Boston's post-hardcore grunge rockers Pile played an explosive set at Eclectic House on Friday night, careening through songs from all corners of their extensive catalog. Accompanied by their Boston noise-rock buddies Kal Marks, Pile's sound never sat still for long, turning on a dime from sparse moments of guitar-plucking intimacy to stadium-scale explosions of ragged, angular power chords. Songs from their upcoming LP You're Better Than This appeared throughout the night, distinct from the rest of the set in their intense dissonance and experimental composition.
Pile is a down-to-earth, hardworking band without a trace of pretension. They've risen to the top of the Northeast underground scene by word of mouth and an unflagging resolve to hit the road. It's exciting to see their fan base (or cult, some might argue) growing as the new album gets ready to drop. On Friday night, breathless questions of "who are these guys?!" rang out in between bouts of moshing. It's a great time to be Pile. They seem to be advancing on all fronts with their new album, pushing the aspects of their sound that garnered cult acclaim on 2012's Dripping to new degrees of intensity, and nuance. Tracks like "#2 Hit Single," "Tin Foil Hat" (watch its live Eclectic performance below), and "Mr. Fish" find Pile channeling a volatile but steady-handed energy through jilting, unconventional song structures. These are patchwork songs in the most accomplished sense, with riff after screeching riff stitched together to create Frankenstein-creatures of forward-thinking rock 'n' roll. The often oblique lyrics of Rick Maguire, Pile's frontman and principal songwriter, rise from a clear-eyed empathy to lend these songs a blunt intellect. Rick dips into profundity without ever feeling pretentious. Ragged emotion and instrumental aggression merge in Pile to create guitar-rock monsters that make you swoon in their uglypretty embrace.
Once the crowd dispersed and Eclectic's floorboards vibrated back to their resting state, I met Rick for a chat in Eclectic's stark, fluorescent kitchen. With an ebullient introduction by Kal Marks' Carl Shane, our conversation ranged from Pile's touring ethos and a recent nightmare gig to the hilarious but sobering roots of "Mr. Fish." Rick goes on to hint at what we can expect on the new album. Read on to delve into the world of Pile, and make sure to check out Jack Gorlin's complete photo album from the show.
Hey guys, what is Pile?
Carl Shane: Pile is a group of guys. All good guys. Makin' music. Havin' fun. Really good guys. I know them pretty well. We share a practice space. We play with each other a lot. Maybe a little bit too much. We've known each other for a while now. We also started out kind of the same way. Rick and I both began bywriting our own songs before we had a band put together. When I met Rick, Pile was playing as a trio.
Rick Maguire: We were pretty much in the same neighborhood, Allston. None of us live there anymore, but we still play plenty of shows there. It's definitely the center of the Boston music scene. I'm detached from it a little bit now, but I go to shows when I can. There are a lot of people that put great stuff together like Sam and Dan from the Boston Compass. It's a monthly rag that has a list of all the shows around town, like the Showpaper in New York.
Pile tours a ton. How do you guys do it? How is touring a part of your band ethos?
Rick: Up until this point we just coordinated around our jobs and figured out how we'd stay afloat financially at home and still manage to be out as much as possible. For a while we were just trying to save up enough money so that we could cover the gas so that whatever we could make, hopefully, would offset that and we'd end up breaking even. As far as ethos, I was always told that if you want to get your music to more people, you have to go to them. Now touring has become a kind of habit, where if I'm home for too long I'll think, "I have to get the fuck out of here." I really enjoy it. It's a different way of existing than being at home and waking up in the morning, going to work, and coming back and playing music half exhausted. While touring you put all of your energy into your music every day. It's pretty freeing.
Gigging around so much, I'm sure you've had a number of really wild shows. What's the strangest show you've played recently?
Rick: It's been a long time since there's been a really weird one. There were more in the past because it was a crapshoot in the past. When you're going out initially there's no reason that anyone should give a shit about you. But the weirdest show most recently was probably at Babson college.
[Matt Connery, who plays bass in Pile, walks into the room]
Matt: It sucked, fuckin' huge balls, man.
Rick: It was, ah, it was just... It was at a bar, an on-campus bar, and there were two bands: us and our friends in Fax Holiday. We played first, and were told that people will show up probably an hour after the music starts. So we're thinking, ok, no one's really going to be here, but that's fine. All the kids came in for Fax Holiday, and it's a business school, so it's a lot of business majors. There's not anything inherently wrong with that, but it was people that were not as interested in maybe seeing music that they weren't familiar with.
Matt: They were a hundred percent not looking to see new music. They wanted pop songs. Or like, fuckin' "Sweet Caroline." It was future bro-dads.
Rick: There was one kid in particular. You could see right away that he was gonna be a shithead. Just came in and was like, "can you believe it, that there's, like, a band playing?!" And everyone's like [sarcastically], "oh no, that crazy... there's a band playing..." This kid was like, "this is ridiculous, what are they even doing? Why are they here?" He started a "Freebird" chant in between songs. And Fax Holiday, they're very dynamic with a lot of slow builds, very emotional music. We thought, fuck, this is going to be a disaster. One of the kids went up to the PA when Fax Holiday were in one of the quiet parts of their songs and plugged their his phone. They put on "Sweet Home Alabama," but way fucking louder than the band. And there was this girl who wanted to record the show for the radio, live on air, and she's just sitting there watching the band as Lynyrd Skynyrd is playing over the loudspeaker. I go up to her and ask, "where is this music coming from? Is it coming from back there? Is that where the board is?" She was like, "uh yea, yea I think so." Sure enough, that shithead kid is back there plugging his phone in and I'm like, "hey man..." And it kind of became a thing.
Matt: I wanted to just strangle...
Rick: So that was the strangest one most recently. We've eaten shit in different ways too, where it's been a weird show and we're like, what the fuck, no one's here, and there's just some guy wearing a cowboy hat...
Rick: Yea.They're all different people. It's easier to put it on somebody else and then examine that person. It's easier to use a character sometimes to express that shit. And then you can embellish them a little bit. Mr. Fish is about a guy who is a regular in the neighborhood I work in. Totally fucking insane. He just walks around saying "best living communication." That's the only thing he says, and he's about my age. I had a weird run-in with him once. I just wonder what it's like to see the world through that guy's eyes. He had a paper bag duct taped to the back of his jacket that said "please take me home."
Matt: Is this that guy you met in Harvard Square?
Rick: Yea, if he's going around just saying "best living communication," that's him. We've had a couple weird interactions. A friend that I work with, he wanted to get going the response to "best living communication" which was "urgent grace of nature." My friend wanted to see if he could get through to him by just trading those phrases back and forth. "Best living communication, urgent grace of nature, best living communication..."
You guys have a new album dropping on March 3rd titled You're Better Than This. What can we expect ? What's new? What are the feelings that come along with this album?
Rick: It's a bit weirder, I'd say, but that's a very broad way to describe it. I think it tries to be very sugary sweet and soft sometimes but it also has some of the weirdest, heaviest stuff we've ever done. I didn't even like the thing until about a month ago. But it's tough, because I'm still little too close to it to know. It's just stranger. There aren't as many hooks and shit, at least not in the same way as past albums, but I could be wrong about that.
Matt: There isn't really a Prom Song on this one.
No big guitar solo?
Rick: Oh, there's a big guitar solo.
Matt: The biggest. The biggest and best. It's an intro then a guitar solo.
Rick: It's the best I've ever been able to achieve.
So that "Sweet Home Alabama" shithead gets his Freebird?
Rick: Yea. It's definitely our Freebird. It's mostly guitar solo.