Reminiscing on the band’s debut album, 51 Peg celebrates 20 years of releasing music to the masses with a new EP and speaks not only about the band’s future, but also the future of live music in a post-pandemic world.
An InterView with Jeff Sargent, Carlo Pizarro, Brian Fasani, & Tim Phillips of 51 Peg
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
With a sound that draws on the best elements of progressive and alternative rock, industrial and electronic, topped with melodic songwriting, 51 Peg is a band that continually impresses with each new release. Based primarily in the Baltimore/DC area, the group released its Strange Appointments debut album 20 years ago, followed by 2004’s Esc/Ctrl, both of which received much acclaim despite the band remaining somewhat under the radar of widespread attention. Although a long decade of silence followed, 51 Peg returned with a new EP in 2016, which then led to the A\VOID album in 2018; the record and the intensity of their live shows solidified not only all of the hallmarks of the group’s sound up to that point, but also the strong working dynamic of its members. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has placed an unfortunate halt to live concerts throughout 2020, 51 Peg still demonstrates artistic determination with the release of the new Cut the Wire EP, presenting three songs that find the four musicians continuing to evolve and create a musical niche all their own. ReGen Magazine had the opportunity to speak with vocalist Jeff Sargent, guitarist Carlo Pizarro, drummer Brian Fasani, and keyboardist Tim Phillips about the creation of the new EP, discussing the progression of the band’s working and creative approach with a few hints of what is yet to come, and some reflections on 20 years of releasing music; as well, we discuss the benefits of technology and the future of live musical entertainment in a post-pandemic world.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of 51 Peg’s debut album. Reflecting on all the changes the band has seen in that time, what would you say has specifically had the biggest impact on the band’s creative goals?
Sargent: I would definitely say the biggest impact has been my sheer distance from the rest of the band. Whereas it has the expected negative impacts and challenges, we have discovered a surprising amount of positive impacts stemming from the methods we are forced to employ. I feel like we are able to be much more fruitful, under the circumstances, than I would have ever predicted.
How much would you say the band’s original vision has changed, and what do you feel you’ve achieved or perhaps even surpassed over the last two decades?
Sargent: I don’t feel as though we ever tried to adhere to any specific vision. We have always just followed our hearts and indulged in whatever made us happiest to our own sense of taste.
Fasani: I think we have continued to improve and put out art we are proud of, which will hopefully continue to be the progression.
Prior to the A\VOID album in 2018, you released the self-titled three-track EP, which also signaled the band’s return after a long hiatus. Now, you’ve released Cut the Wire – do these three songs represent where 51 Peg will be taking its music on the next album release? Or is a full-length album actually in the current plan?
Pizarro: A\VOID took a lot out of us. It was a huge chunk of music to put together after such a long break. It sort of set up the formula to how we could keep putting out music despite Jeff living across the country. With the Cut the Wire EP, we wanted to write some songs with simpler arrangements, and we may stay on that theme for what comes next, but you never know.
Sargent: I think we are just taking positive artistic progress as it comes and getting it out to the world when it feels like it will be most impactful.
The last EP and A\VOID presented the new lineup with Tim Phillips now on keys and synths, along with original members Brian Fasani, Jeff Sargent, and Carlo Pizarro. Now that this lineup has been together for several years, how much do you feel your writing partnership has strengthened?
Pizarro: I think that now we know everybody’s strengths and we’re all open to each other’s opinions and suggestions. I think as a result, you get a variety of ‘feels’ from song to song, which I hope appeals to the people who listen to our music.
In what ways do you think the audience will be able to hear this on the new material?
Sargent: We have certainly matured sonically and otherwise as a group, and it seems to be the most frequent critique I receive in regard to our newer music.
Fasani: We all have different styles, but I think we always end up sounding like 51 Peg, even if there are many different ways to get to that final result.
It does seem like smaller EP and single releases are more economical and allow for artists to release more material – or at least, the same amount of material, but in an incremental time span, rather than making fans wait for a full-length album. With this in mind, what are your thoughts on the album format, both as it pertains to 51 Peg and in the broader sense of music as a whole?
Sargent: Sadly, it seems that the idea of consuming music as part of a larger, more thought out presentation is an idea that is fading. Content heavy and well thought out albums have always been my favorite way to consume music and is what I’ve always striven to accomplish as an artist. Now, it seems, the challenge is to include as much of this concept as possible within smaller, more manageable musical releases.
Pizarro: I love the album experience, but maybe that’s a thing of the past. Not to say we won’t put out full-length albums, but right now, maybe little chunks of music at a time are easier for today’s listener to consume.
Fasani: Putting together a full-length album is a long process. I think as a musician, it’s easier to stay motivated when that dopamine hit of releasing music is pushed up in the timeline. Budgetary concerns are a thing too – less songs equals less money spent on studio time. As a listener however, I still prefer a thought out audio/visual concept that rewards repeat listens.
What are your thoughts on the resurgence of vinyl? There seems to be a greater appreciation for the packaging – bigger artwork, more space for liner notes, feeling more like a tangible work of art, etc. What do you think about it? Since 51 Peg always has a great selection of merch items, would a vinyl release be something the band might be interested in?
Sargent: I think a vinyl release would be a great way to capture the ears of new listeners. We are a very sonically deep and technically motivated group that would certainly appeal to the audiophile vinyl consumer, but as Tim states, it’s terribly cost-prohibitive.
Fasani: It would be completely self-indulgent, but I would love to put A\VOID out on vinyl as it’s something I am really proud of and has meaning for me. I may have to fork over the money one day to make it happen. I am sure there at least a few people who would pay to own a copy.
51 Peg has established a reputation as a formidable live act as well, and now, live music is in a great deal of turmoil due to the COVID-19 pandemic – numerous tour cancellations, clubs and venues being forced to close indefinitely and perhaps permanently, etc. What possibilities do you foresee for live music to survive or evolve in the wake of the current situation?
Sargent: It’s a tough pill to swallow. I suppose, if nothing else, this will all make it easier to identify who the most hardcore art lovers are and perhaps find a way to provide them the entertainment they desire.
Pizarro: Right now, it’s hard to foresee the return of live music this year, but when we return to the live stage, I think the band and audience will have a greater appreciation for it.
Fasani: Hopefully, this all this gets sorted out by 2021 and live music can return. It’s encouraging and discouraging at the same time to see other countries beginning to turn the tide on the virus. Wear a mask and vote.
On the other hand, a livestream obviously doesn’t hold the same power as a live show, but as it’s become part of the status quo, what sort of possibilities do you see for bands to use new and online technologies to keep music alive and maintain the excitement of audiences?
Pizarro: The livestream for us is tricky with one member so far away, but you never know. I would love to put something together.
Now that Cut the Wire has been released, what’s next for 51 Peg that you can tell us about?
Pizarro: There are always musical ideas floating around out there, so definitely new music, but with the current state of the world, it’s put some of our plans on hold.
Sargent: I believe that what we are currently working on will become something that our purest and oldest fans will really enjoy. It’s still in a very infantile state, but it’s already a small collection of material that has me more excited than I’ve been about creating music than I have been in a while.
Photography provided courtesy of Stereo Vision Photography