Joe Pernice

Joe Pernice is one of the most interesting figures to emerge from the American indie pop scene since the 1990s; while he first gained recognition as part of the downbeat alt-country act the Scud Mountain Boys, since then he's performed and recorded with a variety of projects that have shown him to be a master of smart, beautifully crafted pop songs with intelligent, introspective lyrics and a darkly witty undertow that dovetails with his superb melodic sense. Born and raised in Massachusetts to a family of Italian immigrants, Pernice cut his musical teeth on the alternative rock of the late '70s and mid-'80s, citing the Clash and the Smiths as particular favorites. After playing with a handful of teenage bands in the late '80s, Pernice teamed up with singer and guitarist Bruce Tull in 1991 to form a group called the Scuds. In 1993, they would evolve into the Scud Mountain Boys, whose spare, acoustic-based sound magnified the angst of the then-thriving alternative country scene.

The Scud Mountain Boys recorded a pair of homemade albums, Dance the Night Away and Pine Box, which were released through the local Chunk Records label in 1995. In 1996, the Scud Mountain Boys were signed to Sub Pop Records, which issued their third album, Massachusetts, as well as The Early Year, a two-disc set that featured Dance the Night Away and Pine Box in toto along with some unreleased material. Shortly after the release of Massachusetts, Joe Pernice and his brother Bob Pernice released a more pop-oriented single that built on the more expansive sound of the third Scud Mountain Boys album; Joe soon decided he wanted to pursue this new direction, and the Scud Mountain Boys broke up as the Pernice Brothers recorded their debut album for Sub Pop, 1998's Overcome by Happiness, which featured New Radiant Storm King guitarist Peyton Pinkerton and several artfully executed string and horn charts.

Bob Pernice, who had a career as a scientist, wasn't available to tour extensively behind the album, and the touring version of the Pernice Brothers, featuring Laura Stein and Mike Belitsky of Jale along with Pinkerton, Mike Deming, and Thom Monahan, became Joe Pernice's next project, Chappaquiddick Skyline, who released a self-titled album for Sub Pop in early 2000. (Stein would play on a number of future Pernice projects, and the two would eventually marry.) Pernice opted for yet another band name, Big Tobacco, when he released his next album in 2001, which appeared on Ashmont Records, a label he founded with his manager Joyce Linehan after parting ways with Sub Pop. (Like Chappaquiddick Skyline, Pernice would later say Big Tobacco was released under another group name because he felt the songs weren't up to his usual standards, though both albums received enthusiastic reviews.) Later in 2001, Pernice revived the Pernice Brothers for an outstanding album, The World Won't End, which became the first of four studio albums (as well as a live CD/DVD package) they would release over the space of five years. In 2004, Pernice even enjoyed a minor hit in the Boston area with "Moonshot, Manny (Pega Luna, Manny)," a tribute to Boston Red Sox hitter Manny Ramirez; Pernice released the tune as a digital single, with proceeds going to charity.

In 2001, Pernice turned his attention to the written word when he self-published a book of poetry, Two Blind Pigeons, though his Ashmont Books imprint. In 2003, Pernice published Meat Is Murder, a novella inspired by his teenage years as a Smiths fan, as part of Continuum Books' "33 1/3" series of book-length appreciations of great albums. Meat Is Murder was optioned for a film adaptation, and in 2009 Riverhead Books published Pernice's first full-length novel, It Feels So Good When I Stop. Pernice also recorded a companion album of popular songs cited in the novel, including an original tune by the Young Accuser, a fictive rock band the book's leading character fronted as a teenager. Fiction became reality when Pernice was invited to record a Young Accuser single for Sub Pop Records (the same label that passes on the band's demo in the novel). ~ Mark Deming

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