ZACH QUINN & BRIAN PRETUS: A PAIR OF PEARS

 


On an average night, PEARS frontman Zach Quinn is twisting and turning his shirtless body against a grimy stage, thrashing to the sound of frantic hardcore punk. Whipping his arms back and forth, Zach is an assault of a frontman. PEARS’ tunes are fast, aggressive, and just don’t let up, much like their touring schedule. In the summer of 2014, the band hopped in the van to tour and have rarely left its (lack of) comfort since. Last year, Zach added more to his busy schedule by venturing out as a solo artist, teaming up with Joey Cape, the mastermind behind ‘90s punk group Lagwagon, to record and release his debut solo album One Week Record. A solo show at Hey! Cafe offered a dramatically different vibe than PEARS’ sets. Instead of confronting the crowd with his intense presence, Zach nervously strummed his guitar, hiding behind it like a shy child meeting strangers. In late 2016, I met up with Zach; he requested we meet somewhere hooligans would be prone to hang out, so we met in front of an abandoned church. Over beer and coffee, we discussed his work with PEARS, the struggles of non-stop touring, and his venture into the unknown.


 

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Photo Jared Landry

 

PEARS has toured almost constantly for the last two years. How does it feel to actually be home for a little while?
Zach Quinn: Strange, man. You know in Shawshank Redemption they let that old man out of prison and it’s this sad subplot? They leave the main Andy Dufresne plot for a minute and he’s working in the grocery store and he doesn’t know what to do with himself. He’s just like, “I wish I could just go back to prison.” And then he eventually just hangs himself in his room. I’m being dramatic but it kinda feels like that, like I’ve almost been van institutionalized now. It’s strange being back. It’s nice to have the free time. I wish I knew what to do with it.

How do you handle being on the road for so long?
ZQ: I don’t, is the secret. There’s some points where it’s easier than others and sometimes it just gets really, really dark. I try to think, what I’m working on is bigger than me. We’re a sum of our parts and I’m just a part of this machine and so my feelings and my pain or inability to deal with stuff in general is kind of an afterthought. There’s something more important at play. I just keep that in mind and try to keep my own shit on the backburner.

Has that gotten easier since PEARS started touring two years ago?
ZQ: Definitely. I feel like I made some significant improvements with being on the road this year. Definitely earlier on in the game, when it started to get grueling, I didn’t know how to handle it and I was very unpleasant. It was unpleasant for me to hang out with me. I can’t imagine how my bandmates felt. Now, it’s getting easier. Towards the end of this last long haul, we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. We were going to be home for a minute and so it became fun again, which was really nice because sometimes it really just isn’t fun. It’s hard.

You used to release a lot of solo material back in the day. Why did you decide to return to that now?
ZQ: I thought it would be an interesting thing to try again. I’ve only been particularly happy with the level of my songwriting for a few years. I feel like the first thing I did, that I really loved the songs and ways they came out, was the Little Bags record. It didn’t come out until this year [2016] but we wrote that stuff in 2013. So I’ve really only been writing stuff that I’m super happy with for a few years and I was like, “Maybe I should try doing it on my own again.” I really like the way it came out. Obviously working with Joey Cape was an incredible experience and it helped immensely. I wasn’t even really working alone because he was very involved in fleshing out what the songs became.

“Jinx” is about your cat. Could you talk about that song?
ZQ: Yeah. I had that cat for a few years. It was my ex’s cat and I took the cat in the breakup because me and that cat just bonded on some incredible level. I love that cat very much, but once PEARS started touring very often… for a while I was having my roommates take care of her. If none of my roommates were home, I had people coming a couple times a day to feed her and give her medicine, but it just became so convoluted and difficult that eventually I was like, “I have to give the cat to somebody who can watch the cat full-time.” That’s what that song’s about and about just feeling like once again I’m not able to be present for something. Historically, it’s been for people. I haven’t been able to be there for people for whatever reason because I’m a work in progress.

You and the rest of PEARS grew up listening to bands like Lagwagon. How did it feel to work with somebody who you grew up listening to?
ZQ: It’s crazy, man. Once you’re in the situation, in a way, you’re removed from it because, at this point, seeing people like Joey or [other] people in bands that I grew up listening to is kind of commonplace now because it happens to us a lot. That shock and awe about it doesn’t happen every time, but there are moments where I step outside myself and I’m like, “Oh my god! This is fucking nuts!” Or me and Joey will be talking about a melody and he’ll be like, “What if it goes like this,” and it’s a total Lagwagon thing. I’m like, “Oh my god! This is the guy from fucking Lagwagon!” [laughs] … When I step outside of myself and think about it, twelve-year-old me would have keeled over and died if I had found out that this was something that I was gonna do. But all the work required to get here has me like, “I wish I could be more excited about it.” But now it’s something that I do. It kind of de-mystified the whole thing.

Your solo record is entitled One Week Record. Could you talk a bit about that?
ZQ: All of those records [on Cape’s label] are just called One Week Record, which begs the question, “What’s the second one gonna be called?” One Week Record Two? I don’t know how that works. I know Chris [Cresswell] has done more than one. The concept behind Joey’s One Week Records project is he’ll have an artist come up for one week, either with completed material or incomplete material. I came up with a handful of both. Essentially, you have one week to make the record happen. The idea is to get simplified versions of songs, stay close to almost demo territory, but with quality that goes far beyond tape deck or something you might record a demo on. It really works. It only really works because Joey has such good vision. There’s something to be said about someone who has been doing it as long as he has. Even with incomplete ideas, he knows how to corral an artist into making the stuff happen. Whether it is a lyrical hang-up or a musical hang-up, he knows how to facilitate a conversation of new ways to think about it. He’s just good.

How would you contrast doing your solo album with PEARS’ last album Green Star?
ZQ: In a way, there were similar experiences between a PEARS record and a One Week Record, especially with the One Week stuff that I brought to the table that was incomplete. With PEARS, I’ll bring stuff that’s incomplete to the table and Brian will finish it. But with One Week, I brought something incomplete to the table and then Joey helped me finish it. You know what I mean? In that way, it was very similar. In contrast, Green Star went through so many drafts and so many re-writes. Whereas the solo record, once we laid down an arrangement, we have one week to do it… Green Star was super labor intensive and very, very difficult to do. And as a result, not a super fun experience, but ultra-rewarding, incredibly rewarding. But it was a very, very hard record to make. Whereas One Week, simply because of the time constraint, it got to be fun.

“It was unpleasant for me to hang out with me. I can’t imagine how my bandmates felt. Now, it’s getting easier.”

How does it feel to do solo shows now after falling into the routine of fronting PEARS night after night for so long?
ZQ: It’s absolutely petrifying, man. Especially in PEARS, I totally copped out of frontman duties. I do not address the people that are watching us. I just don’t know how to talk to people. I feel weird about it. I feel weird about a lot of things but I feel awkward and uncomfortable most of the time, so I don’t [address the crowd] and Brian does. As I’ve experienced so far, playing solo shows, I’m not going to get away with not saying a word. That’s way worse. As awkward as I might end up being, it would be so much worse if I just didn’t look anybody in the eye and didn’t say anything the entire time. I’ve joked about having Brian just come sit next to me and talk to the crowd in between songs but that’s not a real option. There’s that, talking to the crowd, and there’s also just being the only person up there and feeling super, super vulnerable, knowing that any mistake I make is going to be glaring. There aren’t three other musicians to smooth things out, which is a wonderful thing about being in a band. It’s super, super scary. I feel like, maybe, I can eventually get through that. PEARS made me way more nervous than it does now, once upon a time.

What question do you never want to be asked in an interview again?
ZQ: “Why is your band called PEARS?” That’s one. I’ve answered that question in depth, several times. Just google it, man; just google it: “PEARS band why.” You can’t just google “pears” or else fruit comes up. Just google it if you want to know that bad. But nobody wants to know that bad! [laughs] If they’re standing right there, they ask and now I just go “mushrooms” and then shrug because I’m tired of giving the in-depth version of that answer. But yeah drugs.

Shrugs.
ZQ: Drugs. Shrugs. [laughs]

***


A hefty onslaught rushes from guitarist Brian Pretus’ amps. Sweat drenches his sleeveless black tee as his hands race up and down the neck of a Gibson SG. Bodies flail in all directions. The division between crowd and band blur to the point where no one is safe. For Brian, it’s just another day at work as part of PEARS. Since breaking up their pop-punk group the Lollies and forming PEARS in 2014, Zach and Brian have made the road their home. A relentless touring schedule earned the New Orleans group a record deal with famed punk label Fat Wreck Chords and spots on tours with the likes of Rise Against, NOFX, and Lagwagon. While touring Europe in November with Rise Against, they played their largest show to date, in front of 12,000 people. Their new release Human Movement, a full-length split with Direct Hit!, captures the band’s signature blitzkrieg. In late October, during a rare moment of freedom before their show at the Marquis Theater in Denver, Brian opened up about life on the road and one ill-fated hard drive.


 

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Photo Doug Reimer & Nick Wilson

 

Since 2014, PEARS has toured almost non-stop. How do you handle such an intense schedule?
Brian Pretus: For me, I just try to enjoy stuff a little bit every day because a lot of it sucks: being in the van forever and all the down time. For me, weed helps a lot. At least, we’re here with our buddies. A lot of bands are touring around with a bunch of dudes they barely even know. I can’t even imagine how miserable that is.

You’ve toured with some of your heroes. Do you ever feel intimidated by the bills you’re on?
BP: Not intimidated. It’s more of a surreal feeling, getting to play with all those big bands and getting to play in front of all their fans. It’s pretty easy. When we were touring with NOFX, we were pretty nervous at the beginning but, once it got going, we were like wow! This is exactly where we need to be. It’s pretty easy. Just doing what we were supposed to be doing in the first place.

Zach told me that PEARS’ last album underwent rigorous rewriting and was a difficult but rewarding process. How was writing this split different than writing Green Star [PEARS’ second album]?
BP: This one was pretty different. We had a time crunch on it. We had to plan. We had to write a certain number of songs in a certain amount of time. We just crunched down and did it as fast as we could. It’s the same style process we had with Go to Prison [PEARS’ first album], where we had a deadline and had to finish stuff. But just because of that, doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice the quality of the contents. We actually have to sit there and write it instead of sitting there, writing it, and letting it stir for a while. I like writing both ways. It keeps things different all the time so it doesn’t get boring.

I’ve noticed that quite a few PEARS songs contain Easter egg style references to other tunes. Why do you do that?
BP: Because it’s awesome. [laughs] Everyone likes it. We like it. It makes the whole thing fun rather than taking yourself super seriously. We just want to do what we think is fun and we like ripping off other bands and making them look like idiots. Some people dig it. Some people don’t. But as long as we do, everything’s cool.

How do you feel you’ve grown as a songwriter since the Lollies?
BP: Oh man. I was a terrible songwriter back then. I barely wrote anything. I was mostly focused on partying. But, especially writing with Zach for so long, it’s pretty easy to get better at it. I’ve definitely learned a lot from a lot of people since the Lollies. I think I can write better songs than before because before I was basically nothing.

Last winter, you worked as a songwriter for hire online. What did you learn from that process?
BP: That was great. I thought it would be weird at first but it ended up being really good songwriting practice: writing different lengths of songs and having to fit in certain themes in a certain amount of time. It’s tricky but it’s kind of like putting a puzzle together.

How do you feel New Orleans has shaped you musically?
BP: It’s definitely made me, since I was a kid, be more open to new things, more so than other people would. Having come from such a rich cultural background with all kind of things: zydeco, blues, brass, jazz, whatever. Having that as the foundation for a guy that ends up in a punk band doesn’t happen many times. I think that might be part of the reason our band is so weird.

You told me that PEARS plans to start touring more internationally. Are there any countries in particular that you want to visit?
BP: Yeah. Japan, South America—that’s a continent but there are a handful of countries in South America [that we want to play in]. Asia, Russia. We’re going to go back to Australia eventually. We haven’t done a Mexico tour yet. Where do I want to go? Pretty much anywhere else that will have us. North Korea for sure. We definitely want to play there.

Would you say that playing North Korea is PEARS’ ultimate goal?
BP: Yeah. That’s always been the ultimate goal. [laughs] We’ll do it one day. We might get blown to smithereens but we’ll play!

Before PEARS started, the Lollies spent a lot of time working on a final album. Will that album ever come out?
BP: No. I wish it could but it’s from another time and we’re not in that headspace anymore. We had pretty much finished it. I had rejoined the band half-way through the recording and nearly finished it. Then there was some kind of storm that fried the hard drive that it was on, so we lost six months’ worth of work. Starting at that point again would be a huge waste of time, when we could be writing new stuff. It’s not really good to be dwelling on stuff from the past. We’re finding that making something cool right now and then moving onto the next thing is best. And not getting stuck in a loop of anxiety about the quality of your own material.

Do you think that hard drive crash was partially responsible for PEARS starting?
BP: Definitely. That was the reason the Lollies broke up. It bummed us out so much that we just gave up. We just decided to do new stuff and we just needed a break from that to realize that we write so good together that we should do something else. That’s how this band started.

I was very surprised to find copies of Go to Prison and Green Star at a Tower Records in Tokyo last year.
BP: Yeah. That’s awesome. I had no idea. I think we sold two records in Tokyo last year, which is pretty cool. [laughs] That’s two more than we sold in Antarctica. We definitely want to play there. Metallica played there in a bubble.

Will PEARS have a bubble when they play?
BP: Fuck no, dude. We’ll play right in the snow but our sets are so short that we won’t even get frostbite.

Human Movement, PEARS’ new split with Direct Hit!, is available via Fat Wreck Chords. Zach Quinn’s debut solo album One Week Record is available digitally via One Week Records and on vinyl via Fat Wreck Chords.  For more information, check out pearstheband.com.


Cover photo Jared Landry