Sunday, August 7, 2005

33 1/3: a conversation with joe pernice

The bio note on the reverse of Joe Pernice’s Meat Is Murder, reads thusly: “Joe Pernice is the singer and songwriter for The Pernice Brothers. Their most recent album is called Yours, Mine & Ours. He has published a book of poetry. This is his first work of fiction.”
Since the publication of Meat Is Murder, The Pernice Brothers have recorded and released another album, Discover A Lovelier You. They are on tour even as we speak.
Pernice’s Meat Is Murder is officially the series’ fifth release and is currently not only its sole endeavor into fiction, but also its best selling. This interview, conducted as background for my 33 1/3 feature, is almost exclusively concerned with process (as opposed to content). David, of course, is series editor David Barker.
Joe and I spoke by phone on June 8, 2005.

Q: How do you get hooked up with David?

A: He just called me. He e-mailed through my label. He was a fan of my music and then, you know, he just got in touch with me and asked me if I was interested in the series.

Q: So this wasn’t because you had a book of poetry out and so therefore he knew you were a writer.

A: He had no idea, he said. He didn’t know about the book. He got the idea for the series, and he said he was looking at his shelf of albums and he went through and picked out records that he liked of people he thought might be interested. Whether he was pulling my leg or not, I don’t know.

Q: That’s quite a leap of faith – to assume that because someone can write a good song they can also write a good book.

A: I agree, but he asked if I was interested in thinking of an idea and writing up a treatment of it, so that was probably to see if I could string a sentence together. I sent him about 200 words, and my idea was to write a fiction, and to his credit he just said, Why not? I remember him saying, We don’t do fiction, but What the hell? That was exactly what he said.

Q: So your original treatment or pitch was to write a work of fiction about Meat Is Murder.

A: Yeah, he knew I liked The Smiths and he suggested The Queen Is Dead, but that wasn’t a big record for me. For me it was Meat Is Murder. And I said, I went to grad school and I just can’t write any more stuff that even approaches criticism. I have no interest in it. But what I would do is maybe write a novella that, you know, tries to place this album in the context of some freak’s life. And he said, I like it. Go ahead. It was really that simple.

Q: When he wrote you, did you jump in with both feet? Or did you have reservations?

A: Well, when he first got in touch with me, I was literally at the halfway point of recording my record, Yours, Mine & Ours. I was neck deep in it. And so I had some reservations, but on the other hand I had also seen how far we had come with recording. Like that last recording project was involved as far as logistics and making everything work, so I was feeling a bit brave. And I finally said, You know what? It’s 25,000 words. What the hell? It didn’t take me long to say yes.

Q: Was any of the novella already written? Or did you pretty much write the thing from scratch after the assignment was made?

A: I think I decided to do the book maybe around Christmas, maybe a little earlier. And I knew I wasn’t going to be able to begin it until March, and I had about five weeks from March until I was going on tour again, so I had a window of five weeks and just made sure my schedule was clear. Probably around Christmas I started relistening to Meat Is Murder, and it brought up a lot of memories. And to tell you the truth, no shit, I sat down in about five weeks and wrote it from scratch.

Q: You had five weeks and you used all five weeks.

A: I did. I had a little closet in my apartment in Brooklyn that I cleaned out. It was big enough to put like a desk in and a lamp in. When we finished recording and mastering our record, I sat down and I just started to get into a schedule. It took me a week or so just to get into the, you know, swing. Like, All right, I’ve got to work from whatever to whatever, or I need to do this many words a day. The biggest problem was just figuring out which part of the day was kind of the sweet spot for me.

Q: And what did you learn? Are you a morning guy or a night time guy? When does the fiction flow?

A: Well, I thought I was a morning guy because that’s usually when I write songs but I got up in the morning and I realized I was still writing songs and I wouldn’t even start thinking about sitting down to write fiction until about 1. Then I honed it down. I realized that probably from between 1 and 5 I was doing pretty doing good work, and then after that I just kind of faded. So that was my window. I wrote anywhere from about five to six hours a day.

33 1/3: a conversation with joe pernice - part two

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