I’m not sure you could meet someone cooler than Rick Maguire. I’ve had a crush on his voice since I first discovered Pile’s 2012 breakout record, DRIPPING. Like the name and album art suggests, the record has a face-melting quality most appreciated by heavy, punk, and metal fans alike. As an impressionable, freckled, round faced 17 year old growing up in North Shore Massachusetts, it’s the exact type of sound I gravitated towards to feel tough. This, I thought, would surely help me become the cool, tattooed, punk I so hoped to be.
I would spend my weekends down in Allston/Brighton, a neighborhood in the city known for a flourishing indie rock scene and relatively cheap bars—the same place where Maguire lived and worked while Pile was just forming. Fast forward a few years, and Pile became the exact type of band I felt authorized to play at parties and for friends, always prefaced by saying, “these are some Boston guys, have you heard them yet?”
I moved away from my hometown and landed in LA. The competitive need to come off as tough as possible faded; what replaced it was an eclectic taste in music and a string of corporate jobs (something that endures now). I may not have the shaved head or gotten the tattoo sleeve I once thought I would, but I am still following Pile, and catching their show any time they’re in town.
When I was approached to chat with Maguire ahead of Pile’s latest release ALL FICTION, I had to check my teenage self at the door. “Be cool,” I told myself. I kissed my Mitski tattoo, kicked off my Doc Martens, and pressed play on the record. Metaphorical pen in hand, I got ready to craft the most laid back interview Maguire has ever seen.
ALL FICTION, Pile’s eighth proper studio album, quite literally swept me away; known for experimentation, they spun their well-known sound into surprising new spaces. Maguire peels away the heavy sonics of their most popular works and filled that atmospheric space with synths, vocals deliveries, percussion, and strings until it became a new amalgamation of what rock music can be. The record is poignant, personal, and also kind of fun. In fact, the energy created on ALL FICTION is more like that of a brand new band coming out of nowhere to make a local splash for a new generation of heavy rock. But Maguire has been at it with this project for 18 years—it’s not a local Boston project anymore, but a critically-acclaimed indie mainstay.
So the only real questions I had was: How? Over Zoom on a late Thursday night, I finally have my chance to ask.
I make my first mistake early in our conversation, assuming that my time in Boston’s alt-rock neighborhoods would match his experiences, and that the scene there influenced his own music. Is there value, I ask, in committing to a genre for the purpose of community?
Maguire shakes the question off easily, and describes what the “scene,” was really like when you were actually a musician in it: “Whether it was rock, or folk, or punk or noise, or rap, or metal, or just something else difficult to boil down to one word, there was still just the idea of: everyone is sharing whatever they got. That felt more community-based than any genre—where it was very inclusive no matter who you were. And I liked that.”
That statement becomes something of a prelude to my burgeoning thesis about the new record and the current state of Pile: he is creating something by and for himself. But the answer undercut my assumption (or rather, my personal projection) that people are always attempting to become a superficial version of themselves, cut and pasted from the images of those they admire. Maguire’s roots are in Boston, and rather than being a building block for the posturing punk frontman that I may have admired, he instead formed a basis of his identity where he learned to respect, and subsequently work for the respect of, the hard working and individualistic creative minds around him. Why be someone else, he learned, when it’s more rewarding to be yourself?
As he goes on, however, the posturing punk ethos does sneak through: “There was no hard and fast rule of never playing clubs,” he says with a small smile. “But it was pretty close to that.”
“I ended up meeting people not even through music, but just from the neighborhood that I was working in,” he says. ”But they were all playing in bands, and I ended up playing with a couple of them. They would play houses all the time. So while it was kind of a punk scene, it wasn’t ‘the’ punk scene. There is some segregation in genres, in terms of music communities, that existed, or at least that was what I was feeling at the time. But there was something about these houses, man. There would be someone playing folk music, someone just making noise, and sometimes a punk band playing at the end of the night… But they were all playing together. I remember I wanted so badly to play at one of these houses, and when we did, everyone was so welcoming. It felt like no one was really beholden to genre.”
Fast forward to ALL FICTION which, in many respects, lacks a genre at all. At best, Pile’s latest feels like orchestral-meets-heavy, but there’s also a ton of synths. It’s a unique record in how that came together, but it’s not new for Maguire to (as he puts it), “abstract from the rock band format.” In the last few years when shows weren’t on the table, Pile released two very ambient records: IN THE CORNERS OF A SPHERE-FILLED ROOM, which is all atmosphere and noise, and SONGS KNOWN TOGETHER, ALONE, which takes piano and reimagines Maguire’s past songwriting.
“I wanted to put out a record like ALL FICTION for a long time, but there hadn’t been an opportunity in terms of time or resources,” he says. But within the limitations of the pandemic, Maguire suddenly had the freedom to try new things without the pressures of playing it live. The new mantra became, “Let’s focus on the song. Whatever it sounds like the song calls for, let’s respond to that, rather than how we are gonna do it in front of a crowd.”
Now that they’ve got over 50 dates lined up for 2023, the band is facing a unique challenge: “We’re in a position where we’re re-learning how to play our songs. We’re, like, okay, this exists, but which parts do we feel like we need to honor in a live setting? The live versions are different from the recordings, which is cool… I’m curious as to how it will be responded to. Because while there are a ton of rock elements, there are also some more mellow moments, or more pulsing songs than they are dynamic or explosive or subdued.”
Like the house shows he played back in Brighton, he’s not trying to pander to an expectant audience. It’s really just about expressing himself in a genuine way. “Whatever it is that I want to do, I want it to be honest. I want it to be something that I am moved to do,” he says. It’s the type of sentiment echoed by musicians of all ages past. I can picture Maguire saying the same thing a decade ago, maybe to a friend, walking down Harvard Ave with his guitar case slung over his back. But far from feeling cliched over our call, it’s a welcome relief to hear that someone can keep hold of their creative integrity despite so many years in the industry. It’s not about selling himself or keeping people happy—though a connection to audiences (and, of course, money) is good when it comes around. I say as much, which brings Maguire back to those early days:
“When we released DRIPPING in 2012, it felt like we were really gathering momentum. There was a lot of excitement. And we were able to ride that—not that we were getting much money. In 2017, when we released A HAIRSHIRT OF PURPOSE, we got an actual booking agent. It was a pretty marked change, where things went from being exciting and fun, to: we can get paid for this.”
Over 10 years later and Maguire is once again living in Boston, after some years split on the road with a home base down in Nashville. When asked how the city’s changed, Maguire just shrugs. “As for any music scene, I haven’t felt beholden to it in a long time. But I went to a show a couple weeks ago, and there were so many familiar faces. It was nice to catch up with people. Having the fact that there’s still music to bring people back together, to see how everyone’s doing, it’s beyond the genre or time. It’s people showing up and going to shows of music that they think is interesting.” And Maguire, for his part, is doing his best to add to that.
“I’m moving into having an interest in synths. And I don’t know, maybe i’ll go further into that direction, and farther away from what I’ve done in the past. Or, maybe I’ll be like ‘you know what? Just guitar and drums, live in the room, and that’s it.’ But I do feel like I have at least a responsibility to myself to explore those things if I want to.”
Maguire, alongside bandmates Alex Molini and Kris Kuss, are leading by example in their dedicated attempt to be as sincere as possible. ALL FICTION resonates so well because it’s an honest attempt to create and collaborate, and if it inspires people to show up and check it out, then that’s all the better. As always, come as you are.
Sticking true to who they are is what gives Pile so much to work with as the years go on. I think it’s fair to say, though, that these are still some Boston guys. You may not be able to hear it on ALL FICTION, but you can certainly feel it.
“Our thoughts were, ‘we don’t know what’s going to happen, but we can record this record, so we’ll just do it. We’ll just take the rest as it comes.’”
You can check out Pile’s ALL FICTION right now over on Bandcamp.