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The guys in Pinmonkey are breathing a little easier these days, but not for the reason you might think. Michael, Michael, and Michael, or Jeffers, Reynolds, and Crouch, as they are also known by each other just to keep things straight, recently lost their major label record deal. But fortunately, after being kicked back out into the indie world, a small label in Milwaukee picked them up and offered them a deal. The change from the stifling, buttoned-up corporate world to the freedom of the independent scene proved very positive for the band, which has a cool, alternative country sound that couldn’t quite find a home on mainstream country radio.

The group knew their music was different, and to be honest, always realized they didn’t fit into the major label vibe, so when they lost their deal, it wasn’t that much of a blow to them, according to Reynolds, the lead singer. “I don’t think we ever feared losing our deal…even when we were offered the deal with BNA we didn’t accept it right away. We sat down and had a big discussion about do we want to do this, and how do we want to go about our career. And we realized then that people who get major record deals, it’s kind of like playing the lottery…and most people who play don’t win. And we understood that going in, that this was grabbing at that brass ring, and there was a chance that we weren’t going to get that brass ring. But we also figured that you don’t get it if you don’t try. So we sort of went into it and gave it our best shot, and when that ended it really didn’t stupefy us or anything because we were kind of ready for it mentally.

“And literally the day we found out we were dropped, we started talking about what our plans were now and started regrouping immediately and that’s when we decided to go in and start recording on our own.”

Not that starting over was that easy for the band, which actually lost a couple of members during the transition and regrouped, literally, adding veteran guitar slinger Mike McAdam (one of Steve Earle’s Dukes), to the mix. There was a period of uncertainty, as any group would experience, but the guys tried to remain focused on the reason they got together in the first place – to make good music.

“It’s a bit of a blow to the ego when it doesn’t pan out the way you expected it to pan out,” recalled Reynolds. “But we just had to keep reminding ourselves that there’s a big difference between music and the music business, and success or failure in the music business did not equate to success or failure of our music because we are musicians first and foremost.”

Fans of the band would most definitely agree. Their previous albums, the indie “Speak No Evil,” and the BNA release “Barbed Wire And Roses,” were well-received by critics and fans alike for their innovative, fresh sound, which developed naturally when they first began meshing their wide-ranging influences. “We were playing together for a few years and had an indie album out, and our sound really came from us experimenting…We did hardcore bluegrass, country, pop, rock, and we found our strengths were somewhere right in the middle,” says Reynolds. Their sound landed them a nod from the Academy of Country Music for Best New Group in 2003, and tour slots with everyone from Alan Jackson and Lee Ann Womack to Willie Nelson, and they hope they also helped open up the gates at radio just a bit wider for the groups that have come to follow them.

“Radio has really opened up in the last two years that we’ve been gone, and is much more accepting, and I’d like to think in some small way that we had a hand in that,” says Jeffers. “Because when we were out there trying to get our songs on radio there were a lot of frustrated programmers who loved us and wanted to play us and weren’t allowed to play us – and I think somewhere along the way that influenced what’s going on now.”

Pinmonkey’s latest album, “Big Shiny Cars,” is in some ways a musical response to being let out of the cage, so to speak, and should draw the same kudos as their previous projects. Deemed a “reactionary record,” by Reynolds, the album features four tunes penned by Reynolds, a Matraca Berg/Gary Nicholson tune, “That Train Don’t Run,” and a Dolly Parton cut, “Down,” along with the title track, which struck a chord with the band due to its message of hope in the face of adversity – something the group obviously knows a bit about after the past year.

“If you do what you love,” sums up Jeffers about their experiences and hardships during the past year, “there’s nothing that can really keep you down. And as long as we keep the music first, we’ll always find a way to make it.”

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