Pierce Brothers are bringing back the coastal blues and roots which we as Australians find synonymous with summer days and those uplifting moments of unity. Xavier Rudd and John Butler Trio brought us together in ways we can remember wistfully under the glow of a December sunset and a cold beer. But those days are not ones of the past, and Melbourne twins Pierce Brothers are here to make sure that we feel that way again.
Having just released their second EP My Tired Mind, these guys have solidified themselves as the rebirth of anthemic folk music, Australia’s answer to Mumford & Sons or The Lumineers. As I dropped by their temporary residence in Redfern, I was welcomed into a bustling room of cameras and people. The boys were wrapping up some promo content and once they were done, they were buzzing and chat started almost instantly, having said this sitting opposite two identical twins raucously talking over each other – hardly making for a smooth running interview – but when it comes to these guys it’s all about the moment.
The last time I caught up with Jack and Pat it was last year after the Cat Empire show in Enmore, so this interview evidently started there, in mentioning that evening the boys had to stop and admit something with a light chuckle. “We stole something from the Cat Empire… They do this stuff at the end of their show where they get everyone to crouch down and then jump up and we pinched it. We flat out stole it.”
Thievery aside, these guys are no strangers to really embodying their influences and developing their sound through time spent on the road with other musicians. Having spent a huge amount of time overseas with local superstar and fellow Melbourner Tash Sultana, I was curious as to how their core, folk sound has been influenced by a digital landscape growing around them.
To this the Jack was eager to comment, “It’s interesting because we’ve watched Tash and are absolutely amazed at what she’s doing, and we’ve thought about doing looping, but we’ve kind of never done it… We were in the studio and started working on the next album, and so we got some songs out and Pat said ‘I’ve got this idea let’s do this- ‘” at this Pat interjected “ -I went surfing with Tash down in Lorne and I was saying to her that I wrote the first part and had to stop on my iPhone, and then write the second part and had to stop my iPhone, and I said to her, to my shame, ‘I wish I had a loop pedal'”
He continues “I was tentative about taking steps in that direction and to branch out, and she said ‘Don’t hold yourself back from anything, or put yourself in that box where you say that this is your sound, just fucking get one and if it works it works.'”
Jack jumped back in, “With that track, we got this Casio beat going and then put that down and then got this over the top and we did that in the space of about ten minutes at the end of the day of recording, got home and listened to it and just thought ‘This is fucking sick.'” After a short pause he continued, “I’d say we’d go there, but it wouldn’t become part of our set. Because I’d say of our set and of our career really is that it’s never been based on the radio, we’ve built a career really on being a live act. And that’s so much a part of our brand now that while we will deviate and do this cool thing. What I really love most is rocking out that full Mumford style with a didgeridoo.”
With so much time on the road – jumping between Australia, Europe and the US – it’s hard to imagine that there is much time for those gritty, honest experiences which foster the best songwriting. When I suggested that their current schedule seems too packed and fast moving to leave room for capturing the stories that seem to make up this EP, the twins assured me that somehow they make it work.
“Between the third and fourth insult that we’ve been hurling at each other… You put a lot on the back burner. We’ve only now just started getting better – I went through two years of heavy writer’s block because we were touring so much and by the time you get home you’re just over it… Also, once we started writing again we realised how much fun it can be. But you can get into the studio sometimes and have nothing prepared, and it can either go well and something spontaneous will come up or it can be really tough and you’re just full of self doubt, and you just think ‘What am I doing here?’ That goes with the territory.
“In reality we are just a couple of guys who run a small business and when you run a small business these are the kinds of stresses that come with it… Once you start writing more and you get into the habit you have to force yourself to be ok with writing shit and if you can do that, you can write some crap and it’s not good then that’s okay, as long as you’re doing it. And then you get into the habit of doing it more and more, you know when something’s good. And there’s no better feeling.”
At this, the boys broke out into an exuberant display of physical and vocal elation… triggered I suspected by acute exhaustion.
Current amidst a huge media push for their latest single Follow Me Into The Dark, their narrative-rich and darkly emotional songwriting style has never been stronger, as Jack explained, “This was a song written about that feeling where you’ve left someone and the cooling off period after a break-up. Either you can be happy and you’ve made the choice, or you can be conflicted and worried about that. It’s basically about staying up at night… It’s about lying there and she won’t let me sleep, she wanders in to push at my tired mind.”
At this Pat steered the conversation to Amsterdam, the second track of the record, and as he admitted his favourite. “Amsterdam is about all the stresses of being on the road for so long. We started touring so heavily and it was so exciting but we didn’t realise how hard it was, until all of a sudden we’d spent five months on the road. We’d both lost our voice, and bitten off way more than we could chew and it was like we were playing with a loaded gun… we were like this kid with this thing he didn’t really understand could hurt him and hurt himself.”
It became apparent amidst the banter that after our chat Pat and Jack were on their way into the city for an afternoon of busking, the place where it all began. As someone who could think of nothing more terrifying, I had to try and get inside the mind of these natural street performers to understand where the Pierce Brothers story started, and why it’s so important to them.
Jack opened up, “No one’s there to see you play. It’s do or die, and if you’re no good and people will just walk past. As far as performance art goes it’s sort of like acting; you’ve not only got to build a crowd, you’ve got to keep them there. It’s not like a show, they’re not there to watch music, they’re there to shop and get some lunch. Busking really dictated our performance style, so when we go and play a festival now, for example, our first festival in Europe. We were really nervous, and Pat was like ‘Just go out there and do a busking set, they’re all Dutch and they don’t know who we are.’ Let’s do the same thing as playing on the street. And it played off really well.”
As someone with two twin sisters and the interesting pleasure of having interviewed a bunch of twin musicians, I know by now that there is always at least one funny story up their sleeve about just how ridiculous being one of two can be.
Pat laughed as though he was waiting to reveal the novel-length list of quirks that have arisen in their time performing together. “We actually have the same name…. He’s John Patrick and I’m Patrick John. and until I was 15, that’s how I thought twins got named… It’s like our parents knew that we would have a job where we would use our passports a lot and travel together. We have the same name and all the same details. We had our bag stolen which had our passports in it, so we had to apply on the same day and so the numbers are super similar, within a few digits of each other. The photos are pretty well the same – same name, same birthday, date of issue, same expiry date… We’ve lost flights, voting is a nightmare; my vote hasn’t counted the past 10 years… and I get fined for voting twice.”
Meet Pat and Jack and you would be hard pressed to think of another act with as much energy, charisma and refreshing honesty. This EP is darkly beautiful, filled with massive dance anthems and an undercurrent of celebration and community that you just can’t shake.
9 December, 3 Oceans Winery, Margaret River
14 December, Margaret Court Area
16 December, Noosa AFL Grounds, Noose