Cascading guitars jangle like windchimes in a squall as they tumble through a layer of aural fog. Echoing vocals emerge from the mist and hover weightlessly. Phil Pucci’s lyrics seem to evoke a rock ‘n’ roll tale of living fast, dying young and leaving a good looking corpse. In reality, they convey a giddy mix of yearning, mourning and dread: “Me and Gina flying in the backseat/A crime that pays … Summer nights, we’re taking pills and falling down fire escapes.”
With his solo project Invader Houses, Pullover founder Phil Pucci strikes off in a direction that diverges from his main band. The project’s debut single “Me and Gina,” which drops on Bandcamp May 9 and premieres here, charts a soulful psychedelic course where melody and mood take precedence over rocking out. With reverberating guitars and percolating acoustic drum samples, it’s a dream-pop/R&B hybrid weighted with the eerie frisson of a well-told ghost story.
There is a real Gina at the core of “Me and Gina,” Pucci says, but the song is concerned with a life choice she symbolizes for him.
“When I was a kid growing up in New Jersey [she was] my best friend’s older sister,” Pucci says. “In my mind she was the archetype of being cool. She epitomized this other world that I was sheltered from.”
When Pucci moved to Charlotte he emulated this notion of living on the edge, striving to be reckless and cool. In time, he pulled out of the seductive self-destruction practiced by his peers. He got out before it was too late.
“When I sing about Gina it’s a symbol of a certain type of lifestyle that I was trying to live for a while,” Pucci says.
“The pandemic forced me to engage with music in a completely different way,” Pucci says. After stints as front man and guitarist for Charlotte bands Serfs and Melt, and promoter for the cutting-edge music festival Reverb Fest from 2014 to 2017, Pucci had found his musical niche with Pullover. The group garnered Best Band in Queen City Nerve’s Best in the Nest 2020. “Beat up Car,” a surging bucolic pop gem that conjures memories of Big Star, earned a shout out from NPR’s All Songs Considered blog. Pucci and the band played a handful of dates in early 2020 to promote their new album Forever. They were poised for bigger and better things.
Then the pandemic struck. No longer able to tour or play the songs from Pullover’s album, Pucci decided to hone his music-making skills at home. He first jettisoned the 2010 MacBook pro he had been struggling with for years to record and mix music. Next, he started taking production lessons from an instructor who goes by the name Underbelly. After building himself a new computer and learning the ins and out of Ableton production software, Pucci embarked on a D.I Y. project, a one-man-band that goes by the name Invader Houses.
“I learned how to build a song from scratch, and how to make some parts sound more interesting when they’re bring programmed by a computer and not being played by a human,” Pucci offers.
Unable to engage with music by playing live shows, Pucci ended up keeping in touch with his muse by learning to make music sound as good as he could. The end result is more beat-oriented, lyrically darker and less rock ‘n’ roll than Pullover.
When it comes to Pullover, Phil Pucci and the bass player Caiti Mason work together on how they want the band to sound, Pucci says. Mason wants the band to rock hard, while Pucci’s tendency leans more towards pop. Pucci credits Mason with keeping him on point with the band’s trajectory, but Invader Houses offers Pucci a chance to invest in melody.
“I love to rock, but I grew up on Philly soul, Wilson Phillips, and all these people who didn’t rock that hard,’ Pucci says. “They just crafted the best melodies they possibly could.”
In the past, Pucci has concentrated on melodies and added lyrics later, often ad-libbing words on the fly. But in recent years, Pucci’s approach to lyrics has grown more serious, and that evolution may have found fruition in Invader Houses’ “Me and Gina.” The focus of the song is the lyrics and the cautionary story they tell. Although living life on the edge is an attractive and seductive mirage, a trope too often glamorized in rock songs, Pucci believes it’s a lifestyle based on just barely escaping disaster – until you don’t.
And death keeps coming out of our control/Yeah, we’re just running from the final blow
“The best thing I could hope for is that somebody will relate to this story of feeling trapped in a reckless lifestyle, this feeling of gloom,” Pucci says. “If not that, then I hope this song gets stuck in their head.”
Become part of the Nerve: Get better connected and become a monthly donor to support our mission and join thousands of Charlotteans by subscribing to our email newsletter. If you’re looking for the arts in Charlotte, subscribe to the paper for the most in-depth coverage of our local scene.