Interview: Lonely Pirate Committee’s Unconventional Creation Process

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Photo Courtesy of Lonely Pirate Committee

By Simru Sonmez-Erbil, WERS Staff Writer

Voice memos, iPhone microphones - This isn't an Apple product placement, but rather some of the tools that local rock band Lonely Pirate Committee (LPC) uses to create their genre-bending songs. From tiny dorm rooms to "re-destroying" demos, the band has traversed strange territory to come on the other side with a sound unlike any other. WERS Staff Writer Simru Sonmez-Erbil caught up with Pearce Gronek and Fletcher Barton of LPC to talk about this unconventional recording process, as well as their beginnings and what's next for them.

Let's start from the beginning: How did Lonely Pirate Committee first come to be? I saw you competed in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame High School Rock Off in 2017. Did you guys start in high school?

Pearce Gronek: Fletcher and I met when we were eight or nine years old at Paul Green's School of Rock, and then we started recording music around a year later than that. Then, pretty much for the past ten years, we've been recording music in Fletcher's basement. We've had different iterations of our band throughout the years, but it's always been us two sort of being the recording band, and then whoever we're playing with, that's a different live arrangement. But we've been using the name Lonely Pirate Committee since 2014, I think, with different degrees of seriousness.

Fletcher Barton: We kind of started to get serious when we came to Boston and started going to school, met some more people, and started a band there; a different version of the band.

 I gotta ask, how did you come up with that fantastic name?

FB: (Laughs) It was actually a buddy of mine from high school that said it one time as a joke, I think, and I guess we just liked it - We didn't even like it that much at the time, it was mostly a placeholder and then other people liked it, so we kept it. (Laughs) When a placeholder isn't changed for long enough, you can't think of anything else, but we've grown into it a bit I feel like.

(Laughs) When you guys hit it big you can just perform under the acronym LPC and everyone will know what you're talking about. It's just going to be, like, a household name.

FB & PG: (Laughs) Exactly.

So you guys started in Cleveland - How long have you been based in Boston?

PG: Since 2018.

Cleveland and Boston, they definitely have different musical climates - Has the move to Boston changed your creative process at all?

PG: Mostly it's been harder to record music in Boston. It's been different…

FB: It's been a little bit harder but also just different in general to work on and do our whole music thing just because we don't have as much facility, like actual space.

PG: We moved into this really tiny dorm, us two and one other guy, so we didn't have that much space to set up our stuff and we needed to be quiet most of the time, so we didn't really feel comfortable recording music in there that often. Now this past year, we lived in this apartment and that was pretty cramped too, and we had a weird roommate situation, so it was kind of hard to record music.

FB: Other than that we've been definitely writing a lot of music in Boston; Sometimes we'll just do like a one-off recording, write something and then record it in a weird environment or something like that.

And where do you guys record, what's your setup like?

FB: It changes all the time, seriously. Even on our album Everything Ordinary - that album we recorded last summer, essentially - half the songs are recorded almost exclusively by me, at my house in Cleveland, with just an audio interface and some guitars, a mic, and a drum set. And then the other half was recorded mainly - some of them were actually started in our dorm at Berklee - by Pearce.

PG: Some of them I started in the dorm and over the summer I finished them at home. Then there are some others that I just did myself at home. So, we kind of split the work down the middle, not intentionally, but it always-

FB: It always ends up being that we sort of compartmentalize; We'll work on separate things and then come together as one product because we have a similar vision for what we're trying to do.

And is your writing process similar? Do you guys split up writing duties or is it a more collaborative process?

FB: It's a combination of both of those but on a song-to-song basis. Some of the songs, even if we work on it together, it'll usually be mainly Pearce's song, or mainly my song, and then we record it together. But one of us is in the driver's seat more or less.

PG: Yeah, I used to come to Fletcher's house with a song in mind. I would write a song before I got there because we would record in his basement in Cleveland. Then I would come and record it with Fletcher, but it would be, like, my song. We each write kind of half the songs; It's usually not a collaborative effort when it comes to writing.

FB: But then there are a few rare occasions; I think the actual song "Everyday Ordinary" is one that was kind of stemmed very equally from both of us. 

PG: Definitely, definitely.

FB: Because that song actually started off from a bunch of voice memo phone recordings from my phone, and then we added recordings from Pearce's phone. 

PG: And then we just recorded on top of it in Fletcher's basement.

There's an idea for you, just completely make the album out of the original voice memo recordings!

FB: (Laughs) There have been times when, in a pinch, if you don't have a mic, the iPhone mic - this is an Apple product placement - the iPhone mic sounds good! I've recorded vocals, and I start the recording with snaps to, like, sync it to the tempo, and then I can drag that back into the computer.

 PG: Yeah, there's seriously been times - like you say, what is our recording studio situation - sometimes it's an iPhone mic, not even Garageband. (laughs)

(Laughs) You work with what you got, I love it! This album, it's stunning, and certainly far from ordinary, despite the fact that it's called Everyday Ordinary. When you were making the album, what sort of vision did you have in mind? Who are your influences and what did you kind of set out to achieve with the album?

PG: I don't think it was necessarily a set of influences, but more of a concert, like a combination... And we didn't even come up with the concept for the album until we finished all the songs, pretty much. 

FB: What the process ended up being was basically that we were both making songs with no intention of a product. We were just making songs, and what's cool is that we would be both in separate places, making songs-

PG: And we both have way different processes, over the summer. I went about this project in a way that focused on composition first - mainly harmony, notes, melodies, and everything - then the production was an afterthought. I kind of haphazardly recorded everything, and it sounds really kind of sloppy in a lot of ways, but then we polished it up when we got together, whereas Fletcher I feel like-

FB: Yeah, I would have a sound in mind, record, and get a little snippet of the production and sound, all the layers, then make a composition based on that. 

PG: But the concept for it kind of came after we recorded all the songs and we listened back to all of them as like, "Oh, there's a thread of this feeling, these are all connected." It's a fun way that it comes together like that.

What I love about the album is that when I listen to it, I hear a mix of a lot of genres. I hear a mix of art-rock, psychedelic rock, grunge, prog, things like that. Do you feel like there's a certain genre that you identify with most? Labels are no fun, but if you had to choose, what genre would you say is Lonely Pirate Committee?

FB: I would say, just, rock.

PG: Yeah, it's good to say that we are a rock band.

FB: Just because it's like the most blunt and kind of underused [genre] at this point. (Laughs) Everyone over-specifies, like technical, psychedelic, sub rock.

PG: But now I guess [we're] just rock because then we can be whatever kind of rock; it leaves it more open-

FB: I think it still means something, to say you're a rock band.

PG: It's the spirit of rock! (laughs)

FB: Also, with our recorded music it's harder to say, "Okay, it's this, we're a rock band, this is a rock album-"

PG: But when we play live we are most certainly a rock band. Our goal playing live is more to be scary, a little bit. (Laughs) It's very high-volume, very high-intensity, very noisy and aggressive. It's almost like in our live show, we're more of a metal band playing not-metal songs. But then the recording process is different.

And speaking of playing live, you aren't able to do live shows right now. Have you been feeling that live performance withdrawal, and what are you doing in the meantime?

PG: Well, it kind of sucks because we had this whole tour planned right for spring break when quarantine started, so that got canceled, and we were really pumped to play all those shows. It's not necessarily withdrawal, but it's definitely-

FB: We had to shift that energy.

PG: Before that, in Boston, we were kind of inactive for a little bit when it came to live shows. 

FB: We were having to focus on just the recorded aspect and the behind-the-scenes stuff for a while because we've been sort of scattered for school; We and the other members in our live band have been in different places going to school. So, we could play some shows over winter break when we're all in town, then we had this whole week-long tour of the East Coast. We had it planned and it was the first time actually fully booking in advance, then it all couldn't happen in a very big anticlimax. Like, "Oh, well, we're not doing that." (laughs)

PG: Things haven't changed that much for us but we do wish that we could be playing shows, definitely, and just playing with each other more often.

And going back to Everyday Ordinary, is there a certain track on the album that you're proudest of, or even that you feel you had the most fun writing and ecording? I don't want to make you play favorites, but is there one in particular that stands out to you?

PG: For me, the title track, "Everyday Ordinary," is my favorite, I think - one of my favorites on the album. It's also both of us on there, so I think that's kind of the nice middle ground, and I'm really proud of that one.

FB: And it's also probably one of the most different-sounding on the album, too.

PG: Yeah, but other than that, Fletcher's probably got his favorite of the ones that he wrote, and I definitely have my favorite.

FB: I think, for me, the ones that I like sonically and song-wise combined - production and songwriting together - would be either "Overgrown" or "Talk To The Floor." With those ones, I'm just really proud of how they came out.

PG: I would say the same.

And you guys have a very unique sound. To achieve that unique sound, do you use any kind of unconventional gear or techniques while recording? 

FB: Yeah, actually. There are some really interesting, wacky production things on there that end up working better than you would think if you were talking to, like, a pro audio Berklee recording engineer student, or someone like that. Some of the cleanest-sounding recordings are coming from Pearce's ones. With the drums… They teach you to use, like, six drum mics, and with us, it's one mic sitting in the room somewhere. 

PG: And also, we use this mixer that uses a firewire or two adapters; We're, like, two generations behind on the mixer… 

FB: There's actually one song on there, "Guys," which was recorded on a Tascam 4-track tape recorder that Pearce started in the dorms when we were there in 2018. In the mixing process, it was the one song that gave us some grief, because it didn't clean up well. It was a messy enough recording that when we were polishing up stuff, it sounded inappropriate for it to be clean, so then I "remastered" it (laughs) to tape by running it through two different guitar compressor pedals back into the tape machine, and just "re-destroyed" it. (laughs)

(Laughs) That's a good word for it, "re-destroyed," I love it. That's what you gotta put in parentheses when you remaster your albums: nope, it's "Re-destroyed." You guys have another album out, This House Is Very Old, which came out in 2018; How do you feel that your latest album is different from that one?

PG: I would say that we're the same two people, it's coming from the same place, but it's just a lot more polished and a lot more tasteful, in my opinion.

FB: The difference is that we're literally just older, and better at recording. We know more music, we took in more stuff.

PG: It's like we're more confident in our choices, and what we did on the album.

FB: Not to say that we disliked the other album.

PG: Yeah, I mean, all the music that we've made and put out is dear to me, but the difference is we made that album, and we're like, "Okay, let's just get this out so we don't get sick of it." (Laughs) "Let's get this out so that we don't never release it," and then we move on from it very quickly. But with this one, we finished these songs and then sat on them for a very long time, and it's never gotten old.

FB: I guess this project that we just put out has a lot more lasting power, lasting potential, than the other one. 

What do you see in the future for Lonely Pirate Committee? Do you guys have any long-term goals or are you just going to see how it turns out?

PG: I guess in the short-term, we have no idea, for obvious reasons, but we have a lot more music to put out…  

FB: A lot of ideas, videos… We have four shows coming up in the next couple of years. 

PG: And we have a new music video out. We're also working on mixing and mastering an album of B-sides and tracks that didn't make it onto Everyday Ordinary, as sort of a bridge between this new album and whatever other music we have coming in the future.

Your music videos are very cool; Do you guys make those yourselves?

FB: Yeah!

I love how you take Jeopardy, and you put your lyrics into these TV shows and commercials; How do you do that, and how did that come to you?

FB: With that one, I was just falling asleep one night, and then I had the idea for the lyrics going on the Jeopardy screen, so I wrote it in my little dream journal… Then I used After Effects and Photoshop to put that together, do the fake Wheel Of Fortune, and other stuff like that to mask it in. Then we had a collection of videos that we shot around Boston, actually, this past year, with Pearce and I.

PG: Yeah, we were just kind of shooting a bunch of videos of us being in unlikely places, doing sus activities (laughs). We didn't have any plan really of what those would be for, but we ended up with enough of them that it was like, "This sounds cool for the video," so we put those together, Fletcher came up with the Jeopardy idea, and we finished it.

FB: Yeah, and the Talk To The Floor one was just animated frame-by-frame by me in After Effects with some found footage and other photos that we've collected over the years.

You know, I think we've really concluded the main tools that any successful performing act needs: voice memos, dream journal, and just a bunch of random videos. 

Both: (Laughs) Facts, dude.

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