On Dec. 5, 1996, the Pee Pees — then a four piece ’80s cover band — graced the front cover of Weekender as one of the Wyoming Valley’s hottest acts.
Today, founding member and veteran drummer Bill Lieback took up a new instrument and made original music under the same moniker. Now a duo, the Pee Pees will release a self-titled rock album, featuring songs written by Lieback and recorded and produced with the help of partner Eric Ritter, on May 13.
Lieback said the motivation for the record came from wanting to be musically autonomous.
“I never thought about writing songs, because I was always with talented people that wrote, and I never had to,” Lieback said. “When you’re a drummer, you always have to rely other people. You can’t go out and play unless you get other people. I said, ‘I’m going to learn guitar and just go out and play.’”
Taking up his old band name was a decision based on a mixture of wanting to use a familiar label and having a bit of luck.
“The reason I decided to do this as the Pee Pees was because it had a history already, a name around here,” Lieback said. “Then I looked up thePeePees.com, and it was available. Can you believe it wasn’t a porno site or something?”
The original Pee Pees lineup was put together in 1995, when Lieback and brother Pete found two members and decided to perform ’80s songs to fill a needed niche in the Wyoming Valley music scene.
“The band only lasted two years, but we did a lot in that time,” Lieback said. “We opened for Eddie Money, the Scorpions and Alice Cooper … all up at the Bud Light Amphitheater that used to be at Harveys Lake. It ended up being really good, and then we just called it quits like that.”
Lieback would go on to play with twins Ian and Eric Ritter, recording original music in Cider, which eventually became New Past Life. His connection with Eric would continue after the band dissolved.
Recording in Ritter’s Lake Ariel studio, Windmill Agency, the pair broke rock and roll down to a simple form with Lieback writing songs on the guitar and relinquishing string responsibilities to Ritter in favor of his drum kit.
Liback said he likes the no-frills feel of a duo, and citing groups like the White Stripes and the Black Keys, he said he doesn’t see a need for more players.
The new album is refreshingly rock and roll, dark and grungy and frenetically punky and fun. The condensed pairing of drummer and guitar player produces a sound neither overproduced nor underwhelming and has a clear feel of authenticity.
Lieback, not one to shy away from influences, said the sonic elements drew from inspirations like Led Zeppelin and the Foo Fighters, while lyricism and song structure took pages from the books of Weezer and R.E.M.
As far as lyrical subject matter, each of the 11 tracks came from Lieback’s mental landscape, dealing with thoughts and emotions both serious and comical.
The album’s opening track “Calling All Stars” is a reflection on Lieback’s battle with depression.
“It’s like when you’re asking, ‘Please get me through this,’” Lieback said.
Another tune, “Repeat,” sees Lieback poking fun at the repetitive lyricism of modern music.
“‘Repeat is really R.E.M.-ish,” Lieback said. “It ended up coming out really cool, because I wrote it in the tempo of “It’s the End of the World As We Know It.’ It’s funny.”
“The Pee Pees” will be available on iTunes and at Joe Nardone’s Gallery of Sound locations. Information about the release is available on the band website at www.thepeepees.com and Facebook page at www.facebook.com/THEPPEES.
Lieback’s humility is matched by his desire to let the new music stand alone and be seen as a successful effort.
“I won’t play in bars anymore,” Lieback said. “I don’t want it to go backwards. I always like ending on a high note, so why keep going if the crowds are thinning out? I want people to remember that it was good.”
Lieback and Ritter are considering less conventional methods of sharing their music through live performance.
“I saw a thing that this guy is doing. He’s one of Prince’s proteges. He plays acoustic guitar, and they’re going into convenient stores and just jamming out. They do it for nothing, and they just sell their stuff.”
Lieback confirmed live performances are in the works, but the duo will be selective where they play.
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or Twitter @TLArts