Listen to "The World is Your Motel," the first track on Pile's You're Better Than This, and you'll hear a lot of intense sounds exploding from the band's instruments all at once. There's the serrated, dissonant interplay between Rick Maguire's and Matt Becker's guitars. There's the bruising rumble that's kicked up between bass player Matt Connery and drummer Kriss Kuss. And then there are Maguire's manic yelps, breaking through the surface of an already fiery song with a greater, more nervy immediacy.
Over the course of the three-minute song, Maguire hollers statements like, "I'll never be Elvis, I guess—one big, moist bag of garbage," or "My résumé, while less than impressive, is consistent," showcasing both healthy self-deprecation and a sense that all is not well. You're Better Than This, the Boston group's fourth album, is defined by tension, discomfort and ill ease.
In a phone interview on the first leg of the band's two-month-long U.S. tour, Maguire explains that some of the anxiety on the record stemmed from difficulty in writing the album itself.
"This one was a little more challenging to write and play, but in doing that, it ended up being sort of uncharted territory, so insecurities and anxieties spring up from doing things outside of what you're normally comfortable with," he says. He became anxious about things in his personal life, or the album not being well-received.
"Or not knowing if I even liked the sound," he says. "So it was confusing, and tough to sift through, and tough to navigate when it's so nebulous. I was just sort of flying blindly a lot of the time."
The end result of all that nervousness and uncertainty is the band's most intense and hardest-rocking album to date. Through its 10 powerful tracks, Pile deliver a healthy mixture of frantic punk-rock rave-ups, tense slow-burning math-rock exercises and genuine rock anthems—or, at least, their own twisted version of a rock anthem.
Pile play Soda Bar on March 30
Aside from an acoustic, instrumental interlude called "Fuck the Police" (no connection to the N.W.A. song), every track on You're Better Than This—released this month on Exploding In Sound—booms loudly and crashes down with a hefty impact. Sometimes they compress all their energy into two minutes of noise-rock skronk, like on "#2 Hit Single," and sometimes they'll draw a song out into what more or less ends up as their own take on a power ballad, like the surreal man-becomes-sea-creature tale of "Mr. Fish."
No matter the sound, the end result is something the band can play on tour for several months without losing interest.
"You want to think about how to play [the songs] with the band and how dynamic they come across, and how when you're playing them every night to make them stay interesting," Maguire says. "It's our way to express it with as little filter as possible. You're standing right there, you're playing it the way you want to play it, hopefully, if the night's going well. We're going on tour for two months right now, so the live part of it is very important to us."
Pile has been causing havoc on rockclub stages for more than half a decade, and in that time, they've grown a bit more in stature. And in that time, they've come to be part of a larger group of Bay State bands making noisy, powerful punk music that recalls the grimy, early-'90s days of labels Dischord and Touch and Go, including fellow Bostonites Krill, Amherst's California X and Northampton's Speedy Ortiz. Pile has shared stages with all of these bands, and even shares a label with Krill, but Maguire is hesitant to say this surge of like-minded punk bands is anything but coincidental.
"We're all friends," he says. "But it's not like we all hang out regularly. We all have each other's backs. We're supportive of each other. And in that regard, it's a community, but we're not going over to each other's houses for dinner or anything like that."
Pile's new album has been out in the world only for a few weeks, but Maguire isn't ready to let himself get comfortable. He's not one to reflect on the band's work once it's been put on tape, and, in fact, he's already started writing a batch of new songs. The band will spend the next year or two molding and hammering those new songs into taut, perfectly formed live versions.
"Once it's done, I think my perception of the records change, but rarely," Maguire says. "It's done, and it's time to move on and do other stuff.
"At this point, I'm more excited about the songs I'm writing now," he adds. "I'm liking where the songs are at on this past record. We're playing them every night and they're the tightest that they've been. But the stuff that's exciting me is still uncharted territory."