Interview: Matt Becker of Pile on looong sooongs, the Boston music scene, and the band’s new ‘Special Snowflake’
Vanyaland had the chance to have a chat with Pile guitarist Matt Becker about the new release, touring with Speedy Ortiz, the shitshow that is SXSW, and life for a band in the illustrious Boston music scene. Fire up the band’s new songs via Bandcamp, and let’s get dirty.
Rob Duguay: One thing that struck me about the new 7-inch is that both tracks are the longest in Pile’s current catalog, with “Special Snowflake” running roughly seven minutes long and “Mama’s Lipstick” nearing the six-minute mark. As a band that has been accustomed to playing songs that are usually two to three minutes long, what inspired Pile to write two lengthy tracks?
Matt Becker: We have a few songs that reach into four or five minutes, but yeah, these are particularly long songs for us. It became clear as we worked on it that “Special Snowflake” was its own self-contained thing, so we figured “Why put limitations on it?” It felt like it stood on its own and deserved its own release rather than try to fit it conceptually onto the next LP. However there was never a specific intent to put together some opus. “Mama’s Lipstick” is a more concise pop song with a sound collage type thing at the beginning that references back to the chorus of “Special Snowflake,” making it longer. That kind of cross song melody reference isn’t something we’ve ever done either, so releasing them together on a 7-inch seemed the most appropriate for this material. Ultimately it’s something different for us, and that was the very point.
Recently you guys did a little tour with fellow Massachusetts act Speedy Ortiz, who have been getting a lot of attention both locally, nationally, and even across the pond in Europe. What was the experience like for Pile?
We’ve known the Speedy Ortiz crew for quite a while. We played shows years ago with both Matt Robidoux and Sadie Dupuis’ old bands and remained close. Pile have played countless shows with Speedy Ortiz since they started so we’ve been able to watch their progress. Relative to that, that tour was great mostly because we got to hang and play a bunch of shows with a group of friends that are both very talented and close to family at this point.
Naturally, we played a few bigger rooms than we would have on our own, for example, a sold out DC show. It was nice to have the opportunity to play a few places in the Midwest where we’ve had trouble finding good shows in the past. For the most part though there were no mind-blowing surprises compared to our other tours.
We book our own tours and this was the first booked by an outside booking agent unaffiliated with our band, so that presented some frustration because we’re used to the way we organize things and operate. It was educational at times to see how Speedy Ortiz deals with all the industry bullshit being thrown at them as they’re courted. We haven’t needed or wanted to deal with any of that, but it’s interesting to see the mechanisms of the machine in motion right in front of you. We took notes in red pen, so to speak.
Along those lines, musicians tend to have a love/hate relationship with SXSW. I’ve read material bands have posted about being frustrated that they don’t get paid to play the showcases while others relish the experience by saying they enjoyed every minute of it and got the chance to make new friends and connections in Austin. As a band who was thrusted into SXSW with a first-hand look at the whole thing, what’s your opinion of all that?
The whole thing is organized chaos, but we had a blast. I’m glad we waited for the opportunity to fall in our lap this way rather than attempted to build previous tours around. It was worth it because we waited and had realistic expectations about it, but playing SXSW was never an urgent priority for us. Dan Goldin (who runs Exploding in Sound Records) is the one who really made our time there, between the label showcases and the other hoof work he did. Honestly, those shows were 10 times more fun than the swanky “official” showcase we played, sponsored by Vitamin Water or Vita Coco or Viagra or some such bullshit.
From what I’ve heard the festival is under the tighter and tighter grip of its sponsors and industry jerkoffs but because so much is happening it’s easy to ignore the more unpleasant elements. For the most part, if you have reasonable expectations about what you’ll get out of it, it’s a great time.
The city is gridlocked the whole week so transporting gear and parking is an issue. It takes some patience. My only real disappointment was not being able to see more shows outside of the ones we played. I think we played about 10 shows so it was hard to find time to do other things. It also presents practical problems for bands because so many are touring the same routes to the festival and back. It makes booking some cities much more difficult. That was part of our aversion to it initially.
Shifting gears a bit — what are the pros and cons of being a band from the Boston music scene?
I read a stat once that at any given point there are over 3,000 bands in the Boston area. I have no idea the accuracy of that but needless to say, there’s a bottleneck. There are far more musicians than a few accessible mid-level venues can accommodate. Fortunately, Boston and Massachusetts in general has some of the richest underground music history of the past 30 years nationwide. For me, this is both a matter of desperate necessity and unending pride. Until recently, there were countless performances taking place in unsanctioned venues every night of the week. The police tightened the noose but the need to create will outweigh their ability to control it. Not many of us can swing that Saturday night show at the Paradise, and we’re not going anywhere.
After the show at Great Scott on Sunday, what does the rest of 2014 have in store for Pile?
We have a short trip with our buds Grass is Green planned for May and a few New York shows coming up, a couple of things yet to be confirmed. The idea is to try to finish the next LP this summer, but we will see. In the fall we will either do another full US tour or go to Europe for a few weeks, depending on if those contacts pan out.