When we were selecting bands for the 2006 Boise Weekly Local Music Festival, the PirkQlaters were an obvious choice. Their high-energy shows are always crowd pleasers, they're great musicians, and the bars and clubs they've played are always glad to have them back. Plus, the Pirks have a new release--Last Stand--due out on May 16 and as good as it is, I figured I'd better get them confirmed for the festival and an interview before the album hits the shelves because once it does, these guys are going to be one hot commodity.
Brian Rambur, the Pirks' manager, arranged a time for me to meet with two members of the band, and at 8 p.m. on a Wednesday night, I walked in to the Red Room where lead singer/guitarist Ryan Sampson was working behind the bar. We were joined shortly by saxophonist/back up vocalist Justin Andrews (who also slings brews at the Red Room). Sampson put Last Stand on the bar's PA and we got down to talking about who the Pirks are and why this CD is their best yet.
As of April of this year, the Pirks have been together--albeit off and on--for seven years. In that time, they've faced their share of hardships: a breakup in 2001, the loss of their good friend Mikey Sanchez in 2003, a 2005 tour schedule that would test even the most stalwart of performers, and a show late last year that embarrassed them to the point they almost called it quits for good. So they changed their lineup, squared their shoulders and with both with band personnel and their music found the spark they need to ignite their career and prove that hard work does (eventually) pay off.
The PirkQlaters are Sampson, Andrews, Chris Strader on bass, Luke Strother on trombone, and newest members Zak Gilstrap on lead guitar and Chris DeVino on drums. With this lineup, they've created a unique ska/punk/pop/metal sound with the potential for huge appeal. And, they're done messing around. With Gilstrap and DeVino on board for only a short time, the Pirks took to the studio on April 4 of this year and with the help of producer Andy A., had an amazing product in about a month's time.
As Sampson poured another round, he and Andrews told me that they are more proud of this album than anything they've done to date. "This album is the shit," Andrews said. Both he and Sampson rattled off a number of songs they believe will make great singles ("Bi-Poland," "I, Raymond" and "Tired"). "[These songs] don't sound like anything else out there right now." I asked them about the new sound coming from Sampson: screaming. "We found out I could scream about a year and a half ago," he said. "I'd always tried it, but my vocal chords would give out. We were playing some of our older songs and just thought it would be good in one of them so I just belted it out. The band stopped and said, 'Can you do that again?' I said, 'I don't know. Let's try it.' We did it again and boom! I nailed it again." It's this screaming and some heavy guitar riffs (on songs like "Bi-Poland") that make the CD what Sampson called a "rock and roll ska record." It's a mix of new and classic PirkQlaters sounds and both Sampson and Andrews are excited about the blend and what it means to them as a band. "There are metal bands out there, but no one has done it like this before. There's no band on the planet doing shit like this: horns and screaming," Andrews said.
Their Mohawks, tattoos and classic Vans show outwardly that the PirkQlaters approach most things with a "no fear" attitude. This attitude is reflected in their music as well. Last Stand is a typical 12-song CD, of which five songs were written years ago. They took those five songs into the studio, and while they recorded them, wrote six more, so this isn't a group of songs they've been working on for months or practicing in front of crowds. That may be the main reason all of the songs on the album sound fresh. All of the tracks are raucous and energetic and there's something on the CD for die-hard Pirks fans and new listeners alike. "Last Stand is a good transitional record," said Sampson. "Five songs on it are older and then there are the six new ones. You get half an album that's poppy like the last [album] and half where there's screaming and the songs are a little harder." I asked them if they thought the album would be well-accepted. "I think it will be," Sampson said. "People have been waiting for this for album for five years."
When I asked who writes the songs for the band, Andrews pointed at Sampson and said, "He does." Nodding his head, Sampson said, "Either Chris Strader or myself will bring a [song idea] to the band. I'll hand it to Chris. [We'll] tear it apart and put it back together. Then the rhythm section will learn it, then hand it to Luke and Justin to write the horn lines and then I'll write lyrics over the top of it."
Clearly, the PirkQlaters' horn section gives them an edge, both visually and musically. Strother and Andrews make playing the trombone and the saxophone look cool (band geeks rejoice) and there's nothing gimmicky about them. They are talented musicians and when they're on stage, they rock just as hard as the rest of the band.
With seven years and seven personnel changes behind them, Last Stand might just be the breakout hit the PirkQlaters need. "We decided it's time to go big or go home," Andrews said. It doesn't look as though they'll need to pack it in any time soon.
Last Stand hits shelves May 16 with a CD release party and free in-store performance at Record Exchange at 7 p.m.. On May 20, the PirkQlaters will play the Big Easy stage with Bridging States, Datura and Death in December. It's an all-ages show, it starts at 7 p.m. and admission is only $5. More at www.myspace.com/pirks or www.thepirks.com.