Pardoner. Photo by Marisa Kriangwiwat-Holmes.

Pardon the Interruption

Pardoner may be America’s next great slacker rock band — just don’t tell singer Max Freeland. 

Max Freeland says his band Pardoner often gets called “slacker rock,” but he’s unsure if that’s a compliment. “Whenever someone writes us up, even when it’s a nice review,” and slacker rock gets mentioned, “it’s a little insulting like these pathetic brainless slackers managed to squeak out songs,” he says with a note of sarcasm.

Freeland’s ambivalence about slacker rock aside, Pardoner — which released its excellent fourth full-length album, Peace Loving People, last year on Bar/None — plays well-crafted melodic rock songs that stay effortlessly rough around the edges. After all, trying too hard or attempting rock star brio is the domain of prog and metal bands in the slacker rock code. But like other slacker rock greats, Pardoner is a tight guitar band despite projecting their couldn’t-care-less attitude. 

The band performs May 15 at John Henry’s in advance of their new EP, Future of Music, out May 24 on Convulse Records. 

      Having said what he said, Freeland, who sings and plays guitar, admits that luminaries of the slacker rock micro-genre like Pavement, Archers of Loaf and Guided by Voices influenced his band’s sound. Hardcore also threads through Pardoner songs, like in “Are You Free Tonight?” off Peace Loving People, which alternates between Dinosaur Jr. guitar squall with interludes of punk energy.

     Formed in 2015, Pardoner met in college in San Francisco, with River van den Berghe on drums, Colin Burris on bass and Trey Flanigan, who also sings and plays guitar.  

“In middle school, my brother and I shared a computer. I came into it that way. He was older than me and had Pavement and Guided by Voices downloaded,” Freeland says. “That’s the stuff we bonded over most when we first started playing together. Trey and Colin’s experience was the same — a cool older brother who tells you that the music you like is lame and stupid and you should listen to something else.”

Alongside a curated, lo-fi sound quality, Pardoner is also lyrically funny, lampooning hipster indie music scenes.

     “I don’t care about the future of art. You killed the soul, and you trampled the heart. Who gives a shit that you’re all ditching guitars. Maybe the journalist will make you a star,” Freeland sings on “Future of Music,” the lead single from the band’s new EP. 

“What I write about in the lyrics is like a social critique of myself and characters like me and the pathetic little scenes we like to run around in,” Freeland says.

     But despite “Future of Music’s” repeated refrain, “I don’t care about the future of music,” Freeland tells EW. “I might care. Of course, there are a hundred million good bands making music right now and are out doing that. But it’s all kind of annoying — not the music, but the whole thing,” he says, mentioning the pressure for indie bands to build a presence on social media. “It’s just so degrading,” Freeland says.

       These days, Pardoner lives in different parts of the country, and Freeland says more than anything, the fun of playing music has helped keep the bicoastal band together. “We’re all satisfied with our collaborative partnerships,”  he says. “We all like each other. We want to hang out. It’s fun to play music. I think that’s the impetus.”

Pardoner plays with Portland indie rockers Nick Normal and Guitar 8 pm Wednesday, May 15 at John Henry’s, 881 Willamette Street; $12 advance, $15 door, 21-plus.