Washer and Pile Are Focusing on the Positive

The Exploding In Sound labelmates catch up.

Mike Quigley fronts the NY-based band Washer, and Rick Maguire helms the Boston band Pile. Pile’s latest release, their Hot Air Balloon EP, was just released earlier this year on Exploding in Sound — who also put out Washer’s Improved Means to Deteriorated Ends last spring, and their recent single “Come Back As A Bug.” To celebrate it all, the labelmates caught up about touring, keeping music a sustainable part of one’s life, and much more.
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music 

Mike Quigley: How you been?

Rick Maguire: Pretty good, pretty good. Just hanging at home for what feels like kind of an extended period of time. We’re not touring until the fall and just doing one-offs and stuff, so that’s been cool just to be at home for a little bit. How about you? Y’all just did a trip — I remember last time I saw you in person, we were playing a show in Connecticut and you were doing some runs.

Mike: Yeah, those have been good. We’ve been doing shorter stuff, maxing at seven, eight days. That’s been fun. Enough to scratch the itch and not feel crazy or like I’m causing problems in other parts of my life. [Laughs.] 

Rick: Sure, I get that. And I mean, we live in a good area where it’s pretty easy to hit a bunch of cities or see a bunch of friends without driving insane distances. 

Mike: Totally. I was trying to figure out some version of a West Coast thing, because we’ve never done that. I’m used to, “Yeah, we can get to Boston and New York and DC and Virginia in a long weekend.” Everywhere out West is, like, five hours or more apart. It’s crazy.

Rick: Most definitely. I think with the West Coast, you could probably comfortably do it in, like, 10 days, I would say. Because Seattle to Portland is not crazy. Portland to San Francisco is awful, but if you decide that it’s going to be a driving day, it’s just one beautiful nine-hour drive. And then LA. So if you did those and took your time with it, those ones are pretty fun. But it’s really getting out there, I’ve found. We’re trying to figure out which way to do it, and it’s always been a challenge.

Mike: Yeah, totally. Where will the fall take you? Is that public knowledge yet?

Rick: It’s not, but we’re just doing kind of the Midwest. The plan initially was to do a full US — but it was really the perimeter of the country, and we were going to do something in the spring that was kind of the middle of it. It didn’t end up turning out that way. I think we were just kind of burnt after that. So trying to do some version of that, but not be out for, like, three weeks. And essentially it’s going to be a trip to just tighten up stuff for the next record, because we’re going to go almost straight into the studio after.

Mike: That’s awesome. How’s getting back to writing now? Hot Air Balloon was stuff from All Fiction that didn’t make it, right? So is this new stuff brand new, or digging out stuff from the crypt?

Rick: Oh, no, it’s new-new stuff. I mean, I guess both — some are older ideas and some are coming along that are springing up from working on that stuff. But yeah, it’s all going to be new material. And it’s fits and starts. Occasionally it’ll be pretty exciting and I’ll feel good about it, and then I’ll dig a little deeper and be like, I’m not crazy about this. Did y’all just release a single?

Mike: Yeah, it’s similar — just two things that didn’t make the last album. Just wanted to have something to share this year.

Rick: I get that. I just talked to a friend about this who runs a small business in town — just posting stuff on the internet, that there’s an expectation that you need to be on it and posting stuff all the time in order to maintain any momentum. [We’re in] this sort of weird space where, we released an EP three months ago and now it’s like: I don’t really have anything to post about, nor do I really want to.

Mike: Right. [Laughs.]

Rick: So it’s strange, the expectation that it has got to be stuff all the time. But I mean, maybe it’s just part of the writing process, but it feels good to push back against that a little bit. Like, I don’t have to do that. There will obviously be consequences to me not doing that, but there also are consequences to me trying to just stay on the internet all the time. 

Mike: Yeah. It’s gotta be bad for your brain.

Rick: Yeah, for sure.

Mike: It’s an unfortunate reality that we do have to be sharing stuff fairly often. At least that helps new people hear it or whatever, but it can be so draining. I’ve tried to be doing that more as well lately, and I’ve sort of reframed it in my brain [as like] having to work my shitty job that I don’t really care for and drives me nuts — if that is driving me nuts but helps me do the thing I like to do a bit more, then maybe that softens the edge around having to churn out goofy videos or whatever all the time. Makes it slightly less weird, for sure.

Rick: Definitely. I feel like, whichever way, there’s always going to be stuff that you don’t want to do, whether that’s posting stuff on the internet or working a job that isn’t necessarily fulfilling. It’s going to come in one form or another. 

I wonder about that sometimes, too, in terms of people that are filthy rich — I wonder if it’s all just relative. Like their problems that really grind their gears, that really drive them nuts, are on such a different scale. They have these things that to us are seem like, “Oh my goodness, what a privileged problem to have.” But that goes that goes both ways. [There are] people that are in worse positions than us, that are dealing with things that we couldn’t possibly fathom… I say that a little bit from personal experience — there was one situation where we played a show where we were very well-taken-care-of, in a way that we were not familiar with. It was for kind of an extended period of time, and without getting into too many of the details, by the end of it, I noticed that there were things that I would say, or genuinely think or feel, that I was like… I was able to split psychologically. On the one hand, there’d be this thing that really got to me; and on the other hand, I was appalled that that was the thing that was getting under my skin. But then we left that situation on tour and we stayed at a house that didn’t have proper insulation — the room that we were staying in, I could actually see the outside from where I was laying down — so I feel like that just ended up balancing things in the universe. 

Anyways, sort of a tangential thing, but…

Mike: Your relative annoyances can fluctuate within a day, you know?

Rick: Yes. All to say: I guess how I’m doing is… I’m relatively comfortable.

Mike: Nice. Glad to hear it.

Rick: Do y’all have any shows coming up?

Mike: We’re also just doing one-offs for a bit, and I think we’re going to try to do a longer thing in the fall. We’re playing tomorrow, actually, but that’s too late for whenever thing will be up. We’re playing a variety show with a bunch of visual artists and comedians, and then us. It should be cool. Our friend Dan Licata is performing, too — he’s a comedian that we’ve been friends with for a long time. Him and Joe Pera would host release shows back in the day at Palisades.

Rick: That whole comedy scene is pretty great. Alex [Molini] filled me in how intertwined they were with EIS. Very cool. What other one-offs you got going on?

Mike: Amar [Lal] from Big Ups has been playing in a band from San Francisco called No Lights, and I’m going to do a show with them sometime in May. That’ll be nice, because we don’t get to see Amar a ton. Nice to have him back doing a little East Coast run. And then, I don’t know. A nice summer outdoor gig would be fun. But nothing in the works for that just yet.

Rick: And then what are you planning for fall?

Mike: I’d like to try to do West Coast thing. We’ve never done that. We’ve have had some folks reach out — I’ve been dragging my feet on it, but I need to do that. I think it’d be fun. We’ve been a band now 11 years, and I want to continue doing it, so we’re having to find that balance of what’s the healthy way we can do that, that doesn’t drain us or put other parts of our lives in problematic situations. You know what I mean? 

Rick: Yeah.

Mike: So I figure we can keep up with a week- to two-week situation. If we space those out every so often, then it’s like scratching the itch — you know, you feel like you’re being fulfilled and doing what you want to be doing, but then not burn out and make a poor financial decision or something.

Rick: How’s that been, striking that balance? Being a band for 11 years, does that challenge get easier, does it change, or does it get more difficult?

Mike: I think it’s gotten easier. I think COVID — we didn’t play for, like, two-and-a-half, three years or something, so that put it in perspective — for a million bands, I’m sure. It was like, This is a thing that I absolutely do define my personhood around, and I am missing that and it feels bad. We got our vaccinations and then practiced for a year and then tracked. And then last year was really putting into play that mindset of, “How do we do this in a way that is fun and fulfilling and more active than we had been, but not enough to screw things up?” Last year we did a lot of little runs, weekenders and a couple weeks. And then we played with you guys twice, and we got to open for Speedy [Ortiz] for a week, and that kind of stuff was very empowering and validating. So I think this year, starting to get back into writing again is keeping that mindset from last year going forward. You guys have been a band for, like, 17 years, right? 

Rick: Yeah. I think it’s changed. I think it’s reached new version of homeostasis this year. Same deal with the pandemic — it threw things for a loop. We became a three piece for the first time since, like, 2010, so that was challenging. Now we’re all back in the same city and everyone is on the same page — we all know what we individually want out of the project, and those things are compatible. There are definitely other considerations, and people’s priorities change, and also just the music industry itself has changed. So it’s trying to account for all of that. And while we’ve had lineup changes, now it’s, like, 75% the same lineup that it was from almost the beginning. So I would say that like collectively, the group has viewed the industry in one way, and taking care of a lot of the business stuff, I try to just be on top of that and then present that to the band. It can be weird to try to adjust for that. Those things are interesting, and things that I try to pay attention to along the way. But ultimately, I’m really grateful for the balance that has been struck. Because there’s ways of going forward when that stuff is out of balance, but then the sustainability of it just gets thrown into question — which seems like the most similar and different to what you’re referring to, in terms of how that can affect personal lives. 

Mike: Yeah, for sure. 

Rick: I will say though, it was kind of scary for me, for a little bit, getting getting older and still playing in a band. That anxiety may come back, but right now, I think that I’m much happier to be getting old and doing this. There’s a lot more that I know about myself and what I want. All that, again, just helps to make it feel more balanced and sustainable.

Mike: Do you find that that is making its way into the content of your lyrics and whatnot? I think a lot of Pile is like, oblique inward sort of externalizations…

Rick: Yeah. Most definitely. Looking back on the material that I’ve written, it’s been very introspective, and a lot of it centers around anxiety. And it’s just not something that I care to focus on as much anymore. I think that there was a period of wanting to externalize some of the negative things that were happening inside, that were so easy to gloss over. And now it just doesn’t feel like any of the negative things in the world are being glossed over; they’re just very out in the open. 

Mike: Sure. 

Rick: So it’s become more of a priority for me to focus on the positive things and to highlight some of the more hopeful aspects. Because it’s way easier to just go the negative route — and that’s served me well. But it’s almost more of a challenge at this point to try to focus on the positive stuff. But we’ll see. I might be saying that now, and then it comes time to write vocals and I have, like, three days to do it, and then the anxiety stuff just finds its way to the lyrics. So we’ll see.

Mike: Yeah, it has a slippery way of finding its way back into things.

Rick: Yeah, it does.

Mike: But I think that’s cool. I mean, I fucking love your band, and that comes from, I think, connecting on a lot of the internal struggles — or internal reactions to external insane-ness in the world. There’s power in naming a thing, but also, you run the risk of saying its name three times and then it’s there again. You talk too much about your anxiety, and then you have an anxiety attack or some shit, you know? I think that tightrope walk of, how do we talk about this stuff, but in a way that can help people move past the thing — or reframe a thing or somehow gain some empowerment — that’s a really interesting knife’s edge to walk. I think you guys do that all the time.

Rick: Oh, well, thank you. I’m sure you experience this too — having the rest of the band around, it’s just nice to have somebody else that you can share that with. Sometimes with my lyrics, it’ll be like, “Oh, these are the things that I’m working through.” Having other people that are your comrades to back you up on that sort of stuff — there can be other meanings that transcend language through just playing together.

Mike: Yeah, absolutely.

Rick: So that feels like it can be empowering too, where you really can air out — I don’t want to say with “a reckless abandon” — maybe I was more prone to do that when I was younger. Now I feel more of a responsibility to try to refine it. But having a supportive group goes a long way in that.

Mike: Absolutely. There’s both a reason why my band is only two people — because it’s too much logistics to deal with anything more than that — but also, without anyone else, I’m so quickly lost in my own head to the point where I’m worrying about things that aren’t even the songs, or getting caught up in the extra-musical aspect of being a performing musician or songwriter. Having someone else that’s not necessarily writing the lyrics, but just down to slog through it, really is grounding in that way.

Rick: Do you have a lot of experience playing in bands other than Washer, or any band other than a two piece?

Mike: I played before with another band that was a four or five piece, and it was my music. I’d call in favors for every show, and I hated it. I think that part of that was me being like, “Fuck this. I’m asking one friend and one friend only.” [Laughs.] Even though I love those people, I felt like I didn’t want to put obligations on people.

Rick: Most definitely. I just am curious, because I feel like I’ve known and traveled with a handful of two pieces, and it seems like such an inherently intimate relationship.

Mike: It is. [Laughs.] I mean, Kieran [McShane, Washer’s drummer] and I are from the same hometown. We met when we were kids, and he went to middle school with my wife. So in that way, he is like a spouse. You know what I mean? 

Rick: [Laughs.] Yeah, for sure.

Mike: You’re in a car with somebody for six, seven hours. It’s just the two of you and the Grateful Dead, or whatever the fuck you put on to kill a couple hours.

Rick: Is that—?

Mike: That’s Kieran’s go-to, for sure. I mean, I like the Dead, but he’s a real Deadhead.

Rick: Oh, really? So if I were ever to reach out to him and be like, “Hey, what show should I check out,” he would have some answers?

Mike: I think he’d have some recommendations. I don’t know that he’s the Deadest of Deadheads, but he definitely would have some preferences.

Rick: Fair enough. That’s just a band that — I respect how dedicated their fans are and how unique their story is, but I’ve never really had a way in.

Mike: Yeah, it’s like 50 fucking years of music. I don’t know how you attempt to engage with 50 fucking years of music.

Rick: So what’s your choice when y’all are driving for hours and hours?

Mike: I’ve been getting Kieran more and more into paranormal shit. We’ve also been listening to a lot of Coast to Coast AM recordings and weird, spooky podcasts and stuff like that. That’s been my obsession, just bizarro, weird stuff. Kieran got me a spirit box for my birthday last year, so that’s what ended up being the cover picture of our last record — he’s got headphones on with this little box that’s supposed to let you talk to ghosts.

Rick: Oh, shit. I’ve never heard of one of those.

Mike: It’s like a little radio that skips through the channels at a fast rate, and the idea is you ask a question, and the spirit’s going to answer you by lining up one word at a time on any given station that you’re hearing.

Rick: Nice.

Mike: Well, thanks for chatting, dude. This was great.

Rick: Yeah, man, thanks for asking!

Mike: I’ll talk to you soon!

(Photo Credit: left, Jay Leiby; right, Emme Rovins)

Washer — aka Mike Quigley and Kieran McShane — is a rock band from Brooklyn. Their latest record, Improved Means to Deteriorated Ends, is out now on Exploding In Sound.

(Photo Credit: Jay Leiby)