“Quit your job and go on tour forever. You won’t regret it.”
This is Pile’s unofficial motto. Or at least, that’s how it always seemed to me. Last winter, I joined the band on the road at a point when my band didn’t have much touring experience. Pile seemed like pros: they could always pick someone out of the audience who knew of an ideal place to sleep, they traveled with healthy food and comfortable sleeping gear, and they always managed to talk the venues into giving us all more beer than necessary. On one particular night in Little Rock, Kris Kuss (drummer, utterer of the above quote) met us all on the sidewalk outside of the venue with six growlers of craft beer that were brewed on the premises. I still don’t know exactly how we wound up with this bounty, but needless to say, we had a good night and slept soundly.
Since our tour in March of 2014, Pile hit the road again last fall to track their newest LP, You’re Better Than This, at Another Recording Company in Omaha, Nebraska. The album is their fourth in a line of diverse LPs since 2009’s Jerk Routine. But You’re Better Than This stands out in the Pile discography due to its urgency, both sonically and lyrically. “I set the bar real high then come up just shy then pound the desk with utmost frustration,” sings guitarist and songwriter Rick Maguire on the album’s opening track, “The World is Your Hotel”.
It’s a telling intro to Rick’s mentality; as a songwriter, he is very dedicated to his work. It shows a self-critical side of a band that works constantly. This month, Rick finally made the decision to quit his job in Boston and move out of his apartment in order to focus on the band full-time. He plans to buy a tent when he returns to Boston this summer, making the album’s opener all-the-more pertinent.
It was exciting to see Pile’s new songs come to life on stage—almost a year since we toured with them—as they played to a sold-out crowd at Brooklyn’s Palisades. It was the first stop on their seemingly endless tour supporting the album, one that will bring them around the U.S. and to Europe.
Onstage, Pile perfectly executes a sense of duplicity. One moment, Rick is growling into the microphone, and the next he is graciously thanking the audience with a smile. Bassist Matt Connery digs into the heaviest crescendos, but is also known for losing his pants mid-song. Guitarist Yazan Fahmawi is beaming while scraping along aggressively (perhaps because it’s his first show with Pile, filling in for Matthew Becker). And Kuss holds it all together on the drumkit—lingering behind the finger-picked guitar lines and instantly hopping into a booming beat. The record is littered with similar contradictions; from the plucky country interlude incongruously entitled “Fuck the Police” to the stark dynamic and tempo shifts of “Tin Foil Hat” to the time-hopping skips of “#2 Hit Single”, Pile’s playing with you… and that’s essentially the point.
It’s one thirty in the morning at Palisades. Pile’s sold-out show has ended and people are lingering at the bar and slowly heading home. I find Rick packing his equipment onstage and, unlike me, he seems excited about the idea of me interviewing him. I am noticeably nervous because, well, I’ve never really interviewed anyone before. We step outside onto the sidewalk, and I ask Rick about their rigorous touring schedule, and how touring contributes to the band’s identity.
“If I want to write music, it just seems to make sense that I should go to folks and show them what I’m doing,” says Rick. “When you’re face-to-face, it’s that much more personal.”
And personality is what makes Pile so special. Ask anyone.
“This is something I want to do for the rest of my life because it makes me feel something very strongly that nothing else really does,” says Rick. “Why would you want to take something that sacred to you and put it in the hands of something else?”
This is something I want to do for the rest of my life because it makes me feel something very strongly that nothing else really does.
In a way, You’re Better Than This is a product of this mentality. The process oscillated between exactness and vagueness, but all with the intention of progressing as a band. In other words, Pile made the record they wanted to make.
“When Magic Isn’t Real got some attention, I freaked out about writing Dripping, and with You’re Better Than This… I wasn’t sure what kind of attention I really wanted. I wanted to mess with that a little bit. I just wanted to throw a bunch of stuff at the wall and see what stuck,” says Rick, “With this record, there was a lot of self-doubt. There were some things that needed to be really specific, but other aspects were way more loose.”
Pile has the uncanny ability to balance extreme emotional content with a tinge of self-deprecating humor. It’s effective because it’s honest, and it comes from a place of understanding the role of a performer in an imperfect world.
“It’s healthy to laugh at ourselves,” says Rick, “I love what I do, but in the grand scheme of things it’s pretty miniscule. Even if I feel something very strongly, it is just a small thing in the grand scope of existing. It’s nice to acknowledge emotions and go deep into them, but I try to be self-aware enough to know that, in a way, it’s funny. I can still feel that feeling but know that it’s in a greater context.”
While touring with Pile, I learned a lot about the band, perpetually awed by their talents as performers, and as people. I also learned this: Pile can play a basement in any town in the United States and there would be at least one kid who could scream the words to every song.
Pile are certainly also a “band’s band”. I mean that seriously: bands loves Pile. Nearly every band I have encountered the past few years find it hard to hide their excitement surrounding Pile, myself and my bandmates included. (When we toured with Pile, Carlos, who plays bass in Big Ups, made a t-shirt with Sharpie-d bold letters ‘RICK FROM PILE’ and proceeded to wear it at almost every show for the duration of the tour.)
Pile can play a basement in any town in the United States and there would be at least one kid who could scream the words to every song.
I’d be remiss to write this entire piece without mention of the EP Steve Hears Pile in Malden and Bursts Into Tears by Exploding in Sound labelmates, Krill, an entire concept EP that Krill wrote based on a character who is depressed because his band will never be as good as Pile. That’s the sort of super-fandom that Pile seems to attract. It couldn’t be more fitting that such an EP was written by Krill. In some ways, the two bands share a mutual type of sticky, viral energy about their bands that is hard to pin down answers for.
Before conducting this interview with Pile, this was the one question I wanted to ask, and was also the most nervous about asking, especially knowing the self-effacing side of the band: “Why is everyone so obsessed with Pile?”
“It’s sweet that people feel that way, and I think a lot of it has to do with the other dudes in the band. We just want to travel around and do our thing and be good to folks. We like doing this; to say it’s a hobby is pretty understated. It’s something that we feel almost compelled to do, and we have the opportunity to be good people through that.”
Pile has a type of self-awareness about their role as a band that is refreshing. They know what they do is meaningful to not only themselves, but other people. And not just fans, but people in other bands (like me), show spaces, bookers, friends along the road. Pile understands the potential for commune through what they do, and I think that’s why they humored me and agreed to this interview in the first place.