Party All the Time: Matt Pierce looks out for Number Un
It’s the middle of the worst part of a New York City winter: a day when you can’t get warm no matter how many layers you pile on, and it’s easy to full-body slam someone on the street, simply because you can’t lift your head to look where you’re going for the velocity of the biting, merciless wind. Inside the offices of TVT Records in downtown Manhattan, however, there is haven from the cold. I’m nestled comfortably in a lounge-style conference room at TVT, and my companion is Matt Pierce, baby-faced but incorrigible 30 year-old singer/guitarist of the Unband, who are set to release their debut on the label in just a few short weeks. We have a bottle of Triple Sec, which tastes like orange cough syrup, to keep us toasty and lubricate the conversation. We are ready to unlock the secrets of why the Unband rock harder than any band on the planet.
Having recently relocated to New York from their hometown of Boston — a result of being banned from every club in that area — the Unband (singer/guitarist Pierce, Mike Ruffino on bass, and Eugene Ferrari on drums) have been together in their original line up for ten years. Retarder, (released March 7th) is their first real record. When you spin this delicious slice of rock and roll salvation on the disc player, it’s hard to ignore obvious influences that come to mind, such as Motorhead and Black Sabbath, though Pierce disagrees somewhat. “Sabbath? It’s weird that you should say Sabbath because they’re kind of doomy and gloomy and I don’t think that we are.” Maybe it’s just that sound of a fierce sonic assault; perhaps the Unband is part of the increasing effort to resurrect rock and roll? Perhaps not. “I don’t think we’re really trying to resurrect rock and roll. We don’t really think about what we do,” says Pierce. “We’re not part of any of these movements or anything like that. Being associated with Buckcherry is just coincidence because we happen to sing about cocaine and play loud guitars, but that’s where the similarity ends. I like that song (“Lit Up”) a lot. I just wish the rest of their album was a little more balls-out. I don’t think they’re the hardest rocking band that they could be.” Pierce emphasizes that making any kind of compromise is not on the Unband’s agenda. “I guess they want to kind of trim the edge for a little bit of commercial success, which is something that we will never ever ever ever do. We’re just going to go play rock music. People who’ve never seen us or heard of us, they tend to get it.”
The message seems crystal clear, and the music does the talking: The Unband believe that time is never wasted when you’re wasted all the time.
Retarder has a nice cover of Billy Squire’s “Everybody Wants You.” Who’s the Billy Squire fan in the band, and did you think of covering any other Billy Squire songs?
Yeah, we did, we’ve always had this weird Billy Squire obsession because he’s from Wellesley, Mass and we all met in Newton Mass, which is right next door. Newton is a suburb about 6 or 7 miles west of Boston, it’s on the “T.” Wellesley is a “dry town,” I might add, but it’s a richer suburb. Newton is a fairly well-to-do town but Wellesley is more so. Billy Squire was sort of the hometown rockin’ guy, though I think he might have broke out of New York City actually. Anyway, “The Stroke” was my personal theme song back in 1981, whenever that was. I think it was everybody’s — I don’t know about you but…
I have a memory of that song…
It seemed like it was way too obvious to do “The Stroke,” and when it came time [to make the record] — we were on this other label before we were on TVT — the A&R guy said, “You really gotta do a cover. New bands should have a cover song on their first record.” He was like, “You should do something really, really stupid, to go with the rest of the record.” I don’t think that song is, well, it is pretty stupid actually, but we livened it up a little. [The A&R guy] wanted us to do “Cat Scratch Fever” or something, and that was way too obvious. I didn’t want to do anything too, too obvious on the record. It seemed like nobody had really touched that tune in awhile, at least in the past seventeen years or something. We recorded it without even listening to it, we recorded it from memory. We didn’t have a lyrics sheet. I went back and I listened to the CD after we recorded the music and I got the lyrics all wrong actually, but they sound like the right lyrics.
Are there any other 70’s bands to whom you’d like to pay homage, either live or by recording one of their songs?
We’ve been thinking about that. We wanted to do Thin Lizzy’s “Thunder & Lightning” on the next record. That’s a great song. What else is there? “Lightning Strikes” by Aerosmith. That’s [from] after Joe Perry left the band and they got these two other dudes in there for awhile. It’s off Rock and a Hard Place — when Steven was passing out on stage and the band broke up right after that record. We’re a pretty good cover band when we want to be. Back in the days when we got kicked out of all the clubs back home, we had to come up with fake names and wear disguises if we wanted to play in town, so we came up with this cover band called Brown Star. We’d wear fake mustaches and over-sized white T-Shirts and running sneakers and baseball caps pulled down. We looked like those Bears fans from the SNL skit, you know — “Da Bears.” We put on these real fake Massachusetts accents and tried to play the wimpiest, worst versions of BTO and Van Morrison that we could possibly do. We even did “Brown Eyed Girl,” which I think may be the pussiest song of all time, you know. It was hard to play that wimpy. Like, I would take the distortion off the guitar and put a chorus pedal on. We were deliberately trying to be as horrible as possible. That went pretty well, but we ended up rocking at the end, by accident.
What were you like in high school?
Eugene and I went to high school together and Mikey went to the high school up the road. We were all into music (long pause), yeah, music, That’s all we really did. We’d go to band practice after school. There were some crappy ass bands at our high school, though. I guess every high school has that, right? There was this big rock band at the high school called Cheating Ace, and seriously, when they played their gigs they would wear these pink and white pastel colored suits — sort [of] go like Miami Vice style.
How did the pop culture of that time affect the way you turned out as an adult?
I grew up on these movies in the early 80’s like Hard Bodies, Spring Break, all these soft porn, kids-going-wild, coming-of-age kind of movies that got really crappy, with gratuitous nudity and somebody was always out to get them. I imagined that my life was going to turn out to be like that and it sort of has… a little bit. Wait (laughs), well, not exactly, better, better with more rock, basically. I wasn’t a complete mess in high school, I saved that for my 20’s. That’s when I went off the hook and became a notorious party person. I saw Animal House like 50 times, and that just warped my sensibilities. My college experience was very similar to the whole Delta house.
In the liner notes of the CD it says something like “The Unband are part of the party landscape.” Is that your credo?
It is. Partying is one of my very favorite things in the world, and we’re pretty good at it, I gotta say. We played a bunch of house parties back in the day. In New York, a party means like you pay money and you go to a club and dance to some electronic thing. That’s what parties are around here, for the most part. But back in Massachusetts, a party would be like someone would have a band — maybe us — play and there’d be a bunch of kegs and you’d pay like $2 and drink all night. We’d play in the living room and people would be like freaking out. There’d be a bonfire out in the back of the house and stuff like that. There’d be mosh pits in the living room, the couch would go out the window and stuff like that. These are some of the benefits. Some of the craziest times I’ve ever had were actually, like, in the woods of Western Mass. But you have to whip those people into that frenzy, cause they don’t just do it on their own.
Is that where the song “Drink and Rock” comes from?
I don’t even know where that came from. We were probably drinking and playing rock and maybe smoking pot, so we started singing about it (laughs), not very metaphorically. That wasn’t really even supposed to be on the record but they sort of bullied us into recording it.
Were you drunk when you recorded it?
(Pause) Yes (laughs). I think it’s safe to say we were drunk when we recorded most of the record, actually. Every once in awhile we’d have to stop, go home, sober up and then come back and keep working on it. We recorded some of the best stuff actually when we were hung over. When we feel like we’re about to die from being hung over, things come out good, like that.
Who are some of your rock idols?
Hmmm, who are our idols? Motley Crue maybe… and Kiss and AC/DC. These are like too, too obvious, I mean, they should be everybody’s idols. In fact, they are everybody’s idols, I think.
I think you may have surpassed Motley Crue, lyrically speaking.
Ahhh, yeah, that might be true. You know, these guys are not rocket scientists, and somehow they rose to the top of the rock heap. It was more of an instinctual thing that any brain power that they might have had. [There’s just] something about them. I mean, you can be a total jarhead these days and make a million dollars, basically. If you’re a little smarter than that, the sky’s the limit. You just don’t want to be a real brainiac and put that into your music. Way intelligent music has no bearing on my life, you know. Really intricate, well-thought-out shit, I don’t care for that.
Are the Unband concerned with fashion?
There is no thought put into the way I look, whatsoever. I guess I know what not to wear. I know what looks like shit. What looks like shit? Those fucking baggy pants, the ones that flare out and are as wide as you are tall. What is up with that? They’re shop-lifting pants I guess, for stealing steaks and bottles of booze. I like form-fitting clothes. Maybe it’s because of the era I grew up in, everybody was wearing skin-tight pants.
The song “The Jilt,” is that based on a true story of heartbreak?
Yeah, it is, kind of, sure. I really don’t want to go into the story ’cause all my friends are sick of hearing about this shit. Those people who know us know exactly what it’s about. Let’s put it this way, there was a mean mistreating mama way back when and things went a little awry. But yeah, that was based on a legitimate experience and I was trying to be as vague as possible about it and I think I succeeded.
The song “Cocaine Whore” reminds me of the Stones’ “Fool to Cry,” in a way. Is that your homage to the Stones?
Wow, that’s very flattering. I do have kind of a falsetto thing going on. I’m a big Mick Jagger fan. I know he gets panned a lot by “serious rockers,” but I like it when he does that disco, high-pitched thing, “Emotional Rescue”… that kind of thing.
“Sure Do Feel Like a Piece of Shit” is pretty punk rock.
I was tripping on acid when we made that one up. We were actually playing in front of a substantial amount of people. The other guys weren’t tripping and they were getting annoyed with me because I kept thinking there were flange effects on the guitar and stuff like that. I started to have this kind of freak-out session in front of everyone. I didn’t want to play any of our songs because I couldn’t really remember how to play them, so we started making up songs, that one amongst them. That and a couple of others –that aren’t on the record but are on earlier demos — wound up being Unband standards. So, yeah, we made that up. I don’t remember when the lyrics came up, and I don’t think I felt like a piece of shit at the time either. I don’t know why I sang that. But it was too late, the song had been written, and there it was.
It must be asked: Why does the Unband rock so hard?
‘Cause somebody fuckin’ has to. I think that’s the reason, plus it’s not really satisfying to rock a little bit. It’s just a distinct reflection of our personalities (laughs). Don’t you ever feel like screaming your head off on a daily basis? I do. Ever get the impression that life is a complete joke and you just can’t stop laughing your head off? That’s what this band is, basically. Why do we rock so hard? Is that what you asked?
That’s a great question. Because we can! Why do we kick so much ass? Because we fookin’ can, and somebody has to. Music these days is a little iffy. Everybody’s on this suicide/Columbine High kind of rock trip. I’m like, “screw that, I want to see some spandex, I wanna see the puffy hair and I want to see a guitar shaped like a spaceship,” you know? Tons of eyeliner and some song about banging fat girls [we had been talking about the guilty pleasure of Poison’s “Unskinny Bop” – Gail], or something. That’s perfect for me. I don’t want to name names – I used to do that – it should be obvious the band I’m taking about, these frat boy/beating people up/date rape at Woodstock kind of bands. I hate that shit. It’s evil music. It’s even pointless to talk about it. I always thought that we were a little more interesting than the average rock band these days, not to toot our own horn. Hey, who wouldn’t want to hang out with us? We party all the time!