[Sidebar] The Worcester Phoenix
October 1 - 8, 1999

[On The Rocks]

| reviews & features | clubs by night | bands in town | club directory |
| rock/pop | jazz | country | karaoke | pop concerts | classical concerts | hot links |

Pop narcotic

Get gone on the Pills

by John O'Neill

The Pills If guts were any measure of a band's worth, you'd be hard-pressed to find more-deserving recipients for the Grit Hall of Fame than Boston's Pills. Sure, Iggy would beat the snot out of himself nightly -- but that was more a byproduct of self-imposed mayhem that comes from ingesting massive quantities of booze and quality drugs. Yes, Sid used a razor to make a billboard out of his chest -- but that was merely self-destructive shtick compliments of a simpleton with bad wiring. The Blasters' drummer, Bill Bateman, once ripped his hand open to the tune of 27 stitches but completed the set anyway; blood will make a fella do funny things, especially when the sight of it whips a crowd into a frenzy. No, real guts (the honest-to-goodness stuff of consequence and destiny) comes by way of the Pills' vocalist/bassist Corin Ashley. While loading the van last month for yet another weekend on the road (two quick one-offs through Buffalo and Toronto, where the band are making significant inroads), he felt a twinge that quickly developed into a pelvic brush fire. Ashley was in the middle of a kidney-stone attack, which required immediate hospitalization, surgery, and subsequent bed rest.

"They wanted to knock me out and give me a breathing tube, but I wouldn't be able to sing for a few days if I did that," he says from a pay phone outside a Newbury Street shoe store (he's taking his mom shopping). "So I took the spinal. Man, do those fucking kill!"

On the operating table, Ashley literally went into shock as doctors pulled two stones from his winkie. But giving new meaning to "rock" and "roll," Ashley went from the recovery room straight to the back of the tour van and then to Toronto, where he played that night under heavy-duty sedation. The idea of canceling the show "was never a question," he says. "They had to drape the bass around my neck, but there was no way we were gonna cancel a gig. We are the strongest band around!"

There's no denying that fact. Since forming four years ago, the Pills have become a tough-as-nails rock-and-roll machine and one of the premiere pop bands to emerge from the Beantown scene in nearly a decade. They carry on the pop-rock legacy that can be traced back 35 years through the Gigolo Aunts and the Cavedogs and the Real Kids all the way to Barry and the Remains and the Rockin' Ramrods. And this foursome are poised to become the next great band in that long line of Boston legends because they are one of those rare acts who, rather than simply emulate the past, are able to spruce it up and build on it.

"People call us `mod' and that's all right because mod is very non-specific. You don't want to be pigeonholed, and what I like about the mod tag is there's no [clear] definition. Mod people are into pop and jazz also. It's like taking the term `pop art' and applying it to what you're doing," Ashley explains. The Pills were first embraced by Boston's mod underground, which immediately identified with the band's tough, mid-'60s Brit look and throwback sound. After releasing their first single, "Scooter Gurl," the Pills' saw their audience expand as they were adopted by revivalist scooter clubs across the country. Though they consider themselves more rounded by pop, Ashley says, "there's a temptation because there's an infrastructure [in the mod scene] just like the ska scene. If you say, `Yeah, we're ska or we're mod,' you'll get those shows and [be able] to sell the CDs. It's a fine line to walk, and a bit of a double-edged sword."

Instead, they fly themselves under their own flag of "amphetamine pop," which is a nuts-on description of the Pills' remarkable assimilation of styles, substance, and flat-out songwriting smarts. Their debut long-player, Wide Awake with the Pills (Monolyth/Air Raid), finds the band equally indebted to the spirit of power-pop, mod-inspired rock, punk, and Brit-ska. Mixing in their own ultra-tight harmonies, clever guitar work, a rhythm section bent on hammering, and cheeky lyrics, the Pills melt it all down into blistering three-minute bursts of pure energy, sonic bluster, and aural sunshine. The list of bands from which you could compare them to is endless but ultimately meaningless because the Pills push contemporary pop forward to new territory. And that's a very hard trick to pull off when you consider -- in music -- it's all been done before.

"David [guitarist David Thompson] and I try hard to have all aspects [of our songs] over the top. A band might have good haircuts but the chords are boring, or good rhythms but the lyrics are really lame. When you see us live we have three-part harmony and two different guitar parts. A lot of effort goes into what we do. We're interested in a lot of different textures that we can apply to songwriting."

Since the release of Wide Awake, in January, the Pills have been picked up for radio play by more than a 150 radio stations. They've toured the country, ended up on two international compilations, and spent most weekends traveling up and down the coast (they play the Lucky Dog this Saturday) between Philly and Canada. And they're winning an audience with a no-nonsense show that compares to the album: big, loud, brash, and beautiful. It's been a slow but progressive climb for the band who also have the honor of being the only home-town act on Monolyth Records, which, after turning the band away seven times, was won over by the their conviction as well as the buzz they've created.

"We just keep getting in that van every weekend. You can feel it getting bigger little by little. We headline in Toronto now and get commercial airplay," says Ashley. "We're really pretty lucky. A lot of bands put out that first album and that's it. Right now, the possibilities are endless, and that's a groovy feeling after four years. And we aren't tired of each other yet, which is good!"

[Music Footer]

| home page | what's new | search | about the phoenix | feedback |
Copyright © 1999 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group. All rights reserved.