It's great to have a new "Mick Dillingham Interviews" for your perusal. What better subject than Nick Piunti? His new album is a splendid affair, following on from the previous, Trust Your Instincts, which was an IDHAS Album Of The Year. Without further ado, over to Mick.
In 2014 Detroit based musician and songwriter Nick Piunti unleashed “13 in My Head” on an unsuspecting listening audience and the powerpop community immediately burst into flame with golden loving praise. It became highly ranked in the year's best of the lists for the dazzling and sophisticated pop rock greatness on display. More importantly the superb songwriting brought a unique and soon enough, unmistakable voice to the fore.
As with all the true greats, despite all the familiar and welcome musical influences, above all else Nick Piunti albums are unmistakably Nick Piunti albums. Here was a major new talent and as obviously proved on the three wonderful albums since then, a music force to be reckoned. A songwriter to be held close to the heart of music lovers everywhere. Each new album has confirmed the greatness that went before while adding new layers and nuances into the already heady brew. Each album perfect in it’s own right and yet each new album more perfect than the last.
This years offering “Temporary High” effortlessly continues this trend and may be his best yet, which is saying something when you consider the glory that has gone before. The last few years have been a golden age of creative wonderment from Nick but it was now always so. In fact it turns out Nick is very much an old hand having been in various, ultimately going nowhere musical projects, stretching right back to the seventies when he was still just a young boy.
Time to sit down with the man and find out all about was was, what makes him tick and what is to come.
What are your earliest memories of first getting into music?
"Besides the obvious, Beatles on Ed Sullivan, I wasn't even four years old, but I have memories of watching TV at my Grandmother's house. It was probably a combination of The Monkees television show and listening to AM radio hits of the mid 60's that our teenage sitter and her friends played on transistor radios.
They also taught me how to smoke cigarettes at the age of six, naughty girls. So the thought of playing music was quite intriguing, even before I ever picked up a guitar. I think I got my first guitar when I was ten and I had a music teacher that had a really cool tenor guitar (4 strings). That was great to learn on and fit my small hands."
Which music artists first made you sit up and take notice?
"As mentioned, The Beatles, The Monkees. I related to Davy because he was the shortest and he got all the girls. Short I had covered and I was crazy about girls as long as I can remember. So music seemed to fit right into my plans. My Dad owned a restaurant that had a jukebox and when the singles would be updated, we got the old ones.
So my older brother and I always played records at home. I loved the pop songs of the day but I really took notice when I first heard Whole Lotta Love, Mississippi Queen, Born To Be Wild, all those Creedence singles."
When did you start writing songs?
"My childhood best friend Pete Madary and I started writing lyrics first if I remember correctly. I remember my Mom found some lyrics and wondered what these love songs were about.
But the actual first song that I wrote was called "Rock and Roll Beat". I think I was thirteen.
Dwarf was my first band. School kids that wanted to play their 6th grade talent show. We actually called ourselves Sunset, but when our manager, Merle, came into the picture he wanted us to be called Dwarf. At first I said "no way" because I was the shortest kid in my class and I didn't really want to promote that in the name of the band. However, Merle was persuasive so we agreed to the name change.
We started playing a lot of Junior High School dances and it wasn't long before the young girls starting going crazy. I think they weren't used to having bands their age come to their schools to play rock and roll, so when they saw us they really connected to us. They especially loved our drummer Mickey. I remember being asked to move by one young lady, because I was obscuring her view of Mickey."
"We released our first single Gotta Get Louder / I Won't be Back in the fall of 1975. That's what local bands did back then, release 7 inch singles on their own label. I think only 500 were pressed. Sold out very quickly. If you can find an original pressing, they're over $200.
A company called Sing Sing Records did a re-release a few years ago, but the originals are the ones that have value. Pete Madary sang and wrote the A side, while I wrote and sang the B side. Mike Finn was our lead guitarist. I didn't write a lot back then, probably a handful a year. By the time I was a senior in High School, I started writing a lot. It was all I wanted to do. Well, that and hang with my girlfriend.
So we stayed Dwarf through high school and college and released three singles and an EP. We recorded a lot of songs in the studio from 1981 onward, but didn't release any. Looking back we should have, but we were looking for a label to put out a record. I'm not sure if it was 1982 or 83, but we parted ways with our manger turned drummer Merle, as we were tired of the four set a night gigs where we would have to sneak our originals in. I didn't want to be a bar band, so we found a new drummer, changed our name to "The Take" and moved to L.A. in the fall of 1984.
We stayed for two years, did quite a bit of writing and recording, looking for a record deal. We played some showcases but we were definitely the wrong kind of band for the Glam Rock scene going on in L.A. at the time. I became the only songwriter in the band after Pete left and it seemed like the right time to pack it in as a band and get on with my life. I wasn't sure what was next musically but it was time to move on.
After I move back to Detroit, I started recording songs, which would become my first solo collection. Eight songs released on cassette only titled "Cold Cruel World". I haven't listened to that in a long time. I re-recorded a few Take songs along with some new material, shopped it at MIDEM in 1988, but nothing really came of it."
"I'm a late bloomer in the singing department so it’s hard to listen to older recordings of mine. We figured songwriting out early on, but getting it right in the studio took a long time. I kept recording, going into the studio and shopping for label interest, but by the early 90's I had enough, met my future wife, started a family, and really didn't write a song or barely touched a guitar for several years
It was 2000, I was a father of two young girls and I started becoming interested in writing songs again. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with them ,but I started recording the new songs with long time friend, studio owner, Pete Bankert. At first I was going to have another singer sing them, but he convinced me to give it a shot. I was pretty happy with the record at the time, and released my first proper solo album in 2002. Still a few leftover songs re-done, but a lot of new ones and it did garner a little bit of attention. Really no marketing at all, just getting my feet wet again.
Joe Gaydos, who played guitar on my solo album, was in between bands and we talked about having a band, going a bit harder in the rock department. He was in a band called Mugsy when I was in Dwarf. Mugsy were a much harder rocking band and more established than us at the time, so it was cool to actually be in a band with him. Though it may have seemed like an unlikely pairing, Joe really liked my songwriting and we recorded a lot of demos at his place and started writing some songs together.
We recruited Donn Deniston (who I recorded with years before) to be our drummer and Pete Bankert played bass. We released our debut album under the name The Respectables in 2005. Joe's son Joey Gaydos Jr., who played Zack in The School of Rock, also appeared on the album for a cameo guitar solo.
The album definitely rocked but it didn't contain a lot of hooks in my book, so we started working on our follow up "Sibley Gardens" and that was the album that received some power pop love. I wasn't trying to make a power pop album, and didn't really know much about a scene for power pop fans, but that album seemed to strike a chord."
"From that album we landed songs in both a movie (Jeff Who Lives at Home) and a network tv show. That was cool of course, but the band was starting to unravel as our live shows were infrequent and my voice was not cutting it live to be honest. Pushing too hard, there were a couple shows where my voice didn't hold up. I also felt like the band was getting too ROCK and a bit dated and heavy handed sounding. We released a three song ep in 2010, but it just seemed like too little too late. My interest was waning and it was not my best songwriting period. I really enjoyed working on the songs for Sibley Gardens, but the fun quotient wasn't there any longer.
After The Respectables, I was either done with music or I was going to give it one last shot, making a record that I wanted to make. I spent over a year and a half writing and demoing songs for the album. The kids got an iPad for Christmas and I soon found out that I could make some pretty good demos on Garageband. So the songs and arrangements were pretty mapped out before I entered the studio in 2012 and I found a writing partner with Ryan Allen.
He was in a band called The Friendly Foes, which knocked me out and he was very encouraging to this old dude making another go of it. I recorded the album "13 in My Head" with Geoff Michael at Big Sky Recording and it was his suggestion to have Donny Brown drum on it. That was really key, Donny was in a successful Michigan band called The Verve Pipe and I felt like I had to up my game if I was going to make a record with him. He added some nice harmonies and ended up drumming on my next three albums.
I felt really good about the record, but wasn't really sure what the reaction would be. The first reviews were amazing. Definitely the best response I ever received. A couple months after the album was released I received an email from Mojo magazine saying they wanted to include one of my songs on a cover mount cd honoring Paul McCartney. (Songs In The Key Of Paul).
That was a big deal for me, to be included with some bands I absolutely loved and yeah, those year end lists were pretty great. It's a small community, but to be thought of as one of the best albums of their year, that definitely got me on the map. In 2014, Sugarbush Records released "13 in My Head" on vinyl. So that was very cool as well."
Beyond The Static was up next another great album followed quickly by the wonderful Trust Your Instincts. You seem to be on a roll now…the creativity just flowing out of you
"Yeah, “13 In My Head" seemed to be the start of a very prolific period for me. It's been seven years of a lot of songwriting. I'll make records as long as I think the songs deserve to be recorded and released. I wouldn't want to make a record if I didn't believe in the songs. I think "Beyond The Static" was a good follow up to 13. Probably not as hooky, but some more depth to some of the songs and I pushed myself a bit.
"Trust Your Instincts" came only a year later, but sounded fresh to me and I received a lot of airplay on Sirius XM The Loft. Mike Marrone was the program director at the time and he was great in making sure the album was heard. Trust Your Instincts was my first album on Marty Scott's "Jem Records" and it's been pretty cool having him so involved in not only releasing the record, but sharing demos and ideas with him.
Lets talk about the latest Temporary High. How was the recording process? How happy are you with the finished album?
I'm really happy with "Temporary High". Recorded it the same way, with Donny Brown on drums, Andy Reed on bass, and Geoff Michael recording and producing at Big Sky Recording. Probably the difference with this album is that I had a batch of five songs that I focused on, then wrote another five songs and focused on them. Plus there's quite a bit of keyboards on this album, (myself, Andy, Donny and Geoff all played keys) though it is still a guitar based album.
I even wrote a couple songs for my wife and a few for my daughters as well. So very personal lyrically. And though I played all the guitars on this album, (Ryan Allen joined me on a few songs each of the last three albums), Ryan did help me finish lyrics to a couple songs. My friend Chris Richards sang on a couple songs and keyboardist Plink Giglio (how's that for a name?) added keys on a couple tracks.
"Temporary High was selected as the "Coolest Song in The World" on Little Steven's Underground Garage on Sirius XM radio. That's a very cool thing.
What are your favourites on the record?
That's kind of like choosing your favourite child. I like all the songs or I wouldn't have recorded them, and different ones rise up to the top of my list on different days. I like "You're Perfect and I'm Not" because that one seemed to get the songwriting for the album going. I like the pop of "No Return" "If This Was Right" and "Contagious".
I like the rock of "Temporary High" and "You Invented Hell" has a cool Petty / Ryan Adams vibe. I think Geoff and Plink did a great job on "Headphones", definitely a different vibe for me. "Deep Freeze" was the last song that I wrote for the album. It was like those last songs you sneak in when you think the album needs "just one more".. 13 in My Head was actually the last song that I wrote and recorded for that album."
How does the song writing process work with you?
The best is when I have an opening line that I really like that comes to me at the same time as a riff and or melody that I like. Those songs seem to write themselves and those are the ones that make it on the album.
Are you slow or prolific?
I'm not Robert Pollard prolific, but I do write a lot. For every song that makes it on an album there's probably three that don't. They don't all get finished, but there's enough of an idea for me to decide if it's going to be a contender.
What would you say were your biggest influences?
Great pop songs. Tom Petty, Paul Westerberg, Raspberries, The Who, Beatles, Stones, Springsteen, Byrds, Slade, Ian Hunter, so many influences. There's new music that influences me as well. Not what you'd find on Top 40 radio, but there's quite a few great indie rock bands out there. and my friends make great records. They inspire me.
How’s the feedback to the album been so far?
Fantastic. Four albums in five years, I would suspect some people might think "why doesn't he take a break" but I've heard a few "best album yet" so that's encouraging. They're not sick of me yet.
If there songs keep coming, keep recording. I have a new live band that I'm having a lot of fun with. More shows in the future with Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men and see if we can take this to some new arenas. (Not like a football arena, but new places.)"
You can listen to Temporary High and Nick's three previous solo albums here. You can also buy those albums there. You can also keep up to date with the Nick Piunti world at his website here. For those who can get to the Temporary High Release show on Friday, details are above. It's a cracking line up.
You can also read the IDHAS Nick Piunti Reviews here.