Sitting in the lobby of a Pittston hotel on a drab and rainy Sunday for an impromptu interview following a recording session with the inimitable Bret Alexander, Jack Pyers’ casually toned-down appearance couldn’t be any further from the image for which he’s best known.
The same can be said about the music he’s working on, but more on that in a bit.
Pyers, from 1986-1990, was the bassist for Pennsylvania-based hard rockers Dirty Looks. Prior to that, he was a member of the popular Susquehanna Valley rock outfit Harpo. Pyers did time in Dirty Looks during that band’s most successful period, in which they released two albums with Atlantic Records — 1988’s genre-defining “Cool From The Wire,” and 1989’s “Turn Of The Screw.” Dirty Looks saw MTV airtime with flashy videos like “Oh Ruby” and “Nobody Rides For Free,” working with notable producers like Max Norman of Ozzy Osbourne/Megadeth fame, and playing all the storied venues of the day like Baltimore’s Hammerjacks and Brooklyn’s L’amours.
Led by the larger-than-life, Bon Scott-esque stage persona that was lead vocalist/guitarist Henrik Ostergaard, Dirty Looks solidified themselves as one of the truly underrated and hardest touring bands of the era – perhaps unfairly lumped into the “hair band” wasteland by the leather jackets and Aqua Net that plaster their album sleeves to be taken seriously by the critical elite. Nonetheless, Dirty Looks always wrote great songs that were never lacking a hook – leading perfectly into what Pyers is doing musically at the moment.
“For me, I had no ability to go back,” Pyers explains of the musical situation that brought him to his solo acoustic venture about three years ago, one that is building to an eventual debut CD. “Henrik had passed away, and the Harpo thing wasn’t available either. I had no ability to re-kindle any of those old relationships.”
Turns out it was a very un-rockstar “folk” collective of sorts for the Selinsgrove-based Pyers that lit the fuse upon which he’s currently burning, musically.
“What it is really, is a bunch of old hippie-type people that get together once a month at someone’s house and just jam away,” he says with a laugh. “I’d heard about this thing, so I went to one, and it was so refreshing and organic. Nobody had any expectation of doing anything more than just getting together with a bunch of friends and having some fun jamming.”
Falling in love with this “free and easy” concept, Pyers picked up an acoustic guitar and started attending sessions, spurred on by the somewhat foreign, yet intriguing musical mindsets.
“You get all those different phrasings and new chords,” he says of the folk-inspired philosophy, “so I got all that and I was picking up on it. I got to the point where I wanted to go out and play some shows.”
Joking his skill level didn’t allow him to play someone else’s material, Pyers admits the idea for his initial solo acoustic outing was all original.
“If I can hear it in my head, I can sing it,” he said. “I can’t go out and sing a Bob Dylan song or a James Taylor song; I just don’t have the chops to do that. This is very exciting, though, because it’s all new – stripped to the bone, just you there with an acoustic in front of a few people.”
To date, Jack Pyers released several solo tracks via online outlets like CD Baby and eMusic that could weave in and out of several genres, from alt-country to straight up Americana – stuff that would sound incredibly cool as the soundtrack to a Tarantino film. Songs like “Stay,” “Cowboy Song,” and “Hold My Head” could easily be outtakes from a lost Mark Lanegan or Nick Cave recording session, bursting with late-night cigarette cool and wistful abandon.
“It’s very sub-conscious for me,” Pyers said. “I just get hooked on those couple of chords that give me something that I can sing against. I read this interview with John Fogerty once where he said that when he writes, he doesn’t sing actual words, just sounds. When you go back and listen to your little tape recorder, you can go back and hear ‘blah, blah, blah,’ it sounds like ‘this’ or ‘that.’ I think, ‘oh, it sounds like I said ‘that’ – I’ll go with ‘that.’ That’s how it works for me.”
Working with Bret Alexander on past tunes and the current batch that will fill the eventual full-length album is a labor of love for Pyers. The pair actually go back a ways to their common Central PA stomping grounds. Pyers produced the 1993 “The Unfortunate Result Of Spare Time” album from Alexander’s former band, The Badlees, and, interestingly enough, had a hand in giving early studio time to the then-burgeoning members of Breaking Benjamin through Pyers’ home studio “Hopefully, in some little way, I was able to influence those guys, or at least give them a positive studio experience”.
“When Bret and I did the first couple songs, it was just a mic on the guitar, mic on me, and boom,” Pyers says said. “Now, as I progress, I can get the guitar track done and I’m confident enough that I can get on pitch, vocally, and then go back in and redo the vocals. There have been those moments, recording with Bret, where the stars align. ‘Still Be Mine’ was one of those moments – that vocal performance comes across really well. Personally, for me playing guitar, I love ‘It’s Alright.’
The prospect of more live shows is on Pyers’ mind and he expresses his intent on doing more of them in the area. He pokes fun at himself trying to find his own stage demeanor for these still-fresh live experiences.
“It’s like, ‘I actually have to get up here and talk to these people!’” he laughs. “I never had to format that give and take with the audience; there’s something to be said about guys who are very skilled at that. I’m booking shows now at places like coffeehouses and wineries so I can hone that skill. Fortunately for me, I had a guy like Henrik who was a master at it, but I really want to develop that rapport.”
After all, it’s the intimacy and expression of Pyers as singer/songwriter that gives this music its appeal – he’s well aware of it.
“The level of success I achieve with this is all going to be based on whether people enjoy the songs,” he said.
Mark is a Northeast Pennsylvania-based music journalist who’s enjoyed interviewing legends like members of Iron Maiden, The E-Street Band, and Hall & Oates, right down to the garage band next door - intrigued by a great musical story on any level.
To hear some of Jack Pyers’ music online check him out on Facebook, facebook.com/jackpyersmusic.
Or download his music at Cdbaby.com/artist/jackpyers