Fraternal Organization 

Weathering life's changes proves key to local trio's creative success

Weathering life's changes proves key to local trio's creative success

Joe, Marc’s Brother

Around the Year With Joe, Marc’s Brother

Playing May 12 at Belcourt Theatre

What happens when everything you’re standing on falls from under you? That’s the question Nashville nightclub favorites Joe, Marc’s Brother ask on the opening song of their new CD, Around the Year with Joe, Marc’s Brother.

The rock trio poses the provocative question for several reasons: For one, they experienced such a collapse a couple of years ago when their band suddenly split, with bassist Pete Langella quitting because of family and career responsibilities and guitarist-singer David Mead pursuing a solo career. At the same time, the remaining band members—singer-guitarist Joe Pisapia and his brother, drummer Marc Pisapia—were reeling from the dissolution of their parents’ 30-year marriage.

”On one level, we were traumatized,“ says Joe Pisapia, the New Jersey-born and -bred leader of the band. ”We didn’t know exactly what we were going to do. But I remember hearing something that jazz musicians say: ‘You’ve got to play through the changes.’ That’s what life’s all about—when you’re dealt a change, how do you play through it? That’s a big theme in Joe, Marc’s Brother.“

Indeed, as anxiety-ridden as change can be, it also can provide for new opportunities. Looking back, that’s how the Pisapia brothers view the crisis they experienced in late 1997. ”That’s what the first song, ‘Ready to Change,’ is all about,“ Joe explains. ”If the whole bottom falls out, maybe that’s great. As you’re falling, it’s really scary. But afterward, you might get up and get going in a better direction. Sometimes having everything fall apart is exactly what needs to happen.“

Before the band’s breakup, Joe, Marc’s Brother spent a year or two as the Nashville rock band most likely to succeed. The four musicians created bracingly ferocious pop-rock, with Pisapia and Mead trading lead vocals and razor-sharp guitar riffs while merging into soaring harmonies. Exciting and intelligent, they put a fresh spin on classic, guitar-driven power pop. They regularly packed local clubs and left industry insiders predicting a national breakthrough.

Though they met constantly with record company executives, nothing ever gelled. One exec would suggest they concentrate on a particular aspect of their wide-ranging sound; another would encourage them to concentrate on something different. In other cases, a talent scout might flip for the band and excitedly talk about their future, only to have a higher-up turn them down. ”We could never cross over that hump,“ Joe Pisapia says without rancor.

But the bandleader also felt that the old quartet never fulfilled its potential. ”In the four-piece, I always felt like I couldn’t quite reach all the notes I was writing,“ he says. ”I felt like we had these really great vocal arrangements, and we only almost pulled them off. I was always straining to fit into this hole, and I felt like I was coming up short.“

As time pushed on, and as their popularity grew, the band members started to realize the group wasn’t working. ”Outwardly, everything seemed great,“ Joe says. ”But internally it sucked. It was so hard for us to maintain. Then we hit the wall; it happened when Pete’s wife got pregnant and he got a job promotion. That opened the door for David to do his own thing too. It just seemed like the obvious thing to do.“

Obvious, maybe, but not easy. Nonetheless, they all remained friends, and the Pisapias later performed on Mead’s The Luxury of Time, released on RCA Records last year. ”We all agree that it was a positive thing in the long run,“ Marc Pisapia says. ”For me and Joe, it made us say, ‘Fuck all this. Fuck the record deals.... Let’s just go out and make the kind of music we want to make.’ We weren’t getting anywhere waiting on a system that wasn’t giving us anything back.“

Coincidentally, the day Langella departed, a former bandmate of Marc’s called from New York. James ”Hags“ Haggerty had always admired Joe’s songs and musicianship—the bassist would’ve joined the brothers when they moved to Nashville in 1994 if he hadn’t been in his last semester of college. When he called in late ’97, he told the Pisapias that his New York band had split up. Discovering they needed a bassist, he decided to take a vacation in Nashville. By the end of their first jam session, he knew he wanted to join Joe, Marc’s Brother. ”I was really, really excited about what they were doing,“ Hags says.

Soon, the bassist moved to Nashville, and the three men rented a house together, using the basement as a daily rehearsal room. Because Hags had some catching up to do, the Pisapias worked night jobs while he practiced the material. Then they’d spend all day practicing and jamming. ”We decided to break everything down and throw out all the definitions,“ Joe Pisapia says. ”We wanted to get away from all the normal pop and rock band concepts and see what happened.“

What happened, he explains, was a concentration on melody, harmony, and subtlety that eschewed conventional song structures in favor of something fresher and more inventive. ”Even though the band had shrunk, the sound opened up,“ Marc says. ”We could do more subtle stuff and sound fuller. So the challenge was to hone our craft so that the spaces we filled got that much thicker.“

That sense of experimentation comes through on Around the Year With Joe, Marc’s Brother, a title that refers to how the band came up with its open-ended yet sweetly accessible sound. These days, the group has more in common with such pop experimentalists as Apples in Stereo and High Llamas—except that Joe, Marc’s Brother reveals a greater stylistic breadth and attention to songcraft than those groups. On a couple of songs, they also just flat out rock harder.

”We feel like it’s the most exciting time yet for this band,“ Marc Pisapia says. ”Anything can happen from here. We feel like this is us, we know who we are now, and we’re ready for anything that happens.“

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