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Monkey Shines

OK, we give up. What's a pinmonkey?

"Before automation, bowling alleys hired folks to set the pins up after the bowlers knocked them down," explains Rick Schell, drummer for Nashville band Pinmonkey. "Those people were called pinmonkeys."

Inspiration originally struck when lead singer and rhythm guitarist Michael Reynolds was watching an episode of The Simpsons in which dad Homer Simpson quits his job to become -- you guessed it -- a pinmonkey. The name was a joke -- at first.

"The longer we played, the name made more sense," says bass player Michael Jeffers. "The music was different than anything else, so why have a normal name?" Indeed, Pinmonkey's music does stand out -- a mixture of "bluegrass harmonies and Rolling Stones grooves," quips Rick, with pop hooks and a country attitude.

It's a blend that came together very naturally. A mutual friend introduced Michael Reynolds to Chad Jeffers, who plays Dobro and lap steel. Chad brought in his brother Michael, and Michael Reynolds got in touch with Rick. The foursome clicked right away. "We had all been in other bands where you realize when it's not happening," says Chad. "So when it does happen, it's really magical. You know it instantly."

Pinmonkey got serious about working together three years ago, and earlier this year released an independent-label album, Speak No Evil. In September they'll release a new, self-titled CD, their first for a major label. "It's a natural continuation," says Rick. "It might be a little slicker, a little bigger, but that's because we're working with a real budget!"

The only setback on Pinmonkey's road to fame thus far happened in April, when their tour bus was destroyed in a fire in South Carolina. "I looked out the window of our hotel and saw six-foot flames coming out of the back of the bus," recalls Chad. "It was very surreal. All our stuff was on it."

Undaunted, the guys played a triumphant show for more than 250 fans the same night. And that's the key for Pinmonkey: Their music gets them through anything and everything together.

"It's a strange phenomenon," observes Michael Reynolds. "You can have the worst day, and the minute you hit the stage, all that is gone."

-- Chris Neal