A Very Pretus New Year
Local New Orleans musician and longtime friend, Brian Pretus, has been successfully and extensively touring with the punk band, PEARS, for the past couple of years. He had previously gained immense local support through groups like The Lollies and Dead Legends, but PEARS gave him his first taste of worldwide attention and allows him to play alongside musicians we idolized as kids. After selling over a thousand copies of their second album, Green Star (Fat Wreck Chords), and touring for a month with punk rock heavyweights, NOFX, they’re back home in the Big Easy to relax for six months. This is the longest break they’ve had since their first tour in 2014.
I’ve been fortunate enough to remain good friends with Pretus throughout the past decade and have watched him recently exchange vows to his wife, Catherine, as well as take the role of Step Father to her daughter, Rori. We would’ve made plans to catch up in the Newman parking lot while foolishly devouring Olde English in glass bottles on top of wet cement and nostalgia. Unfortunately, our beloved spot outside the Neutral Ground Coffeehouse and Olde English in glass bottles no longer exist. So we decide to hang on his front porch in Algiers over a couple of canned beers and cigarettes on a dreary night in early January. New Years recently past and neighbors are finishing up what’s left of their firework collection.
I ask Brian what his hopes and expectations of 2017 are:
“I need to learn how to shred like a metal dude, like to my standards, because I’ve never been able to solo. I need to learn my scales. I mean I know ‘em but I don’t know how to play the pentatonic scale like both ways or whatever. I wanna get fast with them. I guess I got kind of lazy playing the PEARS stuff because I mostly use big power chords. I’m always using six strings but it’s usually the same formations. My fingers don’t bounce around like they should, ya know? They’re real heavy. I need to learn that part of the guitar too so, I can be the best ‘cause I’m gonna be.”
He smiles and lets out a howling laugh in a way to question whether or not he’s modestly laughing at himself or because he believes that to be true, a testament to his unshakeable optimism.
“Also, I wanna be the best step dad in the world. I wanna help Rori with school a bunch. It’s a tough, confusing time for any kid and I wanna be there to support her. I’m gettin’ her a computer tomorrow. She really likes Minecraft a lot. I think it’d be cool if she learned how to code stuff. I don’t wanna tell her what to do for a living and, of course, we embrace who she is. Like, we still let her sport her Black Flag ‘Slip It In’ back patch when we go grocery shopping. I don’t care if people think it’s obscene. Fuck them, it’s 2017. You don’t have time to be offended in 2017, get smarter and learn how to code. It’s the future. Machines are taking over every single fucking job in the whole world and there’s only a certain amount of people smart enough to run those machines. That’s the future for every child her age. Technology is growing faster all the time which is insane to think about. We don’t have flying cars but you’ll see one soon enough because of the demand and curiosity for it. You’ll be fucked if you don’t know how to use computers.”
Shyly, Rori steps outside and asks if anyone would like a popsicle. We politely decline. She steps back inside and Brian smiles proudly as she shuts the door. Obviously warmed by her hospitality, Pretus looks at me with eyes that say “Isn’t she the best?” and chuckles. The offered sugar-filled treat directs Brian’s mind to weight-loss.
“That’s another thing. I’m fat as fuck and I gotta stop… I gotta get healthy, that’s another resolution. This six-month break is gonna be tough if I don’t get healthy because I can barely play our set. It’s so difficult that, if I’m fat and shitty, it’s not gonna be good. I mean we get exercise on stage. I’ve never sweat that much for anything else I’ve ever done. It’s so fucking hot all the time. Whether it’s in a hot basement or on stage with the hottest lights in the universe, we sweat. But I eat garage food on the road, lose weight on stage the whole time, and gain it right back as soon as I’m home. It isn’t healthy.”
Ironically, like a bird that sings about its cage, Brian opens another beer and takes the crisp, first sip.
“Catherine wanted to get into juice fasting. But, apparently, if you don’t eat all the stuff that’s left over then, you’re not gonna be full at all. So, we’re doing smoothies. We blend it all together and just drink it. I like smoothies better anyway, they’re more professional. I love Smoothie King too. I gonna get that. Oh, I could totally get that. It’s in my diet.”
Brian lets out another laugh and explains how he’s going to get used to saying that, mentally high-fiving himself.
“I remember this dude I used to eat high school lunch with went vegan and he became healthier than ever even though he was drinking like a fish. He used to have this really bad bowel problem before he changed his diet. No matter what, every time he had to shit, it’d always be an emergency and it’d take him an hour. He’d almost be in tears when he was done. It was fucked up. He didn’t know what to do. Get checked for colon cancer? It was a problem. Then another dude started taking shits like that but we didn’t think he’s shitting the whole time. We think he’s just lazy and wanted to ditch class. Once one dude started taking hour-long shits, this other guy started taking hour-long shits (?) That’s not how you do it. Way too obvious when everyone ends up an hour late. But yeah, anyway, I need to stop eating shitty food.”
Pretus asks about my dietary habits and we speak about smaller portions, observing healthier options, and my prior experiences with vegetarianism. He mentions the importance of considering time to eat and how difficult it was to obtain a steady routine during his tour with NOFX because of consist 3PM load-ins.
Like every guitarist, he eventually digresses into talking about his equipment. His tried and true Marshall JCM 900 broke on tour, forcing him to consider other options. Blackstar reached out to him and offered him a replacement. Dissatisfied with their “overly-compressed” tone, Brian hastily returned it.
I ask him if he had any gear upgrades in mind for 2017:
“Gear-wise, I want a gold-top Gibson Les Paul by the end of year ‘cause I’ve been waiting too long for that like my entire life. My brother had one when I was a kid and he never let me play it. So, I’m getting that shit now although I can’t play anything but a SG live. My arms are real short so, if the guitar’s any thicker than a SG like a Les Paul, it’ll make my arm poke out if I’m standing and it hits a weird muscle in my arm. I don’t like it. Besides, I’m so used to the SG at this point, I don’t ever have to look at the neck anymore. I know exactly how far away everything is on that thing. It’s the perfect size for me. A lot bands switch it up but, they don’t have short arms like I do.”
Brian’s older brother, Jonathan, is another New Orleans musician. Jonathan’s traveled the world with Mardi Gras legends, Cowboy Mouth, and now has been playing with The Brenton Sound, a New Orleans Rock’n Roll mainstay.
I ask about their brotherly rivalry and Brian immediately corrects me:
“It’s definitely not a rivalry. He’s been apart of my motivation my whole life. Every time he’d play guitar, I’d want to play guitar. Every time he’d play drums, I’d want to play drums. I wanted to copy him’n shit. He’s taught me so much during my senior internship in high school. He brought me on tour with Cowboy Mouth. If it weren’t for that kind of stuff, I wouldn’t know how to be pro or the terminology of any professional event.”
We’re suddenly interrupted by a string of loud pops unlike the sound of fireworks we’ve been hearing throughout our conversation.
“That’s definitely gun shots. You hear ‘em all the time. You can hear ‘em from both sides of The [Mississippi] River. It’s pretty nice, puts ya to sleep. I like gun shots mixed with the sound of rain ‘cause, ya know, it’s the real deal when they gotta go outside to shoot each other in the rain.”
Pretus pauses to light another Pall Mall Light 100 and his face becomes illuminated by the flick of his Bic.
“But, anyway, it’s not a rivalry.”
Brian exhales a translucent cloud of smoke.
“I’m capitalizing on everything Jonathan’s taught me. I quit The Brenton Sound to do PEARS and, if I wasn’t going to do it the best I could, it would’ve been a dick move. Being as rad as he is motivates me. I don’t wanna let him down. Hopefully, he’ll read this and call me to say that he loves me.”
PEARS have been touring frequently for two years. Now that they’re all back home, I inquired what they’ve been up to:
“Well, Zach went on a solo tour that was apparently pretty cool. His acoustic album is like my favorite record of last year. I wrote and recorded twenty songs for paying people as Christmas presents. A girl paid me $150 to write a song about her boyfriend but both of them are married and they’re each other’s secret, side thing. That’s probably my favorite one.”
Rori steps back outside and playfully stomps her feet. She cries, “Sailor Moon is in Japanese and I don’t get it.” Brian responds, “Well, I guess you gotta learn that next,” keeping her education in mind by encouraging her to deal with difficult situations with pliability and intelligence. She rebuttals with “But, but, but…” Brian kiddingly mocks her and she steps inside. Brian turns, asks if I’d like to hear some the contracted songs he’s recorded, and eagerly takes out his Android.
Brian plays a song that echoes his longtime appreciation for Pop Rock without jeopardizing his obvious love and commitment to Punk. I’m shocked to hear a full band backing Brian’s Powerpop anthem, not simply an acoustic guitar. It’s obvious that he spent a lot time recording each instrument, an exercise of his perfection and a toast to his creativity.
I voice my bewilderment of style, the devout punk rocker quickly laughs and says:
“Fuck no. I don’t do acoustic stuff… But I’m still not done all the songs. Who knows? Maybe. There’s so many requests! It’d be fun to mix it up a little bit. The last one, some guy wants me to do a Coheed & Cambria cover. I’m thinking about slowing it way the fuck down and making it into a doom sorta deal and be like ‘whatever, I’m done.’ It’d be fun to make this ridiculous thing at the end.”
The conversation takes another turn towards PEARS, speaking of past accomplishments, and tritely mentioning the future. It’s clear that Brian understands the rigorous amount of effort they’ve put into the band since it’s kickoff but he still remains wonderfully excited for what’s to come.
“The whole goal for the band when we started was to spend the next three to five years focused on touring and, if it doesn’t work, we’ll give up. At least we would’ve tried to see whole United States and maybe Europe. Once we went to Australia, I was like, ‘holy shit, we can pretty much go anywhere now.’ We didn’t realize it would be to this extent in the beginning. The first time we went to Europe, I didn’t remember anybody’s name when we got back because I didn’t expect to see those people ever again. But when people were asking us to return immediately after getting home, we figured we gotta go back. Now, going back for the third time, we know people and we’re actually getting to see the cities. Even though we only get to see a block of each place every time we go somewhere, we get to see another block each time we go back. We’re constantly trying to see more and more and more. Not to mention that we’ve made friendships that’ll probably last forever. I wouldn’t rather be doing anything else with my time. Traveling, meeting people, playing crazy places, it’s a dream. And now we can play in Cuba! CJ Ramone played in Cuba! Did you know that?! Yeah, the first American punk band to ever play in Cuba. So tight, so jealous. Can you imagine being a punk fan in Cuba and bands aren’t allowed to come to your city because of your stupid coach or whatever?”
Brian swigs his beer and continues:
“We hope to do a full Mexican tour and eventually go to South America as well. Japan, China, southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa, you name it and we’ll go. The biggest goal for the band now is to play North Korea so, we’re gonna have to figure out how to play there. The backup plan is to sneak into the woods and play on generators just to say we did it. PEARS is definitely a means for me to see entire the world and I plan on doing it as long as nobody dies. Please, don’t die.”
Talking about traveling, I ask him if he has a favorite spot:
“Holy shit, everyone should play Amsterdam. Heaven exists and it’s not that far away. It’s Amsterdam. You know what’s legal there? Mushrooms.”
We exchange stories of drug use and chuckle. He tells me stories of the band’s transatlantic antics and how he heavily encourages the U.S. to legalize as many drugs as possible. Pretus believes under the right education and proper responsibility, drug use can benefit our society.
These stories lend themselves to devolve slowly into more and more tales about our mutual friends like our conversations typically do.
Before the interview ends, Brian asks me the closing question:
“When was the last time you saw Austin Winchester? I love that dude.”
With a smirk, I respond:
“He was at my show the other night, you were there!”
We share another laugh, crack another Miller Lite, and continue to talk about how badass Austin Winchester is before the night is over.
PEARS plans for a European tour throughout July and August.
Locals can catch Brian playing Wednesday, January 25th at Hey! Café with supergroup, The Rooks. Profits of the show will be donated to 1919 Hemphill DIY Space.
For more information about PEARS, please visit: http://pearstheband.com/
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Author/Writer: G. Manson
Music + Art + Culture