Joe Pernice began his recording career in the mid-1990’s with the Scud Mountain Boys, in Northampton, Massachusetts. They released two records before signing to Seattle’s Sub Pop Records in 1996 and releasing Massachusetts, along with The Early Year, a compilation of the two pre-Sub Pop recordings. In 1997, he disbanded the Scuds Mountan Boys to form The Pernice Brothers, and released their debut album Overcome By Happiness. While with the Sub Pop label Pernice also recorded under his own name, issuing the album Big Tobacco in 1999, and as Chappaquiddick Skyline, who issued their sole self-titled album in 2000.
Later that year Pernice left Sub Pop Records and he and his longtime manager Joyce Linehan established Ashmont Records, based in Boston, where they have released several Pernice Brothers records: The World Won’t End (2001), Yours, Mine and Ours (2003), Nobody’s Watching/Nobody’s Listening live album and DVD (2004), Discover a Lovelier You (2005) and Live a Little (2006).
Joe Pernice’s music has been featured on television shows Six Feet Under and The Gilmore Girls, where Joe also made 45-second appearance as a troubadour-wannabe in a 2006 episode, and in the movies Fever Pitch, On Broadway and Slaughterhouse Rule. Additionally, his songs have been featured in commercials for Sears, Southern Comfort and Sherwin-Williams.
Pernice grew up in the Boston area, and attended UMass Amherst, where he received an MFA in Creative Writing. He currently lives in Toronto.
Q. You’re known for your remarkable songwriting abilities. How do you compare the process of writing pop songs to that of writing prose?
Seeing as most of my songs hover around three minutes or so in length, the amount of time I spend thinking about a song and developing it is small in comparison to that required to write a novel. Writing the novel demanded that I stay focused for months on a single “world” until that world was sufficiently invented. Pop songs can take as little as a few minutes to make, then you’re done and on to something else.
Songwriting and the writing of prose are both solitary endeavors (at least for me), but the act of recording a song in its definitive form involves the efforts and company (for better and worse) of many people.
Q. You obtained a MFA in Creative Writing from UMASS in the mid-1990’s. Did you plan on becoming a writer before you became a musician?
I thought I might spend a good chunk of my life writing poetry and possibly teaching at some level. In my late teens and early twenties I had a very strong drive to write fiction, but laid low because I knew I hadn’t lived enough to have anything of value to say. Some might say I still have not lived enough to have anything of value to say.
Q. Do you think that being a musician has affected the way you write at all? Have you, in turn, found that writing this novel affected your songwriting in any way?
I’ve been a pretty disciplined writer of songs these fifteen years or so. I know I’ve carried that discipline over into writing fiction. I also learned to trust my instincts—as a songwriter—and plugged that into writing my novel. Writing so many songs and having released twelve albums—I think—I’ve learned to relax and enjoy the process of creating for the brief and exciting thing it is. I can honestly say there wasn’t a single day of writing my book—save for the day I realized I had to scrap twelve thousand words—that I didn’t have a very good time. It sure beats working.
Q. The novel is set primarily in Cape Cod. Why did you choose this location? Do you have any personal connection to the place?
I chose Cape Cod because I have spent a good deal of time there and find parts of it thoroughly depressing in the off season. I love it there, but when the “shop closes” for the season, it can be a bit of a come down. I’m sure there are countless locations that could have worked. I chose the one I know.
Q. There seem to be some similarities between yourself and the hero of the novel—a talent for music, a love of baseball, a connection to UMass. Is it fair to say there are some autobiographical elements in the book?
There certainly are, but again, I wrote about things I know and made stuff up from there. You see, ultimately I am a lazy person. Forget what I said about being disciplined. Yes, I went to UMASS, and having gone there freed me from having to get on the internet and figure out what it’s like at, say, Purdue or UNC or Brigham Young.
Q. The epigraph to the novel is a quote by Elvis Costello: “This is the place where I made my best mistakes.” Why did you choose this epigraph? What does it say about the central thrust of the book?
I guess the novel is both the scene of the crime and something of an apology on the part of the narrator. He’s not exactly telling the story from a place of redemption, but he certainly knows—and isn’t happy about it—that he’s done many lousy things.
Also, for the character Marie, mistakes as unexpected opportunities is a central theme. That and getting wasted.
Q. What do you hope readers will take away from reading this novel?
I hope they laugh and are generally entertained. I hope they can identify with the characters. And I hope—and this was not my intention at the onset of writing the book—that readers remember to forgive themselves for screwing things up royally.
Q. Who were your inspirations or influences in writing this book? How do these overlap with or differ from your musical influences?
I was heavily into Dylan while writing the book. I know I have been inspired more than I can say by his bottomless pit of drive-to-create. Someone ought to check for wires because there’s no way he’s a mortal man.
My brother Bob laid a quote on me before I started writing my book. Bob attributed it to Faulkner (which sounded good to me), but if it wasn’t Faulkner, I blame Bob. Again, I could have researched it, but I didn’t feel like it. It’s a good quote, regardless of who said it. To paraphrase: Writing is like driving at night. You can only see as far as the headlights’ throw.
I did not read a single piece of fiction while I was writing my book. But the minute I finished, I re-read B.S. Johnson, Herman Melville and Bill Hicks.
Q. Do you plan to continue writing fiction in the future?
Yes, Your Honor. I do.