Growing up, Hunter Moore regularly attended concerts at venues throughout the city with his father – and not just touring acts, but also Columbus bands such as Betsy Ross, Ghost Soul Trio and the Turbos. As a result, the idea of one day standing on the stage in front of an audience felt more attainable to Moore, the youngster armed with the knowledge that music could be made and performed by friends and neighbors.
“Because of that, it never really felt intimidating to me,” said the singer/guitarist, who formed Pickpocket alongside bassist Carter Kujawa and drummer Kurtis Blevins in September 2022, with the punk trio releasing its debut album All These Things We Thought We Had Invented in late July. “I realized early on you didn’t have to be a crazy rock star to go and play shows, and it was always something I wanted to do.”
The music on Pickpocket’s debut – songs that will feature heavily when the band performs at Donatos Basement tonight (Friday, Aug. 18) – tends to be blistering and relentless in a way that contrasts with Moore’s more laid-back in-person demeanor. Describing himself as “a lazy kid,” Moore said he initially had to be prodded to take up guitar lessons by his dad. “I didn’t want to go, and he'd say, ‘You have to go,’” Moore said. “In the beginning, I was often pretty frustrated, because I’ve always been someone where if I’m not good at something right away, it’s hard for me to get into it. But I’m glad my dad made me stick with it, because it’s definitely one of the main things in my life now.”
Moore sheds this more-demure demeanor from the first note of the album-opening “New Rome,” a blistering introduction built on pummeling drums, scraping, metallic car crashes of guitar and Moore’s throat-flaying vocals, from which snippets of words can be pulled that gradually paint a picture of an empire in decline.
But while some ripped-from-the-headlines occasionally bleed into the music, All These Things is far from a political record, incorporating surrealist turns of phrase, allusions to Christian imagery (though not religious, Moore’s parents made him attend church as a kid and some of the more brutal biblical tales stuck) and even the odd intimate moment. “It wasn’t supposed to end this way,” Moore sings on “Weathervane,” which begins as a languid breakup track and gradually decays into a cathartic outpouring of noise.
Crafted alongside engineer James Garcia of Hollow, the album maintains a raw-nerve, recorded-live feel, which Moore described as an essential element of Pickpocket’s music. “That was a big part of what I wanted, and that’s why I like the way James did things,” said Moore, who at one point stripped off his shirt while recording his vocals – a means of unlocking an even more primal, borderline unhinged take. “When I would go see shows with my dad, that was always a big thing for us. We’d see a band and be like, ‘Oh, that was awesome,’ and then listen to [the album] and it was just not the same. … It all ties back to that energy.”
The word “energy” pops up frequently when Moore talks about what draws him to music – a trait he traced to the post-high school discovery of Texas post-hardcore band At the Drive-In, which served as a Rosetta Stone of sorts for the musician, leading him to groups such as Hot Snakes, Drive Like Jehu and These Arms Are Snakes.
These more aggressive sounds proved a fitting soundtrack for the early pandemic years, during which Moore was forced to navigate hybrid schooling and a future that felt increasingly uncertain.
“I graduated high school in the middle of the pandemic, and things were anxious, and I was very uncertain where I was going or where the world was going,” Moore said. “When I was younger, in middle school, I was more of an online person, and I tended to be more edgy. And because of that, I felt I was too, I don’t know, to care about politics. But the older I got, the more I realized the flaws in the system, and the more aware I became.”