RH Interviews Pity Sex
We sat down with guitarist and vocalist Brennan Greaves to talk about their new record White Hot Moon, neon elephants, pop, broken hearts, and all things Pity Sex, the self-described “nicest Midwesterners you’ll ever meet.”
Record Hospital: So you were in a hardcore band in Ann Arbor, Michigan, before you started Pity Sex. Can you tell us about your experiences with that and how it affected what you do now?
Brennan Greaves of Pity Sex: Yeah, me, [drummer] Sean St. Charles, and [tour bassist] Michael Politowicz played in a band called Direwolf in Ann Arbor. We were all going to school either at Eastern Michigan University or University of Michigan and played a lot of shows at a place called the Metal Frat, where Pity Sex still practices. We wrote most of our record there, we’ve played a lot of shows there, I lived there for a brief time and Sean and Michael lived there for a couple of years during school, so it’s a place with a lot of history for us, and the place where I first started to experience music in a very DIY way. That’s when we originally met [guitarist/vocalist] Britty Drake, who was also booking shows out of her house in Grand Rapids. She had us play in her basement and we just kept going back and forth between cities. So we were just kind of brought together through music. It was a very meaningful time for me.
RH: Why did that end, and why did you decide to change your name and sound?
PS: I think a lot of us were heading in different places, even though a lot of us stayed in Ann Arbor. [Direwolf] vocalist John moved to California, everybody was getting close to graduating, and it was a very transitional time — Ann Arbor can be a very transitional place. I think we had probably been playing shows for close to two years and just decided it was a good time to continue on and do other things.
RH: How’s it been touring with PWR BTTM?
PS: Are you guys fans?
RH: We’re big fans. They have a very messy and provocative style — what do you guys think of that? Has it had any effect on what you guys do?
PS: It’s pretty hard to describe. [Liv Bruce and Ben Hopkins of PWR BTTM] are two of the most creative and comfortable people I think I have ever met. I know sometimes I definitely have a difficult time knowing what to say, and dealing with expectations for what the experience of a show should or could be. And to see them — I mean, it’s only been two shows, but both nights they have just been incredible musicians and incredible performers, and I’m very excited to watch them on the rest of this tour.
RH: It seems like part of what makes them really cool is the fact that they derive strength from saying the things that you wouldn’t expect them to want to tell you. Do you feel like that relates to the sort of confessional honesty in Pity Sex lyrics?
PS: I think you have a great point with that. They’re very open and honest people with who they are and what they want to do with this band, and I feel like they do it in a very provocative way. In a way, I think we are also doing something similar, but the delivery is totally different. I think it’s just a different sort of energy.
RH: Your lyrics often speak about longing and the unresolvable, but you’ve also talked about them as sort of gratifying, fulfilling an expectation of something that’s “overdramatic” or overwrought. How do you think or write about these things that you’ll never be able to get, and why does this sort of paradoxical gratification resonate with people?
PS: That’s a pretty deep question, and I know Sean is probably the one who answered that question. I don’t actually write any of the lyrics with the band, and that can create an interesting sort of three-part decision making process between me, Sean, and Britty to get the vocals to that final result. But I guess I can speak to what Sean and Britty's lyrics mean to me when I sing them. I feel like love, the search for love, what it means — to me it seems a little bit doubtful at times. I think through music you can get some sort of resolution to that longing for what you’re trying to find in life, even if it’s something that just lives on in a song and isn't something that you can necessarily get in your everyday life.
RH: Sean has also talked about catchy one-liners and how they can hit you. Is that a kind of gratification, even though it hurts you?
PS: Yeah, I mean I think that comes from us all enjoying pop music in a way that lyrics and the delivery can have a hook and it’ll get you. I think we’re all fans of that sort of thing in music.
RH: You guys have mentioned that you were thinking more about pop with White Hot Moon. Who did you look to in order to move further in that direction?
PS: As far as inspiration, pop inspiration?
RH: Yeah, who are your favorite pop stars?
PS: Oh man. Especially when [regular bassist] Brandan Pierce is in the band, we end up listening to and kind of dissecting pop music on the radio. I’m talking Top 40 sort of stuff, music that is down to a formula to induce fun, but it’s done in a way that I think we all find interesting. I feel like most of us are into a lot of 90's pop, whether that’s guitar rock/pop or R&B pop, or any sort of stuff. I feel like there’s a lot of elements that are shared across the board.
RH: Is there a role for fun in music like yours?
PS: I think so. I think it takes a balance, especially if you’re writing a song that has a sad sentiment to it. It can be fun to mess around with the tempo, or just the feel of the music.
RH: On some level there has to be fun for you guys, right?
PS: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I love going out and getting to play my guitar every night, and you want to be able to bounce around a little bit at times.
RH: What do you think about what [Pity Sex label] Run For Cover Records is currently doing? What do you feel like your sound has in common with your label-mates?
PS: I think Run For Cover is, at its core, a label that really lets their bands and artists do what they want to do. And as a result, that has drawn a certain sort of person to the label. I know from our experiences over the years that we’ve been on the label, we’ve gotten to do whatever we’ve wanted creatively, and they’ve always been there to support us. They’ve evolved quite a bit as a label and it’s been cool to see that over the last few years, as they broaden the types of bands or types of people on the label.
RH: Run For Cover started with pop-punk, right?
PS: Yeah, it definitely did, and I would still consider everybody on the label to be pop in some way. [Run For Cover] definitely has that sort of sound to it, with bands like us or like Elvis Depressedly, even if it’s not pop-punk like the early days.
RH: What does the word “emo” mean to you? Is it a genre, a “movement,” an aesthetic? It seems like it can sometimes not really mean anything.
PS: I think I might agree. I just turned 27 two days ago, and I honestly don’t know what emo means to me anymore.
RH: Happy birthday!
PS: [laughs] Thank you.
RH: Are there things in your music that you would define as a hallmark of emo music, or would you not even call yourselves an emo band? You’re also a shoegaze band and a pop band.
PS: Yeah, I don’t know. I think [the emo aspect] is still there in a way. I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about it, quite honestly, but it’s still there for sure.
RH: What has commercial success meant to you and your music? Or do you feel you’re not there yet?
PS: You know, it’s interesting. We all work quite a bit in various different careers while we’re home. I went from working forty hours a week in a screen printing shop right into playing music here, basically just to pay my bills and afford things that I want. So as far as commercial success goes, this is definitely our first big tour where we’ve gone to play places like this, the Sinclair, where — what more could you really ask for in a venue? It’s really, really nice and extremely professional, so I would say in that regard we have reached a comfortable level of success coming from a very DIY place.
RH: Do you like the success?
PS: It definitely makes going on the road for months at a time a lot easier. I don’t miss having twelve people packed in a van, with two bands sharing gear for three weeks. I definitely have fond memories, but probably because I’ve forcibly removed the bad memories from my mind. [laughs]
RH: Why is there a neon elephant on the cover of White Hot Moon?
PS: That is a photograph that I took out front of an arcade in Ann Arbor called Pinball Pete’s. It’s a theme that’s kind of run across a lot of things we’ve done, and it’s a place that I think aesthetically looks really, really cool. It’s like this classic, basement arcade, and they have all this great neon. We started discussing what we wanted the look of the record to be, and we wanted to still have a collage look, so I did my best with that photograph to have a lot going on, but still have some points of interest visually. That symbol of the elephant itself definitely has personal meaning amongst a few of us in the band.
RH: A pointed question for a band of sad love songs: who broke your heart first and do you still care?
PS: Oh man, it’s getting real personal. [laughs]
RH: You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to. Or you can give us a lie, or a half-truth.
PS: Sure, I’ll give you a half-truth for that one. When I was a junior in high-school, my first girlfriend went on a trip to Germany with her roommates. It was like the first time we’d been apart. We’d only been together for three or four months tops, but it was just one of those relationships. And she came back and had met somebody on the trip, but didn’t tell me or was afraid to tell me. So I ended up going to meet her at the airport with her family, and she gets off the plane and was basically like “it’s over” right there. So I had to drive back with them and was completely heartbroken the whole time. That one really hurt for awhile, but you move on from these things.
RH: Pity Sex is perfect music for an abject mood. Who or what do you listen to when you hate yourself? Do you ever listen to Pity Sex?
PS: Even with access to pretty much all of the music that exists on my phone, I find myself searching for the same things over and over again. You have all of the internet right there but it’s like, I want to hear the same things when I’m in that sort of mood. At this point I honestly just search on YouTube and listen to records while I’m at work or in my car. I like to listen to Neil Young, he’s got some incredibly powerful music. I really, really like Kurt Vile. I feel like his lyrics can be fun, but also destroying at times. He has a lot of wisdom with what he’s doing with music, and it definitely struck a chord with me recently. I do [listen to Pity Sex] to practice. Honestly, we recorded this album about a year ago, and I’ve been listening to it, trying to get some sort of subjective view on it ever since then. I still find myself enjoying the songs, and now that we’re finally playing them live, I’m discovering them in a totally new way. I think it’s a good record. ❦
A big thanks to Pity Sex for sitting down with us. Their new record White Hot Moon is available now, and you can check it out here.