Although singer-songwriter and guitarist Joe Pernice first made his mark as the leader of the rough-edged, country/pop band the Scud Mountain Boys, his style shifted into classic pop recordings for the Pernice Brothers, signaling a profound departure from his previous work. With the Scud Mountain Boys, Pernice kept the music relatively simple and traditional. But in his role with Pernice Brothers, the songwriter opted for arrangements filled with grand orchestrations, piano, and horns, leaving behind his no-frills approach. Pernice transcended the initial label of alternative country, turning instead toward a kind of bittersweet pop in the same vein as Alex Chilton and Elvis Costello. “I just wanted to make a pretty and mellow pop record,” Pernice said about the group’s 1998 debut album Overcome By Happiness, as quoted by his booking agency. “And I’m not afraid to use the word ’pop.’ There’s nothing shameful about it.”
The underlying purpose of Pernice’s work—from his time with the Scud Mountain Boys through the Pernice Brothers and solo recordings—has always remained a very personal one. “I always try to make sure I am honestly putting something of myself into the songs,” he remarked in an interview posted on NBCi.com. “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…. 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.”
Before taking a giant leap into the world of pop-influenced music, Pernice fronted the Scud Mountain Boys on guitar and vocals. Also featuring Stephen Desaulniers on bass and vocals, Bruce Tull on lap steel guitar and vocals, and Tom Shea on drums and mandolin, the Scud Mountain Boys played a hybrid of country and rock that favored traditional American songwriting values over stylistic trends, somewhat akin to the Band. The quartet formed in 1991 in Northampton, Massachusetts, and started out mainly as a rock-oriented group. However, their repertoire soon became more rooted in country, encompassing simple, acoustic songs. Playing local shows, the Scud Mountain Boys, within the span of a few years, found a niche for their music among a growing number of neo-country outfits such as Uncle Tupelo, the Bottle Rockets, Son Volt, and Wilco.
The first recording by the Scud Mountain Boys, “Two Weeks Past,” appeared on a 1994 Swedish compilation titled Hit the Hay. The following year, the band released their debut album, Pine Box, as well as their second full-length set, Dance the Night Away, on the small, independent label Chunk Records. In 1996, the Scud Mountain Boys signed with Sub Pop Records and released the single “Knievel” followed by a third album, the highly-acclaimed Massachusetts. Their new label then negotiated for the release of the 1997 two-CD set The Early Years: Pine Box and Dance the Night Away, comprising the first two Chunk albums as well as a handful of rarities. By now, critics were hailing the Scud Mountain Boys as the “real deal.” Unlike the so-called alternative or neo-country bands, the quartet appeared committed to writing poignant, traditional American songs that remained free of historical irony.
Despite the Scud Mountain Boys’ success, Pernice felt it necessary to try something new. Thus, in the summer of 1997, he left the band. “I think we went as far as we could go stylistically and it became very limiting,” Pernice said about his departure, as quoted on the Pernice Brothers website. “It was just time to move on. I’m not knocking that kind of traditional country music we were doing, but for me it was getting a little boring. I was thinking that a lot of the songs I was writing at the time [of the Scuds breakup] were suited for things like strings and piano. Really, I just wanted to expand the sound a bit and try different instruments and to really indulge myself, which I couldn’t do in the Scud Mountain Boys.”
In order to bring his new songs to life, Pernice gathered a group of local musicians—including his guitar-playing brother Bob Pernice, guitarist Peyton Pinkerton from New Radiant Storm King, bassist/producer Thorn Monahan (who played bass for the Lilys and engineered and/or produced albums for the likes of J
Members include Mike Belitsky, drums, percussion; Michael Deming (former member), acoustic and electric piano, vocals; Thom Monahan, bass, vocals, guitar, keyboards, drum programming; Bob Pernice, guitars, vocals; Joe Pernice, vocals, guitars, bass; Peyton Pinkerton, guitars, vocals, percussion; Aaron Sperske (former member), percussion; Laura Stein, piano, keyboards, vocals.
Joe Pernice played in the country-influenced band the Scud Mountain Boys, 1991-97; formed Pernice Brothers and released Overcome By Happiness, 1998; founded Ashmont Records, 2000; released The World Won’t End, 2001.
Addresses: Record company —Ashmont Records, 10A Burt St., Dorchester, MA 02124.Management—Joyce Linehan, Ashmont Media, e-mail:[email protected] mon-trecords.com.North American Booking —Ali Giam-pino, Billions Corporation, (312) 997-9999, e-mail:[email protected]European and U.K. Booking —Paul Buck, the Agency Group, e-mail: [email protected]Website —Pernice Brothers Official Website: http://www.pernicebrothers.com.
Mascis, Silver Jews, Chamber Strings, Jubilee Allstars, and Beachwood Sparks), drummer Aaron Sperske, pianist/string arranger/producer Mike Deming, and a mini orchestra of strings and horns—to record the Pernice Brothers’ debut album at Studio .45 in Hartford, Connecticut. Upon its release in May of 1998, Overcome By Happiness drew rave reviews as critics likened Pernice’s work to that of the Beach Boys, Big Star, Nick Drake, and the Zombies.
Prior to moving forward with the next Pernice Brothers album, Pernice put out two albums as side projects. The first, Chappaquiddick Skyline, released in January of 2000, contained songs that did not quite fit with those appearing on Overcome By Happiness. “I wrote those songs pretty much right next to each other, but they just felt different to me,” he explained to Joshua Klein of the Onion A.V. Club online. “I wanted to do them a different way. I didn’t want full string arrangements, horns, and stuff like that. I also wanted to make a record I could do at home, and I did.” For the album, Pernice enlisted the help of Monahan on bass, orchestral samples, loops, keyboards, vocals, and percussion; Pinkerton on electric guitars, slide, and vocals; Laura Stein, an original member of the Halifax, Nova Scotia-based band Jale, on piano, keyboards, and vocals; and Boston native Mike Belitsky, also from Jale, on drums and percussion.
In July of 2000, after leaving Sub Pop to form his own Ashmont Records with friend Joyce Linehan, Pernice released the resonant album Big Tobacco. Along with some of the Pernice Brothers lineup—including Monahan, Pinkerton, and Stein—the recording featured additional help from Mike Daily of Whiskeytown, David Reid from Sea of Cortez, Gordon Zachasias from Fan Modine, Matt Hunter from New Radiant Storm King, Jeremy Smith of the New Harmful, and Anne Viebig from Tappan Zee.
With a stable lineup consisting of Joe and Bob Pernice, Monahan, Belitsky, Stein, and Pinkerton, the Pernice Brothers and other guests recorded The World Won’t End at Rockland Heights in Northampton from May until October of 2000. The album was released in June of 2001 and was followed by an extensive tour of the United States and Europe. Despite a lack of major-label support, the Pernice Brothers have continued to experience a growing fanbase, especially in Great Britain and Japan. Still, Pernice knows that he will probably never become a pop star—but that’s fine with him. “You’ve got to be on a major label to become a star,” he told Klein, “but who wants that? To me, I couldn’t think of anything more deplorable. I couldn’t think of a worse way to live my life.”
Scud Mountain Boys
Pine Box, Chunk, 1995.
Dance the Night Away, Chunk, 1995.
Massachusetts, Sub Pop, 1996.
The Early Years: Pine Box and Dance the Night Away, Sub Pop, 1997.
Overcome By Happiness, Sub Pop, 1998.
e.p., Ashmont, 2000.
The World Won’t End, Ashmont, 2001.
Chappaquiddick Skyline, Sub Pop, 2000.
Big Tobacco, Ashmont, 2000.
Larkin, Colin, editor, Virgin Encyclopedia of Indie & New Wave, Virgin Books, 1998.
Boston Phoenix, February 21, 2000.
Esquire, September 1999.
New York Times, January 6, 1999; December 15, 2000.
Village Voice, June 9, 1998.
Wall Street Journal, November 10, 2000.
Washington Post, May 29, 1998.
Billions Corporation, http://www.billions.com (April 2, 2001).
iVenus, http://www.ivenus.com (April 2, 2001).
NBCi, http://www.nbci.com (April 2, 2001).
Onion A.V. Club, http://www.theavclub.com (April 2, 2001).
Pernice Brothers Official Website, http://www.pernicebrothers.com (April 2, 2001).
Sub Pop Records, http://www.subpop.com (April 2, 2001).
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