The 11 best Pile songs, picked by Rick Maguire
There’s a linear arc to Pile‘s 15-year history. It began as the solo project of Boston singer/songwriter Rick Maguire, then a member of Hel Toro, before eventually becoming a proper band. Then they became a louder band, embracing more of an abrasive post-hardcore urgency as they became one of the flagship bands of Exploding In Sound Records. Then they became a more unpredictable band, weaving in elements of folk and country that skewed well outside the expected palette of a punk band. And since then, they’ve continued to find an interesting balance between experimentation and immediacy, making the most of a guitar-bass-drums lineup without being limited by it.
With Pile’s new—and arguably best—album All Fiction out now via Exploding In Sound, Maguire gave us not 10 but 11 picks for the best Pile songs, including a bonus track so every release is covered.
“Nude With a Suitcase”
from All Fiction (2023; Exploding In Sound)
Rick Maguire: It was a joy to write that song. A lot of them can feel like a slog at times, or that they’re just challenging—hitting a lot of brick walls in trying to make progress on them. But that one was just fun. There were plenty of things that work, but some of them just worked better. I like the melody of the song, where the structure ended up, and also I felt that because I liked the composition of the song so much, there was freedom to try different things texturally just to see what would take. A lot of the synths, or synth sounds, are just a sample of my voice. I’ve always liked that sound when I program it to a keyboard, and just the warbliness of it. And lyrically, I felt comfortable being abstract without having to justify to myself that there’s some hidden meaning. This is what’s coming out and what makes sense to me. Rather than have it being a direct metaphor, it was just an abstraction of a feeling.
Treble: You said when this single was released that it was your favorite song that you’ve written. Is the ease in which it was written connected to that?
RM: I think that’s a big part of it. But at the same time there are other songs that came together pretty quickly. But there’s something about this, I wanted to continue working on it. In some cases I feel like: this is what it is, and it’s done and it’s a natural stopping point. I do feel like I could have kept writing it and kept going for a longer period of time. But at a certain point, I had to just leave it where it is.
from All Fiction (2023; Exploding In Sound)
RM: So that song I started writing in twenty…sixteen I think? Maybe 2017. I guess the opening section and the verses, those came about then, but the actual—in the band we refer to it as “the riff”—where all the strings come in and everything, I had started writing that in, I want to say, 2013? But it never felt right. So I just spent a bunch of time on it and ended up landing there. There are other songs I’ve worked on, too, where you can hear how over-engineered the songs are. Not in terms of like an audio engineer, but trying to put all these things together and it’s very clear there’s lot of thought to where it’s arguably overcomplicated. This one, I was deliberately trying to keep it simple, not too indulgent as far as how long things go, but the indulgence probably lies more in the strings. I was really pleased with how it turned out. We got a string quartet in the studio, who were just friends. And we brought them in in to hear what the chemistry was, and so to hear them play this song I had been working on for the longest time made me feel pretty emotional, which is a thing I’ve chased. I hear other people’s music and I want to make something that makes me feel that way, which is a really difficult thing to capture. When you spend a lot of time with something, it’s like repeating a word over and over, it starts to sound strange after a while.
from All Fiction (2023; Exploding In Sound)
RM: Around the same time, 2016, I was working on stuff, trying to write some new things. And it wasn’t happening. It wasn’t coming out. At a certain point, I had that idea and those chords and it was pretty straight ahead and whatever. Then I started just kind of messing around with it on acoustic guitar. And the song itself I just started writing about giving up on trying anything. It was both giving up and just an acceptance of this is a thing I want and it’s just not happening. And the song just kind of came out that way. It’s existed for a long time and didn’t fit on any record until now. And after that point, when I wrote that, I wrote a bunch of stuff—at the time I was just staying at a place by myself. My folks owned a cabin in North Georgia that they’d rent out, but in January nobody would stay there, so I just stayed there by myself and I figured this was a great time to try and write stuff. For a while, nothing was happening. Once i worked on that song, I just felt free to write a bunch of stuff. And a lot of those ideas ended up on this album. Some of them were more half baked and some more fully formed, but that just felt like an important song to me.
“I Don’t Want to Do This Anymore”
from Songs Known Together, Alone (2021; Exploding In Sound)
RM: That one started off as an instrumental tune on A Hairshirt of Purpose, and yeah, because fo the timing of everything and the pandemic and wanting to be active, I felt like I could write a song around an idea that already existed. That was fun. I never experienced anything like that where it’s just like: here are a couple ideas, you can do whatever you want with them. I wasn’t beholden to lyrics or anything. It was just new. And yeah, I’m happy with how it turned out.
Treble: Several of these songs have evolved over time and been revisited. Do you find that’s something that happens often?
RM: There’s definitely ideas I’ve just had for a long time. Whenever I feel like “I’m not writing anything right now” there are old ideas I revisit, just to see, is there anything happening here? Just to kind of wake up those ideas. So it’s nice to have them around and have them develop over time. When I start getting into the mode and have a clearer idea of what an album is going to be, I start to see that this is going to occupy a clearer space in it.
from Green and Gray (2019; Exploding In Sound)
RM: The band was just in a different spot at that point. It was the first time we had two members that lived in different cities. So up until that point we were practicing once or twice a week and that was the rhythm that we were in. And it was the first time we were practicing every day. We had a two week period and then a couple days off, and it was just like that. I knew kind of what I wanted to do with this, but a lot of the specifics weren’t nailed down. Because of the way we were practicing, I could bring an idea to the band, we’d play it and record it, and I could take it home and edit it. I also just knew how good Chappy (Hull, guitar) and Alex (Molini, bass) are, so I could throw anything at them and they could adapt. We’d practice it over and over again and learn it, and again, just where it ended, it was difficult to see whether or not it was just an over-engineered thing, and some might argue that it is, but I’m happy with just where it landed.
“Keep the Last Light On”
from Odds and Ends (2018; Exploding In Sound)
RM: That one was fun. It’s not often that there’s an exact story I can point to that a song is about. It’s a song about someone, without getting too specific, who was in an extreme sports world. They had everything going for them, top of their class. And they had an accident that changed their life completely. They were going to have to live the rest of their life on life support and just not be the same personality. Hearing about it from the sibling who experienced it, plus the sibling’s experience, just really impacted me. The recording of it was with Mark Fede, who was in Bad History Month when it was still Fat History Month. Ben (Rector) from Dust of 1000 Years played banjo, and the recording of it was a pretty fun experience. And it was just bringing together people we had known and cared about for a long time.
“Leaning on a Wheel”
from A Hairshirt of Purpose (2017; Exploding In Sound)
RM: That one, compositionally—I just enjoyed that one. I felt like it occupied a pretty cool space on the record, more like a centerpiece on A Hairshirt of Purpose. It’s a pretty fun one to play, and there are a lot of twists and turns that felt organic to write.
Treble: That record has a lot of different sounds and ideas on it. Were you pushing yourselves to cover more ground?
RM: Definitely. Incorporating more piano, showcasing more of what the band can do and just having more melodically driven songs. Also the record before, You’re Better Than This, was just kind of seeing what we can experiment with and get away with just as a two guitars, bass, drums rock band. It’s just a weird record. I wasn’t too confident. I was confident in the experimentation of it. But I second guessed myself a lot. You can hear a lot of the anxiety on the record. A Hairshirt of Purpose was more just, “I’ll focus on crafting these as songs” and the experimentation being how disparate I can make one song to the next. Not in an awkward way or as if it were a Ween album or something like that. But more how there can be an arc to it. No disrespect to Ween, I love Ween.
“Touched by Comfort”
from You’re Better Than This (2015; Exploding in Sound)
RM: That was one of the easier ones to write and was satisfying to come together. It’s not one that the band necessarily played together. It’s just Kris and I. It’s been a nice one to revisit as the years march forward. Doing that on the solo record was pretty cool and on the solo tour, and now we’re doing it for this upcoming set of shows. It has a nice melody and the content remains relevant. I look back on it fondly, I guess.
from Dripping (2012; Exploding In Sound)
RM: Yeah, people like that song! There are parts of it that I get tired of, occasionally, because I feel like it’s kind of become a meme. But I’m grateful that it’s connected with people. The name is “Prom Song” because it’s a little silly. The solo is silly. But leaning into it was a good choice. And it’s still fun and i’m glad that people have enjoyed it over the years.
Treble: Is it your most requested song?
RM: It’s difficult to say “most requested,” but it does come up a lot. It’s probably a similar relationship to what I had with it where it’s kind of a silly thing, and I’m just going to lean into it. And it does feel good to play it. I think people have a similar relationship listening to it. It feels good to listen to it, but it’s over the top.
from Magic Isn’t Real (2010; Self-released)
RM: I just felt like the recording of it was really strong. The performance we captured for that record, and I also feel like we captured a moment in the scene that we were in in Boston in 2009, 2010. Just that basement scene, and we were playing it a bunch, and it was clearly influenced by Fat History Month. And it had some of that folky fingerpicking stuff at the end. It felt like an important song for us as a band, coming from Jerk Routine into that.
from Jerk Routine (2009; Self-released)
RM: I figure I’d just try to cover the whole catalog. “Haunt” was, when I used to play solo shows—just me and an acoustic guitar—I knew it was a song I could play at the top and it was draw people in. It’s a pretty good feeling, and it makes it easier to take risks after that.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.