Complete with brotherly harmonies and warm drum arrangements, the Pernikoff Brothers' first record, "On My Way," garnered praise in the Americana and rock world and netted the band gigs opening for Willie Nelson, G. Love and Tim Reynolds. I recently interviewed the trio, brothers Rick and Tom and drummer Dan Germain, about their musical evolution, upcoming record, touring and future plans.
Will Kyle: What have you been pursuing lately?
Tom Pernikoff: We just got out of the studio a couple weeks ago. We recorded an album with producer Brian Deck. He's produced Iron and Wine, Counting Crows, Modest Mouse, Gomez and a host of others.
Dan Germain: July 19th was the last day.
How'd that go?
Tom: Awesome. We were there about a month. Now he's mixing the record.
Is Brian Deck responsible for those crisp handclaps on [Iron and Wine's] "Boy With a Coin?"
Tom: That's him doing the claps.
Sounds like you're in good hands, so to speak. So you cut the whole record with Brian?
Dan: Yeah, 14 tracks.
Tom: We're gonna have people listen to some before we release it. We are not sure about the release point yet, though. We may release it independently or may go with an indie label. We're going to take our time.
Compared to your previous record, "On My Way," where is the sound of the new record sitting emotionally?
Dan: There is more of a personal aspect to this record, especially lyrically. I think the stories are truly compelling and honest. This comes out in the instrumentation as well, sounding more like a reflection of our work as a trio. Overall, it has a little bit more of a raw characteristic.
Tom: I'd say our first record is more singer-songwriter rock, whereas this is more straight up rock. There are some psychedelic elements, some hard rock elements, but overall, anything that compositionally should have rocked harder on the previous record, now rocks harder.
How has the evolution of your sound and style been organic?
Tom: I think it's all been organic. When we recorded the first record, Rick and I were in San Francisco, performing as an acoustic duo. After we got Dan onboard, we recorded before ever even touring. It was the first thing we really did together. I feel like we became a band after we made that record, so we didn't entirely know ourselves while recording it. What we just recently recorded is more honest. We sound like a band, whereas before it felt like a trio of musicians playing a collection of songs. The evolution came from being on the road together and writing the songs with each other.
Dan: Yeah, like three musicians coming together.
Tom: You'll hear it. We sound much more like a band.
Rick Pernikoff: We also grew into more of a rock sound, which is what we were originally trying to find on "On My Way," using organ over dubs and percussion.
You still sneak in the odd, subdued acoustic number, right?
Tom: We like to bring it down with acoustic stuff. Dan will play some accordion, maybe add banjo.
Dan: Everyone in the band is a multi-instrumentalist. As Rick said, after the first record, we found different instruments essential to fill the live space of the show.
Are you working the new tunes into your live show yet?
Tom: It depends on how long the gigs are. At LouFest, we'll probably play everything from the new record, but if we are playing a two or three hour gig, like in Key West, we tend to play everything we know.
What is it like going down to Key West?
Dan: A blast! We've been down twice. When we went last November right before Thanksgiving, it had a bit of a quiet vibe for Key West, but it was still awesome. Charlie, the owner of the bar we played, the Smoking Tuna, is all about original music.
Tom: He started the Key West Songwriters Festival, which is what we played. It typically runs three or four days. It was fun being in Key West, riding bikes, playing music and hanging out.
Have you found any other spots outside of St. Louis that fit you well?
Dan: Nashville has been great to us. We also played a gig in Lexington, Ky. It was set up like a listening showcase or a storytellers-type show. Everyone was there to hear our original music and expected us to talk about it, too.
So you had to explain the songs before you played them?
Rick: It was the first time we ever tried to explain our songs. It was tough at first, but we got the hang of it.
Tom: I felt like I was telling the same story over and over again.
Who have you enjoyed opening for most?
Tom: We did three shows with Tim Reynolds. When I was young, he essay writing service helped define what guitar playing should sound like. It was cool to play multiple shows and hang out with him backstage.
Rick: He's super nice and inviting.
Tom: They are a trio too and ridiculously talented. The first night we opened with a funky version of "Black Dog." Right before they went on, they told us to stick around for their first song because they were going to dedicate it to us -- they played "Kashmir."
Every band does a soundcheck. Do you find it a chore or a pleasure?
Dan: I think we enjoy it. There is something awesome about showing up to a new venue as an opener and seeing the headliners equipment all over the stage, or even getting to check out their soundcheck before we load in and set up on stage. There is a lot of excitement, anticipation, trying to figure out what the crowd is going to be like.
Have you ever been super disappointed by a small crowd?
Rick: In Toledo, we played for a really small group, like ten people. They were one of the most engaged crowds we ever played for. They all wanted T-shirts and signed CDs afterward. We've also played to bigger audiences where people don't seem that plugged-in. It cuts both ways.
What was it like to open a show at the Pageant?
Dan: We were called like three hours before the opener's soundcheck to fill in as the openers for G. Love, but we were also booked to play the Halo Bar that night.
Tom: That's actually why they called us to open the main stage, because we had played the Halo Bar a couple times before. The Pageant doesn't always decide who opens, sometimes it's the booking agent, but we proved ourselves so they let us take on both that night. We even pulled a crowd for the second set. It was quite the sight, us dragging all our equipment through the Pageant toward the Halo Bar.
Do you worry that success may someday rob your creativity?
Tom: I'm not really worried about it. I feel that we are independent enough that we can call the shots. For us, it's about the music and creativity, we've never tried to write something that is radio friendly. We just write and perform what we think sounds cool.
Rick: I think this most recent album is more creative than the first one. We are still growing creatively.
If you labeled up, do you feel that the label would try to control your sound record-to-record?
Tom: It depends on the label. I'm sure they'd have a say, but at this point, after two records, if we got with a label, it'd be because they like what we've done and want us to do more of it. We are essentially our own label now, as we pay for our own stuff.
Have you ever thought of starting your own label?
Tom: I don't know if we're there yet.
Dan: I haven't thought about it too much. We are still trying to create our sound and continue to create our music, but maybe someday.
Rick: The more we get into it, the more I realize I don't know that much, especially working with a producer like Brian Deck. It is eye-opening to see how much we still have to learn before even being able to consider telling someone else how to do it. One day it could be fun, but right now I'm just humbled by how much I don't know.
Tom: That is a cool idea, though. After a few records, it might be fun.
Dan: Building relationships with other bands plays a big role in that, too.
Any shows you are looking forward to?
Tom: LouFest. Every year the lineup gets better and better. The organizers are doing a great thing for St. Louis, and we are honored to be a part of it.
The Pernikoff Brothers perform at LouFest in Forest Park on Sunday, August 26. 88.1 KDHX is a media co-sponsor of LouFest 2012.