Stephen McBean’s Romance Novel

Stephen McBean does little to buck his stoner rocker image with his long messy hair and beard. He resembles a backwoods hermit who eschews the public to practice his art. When he answers the phone at his Vancouver home, he sounds like he just finished a wake-and-bake.

Outside Love, the third album from McBean’s Pink Mountaintops project, recently came out. Two months of touring will help promote it.

McBean describes the last Pink Mountains record, Axis Of Evol, as “the God record.” I think he’s joking, but it’s difficult to tell. His dry sense of humour could easily be mistaken for brazen arrogance. He speaks with matter-of-factness about his music, with the inflection in his voice rising at the end of each sentence.

“We weren’t planning on making a record,” he says.

The way McBean tells it, Outside Love materialized in the most organic way possible. Its genesis occurred at a wedding in Montreal last summer. He and Thee Silver Mount Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band violinist Sophie Trudeau were both members of the wedding band and decided to collaborate. Shortly afterward, she flew to Vancouver and the two started jamming on bits and pieces of songs McBean had lying around.

“Some of the songs were three or four years old,” he says.

While working out the tracks, McBean says a theme became apparent.

“There was a slightly campy majestic vibe,” he says, “a romantic love notion.”

Pink Mountaintops were effectively a solo outlet for McBean while he wasn’t working with his other band, Black Mountain. But the emerging tracks — heartbreak songs, love songs and songs of friendship — emboldened him to invite a slew of friends into the studio to help shape the new album.

“I wanted it to be more of a story than a one-voice narrative,” he says, “not a personal, miserable cathartic record.”

Comments like this are where McBean’s contradictions start to appear. While there’s a laid-back quality to Outside Love, nothing about it seems tossed off and it’s obvious that a clear vision was carried out with precise execution.

While McBean’s laconic voice unifies his two bands, there’s little else the groups share. Black Mountain are an instrumental assault filled with heavy riffs and spacey keyboard lines. Pink Mountaintops are propelled by the songs’ melodies and lyrics, best displayed on “While You Were Dreaming” and “Holiday.” The music moves as a singular unit and is hardly the product of lackadaisical jam sessions.

The finished product is being jokingly promoted as the musical version of a Danielle Steel book. Black Mountain drummer Jeremy Schmidt wanted McBean to get Fabio to pose for the cover after hearing the album. While that joke quickly fell by the wayside, the idea of presenting the album as a romance novel stuck.

Outside Love’s front cover shows a thick hardcover novel with the band’s name and album title written on the dust cover, sitting on top of blue crushed velvet. Flip the record over to reveal the book’s back cover and you’ll find a black and white photo of McBean sitting in an arm chair, legs crossed with a white collared shirt popping out from underneath a fitted sweater. Despite his seeming ambivalence, it appears McBean has a streak of self-awareness after all.

This story originally appeared at

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Record Review: Pink Mountaintops – “Outside Love”

Pink Mountaintops’ Wedding Album

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  1. December 21st, 2015
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