Mic CheckMusic

Phil Pucci and Pullover Go Sunny Side Up on ‘Forever’

Pullover (from left): Brooke Weeks, Alex Smith, Phil Pucci, Nick Holman and Caiti Mason. (Photo by Brian BT Twitty)

Phil Pucci is a happy guy, but that hasn’t always been the case.

The former front man and guitarist for Charlotte bands Serfs and Melt, and promoter for the cutting-edge music festival Reverb Fest from 2014 to 2017, has never been a rock ‘n’ roll wild man, but the music he’s made in the past has frequently flitted between angst, wistful yearning and doubt.

Riding a roiling wave of grimy reverb-drenched guitars, the songs on Serfs’ sole album Day Hang suggest the Apocalypse filtered through subterranean garage rock. Melt started as a side project, but pushed to the front of Pucci’s queue when Serfs disintegrated. With Melt, Pucci and drummer Alex Smith jettisoned Serf’s noise for loose-knit and swooning shoegaze focused on the ups and downs of single life.

The band’s September 2016 debut Repossession Blues, is a Melt record that now plays like Pullover finding its way. Recorded by Pucci and Smith with David Scanlon and Brett Green splitting bass duties and Courtney Williams contributing extra vocals, the songs on the disc are certainly warmer, fuzzier and fizzier than Serf’s echoing blasts of punk pop, but anxiety and melancholy still bubble under.

As bassist Caiti Mason, guitarist Nicholas Holman and keyboardist Brooke Weeks joined Pucci and Smith, Melt’s music softened and sweetened enough to prompted a name change. As a teaser to Pullover’s new album Forever, which dropped today on Self Aware Records, the band released a trio of singles.

Last November, the Queen city was treated to “Beat up Car,” a surging bucolic pop gem that rides Pucci and Holman’s ringing guitars to a big swarming chorus that conjures memories of Big Star. The galloping chamber pop of “Dream Away” followed, featuring harpsichord-like keyboard stabs that pay tribute to synth pop. In early January, “Ride” beguiled listeners with a cloud layer of strummed guitars rolling over low and rippling post punk bass.

Tonight, on the new album’s official release date, Pullover will play Snug Harbor before taking the new tunes on the road for a February tour that will stop in Tennessee, Texas, Louisiana and Georgia.

Happily married for two and a half years and working at School of Rock as a music instructor, a gig he calls the best job he ever had, Pucci is content, but far from boring. Finally at peace and comfortable in his skin, he’s creating the most compelling music of his career.

Queen City Nerve: The last time we talked to you was in July. What has happened since?
Pucci: Actually, not a whole lot. In July our album was finished [but] it had yet to be mastered. It took a while for it to get out. [There were] a lot of moving parts involved. We played some shows. We recorded another single that we’ll put out some time later this year. It’s called “Sentimental Song,” and one of the last new songs we had that we had not recorded yet. It’s a personal favorite of mine.

Pullover (Photo by Samantha Presta)

What’s the difference between Repossession Blues and Forever?
There’s a world of difference because [in 2016] we were a different band, which we solidified by changing our band name. That album was a collection of songs that me and Alex had been kicking around town for a year or so. I like that album because it sounds like a freewheeling project. In my opinion you can tell that some of those songs were written in five minutes. To be honest, we were writing and playing a lot of those songs while we were drinking a lot and hanging out. There’s some emotional weight to it, but we also didn’t overthink a lot of things.

Then Serfs, the band I was in, broke up. That made me wonder what I wanted to do musically and made me realize how much fun Melt was. So it made me work harder and take it a little more seriously and think things through a little more. Since then we’ve amended our lineup. That has just changed the dynamic completely and we decided to change our band name because it felt like a totally different band. On one hand you can tell those two albums were written by the same person, but you can also tell that it’s worlds apart as far as how we approach the songwriting and production.

How did Brooke, Nicholas and Caiti come into the fold?
Caiti and Nicholas are longtime friends of mine. We’re always on the same page musically. [They] joined the group first to fill out our lineup for our release show for the last album. I was almost hesitant to ask them if they wanted to keep doing it. I thought that they wouldn’t want to join this group beyond that, but by the time of the release show [we] had created a space where we were playing well as a four-piece.

Pullover (Photo by Brian Twitty)

Then I started messing around with keyboards. That made me want to add synthesizer and keyboards to our band. I was hanging out with Brooke, who I have also known for a long time. I knew in the back of my mind that she played keyboards, but we never talked about it and I never thought to ask her about it. She said, “Let me join your band. And I said, “Let’s go.”

When the five of us came together it became so obvious that we were [meant to be]. All five of us have been friends for at least seven or eight years [and] I’ve known Alex for 15 years. It’s great to be in a band like this.

You’ve said in earlier interviews with Queen City Nerve that you write melodies first and then you ad-lib vocals just for the sound of the words. How important are lyrics to you now?
In the past, lyrics haven’t held as much weight for me as they do now. I always love to make music that’s focused on melody. Melodies make me feel something. When the right melody is put on the right set of chords, to me that’s really beautiful. It almost doesn’t matter what the words are. Sometimes when I’m talking about music with my friends, it’s hard to relate to how they hear music because a lot of people are attached to lyrics, whereas I’ve never been that kind of person. Granted there are plenty of songs out there that have lyrics which have really resonated with me and made me feel something, but by and large I’ve always been attracted to sounds.

But lately I’ve been thinking a little bit more about lyrics. With the album we’re about to put out, there are a couple of songs that I started writing the lyrics the day that we were recording them in the studio. I have gotten really good at ad-libbing stream-of-consciousness lyrics live. A lot of the lyrics on the album are a product of [me] singing whatever came into my mind.

But I set a rule for myself: From now on, before we play any song that we write, I have to have lyrics for them. Melody is cool, but music should say something, too. I’m starting to reckon with that a little more as a songwriter.

Looking back at your discography, do you see autobiography?
Yes. When I look at the two albums that I put out two years ago, the one with Serfs and the one with Melt, I can hear the anxiety and how upsetting everything felt around that time. With the forthcoming album Forever, it feels like the opposite of that. I’m still an anxious person, but there are a lot of things I have going in my life now that I want see [highlighted] in certain songs so I can hang onto [them], which is a foreign feeling for me.

In the past couple of years, I have given up drinking and smoking cigarettes, and in a lot of ways I’ve settled down. Forever is an album about wanting to sit back and appreciate the good things you have going for you.

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