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New Album Darkens The Pilgrims’ Sunny Garage Rock

  • The Pilgrims band member Brendan D'Angelo plays during a rehearsal at Hanover Strings on Feb. 1, 2017 in Hanover N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Vocalist Chris Rosenquest of The Pilgrims belts out a song during a rehearsal in Hanover, N.H. on Feb. 1, 2017. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Pressing his face against the locked door, Kiel Alarcon, a member of The Pilgrims arrives for a rehearsal at Hanover Strings, in Hanover, N.H. on Feb. 1, 2017. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Chris Goulet can count on one hand the number of times that Charley Conquest attended one of The Pilgrims’ shows in and around the Upper Valley during the rock band’s first six years.

“I think Charley saw us a couple of times at most,” Goulet, a co-founder of the band, said this week of the boss at his day job in the Hanover Strings guitar shop in downtown Hanover. “It was tough because a lot of our shows start pretty late at night.”

A troubadour in his own right who founded the store in 1974, Conquest didn’t really need to travel out of town and stay up late to hear The Pilgrims. A few years ago, he invited the band — Goulet, fellow Hanover Strings employee and lead singer Chris Rosenquest, guitarist Kiel Alarcon, drummer Chris Egner and bassist Brendan Dangelo — to practice their brand of garage rock after business hours at the store and repair shop overlooking Main Street.

“We’d tried a lot of other places that didn’t work out, so this was kind of a Hail Mary,” Goulet recalled. “We didn’t have another place. Once we started, it was great — and not just having the place. Charley would give us ideas all the time for album covers, how we should stage something. He was super into it.”

The Pilgrims still rehearse at Hanover Strings, but without their mentor: Conquest died in October of complications from a cerebral hemorrhage

The loss of Conquest looms large in No Focus, the CD that The Pilgrims were fine-tuning when he died, and that they will unveil Friday night at Windsor Station.

“The album in general ended up being a lot darker than The Pilgrims have ever put out,” Alarcon, a 2002 graduate of Windsor High, said on Wednesday. “Maybe not darker, but more serious, more aware of our surroundings, what’s going on in the world.”

And now Charley wasn’t there to offer encouragement and expertise.

“We were very much in the thick of getting our ideas into a narrative when it happened,” Goulet said. “We didn’t notice until after we’d written it and fleshed out the whole thing that … ‘Hey: There are really dark tones here.’ The real human-sadness parts were surprising.”

The Pilgrims, all now in their early and mid-30s, dedicated the final package to Conquest, whose passing reinforced for Rosenquest the healing power of the arts.

“When the day job feels like a lot, I tend to sit down with an instrument,” said the 36-year-old Rosenquest, a Sharon resident who graduated from Rhode Island College with a degree in theater performance. “I’d always pictured myself as a musician with an instrument in my hand. It’s very cheap therapy,”

Rosenquest started with The Pilgrims about three years ago, when they needed a keyboard player. Soon, he recalled, “it became clear I wasn’t very good and it turned out they needed a singer. … It was initially a little frightening to be a frontman, but that sort of melted. The first time I saw them, before I joined, it was really clear that they were in it to have fun. The energy is just really contagious. We set the bar high there.

“I’ve always wanted to be in a band like this.”

Rosenquest and then Alarcon came to the band just in time for Goulet’s peace of mind.

“After our other founding member moved away, I was the only guitar player and the singer,” Goulet said. “The experience was awesome, but it was nutty. When (Rosenquest) came along, he’s got this awesome, deep baritone voice and tons of stage presence. It was a great fit, musically and personally.

“And Kiel being able to take up some of the space on guitar let me concentrate on my playing and, hopefully, songwriting and arranging.”

Goulet and Dangelo, who attended Windsor schools together, and Alarcon had played with a variety of bands before and after graduating from Windsor High.

“In those groups, it was done with varying levels of taking it seriously,” Goulet said. “The Pilgrims were specifically designed to be really, really fun. Back then, between about 2007 and 2010, music was defined a lot more by genre. … It was so silly. Our idea was, ‘Let’s not do that. Let’s write really simple rock and roll songs that we’d like to hear.’”

It helped that other Upper Valley bands with similar sensibilities, such as Faux in Love, Carton, Derek and the Demons and Shy Husky in recent years formed a collaborative, What Doth Life, to put out their records.

“Just having them all around is great, to get in front of each other and learn from each other,” Rosenquest said. “There are so many creative people around here. Everybody’s coming out to each other’s shows.”

And what wouldn’t The Pilgrims give to spend this week badgering Charley Conquest to come to Friday night’s gig, 9:30 starting time notwithstanding?

“I’m never going to get over it,” Goulet said. “I’ll be missing him and wishing he was here for the rest of my days.”

The Pilgrims perform songs from their new album,No Focus, during a release party on Friday night at 9:30 at Windsor Station.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.