Prove your humanity

In the midst of a very uncertain time, I had a chat with Melbournian Jack Pierce from the folk duo Pierce Brothers. We talked about their song Kanko, the adventurous music video that never was, and the twist and turns surrounding the recording process of their upcoming album.


To start off, tell us about Kanko and the story behind the song.

The song was written late last year when we were up in Byron, working on some of the tracks on the new records, and I had this song put together with Patrick [The Pierce Brothers’ other half] ages ago at the little home studio, but we couldn’t get anywhere. After writing and recording a bunch of songs, we had a day up our sleeves in the studio with Garret Keto, and we decided that we wanted to do a co-write. We started with ‘what about this idea Kanko that we had?’ None of the words were written – it was just a guitar lick ­– so we got more and more into it.

The story was about how we were on tour four like eight years, we had no time off and we were looking for taking, finally, three months off and travelling. I was going to the mountains of New Zealand and going hiking with my fiancé and then getting married at the end of it, which we had to cancel because the world ended after two months, but we got most of the holiday in, luckily.

It was about getting out into nature and feeling free. That’s where the song came from. As we were in isolation, we felt it was a very fitting song that spoke for the times, even though that’s not what it was written about.

It was originally called mountain song, but it was Pat’s idea to call it Kanko again, named after my dog Kanko, who’s a Jack Russell named after a mountain in Japan from a trip years and years ago.


Yeah, I was going to ask where the name came from! I don’t actually know what Kanko means.

I think it means lake in Japanese, or one of the dialects of Japanese. So, it was just a mountain in Japan that was really beautiful, and we liked it, so that’s where it all started [laughs].


What’s the ideal setting for listening to the song?

I think going on a hike. Get a nice view. That’s the best way to listen to the song. When recording it, we were trying to get to a place of calm and serenity. Something that you find when you can get out and get into nature. That was something that we really missed when we had to be stuck indoors, which I’m sure everybody did.


Were you recording it in Byron?

We recorded half of it in Pete Murray’s studio in Murray and the other half in Garret Kato’s studio in Kings Cliff or Pottsville, just outside Byron. We were supposed to do the rest of the album out there, but of course, we’ve had to do it in Melbourne. So, we’ve moved down and done the rest of the album with Jan Skubiszewski, who is a wonderful producer who did Dan Sultan’s work, John Butler’s last few records, The Cat Empire’s last few records and a whole bunch of others. He’s fantastic.


And how do the different studios compare? I’d think the Byron studio would be a bit more scenic.

No man! That’s what you’d think. Jan’s studio’s out in Gisborne and he’s got this big 10-acre block. He’s got a barn there that’s set up to be an entire studio and a little cottage that we can stay in. We stayed out there for a few weeks. It was absolutely spectacular, and we were really able to get into the groove.

Something else that we really found as well is the recording styles were vastly different, so on the rest of the record, it’s going to have a lot more of an edgy feel and has a live element. We had more time to get stuck in with different sounds and I’m really excited to get these songs out. Now, the whole album’s out, it’s in the can. We’re just getting it mixed and mastered, and then all the songs are coming out this year.


So, what idea did you have for the Kanko music video in New Zealand?

We were going to be in Queenstown right near The Remarkables, which is a beautiful mountain range. It’s spectacular. So, we thought when we’d get there, we’d figure out some sort of one-shot that we could make out in the wilderness and see if we could do a film set where we’d get it all done in one go, and unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be. So, we had to a film clip in my little home studio, which was a lot more boring, but we did have a lot of footage from the road.


Talking about the footage in the music video, a lot of it was shot while touring with Tash Sultana last year, is that right?

Yes, that’s right, it was either Tash Sultana footage or just some footage from our European tour as a headliner. The really big places, those were the Tash shows [laughs].


How does it feel watching the music video and looking back on those memories?

It feels amazing. My brother Pat was the one who edited it. He really put a great story together that showcases some of the most amazing parts. All the shots of the landscapes when you’re driving along are from a trip we did in North America. That was a tour that failed so badly. Only a few of the shows sold out; a lot of them were very quiet. We were driving these incredibly long hours. We were just in a van with the four of us in there. Pat, myself, the support acts and the tour manager. We all took turns driving and we did some horrible shows, but it was some of the most fun I’d ever had on the road. So ,it was footage like that that I was so happy to get in there because touring can be so hard, but that was a time where even when it was at its hardest, we still had this beauty in these places that we were exploring, and that’s what the song speaks to.


You were saying you were touring for about eight years. It must be quite jarring touring, then coming back and being stuck at home for an indefinite amount of time.

It was kind of month on month off for the longest time. We have our own homes and set up here. There were certainly a lot of unsure feelings when we came because we didn’t know what to do. There was no more touring. It was a very worrisome time, but that’s where we had a lot more time to be in the studio and to really dig in and explore what we can do sonically. It’s actually been to our favour. It’s some of the best work we’ve done.


Kanko is about perseverance and longing, what are some other things you like to write about?

I’ve always written in the melancholy. I’ve always liked writing sad songs. Damien Rice, I absolutely adored. They’re the most miserable songs in the world, but on this record, I think we’ve got a little more love flowing on. I’m expecting a baby with my wife in the near future. It’s not long. There are two songs off the record – one of them is about becoming a father which is called One, and the other one is within the theme of ‘into the great unknown’. That became a big theme of the whole record. I’m about to take a big step into a different part of my life which is so exciting and it’s going to be so rewarding. I’m really looking forward to it. But also, we’re in a place of great unknowing with what’s going on with this pandemic. There are definitely some sad and unsure feelings, but we tried to weave them into energetic and fun songs.


Would you say that it’s a new chapter in your music?

I think so. I think this is definitely going to be a new chapter. It’ll be a new chapter for a lot people we’re primarily a touring band, but what we’re doing with this record is going to be a lot more fun to play live. It’s our first independent release as well. Not that there’s anything wrong with a major label, but I think it’s a major difference in how we approach songwriting. We wanted the right songs for our album – true to ourselves.


To wrap things up – you’ve announced a Europe and UK tour. What are you expecting?

We’ve got a big history with Europe. Our European first show was, I think, in 2014 to about 5000 people at Lowlands Festival. We hadn’t even played a pub gig over there. It was in the Netherlands and it just went amazingly. That just kicked of a career of going back there two or three times a year ever since then.


Since our interview, Jack and his wife have celebrated the birth of their daughter, Rowan – a bright and welcome parallel to the new chapter of the Pierce Brothers’ musical journey.