PILLS FOR SALE
published in THE NOISE / NOVEMBER 1998
The Pills wanted to meet me at the donut shop down the street from their practice space at the Sound Museum, but I ran a little late and missed them. I couldn't get into the building until I befriended a guitar-slinging longhair, and then I had to wander the halls until someone could point me in the right direction. Having seen the Pills play their infectious pop-rock at numerous clubs in the past three years, I should have known to simply walk in the direction of the loudest practice room. Even with a heavy door between me and the amps, the melodic thunder of the Pills could be heard loud and clear. The walls were shaking with the sound of Jamie Vavra's drums and Corin Ashley's nimble bass packing a wallop across the hard-hitting guitar of Clyde O'Scope and David Thompson. The music faded after a short wait (Pills songs rarely stretch past the three-minute boundary) and I took that opportunity to barge into the practice space.
All four Pills are warm and genial. Seeing my notebook, Clyde puts on a sly grin and asks, "Are you going to grade us?" He knows better; I've actually come to talk about their upcoming CD, Wide Awake with the Pills, and the tour to follow. This past summer, the Pills competed in Jim Beam's "One Shot to Stardom" contest at the House of Blues and demolished everyone in their path. Weeks later, the boys traveled to New Orleans for the finals and won the whole shebang. They ended up with a plethora of prizes including studio time, a pressing of CDs, and a tour bus. Yes, a tour bus. "As soon as we get the keys," Corin jokes, "we're going to park the bus in front of T.T.'s, just to be cool." The itinerary includes gigs with such luminaries as the B-52's, 10,000 Maniacs, Reverend Horton Heat, and Juliana Hatfield, capped by a gig at the Viper Room in Los Angeles. David reminds me that the band has been hitching rides with buddies and girlfriends since their inception, and notes the irony: "The band without a car has a bus."
While I take a seat, the Pills go back into rehearsal mode. Corin explains that the band has been practicing one of his new tunes for a show this weekend. "Me and my girlfriend are celebrating our anniversary on Saturday," he says, "and I need to do something special to justify taking her to the Linwood that night." The new song, "Halifax," has a tricky bit in the middle -- the rhythm section has to switch gears while the guitar players are riffing hard, and the band needs to work out the particulars of that transition before the tune is ready for public consumption. Jamie watches the proceedings carefully from behind his drum kit while the other three -- solid songwriters all -- stand in a circle and discuss whether or not to throw in a little distortion. David demonstrates the technique, and Corin nods thoughtfully. The songs he composes are his babies; each one is full-borne in his head and any modifications must be considered with great care. The guys decide to give it a whirl and Jamie instantly jumps into action. David casually leans over his microphone, almost on tiptoe, and matches Corin's vocal sound with Merseybeat style. Clyde addresses the mike with aggressive confidence and bangs out the riffs with all the assurance of a Mod superstar. I notice a poster on the wall that reads NO BRITISH ACCENTS and can't help but feel the irony. I'm sure that's what the Pills intended.
The Pills started life in 1995 as the Penny Dreadfuls, rising from the ashes of groups with such unlikely names as Atlas Shrugged and BeBe Gallini. Their trademark blend of '60s pop, '70s punk and '90s style was quickly established and remains largely intact. A cassette from the early days features three songs ("All That Way," "Molly" and "Hobby Horse") and documents the nascent Pills sound with John Walton on drums. Since those sessions, they have bounced from one recording studio to another -- Wide Awake was recorded in three different towns. With a snicker, Clyde explains, "Our album was recorded at so many studios 'cause no one has ever given us one fucking dime to record with. We still owe some people a little crinkle...you know who you are! It's coming!"
The Pills are now putting the finishing touches on their CD for Jeff Marshall's Monolyth Records that includes their tastiest pop nuggets. The record kicks off with the insistent guitar of "All That Way" and doesn't give listeners a chance to catch their breath until the final scream of distortion fades away. Completists will be glad to know that the 1997 single "Scooter Gurl (She's So Faithful)" and its b-sides ("The Back of Your Head" and "Soft and Brown") will now be available on a format apart from green vinyl. Highlights abound, like Corin's hard-rocking "Real Real Gone" and Clyde's "Wide Awake," a psychedelic crowd-pleaser which lends the album its title. Longtime fans of the Pills will swoon over the inclusion of "Butternut," David's popular tribute to an insignificant loser with no pride. Corin is pleased with the results, but is careful to offer a disclaimer. "This is not an album in the sense that Village Green Preservation Society is an album. Ours is simply a collection of our best songs -- recorded by a cast of thousands -- continuity thrown to the wind. This one was mostly about trying to capture our energy. I would very much like to get down to the business of writing an album album." Clyde perks up at the mention of his favorite Kinks album. When asked how his record compares to that of his idols, Clyde says, "Our album doesn't stack up to theirs, but theirs doesn't really stack up to ours, either."
"I want to make something like Odessy and Oracle or S.F. Sorrow," says Corin, "and I believe we're just getting to that zone. We've all been listening to The Who Sell Out a lot. I want to make a record like THAT. Clyde can write the 'Odorono' bit."
David mentions an upcoming project that will surely reveal their influences: "We're involved in this Kinks tribute -- it's not a tribute album, really, because it's a vinyl 45 with four songs by four bands. It's going to be a really cool thing. The Figgs and the Gravel Pit are going to be on it, and we're big fans of those guys. Then there's us doing "Picture Book" and the Revelers. All four bands independently picked songs from the same album -- isn't that weird?"
"It's fate!" says Clyde.
Fate has little to do with the success of the Pills -- from what I can tell, it's more about blood and sweat than anything else. The three senior members of the Pills have been in the trenches for a long time, and had a great deal to share with The Noise:
ON THE MOD INFLUENCE
ON THE EVOLVING SOUND OF THE PILLS:
ON CREATIVE TENSION:
ON THE ORIGIN OF "THE PILLS":
ON JAMIE VAVRA, YOUNG DRUMMER:
ON ROCK FASHION:
ON THE GLAMOUR OF ROCK:
ON ROCK'S PREMATURE DEATH:
ON CLYDE'S GUITAR STYLE: