Last month, Pile headlined a bill of local acts that sold out the Middle East Downstairs. Filling a 600-capacity room is hard for many national touring bands, even with hoards of mainstream press backing them up. For local acts that play the city frequently to do so says a lot. But Pile refuses to take credit for that success. Instead, they nod to the booker.
“Jason [Trefts] of Illegally Blind chose bands that meshed well stylistically but, at the same time, drew different crowds,” says Pile frontman Rick Maguire. “I don’t think it was solely our doing. It was a combined effort, and he really led that.”
If you’re remotely familiar with Pile, then it’s likely you know two things. One: the Boston rock outfit has a sound akin to childhood-turned-adult anxieties imploding with strangely cathartic melodies and bottled up 9-to-5 insanity. Two: Their modesty–a peaceful, unflinching attribute that stays strong in the face of growing fame–counteracts their sound on paper. It’s a weird pairing, for sure, but for Pile, one couldn’t exist without the other. That’s what makes them so wonderfully intricate.
While their cult following grows exponentially, Pile doesn’t capitalize on it financially. No, they’re not dumb (Duh. Have you listened to Maguire’s lyrics?). They just have a lot of heart, and to them that’s just as important. “I would love money; that sounds great,” Maguire laughs. “You’ve got to set a precedent, too. I want to make these things affordable for people. I’d rather give people more access to it by having the prices be lower than charging more for a record. Granted, it’s not that much more–maybe $15 instead of $10–so we started doing a sliding scale.” The future could see those numbers smudged a bit as inevitabilities come into light: the band is getting older, they have other responsibilities, and costs rise. There’s other options, like snagging a booking agent to bump up ticket sales, but that isn’t them either. Pile want to be in control simply because, to them, fans should never be an afterthought.
In our city, the music community grows stronger every week. Familiar faces become friends, new bands become staples, and a show you go to on a whim could introduce you to your favorite group of the year. It’s a constant flood of musicians and music. Imagining yourself somewhere else, somewhere free of this overflow, is tough.
“Every town has the potential to have what Boston has–and I’m sure other towns have had at some point things that this one hasn’t–but it’s a bunch of factors working together,” he says. “The fact that Sam Potrykus and Dan Shea run [Boston] Hassle is huge. They started a community and a source to go to see where all shows are happening around town. That’s a great resource that I think a lot of towns do not have that they wish they had.” New York City had the Showpaper, a similar source for fans and bands to turn to in hopes of finding an upcoming show. Boston is much smaller. However, its nooks and crannies offer pop-up show spaces for bands to hash out their sound. “There’s not a lot of low- to mid-sized venues for bands trying to play out as much as they can,” he explains. “If you look a little deeper, you can find record stores or the JP Church or things that aren’t listed as clubs or venues.”
Since Pile returned from a Europe tour, Maguire has been growing more devoted to songwriting. He quit his retail job, heads to the library or a coffee shop, and puts that pen to paper. “Writing music is a habit I started a long time ago and now I can’t imagine not,” he says. “Anything creative is rewarding. It is its own ends.”
But that drive flatlined for several months before this year’s excellent LP You’re Better Than This came to fruition. After Pile wrapped up work on 2012’s Dripping, they recorded two songs–“Special Snowflakes” and “Mama’s Lipstick”–their longest songs to date. Originally, they were written for this year’s album, but their respective intensity left Maguire totally drained. Cue the too-long break. “It made for some anxious songs because I kept thinking, ‘Shit, I gotta do this,’” explains Maguire. “I was fighting through a block where I took too long of a break. That break existed and thusly that feeling of having no bearings and not knowing which way is up was the result.”
During this period, many of the times Maguire stepped onstage was for a solo set. It was a return to his origins, the early days where Pile was still his solo project, allowing him to explore past work at his own pace. His upcoming show will see him doing the same, only this time stripping down songs fueled by tense energy, spinning quivering anxieties on their head, and adding new songs into the mix. “I get to see what I like, see what I don’t, and try it all out,” he says of the August 11th show. “It’s not bombastic like when I’m with the band. Sometimes my lyrics could mean nothing to me. Some nights it can mean some weird perversion of what was intended. Some nights it could be strange because there’s someone in the crowd where I’m sitting there thinking, ‘This song is about you.’ It’s a weird moment.”
Above all else, his solo sets allow for a deeper look into his guitar playing, especially the likes of more intricate and intimate numbers like “Fuck the Police”. “Fingerpicking was always a mystery to me until one day it wasn’t,” he laughs, recalling the years he spent teaching himself guitar at age 12 and several professional lessons he took in college. “I thought it sounded stupid a lot of the time until I found music that I thought did not sound stupid fingerpicking. It was mostly me moving each finger at a time and throwing them at the strings until somehow it sounded some semblance of good. Even then, I notice I do it the cheap way. I don’t do the bass line thing like John Fahey stuff. It’s technical nerdy stuff I can’t do.”
No matter how harsh his songs sound or how low-key Pile’s cash priorities are, Rick has one thing on his mind: keep going. “I want to keep it rolling,” he says. “I feel like if I take a break, which I’ve done before in writing, that it will be so hard to get back into it. It’s a grueling process of self-doubt and not knowing what you want. If you keep going, though, your tools stay sharp.” As he hacks away at new material, we can’t help but wonder what’s lined up for the future. Pile’s a hectic mess of guitar-driven emotions, and as life only gets crazier, their musical ups and downs will likely be, too. We wouldn’t wish for anything else.
[RICK, FOOTINGS, DIGITAL PRISONERS OF WAR, BASHFUL SLASHER, AND WARREN. HI HOSTEL BOSTON, 19 STUART ST., BOSTON. 617.536.9455. TUE 8.11. 8PM/ALL AGES/$5-10. HIUSA.ORG/BOSTON.]