Mohair Sweets

The Pills
Call (them) something nice ...
An interview with Corin Ashley of the Pills

Corin meets Colin to discuss showbidness, van life and the powerhouse pop of Boston, Mass. based band the Pills.

Mohair Sweets: So Corin, you guys are a hard-workin', mile slogging rock'n'roll machine, you must have quite a set of tunes built up by now. So when the going gets tough and you guys are burnt out from doing the set what are some of the tunes you pull out of your magic bag of tunes? And why?!

Corin: We actually don't play tons of covers. We'll pull them out in strange situations and they're usually done to provoke some sort of reaction from an otherwise complacent audience. Like, if all our leaping about is met with stony silence, we may just play a note for note version of "Band On The Run". That tends to make people's jaws drop open.

As far as covers that we do out of love, we pull out "Picture Book" by the Kinks now and again. We've done "Psychotic Reaction", "Dreaming" by Blondie, "Vanishing Girl" and "My Love Explodes" by the Dukes Of Stratosphere, "Paperback Writer", "Everybody's Got Something To Hide 'Cept For Me And My Monkey", "5:15", a whole bunch of Monkees tunes. Actually, we've played a really cool version of "I Only Have Eyes For You", but the chords are too hard to make that a regular thing.

Mohair Sweets: That is an interesting and fairly wide range of tunes. I know you have a bit of a jones for Cheap Trick too though eh?

What about the rest of the fellas, do you all share the same wide range of tastes?

Corin: Oh yeah, how could I forget? I do have a soft spot for Cheap Trick, it must be said, and we do a highly credible version of "He's A Whore" whenever we are in Illinois. Yeah, we all have similar tastes in music and similar record collections when it comes to the basics. I suppose it's in our more recent listening that we branch out in different directions and that's a positive thing. Jamie will come in and say "Hey, have you heard this?" and then we all jump on it. Of course, there's an awful lot to be said for the effects of listening to music together in the van on long rides. That's part of what brings a band together- even the little arguments that break out: "Not Redd Kross again, Corin!" I think that one of the best things is that we all like a wide variety of music. Our collective influences are the Kinks, the Who, The Jam, the Buzzcocks, things like that, but we are just as likely to be listening to Red Sovine as Lee Perry in the van.

Mohair Sweets: What is the local scene like for you guys to play? And when I say local I wonder what that actually means for you guys? Like what would a "local" gig be?

Corin: Boston has one of the best rock scenes I've encountered in the country. There's a really strong infrastructure of 'zines, clubs, radio that support the gazillions of bands here. When we first started out, there was this really small but dedicated mod scene that cantered around a small bar in Allston- which is essentially a student ghetto where lots of artsy fartsys live- and on Wednesday nights, there was one DJ who would play cool 60's vinyl. We all used to hang out there and a lot of the kids who used to go there have now started bands. Now that scene has grown to take over Saturday nights at one of the main clubs in Boston. In some ways, that particular scene has grown beyond us and they tend to embrace that secondary wave of bands a bit more. But we draw from that scene and also the remnants of the great 90's power pop scare, and we have a large contingent of record store employees. Lately, we've been noticing a lot more kids. Our drummer, Jamie, recently did a tour with Nate from the Might Mighty Bosstones and Mikey Welsch who used to be in Weezer and played with Juliana Hatfield, and that's been introducing a lot of younger kids to us- which is great, of course. You know, I believe the children are the future.

Mohair Sweets: Any chance that you get any support on the commercial stations anywhere?

Corin: Well, commercial radio is pretty much all sown up in the U.S. It's all one big crappy Limp Bizkit song from what I can tell. It really saddens me because I'm a great believer in radio as the soundtrack to people's lives, but it's not for me anymore, I guess. I'm not actually in the target demographic so I suppose I'm supposed to just crawl off and die or something. Apparently, the people who advertise on these stations are not interested in my money or that of anyone I know because I don't know anybody who actually listens to that shit anymore.

Luckily, Boston has some of the best radio in the U.S.- much, much better than New York. In addition to an online station that plays local music exclusively, we have 5 college stations that you can pick up around town. We have actually gotten a significant amount of airplay on the big commercial stations in town- they have local music spotlights and people do tune in to the local music shows. There are people at the big stations, God bless 'em, that fight the uphill battle to support the local scene- between the wet t-shirt promos and road-rage rock block Wednesdays and all that fratboy bullshit.

Mohair Sweets: Well that is very fortunate to have some local radio support. Anywhere else around the country where the Pills are being especially well received or transmitted over the air?

Corin: Like any band, we have special towns where they just seem to get what we do and we hold these places near to our hearts. For some reason, we have had some of our best shows and gotten great press in San Francisco. That place is like magic to me. Also, oddly enough, we have a very nice fan base in Peoria, IL at good old Bradlee University (shout out to the Amazing Killowatts!) and we do well in Chicago as well. Closer to home, we have had some extremely rocking evenings in Albany, NY and there is an absolute saint of a promoter named Marty in Buffalo that makes me feel that I'm not doing enough for rock and roll.

Mohair Sweets: Well what more can one possibly do for rock 'n' roll Corin? You get in the damn van, travel hundreds of miles - often for no or little pay - sleep on floors, scrape a living doing jobs in between gigs. What more could you possibly sacrifice!?

Corin: There is always more that can be done for rock and roll, brothers and sisters. You've got to believe from the top of your spiky head to the bottom of your Beatle boots! You've got to testify, sanctify, deep fry, don't ask why, Catcher In The Pie, join the Y, never lie, semper fi and really, really, really sock it to the kids! It's about teen power- super sonic rock action! Yeah, yeah, yeah! Hit me... one time.

Mohair Sweets: How did you find the experience of recording your latest LP? Anything you plan on doing differently next time?

Corin: Well, frankly, there was a lot of artistic bullying on the part of our label with "Kick In". The fellow who runs our label was really focused on having material that he felt good about taking to commercial radio- which, of course, is not a totally off-the-wall approach for a label to take, but it got a bit heavy-handed. He had just gotten another local band added to 6 commercial stations in the region, which is pretty damn impressive for an indie label. We weren't opposed to trying to give him something to work with and when he brought in Hugo Burnham to help us tweak the tunes, we felt inclined to at least try things his way. Hugo had been in Gang Of Four, so he had our respect, but he had also spent many years in publishing and major label A&R. We felt that he would be worth listening to and forced ourselves to try his ideas in an effort to get our label excited about the album.

Of course, this is not the most natural way to make an album, but it's the truth. It's the way things actually go down- even on indie labels. We submitted about 40 tunes to them over the course of 18 months and they just kept asking us to simplify the tunes and make new demos. In the end, I think we ended up recording the first 12 songs we submitted anyway, and some of them definitely benefited from being held up to closer scrutiny. The label was holding us hostage because they wouldn't pay to get us started recording, so we were just touring all over and refining these tunes and working really hard and just getting fucked about by the label. All we were hearing is that we were too stubborn and unwilling to take suggestions, and meanwhile we were rewriting lyrics and changing melodies.

In the end, all this effort went into making this album, favors were called in and it got mixed by a really top guy. We kind of got talked into not being at the mix. We were supposed to play at a festival in Toronto and that's when the mix session got scheduled for. All this effort and, essentially, when the album didn't get added to radio, our label lost interest immediately. After a year and a half of talking about how we were going to work the next record, we had about 7 weeks of support from the label and then it all just went away. We were out in Peoria, Chicago, Buffalo, Cleveland and there were no posters at the clubs and no CDs in stores. The album still managed to sell about as much as the first one, but it wasn't anything to do with the label.

Now the label is going out of business and they're not even bothering to restock the bins when local stores sell out of the album. It's a real heartbreaker considering how hard we all worked (including the label) on making the album. So, yeah, all of that I'd like to do differently with the next album! I'd like to just find a label that will match our work ethic. Is that too much to ask for? Someone with a little vision, please.

Mohair Sweets: Do the guys, yourself included, in the band have any side projects going on?

Corin: I've been doing more and more acoustic shows and really enjoying them. It's based on finally having a nice acoustic- a Taylor jumbo. I highly recommend that all songwriters get themselves a serious acoustic. It made me write so much more and just spend more time looking forward to hearing that thing ring out- and now David's girlfriend had me go pick out a Taylor for his birthday and he's loving that. Drummer Jamie is moonlighting in band called the Kickovers, which is Mikey from Weezer and Nate from the Bosstones. So he goes out and opens up for whatever pop-punk bullshit is touring and gets to be a rock star and sign tits, and then he comes back and rides around in the van with us, God bless him.

Mohair Sweets: Any recent discoveries music wise that have subverted the band at all?

Corin: Well, I don't want to frighten anyone. I assure you that we are maintaining our 60's pop and 70's punk influences, but there's a strange California vibe that's creeping into some of the new material. We were working on this one thing that I though sounded like a cool Sloan thing- or the Flashing Lights, but it turns out it was really more of a Fleetwood Mac thing! You can imagine the horror. But, you know, our tastes are pretty catholic. We all buy new releases constantly; it's just that they're always reissues. Have you heard this new band, the Move? They're brilliant. Nah, Jamie keeps us in touch with what the kids are listening to. We've begun working on the next album with a great geezer named Roger (The Engineer) Lavalee at a groovy cave called the Tremolo Lounge and we've been talking about the last Super Furry Animals album because the production was so great. I can't shut up about the Wilco album, either. We're going a bit fruity on some of the new songs so I'm really interested to see where this ends up. A lot of it seems to be a reaction to the constraints of the last album and we're busting out in disparate directions- but it's some of the best song writing we've ever had.

Mohair Sweets: Well I think it is great that you guys are willing to try varied and new things, and explore new directions. I'd be concerned if you weren't.

Corin: You have to, you know? It's a little intimidating, though. You know, we started out and we created this sound that was purely designed around musical sensationalism. It was just about grabbing people's attention and very much based around the idea of making disinterested bar patrons look up from their drinks. We got some really nice notice for our first album and all the kudos that a band could want for the debut album. So much of the infrastructure of indie rock is based around first albums. We're all just dying for the next "new group" and the indie-rock cognoscenti just hop from debut album to debut album and then abandon the bands when they try to develop. It's called choking the baby in the cradle.

Anyway, we rode our first album buzz, but it didn't exactly put us on the cover of People Magazine, either. So, you're in this weird spot where you're still an unknown to a lot of people and it's very enticing to just keep doing what has gotten you praise in the past- but then you half suspect that maybe that sound is precisely what has held you back from wider notice. I mean it's great having every record store employee love your band, but what about the regular people? It's a hard nut to crack. Of course, the bottom line is that we just have to follow where the song writing takes us. We have a bad problem with over-analysing things and Dave and I can have long-winded discussions over the minutia of plugging a guitar into an amplifier and turning it up. We're actually in group analysis to deal with our analysis issues. Graph paper is involved.

Mohair Sweets: You mentioned you had done some acoustic stuff. Does any of this kind of thing figure into the Pills set at all?

Corin: Oh no. We usually write on acoustics, and I enjoy the occasional quiet show, but there's no way to make that work with our live sound. At the risk of getting all gear-geeky on you, our live sound is a mix of Hiwatt amps blasting against a Telecaster going through a bunch of EL-84 tubes. Those are the two contrasting guitar tones that duke it out for prominence - and then my bass sound is a big hollow body Guild with flatwounds gobbling up all the low end, and our Jamie is pounding the hell out of his kit and we're all singing harmony. So, the whole frequency range is covered and there are just undulating waves of volume washing over the audience. There's no way to put an acoustic guitar in that mix. I'm sometimes worried that my bass is going to vibrate into pieces.

Mohair Sweets: Well it sounds like a sonic treat to me! Any chance you have any dates we can post that would cover over the next couple months?

Corin: At the moment, we're working a lot, but not doing tons of shows. We just got a new guitar player about half way through recording this next album. His name is Dave Aaronoff and he used to be in a really great band from Boston called the Shods. We used to play shows together all the time and he was always on the same level as us. He also toured all over with the Mighty Mighty Bosstones - Australia and all over the place- he even did Saturday Night Live with them. We lost our lead guitarist, Clyde, to the dread domesticity. In the course of 6 months, he went from being a drunk rocker guy with a Hiwatt to getting married and buying a house in the suburbs. I don't know, it's happening to everybody. I'm issuing a warning: beware domesticity. It could happen to you.

Anyway, Dave was already hanging around at all our shows and he's a fabulous guitar player and great singer. He's the best thing that could have possibly happened to us in the situation- a real kick in the ass. So, we've been spending a lot of time in our sweaty little rehearsal box working up a whole new set. We're treating it like we're a brand new band, but with some past repertoire to pick from. At the same time, we've been finishing up our next album at a groovy little studio called the Tremolo Lounge.

People can always check tour dates on our website at - and there are also some rough mixes from the new album and a photo with our new guitarist up there.

Mohair Sweets: Care to comment on the MP3 situation and a living breathing, try to catch a break, up and coming rock'n'roll band?

Corin: Well, my personal position on that has evolved somewhat. First of all, I think that MP3s sound like absolute poop. I think that they're a horrible way to listen to music and it's part of a larger trend away from any concept of tone.

Now, I used to be pretty against free downloads. I mean, it's stealing, there's no getting around that. I don't think that most people realize what bands go through on the road, trying to just get from show to show. You know, most of these clubs will guarantee you $50 and a pizza and whether or not you can sell some merch really determines whether or not you're sleeping in the van. I have had many, many kids say to me "You guys are great, I'm going to go download some of your tunes" and it's hard to know how to respond. "Thanks, we'll be sharing a loaf of day-old bread for dinner in the van later if you need us, enjoy those downloads."

There's a certain part of me, though, that really appreciates what is happening to the record industry. They are the greedy bastards who developed the technology to change music into purely digital information, so they are the ones who opened up this box. I mean, I don't even need to get into how stupid and useless the record industry is and how far they've gotten from anything based in truth, art or passion. Everyone knows how far gone that industry is and I am enjoying watching their death squirm. I guess my position is that people should try to support indie artists and rip off major labels as much as possible. I'm as much of a hypocrite as anyone else, I guess.

By the way, that viewpoint has nothing to do with the price of CDs. I can't believe how naive people are when they say, "We all know that a blank CD costs $1 and they charge $18". Guess what? A lot of things cost more than they actually cost to produce- that's called a profit. It's not the material that they charge you for- it's half a million bucks for a major label band to make an album with a name producer. And that's before they start greasing the independent promo weasels and, you know, the electricity bill for the Capitol tower is a bitch. And every VP of A&R Administration has 9 assistants and they all want dental. They don't know any other way to work and it's an outdated business mode and what killed it is that they stopped developing long-term artists. The top 40 is littered with future instalments of "Where Are They Now?"

Mohair Sweets: Yep it's a big mess. I'm glad to see however that a number of collector/reissue labels (in Europe especially) know how to make a CD a good value though. And I'm referring to reissues here in particular.

Hip young bands like yourselves too don't just lay out the bare minimum but put a whole lot of thought and music into the, and I'm sorry to call it this, product.

What do you figure makes a CD good value?

Corin: For the last several years, I've been hoping it's about good songs. If it all comes down to boob jobs and good teeth, I can't really get into that game, but if we're talking about song power, I'm pretty sure that the Pills can go toe to toe with anyone.

Many thanks to Corin for his patience and good vibes over the past few years. Be sure to drop in for a visit, listen to some tunes and source out their great records at:


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