The popular indie band Pinegrove is in the midst of a comeback tour pegged to their new album, Marigold.
Why a comeback tour? The band took a year off following sexual misconduct allegations made against lead singer Evan Stephens Hall. In November 2017, Hall publicly acknowledged the "sexual coercion" accusation; following this, the band ceased activities until late 2018.
Recent press coverage of Pinegrove explicitly mentions the controversy. A New York Times review of Marigold claimed that the album feels like it's reckoning with Hall's past, while a New Yorker piece questioned whether his period of atonement had been sufficient:
Is this enough? Some listeners will be moved by Hall's determination to keep anger at bay, but others may be disturbed that he is singing—still!—songs that seem to be about his private sorrows. There is no way to judge the sufficiency of Hall's atonement without deciding how much he had to atone for in the first place.
That last sentence is about the only thing the New Yorker story gets right. Unfortunately, it does not begin to untangle the mystery of what, exactly, Hall did.
For a useful explainer, readers must turn to frequent Reason writer Cathy Young, whose piece on the #MeToo-ing of Hall makes matters quite clear: There's little evidence Hall did anything wrong. On the contrary, he was the victim of attempted blackmailing—not by his accuser, but by another woman, who attempted to channel the accuser's anger toward Hall into a professional opportunity.
Hall's accuser was a member of the band's road crew who was dating someone else when she and Hall became intimate. The woman broke up with her boyfriend, she dated Hall for another two weeks, and then things came to an end. The woman later came to regret her actions and felt "damaged" by the relationship with Hall, even though he had not forced her into it and had never engaged in violence.
No doubt the lead singer of a band has power over his entourage. But Hall was not his accuser's boss. She even conceded that "he really had no control over me." In any case, she felt he should "take some time to reflect on the damage he had done," she later told The New Yorker.
But there's a lot more to the story, according to Young:
The New Yorker story says that Hall took a year off touring and started therapy "at the request of his accuser." But that's a rather sanitized version of the facts provided in a September 2018 article in the online music magazine Pitchfork (which The New Yorker references). It appears Hall's accuser didn't just come forward on her own; the accusations were first made in a series of emails from one Sheridan Allen, founder and head of a Philadelphia-based outfit called PunkTalks whose mission is ostensibly to "connect touring musicians and music industry workers with free therapy."
On November 14, 2017, Allen wrote to the Pinegrove label and to the organizer of a festival where the band was scheduled to perform, alluding to the #MeToo momentum and accusing Hall of "predatory and manipulative behavior toward women." She stated that she was in touch with a woman accusing Hall of sexual coercion and that this victim was "NOT THE FIRST" (caps in the original email, which Pitchfork reviewed). She also suggested that Hall should step away from performing and get therapy (which she volunteered to provide through PunkTalks); that both the band's tour and the release of its first album, Skylight, should be canceled; and that a public statement should be made about the situation.
Two days later, in an internal email to the PunkTalks team, Allen wrote that if those conditions were not met, "the original victim and another identified victim plan to speak publicly, which we support 10000%." She also referred to herself as "working directly to take down the biggest band in indie right now," a statement from which she backtracked on Twitter several months later.
These are important details. Allen notified Pinegrove of the allegations (plural) in an attempt to coerce the band into taking a series of actions that included hiring Allen's own therapy organization.
The accuser was not happy with Allen, and later said this, according to Pitchfork:
But the alleged victim, it turned out, did not want her allegation to be made public. "Sheridan Allen did many things without my knowledge, support or permission involving the Pinegrove situation, even after I had already asked her to remove herself entirely from the situation," she wrote in a statement to SPIN earlier this year. "I never asked for her to request or demand any type of statement from Pinegrove or Run for Cover. I've never said or implied to Sheridan that I wanted to 'take down' Pinegrove." Allen inserted herself in many ways, she continued, "without my knowledge or consent."
Recall that Allen had hinted at an additional sexual misconduct allegation. It turned out this one was completely fake. Regarding her sexual encounter with Hall, this other woman told Pitchfork, "The aftermath made me feel bad about myself, but I never felt that he was abusive towards me at all. If someone did have a negative experience, I want to validate that, but mine was consensual." This second woman had vented about the encounter to Allen, and she felt betrayed when she learned that Allen was falsely portraying what had happened between the woman and Hall as sexual abuse in an effort to extort the singer.
In summary, Hall's music career was put on hold for a year because a self-promoting therapist publicized two other women's private sexual encounters without their permission (mischaracterizing at least one of them in the process), and then suggested the person she was besmirching hire her as a form of penance. Given all this, The New Yorker has no business musing about whether Pinegrove has fully atoned for its sins: Like Aziz Ansari, he appears to have behaved imperfectly in a romantic situation, a mistake for which he was dragged through the mud and placed in stocks alongside actual rapists and serial exploiters.
Not only does he have nothing left to atone for, he may actually be owed an apology.