Ex-Scud Mountain Boys Leader Moving On

Joe Pernice looking to do poppier songs in an effort to break from Scuds’ slow-core style.

Maybe Joe Pernice broke up the Scud Mountain Boys because, as he said, he didn't want to retrace the bummer country path they'd already covered.

Still, it's not as though you can expect the band's ex-leader to come back with a speed metal album.

"The new stuff really isn't country-influenced at all," Pernice said of the material he's been working on since his Northampton, Mass.-based slow-core pop band splintered in July. "The songs are still pretty mellow. I mean, lyrically I'm just talking about ... I don't know, the songs are still bummers in my opinion. So, lyrically, they won't perk up."

The band, which released two solid albums of moody, lo-fi acoustic rock on the tiny Chunk Records -- 1995's Pine Box LP, which featured haunting tunes such as "Silo" and a creepy, spare cover of Cher's already creepy "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves," and that same year's Dance the Night Away -- released their final album, Massachusetts, last year on SubPop. Anchored by Pernice's high, sweet voice and at turns confessional and painstakingly observational lyrics, Scud Mountain Boys carved out a unique niche among other slow-core bands such as Low and Idaho, with their warm, personal style and shy demeanor.

"I just sort of left," said Pernice, 30, about what he called an amicable, but difficult decision to split. But, the band's primary songwriter added, "It was simply that I've been writing a varied body of music over the last year or two, and I just kind of wanted to play with a different unit and different people and have it stylistically grow and change some."

To that end, Pernice met with his former bandmates (drummer Joe Shea, bassist Stephen Desaulniers and guitarist Bruce Tull, the last two with whom he'd been playing for six years) and told them he "just didn't want to make another album and do another tour for a record that would have been like Massachusetts."

And while Pernice never threw down the age-old "musical differences" card, he did say that the grind of the road had gotten to him and the band. "At first being on the road was definitely not enjoyable," he said. "It was a real shock, even though SubPop was really good to us. Just being away was a real shock to us. We'd never toured, and here we had our third record out before we'd ever played outside our area. It was a little unsettling."

Peter Blackstock, co-editor of No Depression magazine, the bible of new country music, said that while the band didn't have a remarkably distinctive sound ("certainly the Cowboy Junkies did it before them"), what set the Scud Mountain Boys apart was "mainly their good songs and choosing good songs to cover." He cited the Cher cover as an example.

Although Pernice said that he hasn't really talked to his former bandmates much since the July break-up ("I'd like to think we all respect each other as friends, because we always said that if someone was not happy that person should leave and there wouldn't be hard feelings"), he has not been idle.

Having already written and demoed a handful of songs that he composed and recorded almost entirely by himself, Pernice also has some new songs for another Pernice Brothers single he hopes to release in the next few months. That band, which also features his older brother Bob Pernice, 35, a chemist, released a seven-inch on the Summershine label earlier this year that featured the Byrdsy pop song "Monkey Suit," backed with the shuffling, Scuddy "Jimmy Coma."

"I've always said I was a pop musician," said Pernice about what he sees as his mis-identification as a country-leaning songwriter. "Big Star, Teenage Fanclub, we [Scud Mountain Boys] were a pop band to me. But I want to do more songs like that," he said, referring to "Monkey Suit." "I want to work with an orchestra, strings, horns and lots of piano. I'd like to maintain some of the space of Scud Mountain Boys, which I did appreciate, but also have some different instrumentation."

The Pernice Brothers will not be able to tour, however, because, Pernice said, brother Bob is "a family man." The songwriter said he is negotiating with SubPop for a potential solo deal, since he "hopes the solo album will happen soon. I'd like to try touring again."

And despite his need to strike out, Pernice said that he hoped one day things could get back to a more friendly state with his former bandmates. "It's tender now," he said of his relationship with the other ex-Scuds. "But we all live in Northampton and I would like to think that sometime we'd be able to play together again." [Wed., Nov. 26, 1997, 9 a.m. PDT]