Note: Due to an injury to frontman Billy McCarthy’s hand Pela’s current tour was cut short after only a couple of shows. The tour will be rescheduled. Click Here for More Info
Though their first full length album was released only 10 months ago, the Brooklyn, New York-based band Pela has a history that goes back to the early ’90s when lead vocalist and guitarist Billy McCarthy met Christopher Herb. Herb, who has spent his life playing music and working with the disabled, has the unique distinction of being both the man who brought the band together and the newest member of this post-punk quintet.“Billy and I have been best friends for half our lives,” said vocalist Herb in a recent interview with Listen Up Denver! as he sat smoking a cigarette in front of his computer in his Lower East Side apartment. “We traveled around the world together playing music in countless bands up until 2002, when I left to go to Australia for five years.”
While Herb and McCarthy were playing together in Igloo, a band that rarely made public appearances, Herb had a chance meeting with a now integral part of Pela. Though Herb’s story is contrary to Wikipedia and press releases that state it was McCarthy who met Eric Sanderson on a subway platform in Park Slope, it seems only right to take the man at his word. “A lot of people don’t really know the true story. It was actually me who met Eric [Sanderson] in the subways of Brooklyn when I was busking,” said Herb. “He walked up and we started chatting and he said, ‘We should play. I play bass.’ I said, ‘Funny you should say that, we are looking for a bass player.’”
The band set up a practice session and invited Sanderson along and as it turned out, despite Herb’s departure for the Southern Hemisphere, Sanderson became fast friends with McCarthy. The two soon broke up Igloo and teamed up with guitarist Nate Martinez and drummer Tomislav Zovich to form Pela.
“They’ve been pushing this boulder uphill for about six years now while I was lost in Oceania,” Herb said. “Music was kind of dormant in my life at that point and when I did get my hands on an instrument it was an old broken pump organ that I found in a thrift store. I think it had fifty-five keys and only about twelve of them worked. I actually utilized those well and it really helped me get back into music. It was a weird symbolic thing for me because I had to take the keys that worked and make them sound good. I wrote some really beautiful material with just twelve notes.”
While Herb was “lost in Oceania” writing twelve-note symphonies, Pela went on to release two EPs and a full length between 2005 and 2007. It was the full length, Anytown Graffiti, which garnered the band the attention they deserved and got them on the bill with bands like The National, The Flaming Lips and Sleater-Kinney.
Released by the label partnership Great Society/World’s Fair, Anytown Graffiti starts off purposeful, with a quick drum beat that, after a few measures, is joined by a reverb-laden yet twangy guitar. As the bass line fades in, and the music builds, it commands your attention and McCarthy’s powerful voice is soon yelping over the top of the music in a slightly odd, yet intriguing way and you’re sucked in. If these first 45 seconds of the band’s debut full length are any indication, and they are, then Pela has what it takes to make a run at the big time.
In an attempt to do just that last November, Pela took off to Los Angeles to go in to the studio and work on Rise Ye Sunken Ships, a follow-up album that they hope to release this summer. As fate would have it, their friend and musical foil, Christopher Herb, had recently returned from down under and was living in L.A. “When Pela came to record the new record back in November they said, ‘Come hang out with us in the studio, we’re rehearsing, see if you can throw something into the material. We have an old song of yours that we remember and we’d love to cover it on the record,’” Herb said. “I was totally flattered and I went and played and they were like, ‘Wow, this worked so well, why don’t you come tour with us?’ I was like, ‘okay!’ It wasn’t a reluctant decision at all; everything just seemed perfectly natural. It seemed like a natural progression.”
So, just like that, after six years, the man that laid the foundation for Pela was back in the mix. After briefly toying with the idea of working together via the internet, Herb packed his life up into two boxes and got on a plane to JFK, where the musical part of his soul has taken control of his life again. “We just cut our teeth on this secret Valentine’s Day show where we played for almost three hours,” he said. “It was my first performance with the band and it was a lot of fun. It had been a while since Pela had played live and the show was nearly three times longer than the normal set.”
The band will celebrate their reunion with Herb by taking their “normal set” on the road this month, where their incendiary set will rock crowds from coast to coast. They have pledged to break out several of the tunes that they laid down in the studio late last year and it is clear that their sound is catching on as they have already sold out shows far from home in Chicago and Seattle.
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