Interview

Q&A: Pile’s Rick Maguire On Taking Space From Boston And The Band’s New Album A Hairshirt Of Purpose

Rick Maguire — otherwise known as “Rick From Pile” — has been spending a lot of time on his own. When I called the 31-year-old frontman last month, he answered from a cabin in Ellijay, GA, where he’s been living in the woods at the foot of the Appalachian trail. Maguire’s been holed up there on and off over the course of the past year, and though he’s welcomed a few visitors, he’s mostly been reading and thinking and writing music. Coincidentally, I was in Ellijay a few months ago. The city boasts an old-timey main street on one end and a strip mall with a grocery store, nail parlor, sushi place, and a gun shop on the other. There’s also a kitschy throwback BBQ spot called Poole’s, behind which is a big hill covered in wooden cut-outs shaped like pigs. It’s called the “Pig Hill Of Fame,” a place tourists new to the South would flock to, and no, Rick Maguire has never been there.

“The Southern thing definitely gets pretty real in this town,” Maguire tells me, explaining how he ended up in Ellijay after spending most of his life living in and around Boston. “There’s still an urban feel or suburban feel in some places, but this is some backwoods stuff.”

It’s a bit disorienting to hear Maguire talk about his time in Ellijay, because Pile is best known as THE Boston Rock Band. Maguire grew up in what he describes as the “burbs” and started the band at 21 as a solo project. It quickly evolved from there, and in certain circles, Pile became a revered local project. Beyond that, they’re known as a band who tours hard, taking on months on months of dates, playing in small cities and basements and just about anywhere that will have them. Usually, Maguire’s joined by Matt Connery (on bass), Kriss Kuss (on drums), and Matt Becker (guitar), but last year, he toured solo around the South, settling into a life away from the Northeast.

Maguire didn’t want to get away from his band — he wanted to get away from all of the noise that comes with living in the same place for a long time. While performing and living in the South, Maguire wrote the bulk of Pile’s fifth album, A Hairshirt Of Purpose. The band’s last, You’re Better Than This, was a frenetic collection of loud rock songs, many of which followed a recognizable pattern: muttered, often nonsensical rumination followed by a larger-than-life, epic climax. But A Hairshirt Of Purpose doesn’t uphold that formula.

At 13 tracks, this new album is Pile’s longest to date. It also might be the band’s most contemplative. Rather than write a collection of explosive, anthemic songs about universal themes that would thrum with energy on a stage, Maguire looked inward. He chose to workshop melody rather than formulate breakdowns that would make an audience lose their shit. There are parts of this album that are downright bluesy, and though this still sounds very much like a Pile album, the lyrics on A Hairshirt Of Purpose stand apart.

Take, for example, the band’s new single “Dogs,” which we’re premiering today. This song gets personal, with Maguire staring helplessly down a literal well of disappointment. “Then I pretend to sleep alone/ I’d rather on the ground than in your bed/ I’ll sleep on the lawn or stay up instead,” he sings. Listen to “Dogs” and read a Q&A with Maguire below.

STEREOGUM: Have you been hanging out in Ellijay for a while?

RICK MAGUIRE: Yeah, I came south last year to get out of the Northeast for the winter and just solo tour for a little while. I didn’t have anything else to do, and it seemed like a good way to avoid shitty weather. I’ve just been spending time in the South chilling and really trying to write more.

STEREOGUM: A press release mentions that this album focuses on the “joys of solitude.” Were you writing a lot of the album down there?

MAGUIRE: I was down here writing some of it last year, and then I think it was back in Boston over the summer. I really enjoyed being back home, and though I was still living with people and hanging out with people regularly, I would also sort of just cut myself off a lot just to be alone and quiet in the city.

STEREOGUM: What’s the Boston scene like right now? A lot of bands that made names for themselves there seem to have moved out.

MAGUIRE: I haven’t seen much of it, to be honest. There’s always stuff going on when I scroll through my Facebook feed… and I’m sure there are new show houses popping up. I don’t know. I’m pretty detached. Maybe some point after all this touring and getting back there this summer I’d like to start going to shows a little more frequently. Or maybe not. Maybe the last thing I’d want to do is go to another show after a long tour. I promised myself that the next time someone asked me about the Boston scene that I was going to recite the Cheers theme song. [Laughs] I can’t remember it and I definitely would have fucked it up if I tried. Now my cover is really blown.

STEREOGUM: Looking over the lyric sheet for A Hairshirt Of Purpose, the language feels a lot darker than on previous albums. You ask a lot of existential or absurdist questions. There’s a line that I love in “Fingers” that goes: “Shoving a stone up a hill/ Ascribing to assert a meaning.” It reminds me of Camus’ The Myth Of Sisyphus.

MAGUIRE: That stuff is all really self-referential, and it’s a tendency of mine to use metaphors often so that nothing comes across as straightforward and direct. A lyric like that could mean anything. Though I try to be a little bit more literal in some songs, it’s tough because that ends up leaving me vulnerable. Usually writing lyrics is a stressful process because I’m running late. Like, we’ll be recording the song next week and the lyrics aren’t finished. I’ll finish in a rush and then there’s an added element of… I don’t want to say “self-hatred,” because that’s too strong a word for it, but it’s the same feeling as when you’re late to work and you sort of smack yourself in the head like: “I’m a fucking idiot!” There’s a lot of that tone in my lyrics because I usually find myself in that sort of position.

STEREOGUM: You sing about worms a lot on this album. [Laughs] What’s up with that?

MAGUIRE: Using that word helped me tie songs together. The song titled “Worms” is kind of disjointed lyrically, but I had like four different verses that I was subbing out to see which ones worked and sounded best aloud. The worms are a reference to the people behind this change that is happening politically. The people championing this change are going to be destroyed by it along with everyone else. There’s a lot of [frustration with that] on the record… I’m still trying to spend time alone to process it. Everybody is incredibly selfish. Some of us are empathetic and conscious that this shouldn’t be happening, and then there are people who don’t feel anything for others and just want what they want.

STEREOGUM: What’s the story behind “Dogs”?

MAGUIRE: That was written on tour in 2015. I felt compelled to write it because the stuff that we were touring on the last record was sort of disjointed and weird — there were a lot of moving parts in those songs. I wanted to write something a little more conventional or standard for this album. But as far as what it it’s about… it definitely speaks to the “I’d rather be alone” sort of vibe that set the tone for the rest of the songs on A Hairshirt Of Purpose. The story that the song is about is a little personal, so I don’t know if I feel like divulging too much information. If the song was just about me it might be a bit easier.

STEREOGUM: Pile is known for being a touring band. You guys are kind of road dogs, and I suppose that lends itself to a more collective experience. It’s interesting to hear you talk of these new songs as being really close to heart and private.

MAGUIRE: It’s sometimes just nice to shut off and shut everybody out and read a book or do other things. Or even just allow myself to shut the fuck up for a while, you know? That’s sort of where that these songs play into.

STEREOGUM: You mentioned last album was a bit more disjointed. What do you mean by that?

MAGUIRE: I wanted these songs to have more musical themes and [lyrical] themes in common. I just wanted it to be a little bit more cohesive. When I set out to write this album I decided to focus more on melody. On the last record I was more focused on being deconstructive and performing surgery on songs to see if they’d work differently. Like, “Will it work if I take this thing out? How will it function if I take this thing out?” Whereas this one was not as much of that. It was heavy on the melody part of it, and that sort of dictated the whole rest of the process.

STEREOGUM: It’s 2017 now and you started Pile in 2007 — how does it feel to have been doing this for 10 years?

MAGUIRE: I know, that’s a third of my life, roughly. [Laughs] To think about how the band has changed since I started it back then is pretty cool. If I was able to see the future back then, I think I would be pretty happy to see where things are.

A Hairshirt Of Purpose

Pile tour dates:

03/16 Austin, TX @ The Velveeta Room (SXSW solo @ Exploding In Sound showcase)
04/02 Cambridge, MA @ The Sinclair
04/06 Brooklyn, NY @ Baby’s All Right
04/07 Brooklyn, NY @ Sunnyvale
04/12 Philadelphia, PA @ First Unitarian Church*
04/13 Washington, DC @ DC9*
04/14 Durham, NC @ Duke Coffeehouse*
04/15 Asheville, NC @ The Mothlight*
04/16 Nashville, TN @ Third Man Records*
04/17 Atlanta, GA @ The Masquerade (Purgatory)*
04/18 Birmingham, AL @ The Syndicate Lounge*
04/19 Tallahassee, FL @ Club Downunder (Florida State University)*
04/20 New Orleans, LA @ Gasa Gasa*
04/21 Houston, TX @ The Satellite Bar*
04/22 Austin, TX @ Sidewinder*
04/23 Dallas, TX @ Three Links*
04/26 Phoenix, AZ @ The Rebel Lounge*
04/27 San Diego, CA @ Soda Bar*
04/28 Los Angeles, CA @ The Echo*
04/30 San Francisco, CA @ Rickshaw Stop*
05/02 Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios*
05/03 Seattle, WA @ The Black Lodge*
05/05 Salt Lake City, UT @ The Loading Dock*
05/06 Denver, CO @ Lost Lake Lounge*
05/07 Omaha, NE @ River City Star*
05/09 Minneapolis, MN @ 7th St. Entry*
05/10 Milwaukee, WI @ Cactus Club*
05/11 Chicago, IL @ Subterranean*
05/12 Detroit, MI @ Marble Bar*
05/13 Lakewood, OH @ Mahall’s*
05/14 Rochester, NY @ Bug Jar*

* w/ Gnarwhal

A Hairshirt Of Purpose is out 3/31 via Exploding In Sound. Pre-order it here.