FOREWORD: Joe Pernice and I go back a-ways to his days in bucolic Scud Mountain Boys. I had done a piece on them for cool underground mag, Oculus, around ’95, and saw them play at my pal Mike’s former Avenue B club, Brownies. Then, as leader of the Pernice Brothers, I attended three different New York shows (two at Mercury Lounge and another at the old Fez) and wrote a few more articles praising the guy.
My friend, Shirley Halperin (Smug mag entrepreneur and former Rolling Stone/ US Weekly scribe), ended up marrying Joe’s producer-bassist, Thom Monahan. And Joe went on to release a few more excellent albums: ‘03s Yours Mine & Ours, ’05 Discover A Lovelier You, and Live A Little. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.
Between the last Pernice Brothers record, ‘98s orchestral pop masterstroke, Overcome By Happiness, and the recent, The World Won’t End, singer-songwriter-guitarist Joe Pernice remained busy recording under two ‘very’ anonymous pseudonyms. In ‘99, he released the beautifully understated, but lost-in-the-shuffle, Chappaquiddick Skyline, then followed it up with the yet-to-be-released in America, Big Tobacco (featuring songs originally intended for the Scud Mountain Boys, Pernice’s former Massachusetts-based rural Country-folk band).
Although gripping stanzas of apprehension, sadness, and fear cast a lyrical dark cloud over most of his work, Pernice’s impeccably precise pop arrangements retain a heart-rendering warmth and rarefied poignancy only a truly gifted musician could express so earnestly.
On The World Won’t End (Ashmont Records), he’s still willing to show on uneasy heart of darkness. And as usual, his honey-dewed, come-hither voice crests and falls with a balmy buoyancy, conveying a fervent serenity to the pastoral tranquillity multi-instrumentalist-producer Thom Monahan, percussionist Mike Belitsky, keyboardist Laura Stein, guitarist-percussionist Peyton Pinkerton, and Joe’s brother, guitarist Bob Pernice so elegantly provide.
I caught up to Pernice while he was doing some freelance work editing a Cosmopolitan spin-off. True pop fans will want to check out the Pernice Brothers live shows.
I heard you recorded the elegant strings for The World Won’t End at Smug Magazine’s spacious former headquarters on Canal Street?
JOE PERNICE: We were pressed for time and scheduling was madness. We had to get together string players and band members and (producer) Thom Monahan was making records with other people. We had a small two-day window to do strings or delay the record six months. Shirley (Halperin) from Smug had wide-open space and when they weren’t working during the weekend, we brought in the top notch recording equipment.
I must admit, your new song, “Let That Show,” caught my attention because of its similarity to Electric Light Orchestra’s ‘70s Chamber pop.
JOE: (laughter) That’s exactly what we were hoping for. I was just over in England and a guy who works on our label there said, “I don’t know the name of that song. It’s the ELO string thing.” It’s a disco flourish.
Is there a major difference between the Chappaquiddick Skyline and Big Tobacco side projects?
JOE: Big Tobacco will be out in America in October. It has different songs I wrote to be on the next Scud Mountain Boys record that never came. But I had just gotten out of my record deal and that was recorded during time off. I didn’t release it in America because I didn’t want to release two LP’s between the Pernice Brothers records. In Europe, they’re less concerned about the name. In America, I got this Palace Brothers comparison. I didn’t think musically they were anything like us.
Some spare Scud Mountain Boys songs were reminiscent of Palace Brothers. But you use more instrumentation now.
JOE: A lot of Scud songs from Dance The Night Away and Massachusetts could have been fuller. But that band existed for only a couple years and made three records in 18 months. We were just flying. We didn’t know what the fuck was going on.
What’s with the sarcastic The World Won’t End title?
JOE: What do you mean? I find it to be openly hopeful. (laughter)
Don’t give me that crap! (laughter) The songs sound upbeat, but the lyrics are bleak.
JOE: It matches the theme.
The aura reminds me of Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys when he was living in the sandbox following psychedelic drug misuse.
JOE: That’s because he was all hopped up on pills.
I’m just drawing shit out of you. I hope your personal life isn’t as depressing as these songs.
JOE: Oh no. It’s great making records. Who could ask for a better life.
Does it get easier to construct songs as you get older and wiser?
JOE: I don’t think about it being easier or harder. It’s about enjoying it. I articulate better. When I do it a lot and get in the zone, I get lost in it. I enjoy writing more than performing. It’s about trying to find the time while traveling so much. My schedule of writing everyday has been disrupted.
You’re able to write about mundane subjects like fear and love loss with renewed flare and new topicality on each album.
JOE: Thom and I realize we’ve recorded about 90 tracks together. We were counting them. I wrote them on a napkin and we were laughing.
Are you still writing songs on acoustic guitar?
JOE: Yes. But I’m thinking of writing on piano. I have a bunch of songs I want to record that may work better that way. But I don’t want a radical change, just a different angle.
Are you an avid reader?
JOE: I’m reading a Nick Hornby book now. When I was making the record I only had snippets of free time. So I read lots of poetry. I like reading about woodworking and I love the Hockey Encyclopedia’s stats.
So you’re a hockey fan, eh?
JOE: I’m a Boston Bruin fan. I was psyched watching the games late at night while I was in London. Ray Bourque (former Bruin) won his Stanley Cup finally. I didn’t think the Colorado Avalanche had a chance. New Jersey was better, but they caved. They got one goal in the final two games against Patrick Roy.