From the cosmos back to Earth, 51 Peg reawakens from a long hiatus to inject its rocking electro/industrial solution into the Baltimore/DC scene and beyond once again, with the quartet speaking with ReGen about the band’s past, present, and future.
An InterView with Jeff Sargent, Carlo Pizarro, Brian Fasani, and Tim Phillips of 51 Peg
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
Hailing from the Baltimore/DC area, 51 Peg stands as a fine example of perseverance and excellence; since the band’s Strange Appointments debut in 2000, the group has become renowned for bridging together alt. rock and electro/industrial with a decidedly melodic sensibility, topped off by a marvelous live presence that has made their shows the stuff of local legend. After the acclaimed sophomore album Esc/Ctrl in 2004 and the 2005 live EP, 51 Peg entered into an eight year period of inactivity that was finally broken with the band’s reunion in 2016. Several shows throughout the next year and a three track EP would follow, signaling 51 Peg’s return with great aplomb, with ReGen being fortunate enough to catch the band opening for Dope in October and once again in January. Suffice to say, 51 Peg has not missed a single step in the interim since ReGen first took notice of the band over a decade ago. Vocalist Jeff Sargent, guitarist Carlo Pizzaro, drummer Brian Fasani, and keyboardist Tim Phillips sat down with ReGen after the band’s performance in January to speak about 51 Peg’s past, present, and future, touching on the circumstances surrounding the band’s reawakening and just what audiences can expect to come from one of the Baltimore/DC area’s most dynamic acts.
51 Peg is back together after nearly a decade, and it was stated during the performance that the band never officially broke up. How did it come about that the band reunited and created the new single?
Fasani: I think it was always the intention, and we never really broke up. We just didn’t have a synth player.
Sargent: Brian, who as far as I knew was terrified of flying on an airplane, found it within himself to get on one and visit me in Arizona.
Pizarro: That’s true, and Jeff had moved away at some point to Tucson. It was more about experimenting, and there was an intention that we would try to make music together, and we started trading files via Dropbox and as technology allowed for it, which it hadn’t before. Things grew from there.
How did Tim come to be involved?
Pizarro: At the end of the previous period, Tim was already starting to come to practice and work with us, and eventually, we all felt that it was going to happen anyway.
Phillips: Yes, it was something that had been on the backburner for about eight or nine years.
Sargent: While Jaime was still in the band, Tim would still come out to a few practices, and we were open to jamming.
Phillips: And then I kept getting pulled away to do other projects, and then I had my run with them and started working with these guys doing other music in another band.
Pizarro: It just made sense to have him in the band now.
When we last spoke, 51 Peg had been in the midst of creating new material for the album to follow Esc/Ctrl. Is any of that material present on the new single?
Pizarro: No, it was all brand new. We have some rehearsal recordings of the stuff we were working on back then, but that all has kind of stayed there in that era. Who knows? Who knows what will happen?
Sargent: I’d like to, but it’s all part of doing a new album, and…
Phillips: Yeah, we’re having a band meeting right now.
Pizarro: Hey, you guys want to do a new album?
Sargent: A lot of people are asking about them because we had started what was some good fucking music.
Phillips: It’s tough because you start working on new ideas, and they become more of your focus.
Pizarro: Yeah, the new ideas are so much more exciting.
Sargent: I think that’s what excites us now, coming up with new ideas, and the three songs on the single… I mean, those are old ideas now, because it was two or three years ago that we started on them.
Fasani: Yeah, I’m already bored with those new songs.
Phillips: They had been brewing for quite awhile.
Phillips: What happened was over a year ago, I was approached about performing live because they wanted to play live again. That got me more involved, because I wasn’t so invested in the band at that time, but I was down for performing live.
Pizarro: We already had an infrastructure in place, so it was a no-brainer. It wasn’t just that he was certainly the guy we wanted to work with, but we were already working with him, so pulling him in and putting together the live show a lot easier. I think we got better results than we expected.
Fasani: It’s really a blessing to have him. It wouldn’t have happened any other way, so thank god you’re here, Tim.
Sargent: Yeah, we are all really psyched that he’s here.
Phillips: I don’t know how well this is known, but I was approached about doing the reunion show, but I thought I would back off while the original four would do that show. But then, two or three weeks before it happened, it turned out that they needed a keyboard player, so that sealed the deal for me.
Sargent: We didn’t even know if he could make it because he had to fly back from his job or something.
Phillips: Yeah, I had to come back early because I was away for my job.
Sargent: I just want to say that I personally love and revere and miss our previous keyboard player, but shit’s way different now and in a lot of cool ways now that we have a great keyboardist like Tim.
Phillips: That reunion show was literally the first time I played with Jeff.
Sargent: I didn’t know who the keyboard player was going to be.
Sargent: That was the fucking show, man! If you could’ve seen or heard that!
Pizarro: There was a lot of energy, but once we were together, it felt like not a minute had passed. I think it proved that we could do this.
Fasani: Yeah, it was totally an experiment. Jeff’s going to fly in, Tim will play keyboards… sure, we’ll play a fucking show. It sounds like a fucking awful idea, actually, right?
Sargent: And now it’s the process! And it works because we know we’re good!
Are you planning on moving back here?
Sargent: Oh, absolutely! It’s only a matter of time, but you know… we’re adults, so we have all those responsibilities.
As far as the new material that you are writing, what are drawing from as far as your thoughts and influences? What is on your mind that is going to show up in your lyrics?
Sargent: Man, I wish you hadn’t asked me that. What do you think I’m writing about these days?
Pizarro: I think you have to look no further than what’s going on. We’ve got clowns running the country and people are revolting.
Sargent: Yeah, it’s pretty standard.
You’d be surprised how many people are in a mode of trying to avoid that though, because it is too depressing.
Sargent: I feel like we kind of have this outer space alien thing back in the old days, which probably came off as like a hook. It wasn’t, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to back away from that without looking like we’ve totally changed our minds or anything. I’m trying to find a way to bring it all back to Earth and combine what we’re dealing with here on Earth in the real world… I mean, I’ve got a notebook that is jam packed – and we can thank podcasts for that because I am a podcast junkie… Joe Rogan is always bringing these intelligent people on. As long as this band has been a band, I’ve been stealing intellectual concepts from people way smarter than me. I don’t steal their words directly, but I try to find poetic ways to retool things that they’ve said that has touched me, and there’s a whole notebook full of it. So we’ve got words, yo!
Fasani: We trust Jeff. I mean, I can say for myself at least that I totally trust Jeff. Sometimes you have a singer, and you just get exasperated thinking, ‘Ugh, what the fuck is he talking about now?’
Phillips: We’re not afraid that any musical ideas we have will be ruined by Jeff’s words; we know that they’ll only be made better, so yes, we do trust him.
Fasani: And that’s where the magic happens. We come up with music that’s pretty decent, and then when Jeff sings on it, it’s like, ‘Goddammit! Now, it’s a fucking record!’
Sargent: On that note, I’ve always strived to never ever, ever, ever, ever have anybody I was ever in a band with… for them to ever say, ‘Your singer’s a fucking dick! He doesn’t carry equipment. He doesn’t play an instrument.’ You know? The way to do that is to be superior in your craft, so I always…
Fasani: Are you trying to humble brag?
Fasani: You’re the shit dude. You don’t have to sell yourself.
Sargent: No, but I always try to make sure that the people I’m in a band with are not threatened or annoyed. I try to make sure they don’t hate me and say, ‘Oh, that guy doesn’t do shit!’ I try to show up and carry gear even though I don’t play an instrument, although there was a period of time when I was a bass player, and I had a huge bass cabinet.
Fasani: Oh yeah, many incarnations ago!
I have never been disappointed by a show of yours, and you read the ReView, so you know how I feel about 51 Peg.
Sargent: We’re still nothing, but we were already nothing back then when we first met you.
When I was writing that ReView and I was listening to the songs over and over to really sink into them, my girlfriend said to me, ‘Why the fuck aren’t these guys famous?!’ I thought, ‘You’re asking me? I don’t know the magic formula.’
Sargent: You know, we hear that a lot. It is a kind of self serving thing to say, but we really do hear that a lot. ‘I don’t understand why you guys didn’t make it!’
Pizarro: It’s like catching lightning in a bottle, and it’s very difficult. People just think that if you’re a good band, then things will just magically happen. And maybe that has for some people, but not for us, for sure.
Because of the way the industry is, because of the way bands are now having to find their own ways to release music… and 51 Peg clearly knows how to utilize technology, both musically, visually, distribution-wise, what are your thoughts on the next step for technology to remain useful and not become a detriment?
Pizarro: Technology is great right now for making music, being in different locations… but getting your music out there to the people; sure, it’s easy, and we have things like Bandcamp. But you have about five billion assholes on Bandcamp, and it’s hard to break through the noise.
Sargent: Pop has eaten itself.
Pizarro: Yeah, absolutely, and nothing against anybody at all, but there are a lot of people there, and on the internet, it’s really hard to get heard through the noise.
Sargent: You know what we have going for us? We really don’t fucking care.
Fasani: Yeah, we did care for a long time, but I think now, we’re past the point of caring and we just make things for our own love. Hopefully, people show up, and fuck man, people showed up tonight!
Sargent: We have reached the point where we, without question, are doing what we are doing because it makes us happy. It was fucking awesome tonight to watch people get really happy because of what we’re doing. But even if they hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t have given a fuck, because there were four people on that stage who were really happy tonight. I mean, I was.
Pizarro: Maybe that is it – not caring, putting your energy into something you love doing, and not caring what anybody else thinks… maybe the universe will work in your favor and help you out a little. I don’t know. I have no answers.
Sargent: Look at Faith No More! That is what I base most of what we’re doing right now, that new Faith No More album. We don’t have differences – 20 years, and we don’t have differences. Those guys have problems with one another, but they put them aside and recorded their own fucking album in a warehouse in fucking Oakland, and it’s amazing! It’s so fucking good! Brian and I have talked, and we feel like, ‘Okay, we’ve got this!’
Phillips: We need some adversity and some controversy between the four of us, and then we’ll record and album. That’s how that’ll work.
The last time we spoke, we were talking about genres, and you’d mentioned that hip-hop guys would come into the studio where you were recording and they’d say, ‘Dude, that’s dope!’
Sargent: Man, who was that?
Pizarro: We had a guy on the first record, a DJ…
Sargent: Yeah, Scratch n’ Snake!
Pizarro: We called him DJ Scratch n’ Snake because he snaked somebody’s lighter or something…
Sargent: He stole some shit from us.
Pizarro: He was a DJ and he poked his head in, and the next thing you know, we said, ‘Hey, come on in and scratch on our record.’
Fasani: And that became ‘Conditioner’ and ‘Apology.’
Pizarro: Yeah, the ‘I need help’ sample and the scratching on those songs… that was him.
Fasani: Yeah, and now you couldn’t hear those songs without those sounds.
Sargent: We couldn’t get booked at The Black Cat because the scratching sample of the woman saying, ‘I need help,’ and the female booking agent at The Black Cat would not book us because she took it as a misogynist statement. I remember that it was a vinyl 33-inch, and it was a public service recording about doing drugs, and the woman was like, ‘I need help.’ He scratched that and it’s on the song.
Anyway, so the question I was laboring toward is that while you are somewhat under the umbrella of industrial/rock, you incorporate elements of other genres, and many bands are doing that now. Do you feel like genres are going to or should disappear?
Phillips: I think that there are way too many subgenres, and that tends to blur the lines when you have that many subgenres, and people will ask, ‘What do you sound like?’ I mean, the answer is just going to always be vague.
Sargent: I feel like if we were going to be ‘industrial,’ based on my opinion and on our process, I feel like we’d have to dumb it down.
Pizarro: I think if we get people to listen to it, they can buy into our feel, because we have a feel more than anything else. If you buy into the feel, and you can hear the guitars, the drumming, the singing, the electronics… well, then you’ll like us.
Sargent: That’s why you know about us. I don’t know why that scene picked us up, but they did, and we showed up and gave intelligent lyrics and a melodic presentation. I love industrial music, and when I hear it, I love it. But we gave those people an option that they didn’t think they had before. I feel like we’re the second Pink Floyd that you’ll never hear about.
I like that.
Pizarro: It’s not a formula that industrial has prescribed or anything like that. The guitars are very harsh and in-your-face, and we have guitars and electronics in our music, but I’d like to think it’s deeper, more lush, and there are more textures that…
Sargent: It’s melodic!
Pizarro: Yeah, it’s melodic and things are put into the format of a song, more akin to The Beatles rather than something that just repeats.
Sargent: The Carpenters, Journey, Styx… you know? Paradise Theatre is one of the greatest fucking albums ever made.
Fasani: And The Downward Spiral, man.
Sargent: Yeah, man!
Pizarro: Honestly, I think with Nine Inch Nails, it’s the same thing. You buy into a feel.
Sargent: And he fucking means it!
Pizarro: And that’s the thing, because… why bother with labels? We’re all inspired by him. But as far as our genre, I don’t know, man. I’d just say come feel us. Give us a little squeeze and see how you like us.
Phillips: Come check out this new subgenre called 51 Peg!
Phillips: Oh, well… actually, they sound like 51 Peg!
So, what’s next for 51 Peg?
Pizarro: More music, man! Hopefully, we’ll do something more in the way of a full-length album.
Fasani: Yeah, we’re working on a full-length album, and Tim’s fully involved now. Now that we’ve got this show out of the way, I think we’ll probably be more focused on it.
Sargent: Yeah, we’re going to chill on the live shows, and it’s all right because it’ll be worth the wait! I’d like to think that the next time we play live, you’ll hear at most two old songs, and it’ll mostly be new material. You know, when you go to see a band play, and it’s like, ‘Fuck, I don’t know any of this!’ I think we might do that. At our level, we can get away with it, and I think people will like that.
I certainly do.
Fasani: Trust me, it was a fucking miracle that we were able to play some of the old songs, because we didn’t have Jaime anymore.
Oh, you more than did ‘Stalemate’ justice.
Sargent: Tim did like science or something…
Pizarro: Yeah, I actually don’t understand the sorcery behind what Tim did to replicate those old sounds.
Sargent: What is this sorcery?!
Pizarro: He would say, ‘Oh, I don’t really know how to do this.’ And then all of a sudden, the sounds were there!
Fasani: Yeah, he just showed up, and it was done.
Pizarro: And it was authentic sounding. I don’t know what you did, man.
Phillips: It’s its own art form to be in a cover band, and I approached it like I was covering 51 Peg. And now, with the new stuff, which is great, I get to put my stamp on it. I grew up playing the old songs, and actually performing them is a great feeling, but now it’s great to be playing new songs that I have a hand in helping to create.
Pizarro: I think the goal now would be to play a show a year from now that is 85% new material.
Sargent: We’ve got the process down, and it took two years to make three songs. It’s going to take one year to make the new album.
Photography by Tabetha Patton (MizTabby) – October 15, 2016