There is a huge buzzing sound coming off the East Coast these days. It is the sound of chins wagging in every city visited by the pride of Boston, the pills. As they spread their gospel of Mod-inspired power pop, the boys have been drawing comparisons to such beloved artists as the Jam, Supergrass, and the Who. The Pills are having none of that. "We're more interested in our sound," says drummer Jamie Vavra when I talked to the band after a recent show. Their sound -- short, fast tunes with massive hooks -- is accurately captured on the pill's new CD, Wide Awake with the Pills (Monolyth). Rarely does one encounter a debut album that so concisely captures a band's aesthetic. The pills' debut is bursting with well-written songs, white-knuckle musicianship, and beautiful three-part vocals. It's like the Hollies fronting the Buzzcocks!
Part of the pills' ballpen ferocity stems from the unorthodox guitar stylings of one Clyde O'Scope. He uses a barrage of toggle-switch madness, random snippets of esoterica, and a very aggressive playing style to add sharp shards of Vox AC-30 to the mix. "I usually approach the guitar based on what I dislike in others' playing. I like to just grab the strings," says Clyde, grabbing my forearm in a most alarming fashion, "and shake them. I don't play licks, I just shake the neck, It's only wires on wood." This combined with maximum rhythm guitar, overwhelming bass, and what bassist/vocalist Corin Ashley calls "the absolute shellacking that Jamie gives a drum set" makes for a very, very powerful instrumental attack -- rather like a fist hitting you square in the jaw. "We tend to paint ourselves into corners musically," Corin told me, "and then there's no where to go but through the roof. Sometimes our songs are like tabloid headlines. It's just this big print: 'Dog Faced Boy to Wed Britney Spears,' the sort of thing which is very hard to ignore. And then there may or may not be some depth beyond that, but initially it's just a matter of 'Ha! Made you look!'
The band has received kudos from a wide range of press - from London's Melody Maker to the Boston Herald, who called them "one of the fastest pop groups alive, playing boppy tunes at daredevil speed and leaving the stage drenched in sweat." An apt description, to be sure. The one thing that causes the boys to bristle is when too much attention is paid to their influences. "You have to remember that some reviewers really shouldn't even be trusted to write a grocery list," Corin says. "It's really hard to write about music, and they're desperate to find some way to describe a record. So if the word 'retro' pops up, it usually just means that they heard something that maybe reminds them of the tambourine sound on Revolver. It's not a big deal. There's actually one song on the CD that's a bit of a tribute to Ronnie Lane -- but only the bass part! Honestly, the only thing we're interested in reviving is the public's interest in good songs."
Likewise, the band is a little wary of being pigeonholed as strictly a Mod band. "Though it's part of our sound, I wouldn't say it's the whole deal," says singer/guitarist David Thompson "It was a friend of ours who said we sounded very Mod and should have a good Mod name. So it was either the pills or the Scooters, and I am not going to be in the Scooters. That would be a terrible name." It should be noted, however, that scooters have had a bit of an impact on the pills' career.
The pills' first release was a green vinyl single called "Scooter Gurl (She's So Faithful)," which is also featured on the band's current CD. The song stems from the band hanging out on the periphery of the Mod scene in Boston. Corin explains, "There's a couple of good Mod nights here, and it's a good place to hang out and hear some good records played. We spent a lot of time in these places when we were first writing songs for the pills, and it did have an impact. But, you know, one stumbles out of a club after hearing groovy records, seeing some kids with class haircuts, and there's a pack of scooters on the sidewalk. It can inspire one to write a song like 'Scooter Gurl'. The song garnered great press, tons of radio play and became a turntable hit in the clubs around Boston. It also lead to the band being associated with their local scooter scene. "We're playing at the Boston Stranglers' rally this year, and that should be a total blast! We're hoping to do Chicago in the fall. Tell all the two-stroke kids that we want to play at their rallies too."
The pills regularly play throughout the Northeast, from Washington DC to Toronto. In addition, the band recently did their first national tour, which was sponsored by a major bourbon company and allowed them to travel in a tour bus. They played as far south as New Orleans and as far west as Los Angeles. During the tour, they opened for a wide variety of artist ranging from the B-52's, 10,000 Maniacs, Sloan, the Smithereens, Reverend Horton Heat, and Jimmy Cliff. The band has also played with the Selecter, the Boo Radleys, Better than Ezra, and the Amazing Crowns, among others.
With their debut CD receiving airplay on more than 150 radio stations, as well as getting glowing reviews, the pills' future looks bright. The band are justifiably proud of their first effort. David explains, "With so many bands right now, they have one novelty tune that gets airplay but the rest of their album sounds like a whole different band. It's the modern rock syndrome. Our CD sounds just like we do live." Which is to say hepped up, over-the-top amphetamine pop that is guaranteed to make your toe shoot straight up in your shoe.
-by Andrea Flad-