photo credit: Emme Rovins
“I want to do what makes me feel like a kid: experimenting, having fun, and trying to discover new things about this work,” says Pile’s Rick Maguire about All Fiction. It’s his band’s eighth record, and one that finds the ambitious group assembling its most texturally complex material yet—despite the fraught inspiration underscoring its restive lyrics. Alongside the blistering drums and scorched-earth riffs that first galvanized Pile’s dedicated fanbase, the band has incorporated elegiac strings, mystifying vocal corrosions, and haunting synths. From the creeping fear of cinematic opener “It Comes Closer” to the euphorically ascending keys on ego-shattering closer “Neon Gray,” All Fiction is an ornate, carefully paced study on the subjectivity of perception, the data-shaping despotism of big tech, and the connections between anxiety and death. In its most vital moments, it’s also a resolute recommitment to the restorative significance of art and imagination.
For fifteen years, Pile’s evolving take on rock has earned the group one oft-repeated superlative: “your favorite band’s favorite band.” Ceaseless touring took its members from Boston’s basement circuit to international festivals, hitting loftier technical apexes with each new record. Maguire—the fastidious composer, evocative guitarist, and potent voice behind the solo-turned-punk project—gives musical body to his interior world in scream-along-able lyrics that skew surreal. Drummer Kris Kuss’s time-defying performances, layered over gnarled basslines, have garnered widespread acclaim. 2019’s Green and Gray took Pile’s thunderous noise to more intricate realms, thanks to new recruit Alex Molini’s work on bass and keyboards, and Chappy Hull’s dextrous interplay on second guitar. That record drew praise for its political directness and instrumental ferocity, but Pile’s seventh album was almost a wholly different endeavor—one on which Maguire would favor piano.
“I’ve been trying to get out of what I think is ‘the rock band format,’ and I was also tired of what I saw as our identity as a band,” explains Maguire, citing the profound impact he’s drawn from Mt. Eerie’s unusual timbres, Kate Bush’s ambitious singularity, and Aphex Twin’s irreplicable soundscapes. “The confusion about identity combined with existential anxiety led to exploring my imagination as a means of escape.” As far back as 2017, Maguire’s songwriting gravitated toward more obtuse influences, with a Prophet X synthesizer eventually replacing guitar as his primary composing tool. But when Pile’s lineup changed after his move to Nashville, Maguire was hesitant to stray far from the band’s established heavy sound, lest his newer bandmates take critical heat. Squirreling away that material for a later record afforded him time to explore deliberately. “I’ve been more drawn to recordings where it’s difficult to identify what’s happening,” offers Maguire of the albums that impacted All Fiction; the list is vast, touching on adventuresome heavy-hitters like Portishead, Broadcast, Penderecki and Tinariwen. “I also wanted to use different instruments and recording techniques to highlight the songs, rather than creating the visual of a band performing them,” he says.
All Fiction—a reference to “the lack of any objective reality,” and the worries that accompany parsing truth from tale—is a record Maguire views in some ways as Pile’s most vulnerable, despite his embrace of symbolic lyricism. In 2019, Maguire and Molini began demoing All Fiction in Nashville; Molini, an established producer, brought appreciated focus to the process. As the pandemic interrupted Pile’s planned touring, Maguire leveled up at production to accommodate his fascination with electronic textures. On 2021’s Songs Known Together, Alone, he rearranged Pile’s back catalog for solo performance. Later that year, improvisational record In the Corners of a Sphere-Filled Room empowered the group to push deeper into orchestrated strangeness. In September 2021, Molini and Maguire were joined by Kuss—who was living eighteen hours away in Boston—for a month-long rehearsal of the twenty songs in contention. Kuss’s versatility gave him insight into synth patterns and atypical percussion choices like rhythmic breathing. The band, now a three-piece after the departure of Hull, recorded at home until they’d gotten All Fiction right, then they headed into the studio proper to try it all again. Recording once more with engineer Kevin McMahon (Real Estate, Titus Andronicus) at Marcata Recording in upstate New York, Pile tracked fifteen songs for over a month—the project’s longest studio stint by far. A “mammoth period” of synths, resonant vocal re-processing, and nightly full band overdubs yielded layers like doubled drums, warped classical guitars, and triggered samples of air ducts. Finally, Pile was joined by a string quartet, adding magical last touches. It marked a triumphant chapter for Maguire: “Part of it felt like pulling out all the stops,” he says. “I never really treated a Pile record that way.”
For a record intended to abdicate rock’s throne, several of the ten tracks finally chosen for All Fiction number among Pile’s rockingest. “Loops” finds Maguire questioning his motives as a songwriter, scrutinizing the border between his lived experiences and the stressors he sings about. Concerns about self-awareness, substance use, and music’s environmental impact infected “Poisons,” which takes cues from the loud-quiet splendor of PJ Harvey. A trip to Big Bend in Texas inspired the Lynchian “Nude with a Suitcase”; “I really like Kris’ breaths, and what Alex did on the Rhodes and Omnichord. It added textures that give this song a lot of life,” Maguire effuses. While global perspectives and personal moments shaped the record’s narrative arc—climate injustice, the addiction crisis, American cultism, and capitalistic overwork, to name a few subjects—Maguire says he’s more confident than ever in letting poignant images speak for themselves: “If this combination of words does it for me, it doesn’t need to make sense to somebody else.”
After completing past records, Pile’s had goals bubbling on the backburner. Maguire poured all of those and then some into All Fiction, and this purity of intention unlocked a refreshed sense of joy and fulfillment in Pile’s music. “I like thinking art has the capacity to change things and the way people function. But the means to get that art out there and get people to connect to it can be draining—and I overcommitted, in a lot of cases, to trying to be an island,” Maguire admits. All Fiction was sparked by a beguiling sonic palette, but it’s also infused with love from the years of trust between Kuss, Molini, and Maguire. Proof’s in the aftermath: though they spent five years as a long distance project, post-All Fiction, all three members of Pile are once again living in the Northeast.
bio: Sadie Dupuis