Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Eloquent Ache of Joe Pernice

THERE are only a handful of musicians of whose work I own virtually every release. Among this group is Joe Pernice, whose recordings with alt-country band Scud Mountain Boys, chamber-pop band the Pernice Brothers and assorted side projects share an easy melodic sense, knack for both American-roots and British Invasion production styles and an aching voice that recalls the Zombies.

I still remember hearing the first Pernice Bros. record at a coffee shop on Beverly and was immediately launched into seeking out his collected works.

Pernice, whose last album was the very fine covers-heavy "soundtrack" to his novel It Feels So Good When I Stop, has just released the first Pernice Bros. LP in four years, Goodbye, Killer. (That's LA drummer/savant Ric Menck on Joe's left.)

While this blog is largely devoted to West Coast culture, there are times I am forced to admit that not everything of worth comes from our shores. The Massachusetts-reared, Toronto-dwelling Pernice is one of those rare cases -- here is my Q+A with him.

Q: At least half of this album feels more rustic than what we're used to from Pernice Bros. records, with more acoustic instruments and even electric songs like "The Loving Kind" using simpler, less compressed production.

A: The songs usually dictate the way they want to be done. You mess around with them some, but they suggest strongly the way they want to be done. With this record we were very unyielding on keeping it as spare as possible. We wanted to do it with as little clutter as possible. We wanted the songs to have rhythm, and to elevate at certain points, but we threw out everything that wasn't necessary.

One of the advantages of having fewer instruments is you let them breathe, they don't have to compete with each other.

Q: It sounds like you enjoy production and the technical side of making records, not just the songwriting you're associated with.

A: Production, I love -- making decisions about arrangements and what comes in at certain points. From an engineering standpoint, it puts me to sleep. But I love making decisions -- because you can't tell what it sounds like until you hear it.

Q: You've got a real talent for melodies: They always resolve in a satisfying way, but not always the way a listener expects. That can't be easy.

A: There's not a ton of thought involved. I hear things, I get an idea for a melody that grows out of something else. I've almost never had a whole melody come out of the blue. It grows out of fumbling around on a guitar. I really like doing it -- I really like banging on a guitar, hearing a melody, chasing it down and seeing where I can go with it.

Q: Who are some of your favorite melodists?

A: Burt Bacharach, Elvis Costello, Ray Davies, the Beatles -- how can you not like them? -- Dusty in Memphis, Big Star, Brian Wilson, Carole King. "Will You Still Love me Tomorrow?" -- was there life before that song?

Q: The Pernice Bros. sometimes build songs around pop culture figures -- Bjorn Borg, the Clash -- and now Jacqueline Susann.

A: Oh, that's an erection song. It's more about the girl who reads "Ford Maddox Ford and Jacqueline Susann." That's my ideal.

Pernice promises he will visit the West Coast this year -- "California has been good to me" -- so watch this space.

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