"I guess I would describe my music as pop music, a little morose. I love a melody."
Joe Pernice believes in the power of pop. Enough to leave behind the relative security of neo-country roots-rock and Scud Mountain Boys to chart a new path and direction.
The result: Pernice Brothers' debut disc - "Overcome by Happiness" - which enthralled and touched pop fans of all persuasions. Personally, the album helped me greatly during a difficult time in my life, the 2nd half of 1998.
It is therefore a great privilege to present Joe's responses to some of my humble questions here in the Power of Pop...
How did "Chappaquiddick Skyline" come about?
I had a collection of songs that felt different than the Pernice Brothers material, that I wanted to record at home in a relaxed manner. This record was done on eight track over a period of two and a half months. The recording of the record was so low key that Thom Monahan and I joked that it never really happened.
Why "Chappaquiddick Skyline"?
I wanted a grim Massachusetts related title and I think we got one.
Considering the personnel involved (Thom Monahan,
Peyton Pinkerton etc), isn't this really a Pernice Brothers album?
No, because only three of the twelve or so people on Chappaquiddick Skyline are on Overcome by Happiness. Besides that, the records just feel very different to me stylistically.
What is the difference, if any, between the approaches taken on "Overcome by Happiness" and "Chappaquiddick Skyline"?
Well, I didn't want the songs to be as lush on this record as the last. I
wanted this record to have a more lazy feel. Plus, as I answered earlier, we did
this record at home over a much longer period of time. Chappaquiddick Skyline
was recorded in pretty much the dead of winter, and here in New England that
means something; the record was done mostly in the dark. We sucked lemons to
keep the scurvy from getting us.
The response to "Overcome by Happiness" was generally very positive - how do you feel about that?
I'm very glad that people like that record. It meant a lot to me to make that record. It was the first one I did without the Scud Mountain Boys, and I think it's a better record than any of the Scud Mountain Boys albums. It was a real blast to make. Very exciting time for me.
Is there anything about "Overcome by Happiness" that you regret? That if you had to chance to do it again, you would do it differently?
I guess you always want to change little things here and there. For the most part I like it the way it is. I'd like the next one to be more lush, more sounds. We had a pretty tight schedule when we made that record. I don't think I would make that kind of record again in so little time.
Your work has been (favourably) compared to the Beach Boys, Big Star, Nick Drake, Zombies etc. Are these comparisons fair to and representative of your work? What comparisons would you use if you had to describe your music to someone who has never heard you before?
All of those comparisons make me a bit nervous because I know I am a tiny talent compared to all of those you mentioned. It's flattering in the most disturbing of ways. I guess I would describe my music as pop music, a little morose. I love a melody.
What are the benchmarks you use for your art? What do you hope to achieve each time you finish an album?
I always try to make sure I am honestly putting something of myself into the songs. I never want to feel like I'm putting one over on the listener. If I'm not emotionally connected to the song, and if it wasn't a ton of fun writing the song, it's not worth it. For me, writing and recording songs is an unbelievable pleasure. I think I write so often because I want to repeat the feeling. I'm exactly like one of those laboratory rats that gets the cocaine reward every time it presses the button over and over. Obviously I want people to like my music or I wouldn't release records. Whether or not I continue to release records, I will continue to write and record until it is no longer fun.
What influenced the songs on "Chappaquiddick Skyline"?
The songs on Chappaquiddick Skyline were inspired by one person. This record is a love letter of sorts.
That is a very interesting story used in the promo (see below) - is it at all true? And how does it relate to the material on "Chappaquiddick Skyline"?
The story in the promo is true. I guess I meant to suggests that sometimes things/people/songs that don't fit into a particular situation are lucky enough to find a spot in time. If I hadn't had a break from the Pernice Brothers stuff, these songs surely would have vanished. I doubt I would have made this record at another time.
What can you tell us about the back story to songs like "Everyone Else is Evolving", "Solitary Swedish Houses", "Courage Up", "Breakneck Speed", "Theme to an Endless Bummer" and especially "The Two of You Sleep"?
Oh God, it's like this: When I mention to my girlfriend that I've just written a new song, she always asks what's it about? I say, the usual: fear of death, despair, loss, a desire to connect, love, infidelity (mine and theirs) and a love of life that I just can't seem to shake.
Why did you cover New Order's "Leave Me Alone" when it seems to be out of synch with the rest of the album?
It's simply a great song. I actually thought it was right in synch with the album. Maybe it's a stretch stylistically, but I think the album, including that song, pretty much mines the same emotional ground.
Are there any other influences you have that would surprise people familiar with your work?
I love the Clash, the Jam, the Sex Pistols, Dinosaur Jr., Guided By Voices, Billy Childish, oh lots of people.
What can we expect from the next "official" Pernice Brothers album? When can we expect it?
Let me answer that one in another month. I will say, the wheels are turning.
(AND if you're hankering for a taster of that next album, click here)
Thank you, Joyce Linehan.
That promo story as promised:
"Not every kid makes the team. They're almost always good kids. Maybe a little overweight, maybe they think with the other side of their brains, who knows? I used to know this kid who really wanted to be a good hockey player. He had all the desire, but was simply too nice a guy. Once, during a particularly frustrating game, he popped his main spring and started screaming and punching the glass like a maniac. The whole crowd, the underemployed fathers half in the bag, the mothers starving for love, the young kids with their pizza-burned mouths and new, disturbing thoughts of copulation, froze and were actually silent for what seemed like an hour. I think I was ten. Needless to say, that kid didn't return for the next period, or the next game, or to school. Soon no one heard from him at all. It was as if he dissolved, and as I grew up, I'd wonder about him. A couple years ago I learned he was some hot-shot physicist, probably more well adjusted than many of us, certainly me. And he did have a pretty fair wrist shot. Not every kid makes the team. The songs on Chappaquiddick Skyline are a lot like that kid." Joe Pernice