The Kids Are
by Jonathan Perry
None of the Pills owns a Vespa scooter. The four bandmates weren't born in England, nor are they old enough to have grown up spinning old Who or Small Faces 45s when the original mod scene gripped the British youth culture of the mid 1960s. Yet the Boston-based band's first single (issued on a vinyl 45) was titled "Scooter Gurl". Their debut album, Wide Awake with the Pills (Monolyth), is littered with references - both explicit and implicit - to both of those trendsetting groups, as well as to that scene's recreational drug of choice (they are named the Pills, after all). Last but not least, singer-bassist Corin Ashley like to bandy about UK-flavored words such as "advert" and "leapers" in his lyrics.
"It's a typical thing in rock and roll, where you want to transcend your reality," said Ashley recently over drinks with his bandmates at the Silhouette Cocktail Lounge, in Allston. "It's like the Beatles, who wanted to be like a black R & B group. Being from Liverpool, that just wasn't realistic. But it goes back and forth between America and Britain influencing each other -- like all those great British bands that influenced all those great American bands on the Nuggets box set."
Barely a week before, the Pills had won the Kahlua Boston Music Award for best album by a local artist on an independent label. Needless to say, they're feeling fine. And Ashley's right, of course. One of the most enduring aspect of rock and roll is the music's seemingly endless ability to beg, borrow, or outright steal from other musical sources and cultures, as well as from itself. Rock continually reinvents and reinterprets itself for new audiences, new generations obsessed with putting their stamp on an art form that's part tradition, part improvisation. And, as the adage goes, the grass is always greener on the other side of the city -- or halfway around the world, as the case may be.
"There's a certain romantic love for that stuff, like those early Who records," says guitarist Cory Harding (who's also known by his somewhat more, uh, colorful stage name, Clyde O'Scope). "A lot of that stuff was written in the third person about those scenes, and, obviously, we didn't grow up in 1964. But a lot of those songs Corin wrote were also about hanging out in clubs and observing people."
Even after playing roughly 125 shows last year (including a successful tour of Spain), the band remain in perpetual, manic motion - writing, performing, recording (they're expecting to begin recording their second album this summer), and capitalizing on their building momentum. Five years after Ashley and guitarist Dave Thompson formed the group - after seeing the Figgs perform and realizing that that was how rock was meant to be delivered, with heart, energy, and humor - all that hard work and all those vertical leaps are paying off. But don't take our word for it - you can draw your own conclusions this Saturday, May 13, when the Pills headline T.T. the Bear's Place. "There's nothing like doing more than 100 shows to get your act together," says Ashley with a laugh. "And I still believe in two guitars, bass, and drums. I don't think it's been done to death at all. If you can find a way to recapture the feeling you had when you were 15 or 16 years old, you've got it... That whole thing of getting on stage and acting like it's some big goof - to me, that's much more phony than showing how much you actually care about it."
"When I was 14 or 15, I was really religious, and I was really into being an altar boy," Ashley adds, to perplexed expressions and good-natured jibes form the rest of the band. "When I'm on stage and I hear [Cory] start a song, I feel like I'm a 14-year-old altar boy. I feel that same sort of faith. The shit that's on the radio now will not allow us to stop doing what we're doing. It's just such bad music. We're just not hearing records that we want to hear, so we're going to have to make 'em."
Thompson, for one, can't wait for the band to head into the studio again. "If there's any pressure about the second CD, it's easy for me to stay positive because I'm really psyched about recording all of these new songs as one album," he says. "Out first album was recorded in a lot of different places, and we wound up putting it out on Monolyth. Each of those songs captured where we were at that period of time, and it was mastered really well and sounded great, but we didn't get to go into the studio for two weeks and make a real album.
If the Pills sound relentlessly enthusiastic about their future, it's because they are. They relish the small victories as well as the larger triumphs. "All it takes is one person," says drummer Jamie Vavra. "You could have played a shitty gig where your guitar strings broke and the PA went out and the fire alarm went off. But if one person says, 'I bought your record and my friends and I listen to it all the time,' that's a great gig."