There's a moment in every
show by Even In Blackouts when the group unplugs its instruments, pushes the
vocal mikes aside and performs completely acoustically, briefly turning the
harshest rock-club environment into a quiet living-room hootenanny.
It would be an audacious move for any rock band, but it's even bolder
considering that, regardless of its choice of instruments, the Chicago
quintet is otherwise a driving and energetic pop-punk band, and it's led by
one of the giants in the genre, a man who's inspired Green Day, Blink-182,
Sum 41 and dozens of other groups.
John "Jughead" Pierson spent 15 years as the guitarist, co-founder and
primary motivating force in the hugely influential Screeching Weasel. Though
it went on hiatus and returned several times during its turbulent history,
the group finally came to an end about two years ago. Pierson has always
thrived on the energy of live performance--his other outlet in addition to
punk rock is as an actor and writer with the celebrated Neo-Futurist theater
troupe--and he eventually grew frustrated with bandleader Ben Weasel's
reluctance to play live.
PINK LINCOLNS, EVEN
IN BLACKOUTS, THE DUTCHMEN, GEEZERS
*5 p.m. Saturday
*Fireside Bowl, 2646 W. Fullerton
"Ben and I always said that it wouldn't be the band without either of
us," Pierson says. "That was my thing, touring, and after all of that went
away, I became less and less important to the band. The thing that's
different about us breaking up this time is that it's the first time that I
decided to call it quits."
After spending so much of his time as pop-punk's Keith Richards to
Weasel's Mick Jagger, Pierson decided it was time to form a band of his own.
But he came up with a unique twist on the formula. "After 15 years of being
in Screeching Weasel, I wanted to do something that was a little bit
different, but I didn't want to go against my influences," he says. He was
vacationing in Italy, sitting in Palermo and strumming on an acoustic
guitar, when inspiration struck in the form of a song called "Missing
The tune questions the need for a generation to have artists they believe
in, and the difficulty for those artists to find a reason to create. "It's
this urgency to see thing differently/Giving one another distance for out
vanity," it goes. "We are in search of a missing manifesto/We are in search
of a myth."
"I never really wrote my own lyrics before--I wrote for the theater, but
I never really wrote songs--and then something just came out," Pierson says.
"And since I wrote it on the acoustic, I really wanted to do an acoustic
project, and I just came up with the idea of getting punk rockers together
to do some acoustic songs. I specifically auditioned people who were punk
rockers instead of acoustic players, and I wanted a bunch of young people
who would be anxious and willing to tour."
Pierson initially thought the band would only perform live--the name came
from the acoustic nature of the project, since it would be able to play
"even in blackouts," sans electricity--but as the sound came together, he
felt compelled to capture it on tape. After an initial limited run on his
own label, the group's stellar debut, "Myths & Imaginary Magicians," has now
been reissued with wider distribution on Lookout! Records.
In shaping the sound, Pierson was largely influenced by New Jersey's
legendary Feelies, a band that often employed sparkling acoustic guitars at
frantic, revved-up rhythms. He wanted a sound that was beautiful yet
compelling, fragile yet powerful.
"We sat around for six months learning how to do rhythm without drums,"
he says. "I wanted to focus on getting the same energy out of an acoustic
guitar that you can get out of an electric. Once we got that going, we found
our singer, Lizzie Eldredge, and then we went in the studio."
A strong and self-assured singer with a pretty but gripping voice,
Pierson found Eldredge through a fortuitous coincide. "We were at [producer]
Mass' [Giorgini] studio in Lafayette, Ind., and she was just hanging out,
visiting some friends that were recording. She wasn't there to do vocals,
she was just singing along outside the door, and Mass heard her and knew
that I was looking for a female vocalist. He just grabbed her and said, 'I
have somebody that would like to meet you!'
"Lizzie had never been in a band before and she fit perfectly," Pierson
continues. "I had all these auditions lined up for other singers, and she
came in and sang a Screeching Weasel song she'd never heard before,
and I was like, 'OK, auditions are over! We've got our singer.' That
happened with all the musicians; the first three people I auditioned I wound
up putting in the band."
It didn't take Pierson long to find his voice as a songwriter. As a
playwright, he honed the ability to couch poignant truths in sarcastic and
sometimes absurd humor. (His work is collected in a strong anthology, The
Incomplete Philosophy of Hope and Nonthings.) But he always tried to
keep his theater identity, Ian Pierce, separate from his punk-rock alter
ego, Jughead. With Even In Blackouts, the many sides of Pierson at long last
come together under his own name.
"I think it hit me as sort of a shock that I could write a song," he
says. "I just never realized it until I was sitting there without the band,
without 15 years' worth of luggage with Screeching Weasel. I think the one
that probably really did it for me was 'For Pete's Sake,' the one about my
friend Peter who died in New Orleans. It's just one of those things--suicide
hits you, and I tried every medium to try to put forward how I felt about
that, and I was finally able to do it in a song."
The band has been busy touring since the release of the album--in
addition to playing rock clubs, it often books what it calls "living-room
shows," performing acoustically for groups of 20 or 30 people in their
homes--and the buzz is starting to build. "Most places we've gone, the
people who are running the venue actually come up to us and say we haven't
seen something this fun or original in a long time, and that's probably the
best compliment we can get," Pierson says.
Even In Blackouts is gearing up to record its second album--Pierson plans
to invite guest musicians to contribute a range of other acoustic
instruments this time, from banjo and trombone to violin, cello and
piano--and he is busy writing a novel, Weasels in a Box, to tell his
side of the Screeching Weasel story, complimenting Ben Weasel's version,
Like Hell. (Pierson has published all of these tomes through his
independent press, which can be found online at www.hopeandnonthings.com.)
Though he is clearly moving forward, Pierson isn't turning his back on
his past: One of the best moments on "Myths & Imaginary Magicians" is a
spirited acoustic cover of Screeching Weasel's anthemic "Hey Suburbia."
Shout out your request and Even In Blackouts probably will perform it when
the group takes the stage Saturday at Fireside Bowl, opening for Pink