As the relentless march of time drags me kicking and screaming into “clueless old guy” territory, I realize that my opinions regarding the state of contemporary music have begun to take on an onion-belt wearing rigidity; Deathcore is stupid, Metallica only have three records worth listening to, and no good punk bands started after 1998, for example. And while I hold the truth of my first two statements to be self-evident, I now wish to freely admit that I have no fucking clue what I’m talking about when it comes to the state of contemporary punk music. Anyone who has listened to Go To Prison, the debut album from New Orleans hardcore punk outfit PEARS, knows that punk’s doing just fine. The band is currently on tour, with plans to record their second full length later this year through legendary punk label Fat Wreck Chords. I had a chance to speak with PEARS guitarist/vocalist Brian Pretus about their roller coaster year, punk rock in the Big Easy, and what it’s like to have Fat Mike as a boss.
A lot of attention gets paid to the scenes in the main hubs of American punk rock (LA, Boston, New York, and Portland). PEARS is from New Orleans, a city with a huge musical history, but maybe not so well known for its punk rock. Can you tell us a bit about New Orleans as a place for punk?
Yeah! It’s a pretty strange town ’cause a lot of the punk bands that get started there are usually college kids, so they only usually last a few years. But right now, to be honest, it’s better than ever. There are a lot of good bands: Donovan Wolfington, who just signed to Top Shelf Records; CaddyWhompus is great, and just put out a new record; All People is a band that our singer used to play guitar in, and they also run a label called Company Records, and their stuff is a mix of everything from ska to hardcore.
I mean, people wouldn’t really travel to New Orleans to see the punk music, but it’s definitely there, it’s just kind of different. There’s a lot more metal than there is punk; a lot of doom metal and stoner stuff. The atmosphere just breeds it. But after we started touring, it seems like it got other bands from around here to get on their game and start doing something.
Things seem to have happened pretty quickly for PEARS. You formed in 2014 and kicked out an EP and a full-length in the span of a little over a year. However, you and Zach (singer Zach Quintus) and Alex (Bassist Alex Talbot) were in a band called the Lollies. How long were The Lollies in action? Can you talk about the break between The Lollies and PEARS and what made you two want to work together again?
Yeah, we were in that band for about five years or so, but we really didn’t do much – just sat around getting drunk and playing in our home town, you know? I mean, there’s nothing wrong with it; a lot of bands do that, but if you are trying to be a successful musician, and by successful I mean that you have other people hear your music, you gotta get out there.
We took about six months off between the Lollies and PEARS, and we all did our own little projects for a while. Alex is the singer in a screamo band called Anne Frankenstein, and Zach did a band called Little Bags which is still going, and now I play guitar in it too, so anytime we do an acoustic set for PEARS we just play Little Bags songs because they’re way more poppy. Zach did a bunch of random stuff, but then we all said, “Screw these other bands! We should do it right this time instead of all the mistakes we made with The Lollies.”
Your first show was on Mardis Gras day, 2014 with Epitaph band Off With Their Heads. Was this show the event that opened doors for you guys in terms of label interest and tours?
Absolutely. We met Ryan Young (Off With Their Heads) at that show, and he ended up putting Go To Prison out on vinyl for us through his podcast Anxious and Angry. I mean, that got us vinyl, which is an expensive endeavor. A lot of bands can’t afford to do it, so we figured if this dude’s going to press our vinyl for us, we better make him proud and sell’em! So as soon as we finished the record we just started hitting the road.
PEARS have toured the US with some big names (The Dwarves, The Suicide Machines), and you also did a European Jaunt. Was this the first time you guys had hit the road so intensely? Had The Lollies toured as extensively? What’s your experience been like on tour?
The Lollies did a little bit of touring, but mostly short, two week regional tours; nothing like PEARS at all. Once PEARS started touring, our first tour was three days, then we had a week off, and then a two week tour, which led to a bunch of month long tours after that, one after the other.
The experience has been pretty hectic. It always seems like you should slow down and breathe but [the touring) is doing so well that there’s no point in stopping, because it seems like we found something that works. We’ve had to learn a lot in a short amount of time, but I think the best way to do it is to just dive right in instead of just getting your feet wet and slowly getting into the pool. You just gotta jump in and hope for the best. But it’s been great, man, we’ve hit a lot of roadblocks, a lot of vans getting messed up, but those are just things you gotta learn to deal with, and I’m glad we’ve learned so fast. I mean, there is still a lot to learn and a lot to be done.
And every band we’ve ever toured with has been filled with the nicest guys. They’ve all been really cool, and try to help us because they want to see us succeed. It’s pretty awesome; I think once you commit to something as ridiculous as being in a band for a living, anyone else who does the same thing is willing to help because they know how hard it is. Going on tour by yourself is for sure more profitable, but you can’t beat the exposure and the things you learn from people who have been doing it for decades.
The PEARS sound is really interesting; a blend of really pissed off hardcore and playful, funny melodic, and technically-intricate pop punk (especially on songs like “Victim to Be”). It’s always cool to hear new music that is unique, and not clearly indebted to a single influence. Can you talk a bit about you and your bandmate’s tastes, and what sort of stuff has informed PEARS sound?
We wanted to put all of the things we liked into one band without repeating ourselves too much. I don’t really know how it happened, it was just sort of natural, and we’ve progressed as songwriters, mainly Zach, because he writes everything. Collectively, we’ve done a hardcore band, ‘punk’ punk bands, grunge, really a bit of everything. Those previous efforts were more focused and in smaller increments, so we figured we’d bring everything to the table that we liked in one band, and eventually it formed its own sound, a sound that I think really comes together on the new record that’s coming out in February. I’m just glad people seem to like it!
Older fans of punk rock and heavy metal tend to be really stuck in their ways; if they’re going to buy a new record, it’ll be music from their favorite first- or second-wave acts, and they’re generally mistrustful and/or downright dismissive of new stuff. Have you experienced this, or have the old guard been receptive to PEARS stuff (maybe because they think you’re a fruit-themed FEAR cover band?)
Yeah, that’s what it seems like! But it’s weird, like especially when we were on tour with The Dwarves, the crowd was mostly older dudes, but somehow we seemed to win them over, which is pretty rad since guys like that typically don’t go to shows unless it’s for a band they grew up on. So it’s definitely harder to try and catch the older fans, but for the most part they seem to relate to whatever it is we’re doing, because it still seems fresh like the stuff they like when they first listened to it, which is really cool.
Funny story about the whole FEAR logo thing: (Note: PEARS’ logo bears an uncanny resemblance to that of legendary LA punk band FEAR) the first time I met Chad Williams, who pretty much runs Fat Wreck Chords now since Fat Mike stopped doing all the day-to-day stuff, I didn’t know what he looked like and I met him at Punk Rock Bowling, and he said, “Hey man, I’m Chad and I’m Lee Ving from FEAR’s manager, and we need to talk about some lawsuits and who you can send the royalties to!” I was like “Oh fuck, are you kidding me? Right after we just played a show, Lee Ving is after me already?” But then he told me who he really was. It was seriously pretty funny.
Actually, I totally dare FEAR to sue us. That would be awesome! That would be a really cool thing to be in the news for. Actually, when we created [the logo] I never thought it was going to catch on, and then when we were talking to Fat Wreck Chords about the artwork for the new album they were like, “Well, you are kind of stuck with that logo now because it rocks and people know what it is now.” To be honest, I didn’t even see it, but it is clearly the FEAR logo with an “S” added to it. I actually did the artwork for the record because nobody else knew how to do it. Neither did I, really, but it ended up taking me a whole day to figure out how to get that “S” in there and actually make it look decent. It was really time consuming, however any other real graphic designer would have been able to do it in like a second, but whatever I like it! I think it works!
Can you talk a bit about the lyrical themes and inspiration for Go to Prison?
The thing about the lyrics is that Zach writes everything and I don’t touch it, but a lot of it has to do with Zach dealing with sobriety. Around when we started the band, Zach was just two months sober and really struggling with it, and a lot of emotions are involved in an extreme life change like that, and he was a terrible alcoholic. He was probably one of the biggest pieces of shit you could find!
A lot of the record has to do with social anxiety and feeling like you don’t fit in, or that you’re never going to become what you want to become and not meeting your own personal goals, but also keeping a light sensibility about it.
New Orlean’s has a reputation for debauchery. Now that PEARS is signed to Fat Wreck Chords, and label boss and well-documented king of over indulgence Fat Mike will be on the boards for the new record, do you think PEARS will survive the recording process?
Oh Absolutely! I Mean, I still drink and get wasted and I like to do drugs and the other guys in the bands besides Zach like to have a drink now and then, but I think there’s an aspect of the punk side and the serious side of the band that evens everything out and allows us to be on a party label but still take ourselves seriously.
Zach has talked about how exciting and crazy it is to work with Fat Mike. What does it mean to you to work with him and, more generally, can you describe what it has been like to work with Fat Wreck?
For me, the best part of working with Fat Wreck Chords is that many labels will say something like “Welcome to the family!”, but it never feels like you’re actually part of the family. With Fat, as soon as we got out to the Fat Wreck Chords anniversary show, all of the other bands wanted to meet us and everyone at the label was sending us emails; it was super welcoming and really made us feel like we had a guardian angel with us. I mean, it’s hard to feel safe when you’re out on the road alone with no one to back you if your van breaks down and you can’t afford to fix it and you’re totally fucked, but Fat helped us out in that exact same situation once, and they make us feel like anything they can do to help us, they’ll do. So it really feels like an awesome family, and meeting everyone at the label and in the bands has been amazing, because everyone’s just super fucking nice and really cool. It’s pretty surreal; it’s kind of like a faerie is following us or something. I mean, it’s not like we’re selling out stadiums or nothing, but they’ll at least bring us to those stadiums and let us open! That’s more than I could ever ask for, to be honest.
If PEARS could go on an endless tour, which bands would be on your ultimate tour bucketlist?
Alright! I think I can kind of talk for the whole band here. Let’s see: The Descendants would have to be there. NOFX would have to be there. Lately, Zach is obsessed with this J-Pop artist named Kyary Pamyu Pamyu who is pretty amazing, and probably some of the best music I’ve ever heard. So she would be there. For Jarret, our drummer, Lagwagon would have to be there. Alex loves post-rock, so Godspeed You! Black Emperor would have to be there, but I would just sub them out for The Swingin’ Utters. It’s pretty cool because we’ve actually knocked quite a few of those bands off of our list already!
PEARS are currently touring North America. Their full length record Go to Prison is out now on Fat Wreck Chords and available on their bandcamp and their new record Letters to Memaw will be coming out in February 2016.
Written and Compiled by Jesse Gainer
*edited by Kate Erickson