Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Exorcism Number Thirteen: Chris Pierce

Hey you guys... I'm back. I have some really amazing interviews around the corner, but I am especially excited to share this one with you. It's with Chris Pierce from, well, 8 million bands including Doc Hopper, Groucho Marxists, and For Science. If you play music in the area, he has probably recorded your band either at Technical Ecstasy or more recently at Vol IV. He is a multi-talented dude and a really awesome dad. I was honored with how much he opened up and spoke about in this interview...or that he even wanted to be interviewed at all. I look up to the guy and I bet you do too. You will after reading this. Check it out.

this is Pierce with his adorable kid, Gibson!
What instruments do you play and which is your favorite? Which do you feel most proficient at?  Which do you feel most comfortable playing?

Ok, starting off,  I've been playing drums now for longer than I can remember, and guitar since I was ten or so. I love playing drums, and I see the world through a drummer's eye, but it's easier to lead a band as the guitarist. It's hard to say which I'm more proficient at, it depends on the band. I'm all about THE SONG....it's all fun, I love playing music and can do any role needed.

What was the first band you were in and what did you play?

The first band I was in was called DISTORTION... I played guitar and then became the default singer. We did metal covers, we were all in 6th and 7th grades so our musical vocabulary had yet to develop. Every band I was in early on did Judas Priest's "you've got another thing coming" and a slew of Twisted Sister and AC/DC songs. Until we discovered Metallica and thrash in general.

Playing shows at that point were fantasies. Until DIY and punk entered my life, I was an isolated metal kid growing up in rural Maine in the 80's. Not a lot of fun. There were no clubs or venues around us.

Do you have a favorite tour that you went on?

Hard to pin down. I skipped my high school graduation to do a 11 week tour with a band called The AGs and that was such a crazy learning experience. I really love touring and all it entails so there are awesome moments and there are shitty moments on every tour.

Which musicians/bands made you want to start a band?

I was a KISS kid from age 4 or so, and the Monkees tv show was what I thought every band lived like for most of my life. Plus my mom was a hippie and I had every Beatles record growing up. Those 3 bands, then throw in AC/DC and you have how I learned my instruments and how I learned about song structure. Metallica was big for me too. I remember the day we found out about Cliff Burton the way some people remembered learning about JFK. 

Do you remember a moment where you realized you wanted to play music and not just watch/listen?

 I think it was my 8th grade talent show. We were the only band and we opened the whole show with Twisted Sister's "the kids are back," and closed the show with "you shook me all night long." Girls who would never talk to me in person were dancing and jumping around while we were playing. I knew playing music was what I was born to do.

I feel like I always gravitate toward asking drum questions, BUT who are your favorite drummers? What makes them better in your mind than others? Do you have any drumming pet peeves? Like weird set-up or whatever?

As for favorite drummers, Bill Stevenson is huge for me, as is Bill Ward, Phil Rudd, Dale Crover, and John Bonham. It's all about playing just enough and not too much. On the other side, Clive Burr (original Iron Maiden drummer) was very musical and added a ton to their sound. There was a time I would have said Lars Ulrich, but now I know he plays drums like a stutterer speaks. If there weren't multi-track recording, Ulrich would not be able to play some of those songs. 
Drummer pet peeves: tappers, over emotive guys, lefties are visually offensive, and drummers with great kits that they don't know how to tune.

What are some general things about bands that make them stand out to you? As in... besides, like, being good musicians and playing together are there other less tangible things that make you want to watch a band?

It's all about songs for me. There needs to be a hook in it somewhere, either vocally or somewhere else. Some crazy grind bands have awesome riffs, or just a great THING in a song and that's all I need. Delivery is important. Obviously I like the aggression in hardcore and punk, and some attitude and personality can make or break a band.

What made you want to record music and become an engineer? What was the process of learning how to create records like?

I had a cassette 4track when I was 15 or so, and that led me into recording my band and doing demos of myself. I took a college recording course when I was still in HS and I was totally hooked. I always knew that being a rock star was a big gamble, but being a recording engineer might actually be a good gig. I went to a recording school in 1991 after high school, and I was one of the last classes to work on analog multi-track machines. They talked about how there is technology coming out soon (ADATs came out that year) that would make digital recording accessible to the masses and that we might not "need" these big dinosaur machines anymore. I fell in love with big consoles and tape and have never stopped. I bugged all of my friends in bands to let me come to their sessions, and eventually bands asked me to record them without the house engineer. Crazy as it sounds, there was a time that if a band walked into a studio, they guy behind the console would have no clue as to what the band wanted. Before Nirvana, before Green Day, you either had goofy metal guys or the other extreme of jazzy types.I tried to use Husker Du as a reference when we made the first Doc Hopper single in 1991 and they had no idea who I was talking about. That made me want to help my friends bands make records that sounded better than the records we all listened to. 

What are some records that stand out as being perfectly put together sound-wise? What are examples of  favorite guitar/bass/drum/vocal sounds?

"Appetite for Destruction" is perfect example of a perfect sounding record. The planets were in alignment that those morons could make such an excellent album. AC/DC always had great sounding records with not a lot of weird stuff going on. I love the drums on "slip it in." "Dookie" sounds almost perfect too. I like very presence-y vocals and loud guitars in general. Records I thought were great back when I was younger don't always hold up. The 80's and its technology fucked up a lot of great records and bands for years to come.

This feels like a dumb question but here goes: Besides that it is a less controlled environment, how does mixing a band live differ from recording sounds?

Live vs studio... Live you can't tailor the sounds to fit together the same way you do for recording in the studio. It's about damage and volume control. Sometimes when I'm mixing live, I'll try to tell the drummer if his gear is really out of whack and let him tune stuff up, but if its too many bands with too little time, all I can do is tune out the horrible frequencies of that shitty snare and go with it. Make it sound bearable for the 30 minute set. You only get one quick chance to make things sound good. It keeps me on my toes, plus I love watching bands so if I can't make records all the time, I enjoy mixing live. 

 What was your favorite recording experience with one of your bands? What was your favorite recording experience with another band?

It was great making the third Sinkhole record up in Maine at a big place called Big Sound. My younger brother helped me with my drum stuff and we literally slept in the live room around the drum kit. We did that a few days in a row, then it was done. I like records like that, encapsulating a time and place for a band. I don't enjoy a dragged out over thought kind of thing. Rock and roll isn't about that. 

I loved making all the Ergs records, especially "dork rock."  It felt magical when we were doing it, and obviously we all could relate on musical terms. The Measure's "songs about people..." was great too, but honestly I love Fid and we always have fun making music together no matter what the situation is. 


Where'd you grow up and what are/were you parents like? Do you have siblings?

I grew up in Gardiner Maine, about an hour north of Portland. It was hard to get music up there, and there was never any live music around. My mom was really into music and she is where I got all of my musical interest from. My parents were divorced when I was 2 or so and I never really saw them together. My father is great and I had both of them in my life for most of my childhood. We lived in a small town, so there wasn't much distance between the two households. 

When I was in 2nd grade my Mom moved to Massachusets to work for the newly formed Digital Corp which eventually became Hewlett Packard. There wasn't much going on in Maine so she felt that was the best way to provide a future for her and I. I stayed with my dad and my grandparents through most of that.

When I was 10, my mother was raped and murdered by someone in her apartment building in Lawrence Mass. I don't remember much else about that year, and it took a long time to process most of the info that filtered down to me from my grandparents. I do remember someone at my school saying something about my mother living with God and the angels in heaven and my response being something to the effect of  "if there is a God why would he do this to me?" and having a severe dislike for the church and anyone using that as an explanation for what happened.

 I have a step brother and step sister, as well as a half brother (all younger than me.) But we all love each other as blood and they are all amazing people. I made my brother move to NJ when he got out of high school and seemed to be doing nothing because I wanted him to see the world outside of Maine. Only the youngest still lives in Maine. Not many people escape living up there. It's that kind of place. 

How has becoming a parent changed your outlook on stuff?

Being a parent has definitely changed my outlook. It's given me a purpose. I do everything I do so I can make his life better, even through a divorce and all the other crap this world throws at you. He keeps me grounded, and inspires me every time I think of him. 
I learned too early that the world is a cruel and unjust place, but I try to do all I can to not instill that in my son. I try to have faith in humanity for him, and occasionally humanity surprises me.

What was school like for you?

School sucked for me. I was usually bored, got bullied and terrorized by hicks all the time. Getting yelled at from a car was a common occurrence. "Fag" was a nickname. Music and skateboarding were my escapes. Luckily I powered through without too many issues. And the same people still work at 7-11 up there. Living well is the best revenge.

What is your favorite place that you have lived?

I love New Brunswick. I lived in Boston from 91-96, and it was fun. I miss it sometimes, but Hub City is the best hands down. The people, the scene, being close to NYC... it's the best ever. I almost moved to Minneapolis once, but it's wicked cold there. I don't like cold.

Have you ever had any weird or paranormal experiences?

I want to believe in ghosts and that stuff, but I'm too much of a doubter. I need to see it to believe it. 
The only thing I believe in that can't be seen is the power of music and community. I've experienced both of those and I know they exist. 

To quote Stiff Little Fingers, "I believe in the power of guitar and drums." For reals yo.

 Real quick...

First off ...thanks so much Chris. This definitely made me tear up a little bit and I know I never say much at the end of the interview. But I just wanna point out that the whole reason why I  started doing this is to see the motivations behind what some of my favorite people's musical interests are. And to like, LEARN about them without it being too uncomfortable and scary. This interview definitely made me understand a dude I have known for YEARS a whole lot better. Because I really had almost no knowledge of this guy's history before, and now I will never think of him as the same Chris Pierce I knew before. You know what I mean? I hope you enjoyed reading because I sure did.

<3 Randa