Interview by F Piralla
With eight albums to his credit (for the record: three with the Pernice Brothers, two as a solo artist and three with his previous band) Joe Pernice talks about his tour, the new record and the benefit of owning his record label.
How were the Pernice Brothers formed?
About five years ago we started as a band. I used to play for a different band and we were signed to a record label in the States and I wanted to do another project with my brother. So my label at the time let us do a couple of singles. Then my other band was not satisfying anymore so I decided to make my side project with my brother and the two guys Thom Monahan and Peyton Pinkerton. I lived in the same town as them and we’ve known each other musically and decided to have them to play with me.
You said once that you were influenced by the events of September 11…
Not really. We flew to England on September 11. I was just really depressed, I wasn’t influenced by it. I went back to New York after the tour was over and I thought I’d stop playing music and do something else. Everybody I knew in the city was really depressed. I didn’t wanna do anything. I just wanted to stay in bed all the time. It was really sad. And then after a while I just kind of lifted. So I wasn’t influenced by September 11 to make this record. It was more like I lifted out of kind of a depression and wanted to get back to working. I kinda found a new love for it or renewed the love for playing. But the music is not influenced by it.
What’s your favourite track on the album?
I don’t listen to the music but if I remember recording it there’s a song called HARD TO LIVE ALONE, which was one of my favourite songs to record. It was a lot of fun, so maybe that one.
My favourite song on this album was ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE – could you tell me a little bit more about this one?
That song I think was really a nostalgic look probably at the state of the radio. When I was a kid growing up listening to the radio was a lot different than it is now. In America now it’s just a big business. The play list is very controlled and not varied at all. I think that song was mostly a nostalgic longing for a different time when radio was something that was exciting whereas now it’s just kind of predictable and doesn’t take many chances.
The pop industry is very big in the States. Do you find it difficult to work in that environment?
Thinking of radio…radio has nothing to do with us and we have nothing to do with them. I started my own record label a couple of years ago so in a way it’s a luxury because I don’t have to sell like hundreds of thousands of records to make a decent living. One of the benefits of running my own label is I don’t have to do all the crummy stuff that’s associated with trying to break the radio. It’s a real racket, as you probably know. Pop music or what is considered commercial pop music in the States is different from what I do, it might as well be another industry, it has nothing to do with me.
Is this the reason why you set up your own label?
Yeah pretty much. Because… there’s a bunch of reasons. The music industry is designed to benefit the record label and not the artist at all. And if you want to make one record, if you’re 19 years old and you want to be a superstar, a pop star then that’s the way to go but I like to make records and I’m not interested in that kind of world. I wanna keep making records. Make a record every year. I have eight albums and I don’t know many people who have been signed to big labels who’ve made eight albums. Your career is very short. I wanna keep doing it so that’s the only viable option: to start your own label.
How long have you been touring?
This record came out at the end of May and we went on tour probably a month later at the end of June so we went out touring pretty straight since the beginning of July. Probably straight through, with a week off here and there until New Year.
Do you prefer small or big venues?
Playing to six, seven hundred people is as big as I would like to get really. After that it gets very impersonal. You’re way over here and everyone is way over there and you might as well be on a TV screen. We just played at a couple of festivals over here, which were fun to do. But I wouldn’t wanna played to five or six thousand or seven thousand people every night, it’s just too weird. You know, you’re on a stage 15 feet away from everybody and it’s just strange. At that point it’s not about the music anymore, it’s about being there, which is not interesting to me. I love playing in a place where there’s a few hundred people. That’s another benefit of running my own label. I can do that, I don’t have to sell a million records, you know you can still play kind of personal shows.
How was the response to this tour?
It’s been great actually. For instance we played at Brighton. We’ve never played Brighton before and that was a sold out show. The very first show in Brighton, I was kind of surprised. The shows have been good.
What’s your favourite song to play live?
There’s a song off the new record WEAKEST SHADE OF BLUE which usually goes pretty well and the song ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE goes pretty well… these are fun songs to play. I like to play them all. ‘Cause there are so many records out if I don’t like playing a song I just cut it.
Two of the members have left (Laura Stein and Mike Belitsky), could you tell me why?
My drummer was also in another band and he’s Canadian and he was touring. He had a tour booked with this other band. It was one of those things – first come, first served. He already had tours booked so he was committed to other tours. And my piano player is my wife. We got married a week and a half ago. She stayed home for personal reasons. Her father has been ill for the past six months and she wasn’t in the right headspace to come and tour and wanted to spend time with her sick father. But we got married so that’s good. I lost a piano player but I gained a wife.
It must be hard. You only just got married and she’s on the other side of the ocean…
We were planning on getting married in the new year but because her father was sick… I had my tours already booked. I had a week off and we talked about it and we said why don’t we just do it while we have time off and we’ll deal with the rest of it later. It’s hard but it would have been equally as hard if we were just going out while I was away all this time. I don’t know if you’re married or you ever been married but once you do it’s kind of relaxing and there’s no more thinking about what are our plans, are we gonna be together in two years. It’s kind of a relief.
Well, thank very much for your time and good luck for this evening. I’ll stick around.
Thanks a lot