THE PILLS: A NEW STIMULANT FOR THE MASSES
by Joanie Pfister
This story began two years ago at the Middle East. I stopped in after work to visit with my friend who was bartending. It was an exceptionally, quiet, snowy night with few other bar customers. So, the next person to stroll in and grab a seat by my side was Paula Kelley of Boy Wonder decked out in shiny platform boots and a groovy sixties outfit. We were just passing time waiting for her friend Dave, who was running late from rehearsal. The conversation turned to music and the bands that they were involved with. Basically, Paula couldn't say enough about how terrific the Pills were and urged me to see them. So, being the type of music junkie that I am, I went to their very next show at Bills Bar and met the band. I had to agree with her assessment.
Over the months and years, I have seen the Pills live several times and I amazed at how tight they've become. They competed in and won the Jim Beam's 'One Shot to Stardom' contest which gave them a preview of what their life is about to become-one big tour. Being on the road and playing to out-of-town audiences has contributed to the confidence and perfection that the Pills have jumped to. They are a much more polished act today that when they formed. They have gone through many 'growing pains.'
The band is the brainchild of Corin Ashley and Dave Thompson. In the beginning, it was two men armed with guitars and an arsenal of pop songs that they could only imagine in an electrified form. To round out their numbers they placed an ad in the Phoenix with a large picture of the Knack above it and Corey Harding applied. Since the names Corey and Corin are so similar, Corey decided to come up with an alternate stage name. He explains, "My grandfather was named Clyde and my father's middle name is Courtney. My parents were going to call me Elizabeth if I was girl. Since I was a boy they came up with something in between-Corey. I've always like the name Clyde." He settled on Clyde O Scope. The original drummer lasted about a year. The present drummer, Jamie Vavra, recruited by Corin. He was ushering a Beatles Tribute Show at Berklee and saw Corin performing. after the set, they got to talking about Corin's equipment and a friendship developed from that point.
There comes a point in a life cycle when things change or decline. The Pills reached that point when Dave quit the band for about six months. with a founding member gone, the Pills tried to forge ahead. Corin was feeling bereavement. "It was fucking horrible without him (Dave.) We got another guy an he was good. It was okay on a musical level, but we were missing him. We were missing Dave so much. It's a real band and it doesn't feel like a project. When Dave come back he said, "Let's try to rehearse more."
Jamie added these thoughts on the matter, "When Dave was gone it made me realize that we weren't like other bands and that people aren't replaceable." So why did Dave return? He was going to put another band together, but the chemistry wasn't right. As he so aptly put it, "There aren't any other player in Boston who would be as perfect for playing my songs." Corey also took a break to go on the road with Jen Trynin. The experience gave him a new level of understanding. He realized how many bad bands are out there and it filled him with road knowledge to help make the Pills more efficient.
The new CD, Wide Awake With the Pills, is on Monolyth Records. The burgeoning Boston indie label is careful in their selection of artists. Jeff Marshall and his partner Darren Hill have a tough, pragmatic set of guidelines for the bands that they consider. Jeff put it bluntly, "You don't find many bands who are willing to accept the kind of influence we provide here. We try to find artists that will deal with the way things work-with lots of touring....a lot of gentle guidance and overseeing." The label's philosophy is, "If you can't make people scream and jump up ad down and get excited at a club, then they're not going to buy your CD. If a band is selling CD's, then people will buy tickets-it's a value exchange. From a booking standpoint, I've seen bands come through my venue (he books Bills Bar) and no people paid because no one cares. they've been tricked, they've been fooled, they heard SmashMouth on the radio and bought a disc that had no song like the one they heard on the radio. They don't want to see that band live. They want to hear the band that sounds like that song and the rest of the record doesn't sound like that. If you listen to a Pills CD, and go see them live, it's exactly what you expected it to be. You're not fooled-it's real, everything's in place to give you what you paid for and that's what it's all about. People are sick and tired of being fooled by record companies and by people who market stuff and shove it down your throat when there isn't any substance to back it up... Indies can't make mistakes because they don't have the money to mass market."
The Pills music is sophisticated pop that has the right amount of chaos to prevent the band from taking themselves too seriously. The music is a joint effort with songs being composed by Dave, Corin and Corey. Corey was dubbed the band anarchist because he tries everything to get the effect that he wants: a punch in the face with sound oozing down the side. Dave Minehan recorded some of the tracks and Corin explained what he was able to achieve with Corey's chance guitar sounds. "The stuff that we recorded with Dave Minehan's really got an interesting sound because it's got tape compression. That's when you hit the tape level so hard that the tape freaks out and the weird freaky guitar stuff that Clyde does is like a sledgehammer coming down the middle and sending the needle to red hot which distorts it a bit. This is what we were hoping for." The Pills have developed their unique sound by making full use of every guitar on stage. They rarely play guitar parts in unison and prefer to use caller-response techniques, lots of capos to the seventh and fifth fret, and open chords for a full sound.
Now that the Pills have a CD and a seven inch under their belt, I wanted to find out what will continue to motivate the Pills to create cohesive, addictive pop for the junkies out there. Corin was able to shed some light on the subject, "We make the music we make because there's something lacking in what we hear on the radio. We create the music we make because no one else is doing it. This is the music that we want to hear. I'm a big believer in pop cultural resonance. People need to by a record and in ten years be able to put it on and not say, "Oh, I can't believe I liked Asia!" It's just in the last couple of years, the stuff you hear on the radio sort of 'cookie-cutter' bands that have one really funny, goofy song. We're trying to make music that has more resonance."
What's in store for the Pills? Will it be sleeping in a van for months, driving a hundred miles a day in the van, playing shows for 25$ and pizza, playing shows six nights in a row somewhere in the Heartland, or all of the above. probably all of the above. Monolyth wants to put the Pills out on the road to build up grassroots support, market by market. That formula worked very well for the Amazing Crowns who played approximately 300 shows last year and now have lots of the press and media attention. The Pills should do very well considering the fact that they played with a wide variety of artists on the Jim Beam tour. They shared the stage with a wide variety of artists like Jimmy Cliff, Juliana Hatfield, the Reverend Horton Heat, and 10,00 Maniacs. The biggest adjustment may be going from having their own tour bus to renting a small van; but I'm sure they'll manage. The biggest challenge will be playing for people who have no idea who they are and trying to impress them. But, they have the ability to take it to the next level. The song writing and the live show are rock solid and their draw is increasing with no radio play. Those should be good leading indicators for the direction this band will be heading.