STEPHEN PIERCE 15-Question Interview (AMPERE / KINDLING / MONTCALM / THE LAST FORTY SECONDS)
When I went to Austin, Texas in the USA at the end of January 2015 for the Austin Blood Alliance Festival (click here for the review and a ton of videos) I got to meet, watch and hang out with Stephen Pierce of Ampere. It was pretty cool. He's a really nice guy who was very friendly and engaging. We almost got to do a punk rock karaoke together, only to be told karaoke for the night was ending. Oh, and he loves his youtube videos. He also plays in the band Kindling, which you should check out here. He used to be in Montcalm and before that The Last Forty Seconds. That's an insane amount of influence on my musical journey through the 33 years thus far. He agreed to do an interview and below is the result. Jam that amazing 9-minute song embedded at the top of the interview for a great listen whilst reading some excellent answers over the 15 questions. Thanks again, Stephen!
Go here to check out the Montcalm discography review on (((((OPENmind/SATURATEDbrain))))).
1) How do you recall Montcalm starting?
The Last Forty Seconds was coming to an end and I felt I should start something new for when it did. The idea of not being in a band, even for a day, seemed utterly unbearable to me at that point. I don't really remember how I met Robbie but we lived a few hours apart and would meet up once a week or so to play. We roped in this kid Sean on bass, but he moved shortly after that and our friend Nick filled the spot. It was us three - Robbie, Nick & myself - on the demo recording, which ended up being the bulk of our stuff on the Deadseraphim split.
2) Did you have a specific direction for Montcalm that you were hoping to take?
I guess just the sort of stuff I was listening to and obsessed with at the time. Stuff like Indian Summer, Inkwell, Portraits of Past, Navio Forge. I don't think we ever fully found ourselves, sound-wise. Even the last 4-track recordings we were working on were way different than the song on the Kodan split, which was way different from anything we had done before that.
3) How did your split with Kodan Armada come about?
I don't fully remember if we met them first or after the split was in motion, but we hit it off when we did. They were great guys. Still are. I just ordered a few shirts from Dan's company Kinfolk, actually.
4) What caused the band to dissolve?
I'm starting to feel like this is a really unsatisfying interview you're getting out of me, but that's another thing that was pretty unclear. There was a good bit of physical distance between us - I was in Western MA, Robbie was in Boston, Nick was in the suburbs, Mat - the bassist who came on after Nick switch two play 2nd guitar - lived in Boston, and we were all young and super disorganized. Priorities changed, I ended up starting Ampere while Montcalm was still going. When the Kodan split came out, we were pretty sure the band was just about done, but a year later or whenever, we ended up practicing a few times and writing a few more songs that we never fully recorded or anything. I guess it just ended up not being super urgent to keep the band going.
5) Can you walk us through your musical influences chronologically?
The brief run-thru for me is that I got into Screeching Weasel etc when I was super young, then Crass/Flux of Pink Indians/Conflict and the whole anarchopunk thing. I connected the dots to bands like Disrupt and Dropdead, then tangentially found Portraits of Past and realized that I could like punk/hc but also listen to pop music like Sunny Day Real Estate and Promise Ring etc. Somehow, from that I ended up hearing My Bloody Valentine and that absolutely killed me. We're probably talking, like, 1998 or 1999 at that point. Anyway, I moved to Western MA and the scene around there in 2000-2001 was, you know, bands like Orchid, Tipping Canoe.. Jerome's Dream was from just south in CT. I was around kids who loved, like, The Smiths as much as they loved grindcore. It was pretty unrestrictive; there wasn't any sort of dogma around any singular sound, and being a smallish community, the bands I was in ended up playing shows with all sorts of other bands. The noise community at that point was pretty intertwined with the DIY punk/hc world, which definitely opened things up. I don't know. I guess all of it stuck with me to some degree.
6) Do you feel your lyrics were written differently than your other bands? Was the fact that you were younger helpful or a hindrance in writing lyrics?
I don't really stand behind any of the Montcalm lyrics, or the Ampere demo lyrics for that matter, as being anything significant. I cringe a little when I hear them, honestly: Not too much nuance or subtlety there, kinda standard-fare ultra-personal journal entries, really. I'd say, with that in mind, that in this case my age was definitely not very helpful! I put a lot more thought and effort into Ampere lyrics; I played guitar in Montcalm and that was my priority, where in Ampere, the lyrics and delivery of the lyrics are my primary contribution, so quite a bit more time is spent on them.
7) What tours did you do? What is your favourite Montcalm tour memory?
Montcalm toured just once, with this band Durga from San Diego, and my strongest memory from that tour was the van breaking down in Valdosta, Georgia. We spent all day getting it fixed, only for it to break down again a few miles down the road. We brought it back to the shop we came from, and Brandon from Durga really laid into the manager for it. Not at all in a way that wasn't justified, of course, and I remember being surprised at how assertive he was, how strong an advocate for us he was. I dunno. I wish I had a better story than that. Sometimes the memories that stick with you are the breakdowns and obstacles, of course.
8) Why the band named Montcalm?
Nothing significant. It was some town name on an exit off a highway in northern New England that I would drive past every now and again, I just kinda liked how it sounded and looked written out.
9) How did Ampere start in terms of finding members? How were the writing process at first and the first few shows?
Well, I had been in The Last Forty Seconds with Andy, and we had been living together in Northampton for a bit. We moved in with Meghan & Will to a house they had in North Amherst that we ended up living in all together for five years or so. I don't remember if the band started right before or right after we all moved in together, but it was right around there. We all had our own things going on, so Ampere wasn't the priority for any of us really - Will was still in Orchid, Meghan was in a band called Unicoroner, Andy was in Wolves, and I was doing Montcalm. As all those bands ended, Ampere became more and more of a serious outlet for us. It was kind of a natural evolution.
10) Tell us about Kindling.
We've been playing for about a year, starting with just Gretchen & I making some quickly recorded short fuzz pop songs - I think we had recorded 9 songs in the first three weeks of the band existing. Of course, it was fun, so I started putting more thought and time into the songs I was writing for it, and they got longer and more dense. We did a 4-song 7" in May, just recorded it at home, and sent it off to press. We got Andy on board to play drums, then found a few other friends to flesh out a full band, and we've been functioning since then as a 5-piece band. We just recorded a few songs for an EP and have an LP pretty much all written. We have a lot of good energy, and as soon as the LP is out hope to hit the road for a little bit of a trip, which will be novel for me and Andy. Our last serious tour with Ampere was in 2007, and that was only really for 2 weeks. In any case, it's cool to be in a new band and definitely different to be navigating those waters for the first time in a long time.
11) What has it been like playing in Ampere? Whether you'll admit to it or not, are a band that without a doubt goes down as one of the most well-known screamy hardcore bands of the last 20 years. Plus, you play with some very amazing people, what would you like to say about them?
Yeah, it's been an absolute privilege to have been a part of Ampere, both because of the opportunities that it's afforded us as well as having been able to share it all with Andy, Meghan, and Will. It's been a great experience. I think that we've been at it for as long as we have is a testament to that. Beyond that, having been able to see as much of the world as we have and meet as many people as we have is something that I'll forever be grateful for.
12) Is there anything of personal or political significance that you would like to talk about?
Not really, no. I think the politics of Ampere are pretty firmly out there. I've been radical in the past and in some of our lyrics reflect that. It gets a little harder when you get older, priorities shift. It's not that there's any less frustration with the way various structures in the world are set up, but more of a sadness that things like class, ethnicity, gender-norms, etc are so firmly entrenched in how we see ourselves and each other. You start to feel powerless against it all. Again, that doesn't change a thing in regards to any sort of political rage or energy, but I think with time, you begin to engage more with the things you can stand a chance to impact or change, rather than screaming at a wall of monolithic bureaucracy. It's the micro vs the macro, in hopes that the little seeds of compassion that you and those you know are able to succeed at sowing will snowball and have some larger impact. Yeah, hope in the face of futility. It's a hard thing to sit with.
13) What music/bands have you been immersing yourself in lately?
Same as I ever have. As much Crass as My Bloody Valentine. I've been reviewing records, so through that & the people I've met through Kindling, I've been getting in on the ground floor with some really great bands, too: Wildhoney, Working, Static Daydream, The Cherry Wave... Stuff like that. Pop music by punk kids, I guess you'd say.
14) Have you witnessed the scenes (or whatever you'd like to call them) around you change? How so?
Evolve, more like. I think Daniel Striped Tiger is a good case study in a band (and its members) gracefully evolving with time & age. When I met them, they were teenagers. Like, 17, 18. I wasn't that much older, but older enough that that felt YOUNG, you know? At first, I thought they sounded a ton like Andy's old band, Wolves. Kinda comically so, actually. Anyway, of course they matured and became a band that sounds completely unique and timeless - they found a sound that no one else was doing and perfected it. They broke up, time passed, and now look at where they all ended up, working within the same or similar framework, but sounds across the spectrum: Laika's Orbit is Dan's band, and they play an upbeat sort of fuzzy power pop. John and Jay are in Sweet John Bloom, who are about to put out what will be the best record of the year, and of course, Sean is in Parquet Courts, whose approach to a more widespread success has been punk as fuck. What these guys are doing is totally in the spirit of the DIY punk community that we all came from, but moving away from the sound usually associated with that. I've seen a lot of that through playing with Kindling - Met a lot of folks who knew Andy & I from Ampere or whatever in this weird world away from bands that scream or immediately come across as "punk". It doesn't feel separate, though, or limiting: The shadow cast is growing, the umbrella is bigger.
15) What is in the near future for Stephen Pierce?
Well, Ampere is headed to Iceland and Sweden in a week. Evidently our split 8" with Raein is in pressing plant purgatory, but is just one final stumbling block on an enormously long process that will hopefully leave people feeling rewarded for their wait. After that, who knows? Kindling has a few releases in the immediate future - a 12" EP and later in 2015 a full-length LP. I'd like to spend more time with non-musical writing in 2015. It's important to keep incredibly busy, for me. I don't love downtime, and hopefully that will lead to 2015 being a very productive year.