At the top of Boston’s current rock roster is a band called Pile—or at least all of their fans, in-state and out, would claim that’s where they fall in our city’s musical hierarchy. The four-piece got their start over a decade ago. Since then, the band has cultivated a dedicated following for their asymmetrical, vivid, bursting style of rock that occasionally ventures into folk, post-hardcore, and guitar solo bliss. It’s addicting to listen to. If their beloved status proves anything, it’s that.
Their most recent album, 2017’s A Hairshirt of Purpose, has frontman Rick Maguire’s most lyrically ambiguous lines yet—so much so that he often views the songs through a different lens as time progresses. That shift gives Maguire room to modify his delivery of a line and, with it, keep the emotion behind it relatively strong. Yet according to him, many fans read into the lyrics and the overarching backstory of Hairshirt, whittling his solo trip to a house in Georgia as if he banished himself to a cabin with no social contact. While people are busy reading into that album, Maguire has been silently working on a brand-new one—and he’s testing out songs from it on this upcoming tour.
“What I said about writing an album in the cabin definitely happened this past winter as I finished and recorded an entire album,” says Maguire. “It’s an album of demos, but it’s fleshed out and I feel pretty confident because there’s a hard copy. They’re songs that will eventually appear on a Pile record, but it needs sussing out details of how it will be presented, recorded, or performed. Usually the first couple weeks I’m down there by myself and nothing happens. Then all of a sudden, I don’t know what it was, but it started working. I went down on New Year’s Eve and stayed until Feb 5. I’ve had guests there in the past because it’s a pretty dreamy situation. But it was a nice experiment to see how I would do with five weeks of undirected solitude. It turns out it was great—and that’s a bit scary, because if I know I can go on indefinitely without seeing people, then I won’t go out.”
We interviewed Rick Maguire for a round of Wheel of Tunes, a series where we ask musicians questions inspired by their song titles. Unlike A Hairshirt of Purpose, the answers shed specifics on what it’s like inside the frontman’s brain—a perfect introduction before he plays solo at the Sinclair this Thursday.
DIGBOSTON: How would you describe your dancing abilities?
MAGUIRE: Oh wow. I like dancing, it’s fun, and it’s good for you in a lot of ways. I’m very bad at it, though at some point I had some confidence in my dancing—so much so that I threw a dance party at my house. Then, several days [later], a friend of mine said, “You know, it’s so cool that you don’t care how stupid you look when you dance.” It was meant to be a genuine compliment. So that did it: Any self-confidence I had was immediately shot. That would’ve been a year and a half ago. Still fresh in my mind [laughs].
2) “Hissing for Peace”
DIGBOSTON: Where was the last rally you attended?
MAGUIRE: I guess it was the Women’s March in Atlanta. That was actually when I was in the cabin the first time by myself. It’s two hours outside of Atlanta. I made the trip down and marched. I didn’t know anybody, and it was cool to walk around. I saw John Lewis speak. I don’t know the city of Atlanta at all, so I was really just following along and hoping I didn’t get lost.
3) “Rope’s Length”
DIGBOSTON: What advice would you give someone who’s looking to remove a person from their life but is struggling to do so?
MAGUIRE: I’m a bad person to ask. Not reaching out is pretty helpful. If you really want to find other things to focus on, find things that interest you and you’re excited about that don’t involve that person. That can be helpful. Distance and time naturally separate people, even people who like hanging out, so use those to do the opposite.
4) “No Bone”
DIGBOSTON: Are you a boneless or bone-in chicken wings type of person?
MAGUIRE: I am a vegetarian as of five years ago, but I’ve had both kinds of chicken wings before so I can speak to it. Honestly, maybe being a vegetarian helps. I’ve had vegetarian chicken wings, which informs my answer of no bones. No bones! Even as a meat eater, it looks disgusting when you see all of those little bits and you have to stick your tongue between the two bones holding it together. It’s gross and it’s weird. You get a lot of pieces that are texturally not… not savory. I’d say boneless is the way to go, and I feel very strongly about that.
DIGBOSTON: What’s your go-to milkshake flavor?
MAGUIRE: Ooooh. My go-to would probably be mint chip, but the best milkshake I’ve ever had was in Toronto. I forget the name of it. It was an all-night diner that had an apple pie milkshake. It had bits of the crust and the brown sugar apple stuff. Mint chip is the ol’ standby, but I would do that apple pie one in an instant.
6) “Leaning on a Wheel”
DIGBOSTON: Which wheel is the most fun: a ferris wheel, a giant tire, or Wheel of Fortune?
MAGUIRE: Wheel of fortune, but in general, like the wheel that you spin with a bunch of options. The show with Pat Sajak: no interest. As a kid, it didn’t grab me, but the idea of engaging with some wheel of fortune and the randomness of its items is fun.
If not that, then I would say a ferris wheel because usually it’s a unique interaction you share with someone. You could go through a number of emotions. It could be romantic, you could both be scared together, or you could just see where you are from a different vantage point!
DIGBOSTON: When your band drives through Texas, where’s the one place you always stop at?
MAGUIRE: Buc-ee’s, always a Buc-ee’s. You ever been to one? It’s always really appealing when you get to Texas to stop in those places, but it’s a nightmare being inside them. Its fascinating because it’s huge and full of trash. It’s like a Walmart on the side of the road… even though those are on the side of the road already. Basically, it’s a bunch of things you don’t want, or you might want if you had fewer options. Because there are so many of them, I don’t want anything. I want to leave. Yet we always stop there.
DIGBOSTON: Would you rather wear a heavily worn, 100-year-old hairshirt or an unworn shirt made out of hair?
MAGUIRE: Oh, I would do the first. You get used to it, and it’s broken in already. I assume you get to wash it, so I feel like that’s a better bet. While I’m pretty susceptible to any skin problems, I think I have a resilient spirit and that might make up for it.
9) “I Don’t Want to Do This Anymore”
DIGBOSTON: Which hobby or activity did you used to love but can no longer find enjoyment from?
MAGUIRE: The one that I’m thinking of seems too sad to mention. It’s drawing. I used to do it all the time and then I sort of replaced that with music. There’s got to be a better one, though.
Well, [laughs] this is a little more lighthearted: getting toys. I used to get toys all the time, as a lot of young boys and girls probably did. You just get stuff and collect it. I don’t have much interest in that anymore. I used to collect Ninja Turtles, Gak, and Floam that would ruin my parents’ furniture. That kind of stuff.
DIGBOSTON: Can you name a dog breed you don’t understand the obsession with?
MAGUIRE: God, this is a good one. I mean they’ve all been good ones. These are so much fun. It’s a really great way to do interviews and I wish all interviews were like this. It’s making me think. Because look, I really love dogs, so I understand each obsession that’s big now. But I guess golden retrievers and labs. They’re just so common. Okay, I’ll narrow it to golden retrievers. They smell bad and are usually dumb and in your face. Maybe not all of them, but really, come on. I’ve had a couple experiences where I’ve woken up in a place with a golden retriever where it smells and I just… I don’t want them to be around… at all. I really do love all dogs! I still like retrievers, but that’s the one I understand the least, especially because they’re so popular. It’s like every fifth dog owner has a golden retriever.
11) “Making Eyes”
DIGBOSTON: Who was the last person you made awkward eye contact with?
MAGUIRE: It happens so often. I feel like every eye contact made in a men’s bathroom is awkward. It’s uncomfortable. On one hand I wish everyone was more comfortable with it and we were already there as a society, but no, we’re not. Maybe that. I would like to have a story-related one, though.
DIGBOSTON: When was the last time you slipped and fell, cartoon-style?
MAGUIRE: I think it was four years ago during a two-month period where it felt like every week we got a foot of snow. I don’t see how I got out of that winter without falling embarrassingly.
DIGBOSTON: What’s an underrated finger food?
MAGUIRE: Peanuts. I really like peanuts. I feel like they’re not common. Well, actually, I guess they’re pretty reasonably rated because they’re in every fucking gas station. Someone’s really pulling for them.
I’d say broccoli cheddar finger bites. I was thinking of hors d’oeuvres. Whenever I have them, I’m very, very excited about it. Lanes and Games was my zone for a while and they had them with the fake bacon in it. Not tempeh, but the bacon bits stuff. That was cool. Whenever I see them I’m like, “Oh, hell yeah.” And people are like, “Why broccoli cheddar bites? That’s gross.” I get to maintain the belief that they’re somewhat healthy because of the broccoli, too. I live under the illusion.
TITUS ANDRONICUS, RICK MAGUIRE FROM PILE. THU 3.8. THE SINCLAIR, 52 CHURCH ST., CAMBRIDGE. 8PM/18+/$18. SINCLAIRCAMBRIDGE.COM