The Art and The Artist – An Interview with Pentimento – Part 1

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This is Pentimento. (Left to right: Mike Hansen, Lance Claypool, Vincent Caito, and Jeramiah Pauly)

Pentimento is a four piece alternative punk band from Buffalo, NY. Ironically enough, that also happens to be where I live. Huh. Fancy that. The band is composed of lead singer/guitarist Jeramiah Pauly, lyricist/backup vocalist/drummer Mike Hansen, lead guitarist Lance Claypool, and Bassist Vincent Caito. These gentlemen are creating a sound that brings back the glory days of the alt-punk scene in the early 2000’s, while still finding ways to experiment and keep their music fresh for a modern audience. The songwriting is honest and relatable to a huge degree, and the band’s intensity and power form a give and take with the words to really create an engrossing listening experience. I’ve always wanted to ask a band what they think makes a great song, so I recently was given the chance to sit down with the band in person and really dive into the heart of their process of creation, how emotions get turned into music, and how collaboration and flux are the keys to any band’s development.

This is what happened.

(Oh, and I’ll be abbreviating all the band members names that I mentioned above, as well as the blog name)

1001 – So I’m going start with the most important question first. Whether it’s one of your own, or someone else’s, what to you are the elements that make up a truly great song?

MH – The ability to accurately represent a feeling, and use the music surrounding the story that you’re telling to support the idea of the mood that you’re trying to project. I think that’s what makes a great song. I mean, you can listen to songs from the Motown era, that even if you were at your fucking Mom’s funeral, you would hear the song and have to dance. I think that ability for someone not only to relate to it, but also the ability to put someone else in that mood because of what it’s doing lyrically and musically is what makes a song great. The ability to tell a story and have the music support that is a gift, and it’s something all bands try to do. It’s just all about who can come the closest.

1001 – What I find in your music, and I think this has been noted by many others, is an extreme degree of relatability and near universal experience, in the sense that you write and sing about situations that nearly everyone has to go through at some point. Does this kind of writing come naturally, or did it take time to develop this kind of lyricism?

MH – I think that growing up and going through those motions sets you up for wanting to express those things that are universal and personal as well. There’s definitely a line between, “Ok, how much do I give up about myself” and “how much room do I allow for someone else to pick up on that and relate to it instantly?” Just because you’re in a band doesn’t mean that these experiences you’ve had growing up stop. There’s something there to draw from at all times because that’s the life you’ve built around you. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel or talk about things that no one else is talking about. You share and talk about these experiences because they are universal. It’s basic human instinct to want to feel validated or feel like you’re not alone. You want to feel like you’re not an alien to certain feelings and thoughts, especially when things get hard. Support from a band or a record is a special experience for a lot of people, so it’s our job to write about experiences that are both personal to us and that connect to others out there. That’s what makes sense because we live that too. It’s us saying, “We don’t have a complete answer for these problems, but we know what these problems are, and here’s what we do to deal with them.” That’s how it goes, I guess.

1001 – Do you find that your songs come together with a melody first with the lyrics written around it, or vice versa?

MH – I think it’s a bit of both, really. It all just comes down to how things come together when we’re in here hashing the parts out.

VC – Mike writes all the demos, and then we bring them to the table as a group. Whether we pick them apart lyrically or with melodies or if we’re actually working on what the guitar parts are or the chord progressions are; there have been songs that he’s written that we’ve completely changed on the fly.

MH – In the studio that happens too. You think something sounds great in practice, but you don’t fully realize it until you get into the studio and you hear everything a little more clearly. There have been instances where Jerry is in the vocal booth and we’re working on something that we’ve talked about for months, and all of a sudden it just doesn’t feel right.

VC – The final say is really when recording stops and all of a sudden we’re just like, “Oop, well that just became a song.”

1001 – Tell me a bit about the collaborative effort between the instruments and the vocals during the recording process.

MH – It’s really different every time. When we were doing “Circles”, for example, we had a totally different idea for the chorus, and then it was literally a day or two when we went into the studio and Jerry was like, “this really isn’t working out for me.” So we sat in a room, just him and I for six hours just playing the song over and over and talking about, like, “what’s the point? What are we trying to say here?” We sat there with a whiteboard just writing and erasing lines, and eventually it just came out. Sometimes it pours out in ten minutes, and sometimes we get stuck and the song goes nowhere.

JP – We’ve come to a point now where we’ve identified our strengths, and the fun part after that is everyone coming together in a room and saying, “this is what I like, this is what I don’t like, here’s why I like it, here’s why I don’t like it.” And if we don’t like something, what are we going to do about it? If we really like something, how do we make that part shine? It’s four different minds coming together on one idea. Even if you think your idea is the best idea, someone else could bring up a whole new point that you hadn’t even considered and you just think, “holy shit that’s awesome.”

VC – When it’s the four of us in a room together, if we’re playing a part and we just look at each other and have that connection or feeling, I think that helps define what parts should stay in a song or where they should go.

JP – When an awesome idea comes out, it just always seems like the four of us in the moment are just like, “that’s awesome.”

MH – We all come from like minded musical backgrounds and tastes, so it’s not like any of us are doing wacky shit either. But it is hard translating an idea that you have in your head into melodies and vocal parts and such. But that’s why we all come together. It makes that process a little easier.

This concludes Part 1 of my Pentimento interview, but stay tuned for part 2, where I delve more into the band’s new EP, Inside the Sea, and also discuss with them their live performances, their greatest musical influences, and their own top song recommendations.

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