Many people would be angry, bitter, and lose much of their motivation after what Casket Salesmen
vocalist/guitarist/bassist Phil Pirrone
went through in 2005. After a promising, yet unsatisfying run with his former band A Static Lullaby, Pirrone was in a car accident that left him with a ruptured spleen and liver, collapsed lungs, and in a coma. Amazingly, the entire experience has been one that Pirrone
has embraced whole-heartedly.
Following his recovery, Pirrone set out to create a band that would make the music beyond what was heard in his former screamo band. Along with another ex-A Static Lullaby member, guitarist Nathan Lindeman
, Pirrone is now ready to unveil the Casket Salesmen's style: a musical hybrid that meshes the jam band sound with the progressive and hypnotic nature of Pink Floyd. Pirrone recently talked with Ultimate Guitar
about how a seemingly horrible incident paved the way for finally making music he loves.
UG: Your new record, Sleeping Giants, seems to incorporate a lot of influences from classic bands. When you were writing the songs, did you gain inspiration from any bands in particular?
Well, I have to say that not only do classic sounds, classic artists shape our music, but they shape us. I have to say that Nathan and I are heavily, heavily influenced by people like Les Claypool, Mike Patton, David Crosby, Roger Water, David Gilmour, and The Beatles. I think that to us, those are real rock groups there. Those are real musicians. I mean, I'm 22. I should be listening to fucking Korn! But I don't, I just don't. I listen to fucking King Crimson and Pink Floyd. My mom raised me on Queen and The Beatles and stuff like that. So I'm just a little bit different, I guess. A lot of kids born in 1984 were brought up on Madonna and Paula Abdul.
Other artists that are not from the past, but modern, also shaped us - like Tool and Smashing Pumpkins and Bjork and Foo Fighters, who are obviously influenced by all the classic rock bands. I could go on and on about that stuff. I love it.
You got an early start in music during your time with A Static Lullaby.
|"We have believed there's this muse in the sky who's looking at all of us, and at certain points picks us."|
When we were 14 years old, we were like, We can't go skateboarding! We've got to practice.
So I just got real, real serious about playing. By the time I was 17, I was dropping out of high school. I was going on the road with my band. I was signing the record deal with Columbia. I was putting out a record and being told by my homestudy teacher that it wasn't working out. So I had to drop out of high school, go on the road.
A Static Lullaby started getting really popular. Our rider would have been filled with cases of beer and alcohol, and lots of our fans would bring us drugs. I only smoked pot. So anyway, as a 17, 18-year-old kid on the road, I started becoming very jaded, very negative. I became mean; I became nasty. Not like all-around as a person - I was still a good guy. When I look back at the guy I was before the accident, I go, That's a good guy, but the root of him on the inside is black and it's just starting to spread. And the second it gets to the outside and everybody else can see the blackness, it can be bad news.
I didn't know it at the time. I just know it now looking back.
In what ways did the car accident change your life, both musically and personally?
I'm not a religious person at all. The accident didn't bring me back to a Christian's idea of God. I am not an atheist in any way, shape, or form. I believe in God, just not Christianity's idea of God. The next thing that happened, it's almost as if God decided, Oh well, this kid is fucking up so badly. He could do much more. I have to smack him in the face.
That's what it felt like it was. I felt like it was just God going, Hey, you're fucking up. I put you here to do some cool shit. So stop fucking up and don't do that shit because next thing you know you're gonna be 30 and no one's gonna care. So go do it.
I just kept getting this urgent feeling of, I have to go do something. I have to do what I need to do.
After I got out of a coma, I was sitting in the hospital and the only thing to watch was VHI or fucking PBS. I don't know what it was, but I feel like it was God smiling down on me like, I know you're bored and stuff, so you're going to watch a White Stripes documentary on TV.
I'm not the biggest White Stripes fan, but when you put it in context and all you have to watch is music documentary, you're like, Oh, sweet!
After watching that, I became a huge fan of Jack White.
But back to the point, I felt this urgent feeling of, Quit the band. You're not happy.
And I wasn't. Every year I became less and less interested in making screamo music for a living. The bottom line was I thought, I've got to turn this around.
On the other hand, I wasn't feeling like, I have to be a different person. I have to be happier.
All that shit just happened. Right after the accident, I asked them, What happened? What am I doing here?
They told me and I didn't freak out at all. It was just like, Okay.
Something in my mind clicked.
The car accident sounds like it changed your outlook dramatically, as can be imagined.
I just feel like this incredible connection with the earth and this incredible connection with myself - more in tuned with the universe than I've ever been. And I know that in a way, too, I'm ignorant, which is the best part! I get to fuck up and be more in tune and more happy and more aware. It's gonna be great.
They say that every 7 years, you regenerate every single cell in your body. So technically, you are a completely different person. I'm 2 years away from no longer being the same dude that I was in A Static Lullaby. Making this Casket Salesmen record with Nathan, we did it ourselves. It's the fist record we've produced ourselves. This is like a huge cleansing experience. I don't know. I'm happier than I've ever been.
Was there a difference in the songwriting approach while you were in A Static Lullaby?
|"You have your whole life to write your first record, but you only have couple months to write your second."|
Oh, yeah, absolutely. In the early days of A Static Lullaby, Dan and Nate wrote a lot of the first record. I didn't write much music. I wrote a lot of vocal parts and lyrics here and there. The second one was tough. You have your whole life to write your first record, but you only have a couple months to write your second. Those couple months were all the aftermath of what just happened with the first record. So your second record is never gonna be anything but the result of what you're gonna do because of what just happened, with all of the first record, the touring.
So we're writing this record, and Nate and I were desperately trying to encompass this whole jam aspect. Nate and I have believed there's this muse in the sky who's looking at all of us, and at certain points picks us. Like, I'm going to channel through you. Here we go!
And you just feel it. You need to have a pad on your bedstand. When you contrive it, when you think of it, when you strategize when you're like, What do our fans want to hear? What's hot? Blah, blah, blah.
When you do that, that's when you lose. I felt like there was a little bit of that strategy going on in our second album. I always saw it as like, We're a band of brothers. We're a team.
It just became more of a regular routine.
Was Nate unhappy in A Static Lullaby as well?
He had had a bunch of skeletons for these songs written already. Nate and I had been thinking Casket Salesmen was going to be a side project. Ryan (Knights, drummer in the live stage show) hadn't played drums on them and I hadn't put vocals over them yet. I think those songs were Nate's therapy during his unhappiness in A Static Lullaby. By the time we left the band, Dan pretty much hated everything Nate wrote, and Nate pretty much hated everything Dan wrote. When you're in a band and the two main songwriters hate each other's writing so much, they can't work together. It can't happen. It's not that they don't love each other; they still do. They're still friends. Nate and I, we were just like, We should go.
No offense to any single one person who has bought a Static Lullaby record over the years, but I'm over that shit. I'm just not into it. Frankly, I think it sucks. In a way, I almost feel like, God, look how stupid I used to dress in high school!
Like, that's how I feel. I'm not ashamed because if it wasn't for it, I wouldn't be here right now talking to you. I wouldn't say I'm exactly proud. I don't think it's my most prestigious accomplishment. I have a lot of issues because of it.
Have you added any other members other than yourself and Nate?
Right now, it's just officially Nathan and I. As far as band decisions get, it's ours. As far as writing the record and the songs and producing the record, it's ours. But Ryan Knights, the guy who played drums on our record, he's - at least for the time being - our drummer. And he is in the band as far as I'm concerned. But he's also in another band called Mythmaker, who is on my label (Longhair Illuminati) and a band that I believe in so much that I won't do it to them. I just won't do it. I believe in those 3 people in Mythmaker. When they make music together, I believe in it so much that I have to find another guy. Justin (Gutierrez) and Ryan, the rhythm section of Mythmaker, play the rhythm section in Casket Salesmen. They play bass and drums when we play live. I play bass on the record, but when I play the guitar, Justin plays live. And Ryan plays on our record and he plays live.
I don't think we're ever gonna add a third official band member. I think we're forever going to stay like a Ween, Queens of the Stones Age, or a Mars Volta. I think Mars Volta is the best example, but hate to use it because people have compared us so to Mars Volta so much. I don't want people thinking that we're strategically trying to be like Mars Volta.
Do you consider Nathan and yourself kindred spirits in a way?
|"The accident didn't bring me back to a Christian's idea of God."|
Yes, absolutely. Nate and I make each other laugh all throughout the day. We became partners in crime on tour basically over those years in being in a band together. You go on the road and you go to different parts of the world - you can't walk alone. Nate became my buddy. Then we started writing together on our second record. We got a connection musically more so than the others. That just sort of grew and it took on a life of its own.
When we moved in together, we became like the same person almost. At that point, it's when Casket Salesmen was born, whether we knew it or not, when we moved in together and started writing. Bringing those songs to A Static Lullaby knowing, Where is Joe going to go? How is Joe going to scream over this? What riff or solo is Dan going to want to do over this?
Now we no longer have to include them now that we're no longer with the band. Yeah, Nate and I are definitely kindred spirits. We're soulmates.
You also play guitar, but does Nathan come up with most of the riffs?
Nate would show me them, and Ryan would hear them and just jump on the drums. We would just start playing. At this point it was like, Oh, who are we going to get to play drums?
And Ryan was playing with us! One day I was like, Dude, why doesn't Ryan play drums?
He just kept jamming with us.
We fleshed out the songs like that. Nate would have the skeleton of the song. He didn't have like a lead or a solo track written yet. He did all that in the studio in himself as well. I would play bass over it and he would tell me what the root was. Then I would write the lyrics. I started writing right after the accident when I was at my dad's house. I would be up all night and write.
How did you decide on adding horns to Anaheimlich Maneuver?
We talked to our friends Chris Sheet and Steve Borth. They both used to be in RX Bandits. I had Chris Sheets come up one day and do the part. I'm like, You know, I want like horns or something that are one of those variety shows.
Chris is like, All right, all right. I get what you're feeling.
He went in and did some stuff. It was so silly! I was like, Bah-bah-da-bah!
Like sing the horn parts! He was like, All right, yeah!
We would email the files - thank God for Pro Tools - to San Francisco to the boards. He did it in an afternoon, e-mail it back, and we were like, Wow.
I know this may sound silly or may sound contrived, but it's not. I swear. When listening to these songs, especially when we were recording the horns in the background, I hear things that aren't there. I hear drums. I hear horns. It's going back to that whole muse thing. I feel like I don't have any control over it. Maybe that's my subconscious manifesting itself because I look up to Brian Wilson so much. I heard Brian Wilson say in an interview, I would just see the notes in my head. I'd write them down, the next day I'd go to the piano, play the notes, and this is what I would get.
He would start playing one of the most classic Beach Boys songs.
Do you have specific guitars, basses, and amps that you prefer?
I would love, love to gush and gush about gear. I've been ordered by the engineer, Justin Gutierrez, that we are going to keep what we use on the record a secret. But what I can tell you is what we play live. I play a 1935 SVT Ampeg amp. It's not a reissue. It's actually made in '35. It is amazing! It's like the best bass amp that I've ever heard. I've used it on like 3 records already in my life. Nate plays an Orange AD140 guitar amp. I play a Bad Cat 112 amp live. I have a 1981 Rickenbacker guitar. Yeah, I love it! Nate has a couple of SG's, 1958 reissue. He plays a Marshall cab that is upholstered orange because Nate has red hair!
What has been the reaction to your band at live shows? Do fans mention that the Casket Salesmen are offering a bit more to the music scene?
|"The American youth've become so immature and so materialistic, it's so bad"|
I feel like for some Static Lullaby fans, the sound goes over some of their heads. I'm sure that a lot of people who have come to see us have walked away going like, That's not necessarily Static Lullaby stuff.
But a large number of people have come up to me and made it a point to tell me that they feel like it's important. It is because when I hear it, it just means so much. They tell me 1 of 3 things: I was a huge fan of A Static Lullaby. To be honest with you, you're my favorite part. You're my favorite bass player.
They really look up to me and they say, Thank you for doing this. I really, really like it. I've grown up and I've grown out of that style of music. I'm really happy you're doing this.
It just makes me feel like the whole world is moving with me. They get it! They're not sticking in one spot.
Then I'll get the, Dude, you guys are bad! You guys are bad! My friend told me that you were in A Static Lullaby, but that was shitty. But this is bad!
I'm personally not offended, but they don't realize they might be offending me! The third thing is people just having no idea that we're ex-members of anything. It's like, Wow! Man, you guys are amazing. So refreshing!
All in all, I'm hearing what I need to hear, what I want to hear. It can't be like everyone in the world is in on this huge joke and one day everybody's gonna be like, Oh, just kidding! You guys suck!
I don't know if that's gonna happen at this point. It just seems like everybody seems to see the same thing.
What do you think of some of the bands that are in the music scene right now?
I feel like some bands will sell a few records and have a band, have a career for a couple of years. But where are they going to be in 10? Where are they going to be in 5? After 2, 4 years, they're gone. I feel like if the world is really in need of something and if your music is it, then the world will tell the rest of the world about it because they can't help themselves to not. Bands like Tool, Radiohead, Frank Zappa, go out there and play and change people. People see that and they're literally changed.
The American youth have become so immature and so materialistic, it's so bad - but they have no good examples. When I was a little kid, I turned on MTV, and Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Soundgarden, Tool, Radiohead in their heyday came on. Our examples aren't mainstream even. It was better, meant more, there was more substance, less imagery, less rock star-ness. Now with the Hawthorne Heights and the 30 Seconds To Mars and The Used, everything is so like how you look how you dress, the makeup, the gimmick, the revenge, guns, negative, negative, negative! These negatives are turning are kids into fucking idiot zombies. It's really bad.
I think that I'm young and I have lots of energy, and I feel like maybe I'm the guy to be 1 person trying to put an influence on everyone else. Like, He's doing it this way and doing well!
If it wasn't for Mike Patton, I wouldn't be around. I wouldn't be here. So hopefully I can serve as a Mike Patton-type image to someone else. Because if Mike Patton hadn't left Faith No More and he hadn't done all these things he's done musically and done them on his own turns, then I wouldn't believe that it was possible. I hope that I'm that influential to someone in that much of a positive way.