey Flanigan (guitar / vocals), Will Mervau (bass) and van den Berghe (drums). The members all knew each other from attending the SFSU. Van den Bergh and Freeland were playing with Burris in a punk band, but spent a lot of time listening to dissonant and angular bands like Polvo, which inspired them to write material for Pardoner.
With Pardoner, they found a sweet spot of catchy hooks, jarring riffs and punchy groove-based beats. There is a push and pull in Pardoner’s music that feels like it is tearing apart and blending in at the same time. This continued with Burris, who took over from Mervau in 2019. Each band member puts a unique stamp on each track, which is why the songs feel so complex and layered. There is almost an internal competition in the grades. Sometimes the members will hear what everyone is contributing to the song, come up with a weird idea that shouldn’t work and see if they can pull it off, adding something new to the symphony of sounds.
“Everyone brings their own little touch to the song, whatever the idea,” says Freeland. “I feel like even when the song begins with a person’s idea, everyone definitely has their own thing in it.”
The band played as much as they could in the Bay Area. After a steady stream of concerts and a few DIY tours, independent label Father / Daughter took an interest in the group. They released the group’s 2017 album Hi uncontrollable, giving Pardoner its first dose of media attention. Given the meaning of the band’s name (a pardon is a medieval term for the person who grants pardons in the church) and Freeland making some references to “go to hell” in his lyrics, several music bloggers have defined them as obsessed with religion. But Came down different, which has songs about bosses’ frustration and other topics, makes it clear that they have a wider range of concerns.
“These are classic kids stuff,” says Freeland.
Came down different was written with more separation. Freeland and his wife had moved to Canada. He and Flanagan wrote much of the material on their own in 2019. At the end of the year, Freeland came down to the Bay so the band could flesh out the tunes in the same room. In February 2020, they recorded them at Atomic Gardens in Oakland.
It was going to be a big year; they had a spring tour booked with the band Dumb. At the end of the tour, the band dropped Freeland off in Canada and then returned to the Bay Area. But with Covid-19, not only was their tour canceled, Freeland was also stranded in the United States until August due to travel restrictions.
“It was probably like the smoothest tour planning I’ve ever done. It was so sick, ”says Freeland. “Everything collapsed. We had a ton of really cool shows lined up and it was kinda sad.
So, in a way, Covid-19 didn’t have as much of an impact on the group as it did on the others, since Freeland already lived far from the other members, which showed them that they needed to focus more on tours and records.
“I miss playing shows,” Freeland says. “But it’s like, man, we played too often.”
“Came Down Different” will be released on May 14th. For more information, see facebook.com/pardoner2.