Pesky J. Nixon’s bio says it better than I could: Bombastic yet brilliant, these boys from New England exude a genuine musical authenticity and mirth on stages up and down the East Coast. Drawing influences from contemporary urban balladeers, rowdy southern bluegrass, and the sardonic yet wry wit of New England’s localized folk scenes, Pesky J. Nixon (PJN) creates an atmosphere both inviting and challenging for audiences. Compelling harmonies and narratives rein in disparate instrumentation including- zydeco style accordion, virtuosic mandolin, a variety of tribal percussion, and a myriad of string instrumentation.
Ethan Scott Baird (one of the founders of the band) found some time in his busy life (full-time computer geeky job, gigging with the band, and preparing for one of the major social events of the year—his marriage to Robin Durst on October 6) to answer some questions. Ethan and the rest of the band are genuine people and musicians who have a whole lot of fun on stage and with their audiences. Their joy is contagious. It’s impossible to leave a PJN show without a smile on your face.
2011- 2012 has been an exciting time in the life of Pesky J. Nixon. Being chosen as the act that received the most votes for the Most Wanted Artist at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival must have been right up there as far as thrills for you. What do you remember thinking when you heard the news?
I was with Jake, my music partner, at the time and we just looked at each other and shook our heads in wonder. As far as what we thought, I think gratitude was the overwhelming emotion.
That feeling of gratitude is what led us to work with our now fantastic friends and fellow Most Wanted Artists ILYAIMY to revive the old Falcon Ridge Preview Tour as our way of saying thank you to all the folks that voted for us to return, of course we ended up having a remarkable time doing that as well.
Really everything seems to be a gift at this point in our career. We love what we do, and we just feel a tremendous sense of gratitude every time we get to work with our friends and fans to bring music and entertainment to more people.
PJN has endeared themselves to many in the folk music, especially after the success of the Lounge Stage (at Falcon Ridge). In a nutshell, would you describe the genesis of that stage and what its mission is?
The Lounge Stage is really the baby of our close friend Scott Jones, Jake, and I. There are many remarkable Folk Festivals out there, Clearwater, Philly Folk Fest, and CT Green Fest to name a few – Falcon Ridge is just a unique community and place that is dear to our hearts which is why we spend months every year working with Scott to put the Lounge Stage together.
Just a little history to set up the situation, a severe storm tore through the festival in 2008 and the result was not only an abbreviated festival for that year, but shortening the festival from a four day affair to a three day affair moving forward. Anne Saunders, the festival director, did a wonderful thing for the campers and continued to allow us entrance on Wednesday – even though events didn’t officially start until Friday. The Lounge Stage really was about looking at an opportunity to provide entertainment for the campers that came to listen to music and in the process we were able to showcase a number of very talented artists on Thursday night when hundreds of campers were already on site.
We naively assumed about 50 people might show up but ended up with over 350 our first year and 500 the second year. There are artists that credit the exposure with helping to get them on the official festival’s radar and there are a number of regular attendees who have told us that the spontaneity of the stage is one of their favorite events of the festival
I think one of the only negative aspects of the folk community can be a kind of cliquish behavior where the traditional artists don’t approve of the urban songwriters, who don’t like or appreciate the bluegrass artists, who don’t understand the acoustic bands. Not to wax poetic but it’s fairly analogous to what’s going on with politics in the country as a whole right now. Jake and I absolutely love all of the sub-genres within the community and the stage is an opportunity to showcase how those sounds can work together. We’ve been fortunate in that we’ve received fantastic feedback from the community regarding the stage. Of course the next step is reaching out to people that have a pre-conceived notion of what Folk and Folk Festivals are and expose them to the musical brilliance, joy, and fun that finds a home under that banner.
Also being chosen as Official Showcasers at the annual NERFA conference was a pretty big deal for you. Given the number of acts who apply and only a handful being chosen, it must have felt like a very special evening, especially considering that it wasn’t all that long ago that you and Jake arrived at NERFA, hardly know a soul and ended up just hanging out in the lobby all weekend.
I remember walking onto that stage in that beautiful theatre looking out at a five-hundred person room filled by our peers, friends, and associates and taking a mental photograph. Our fans are our backbone and friends and family, but it was something very special to be representatives of our community at an event like NERFA.
Tell us about Red Ducks: why you recorded an all covers album and how it’s been received.
Gosh, honestly the germ of the idea was really me spending too much time focusing on the reviews of Monkey Biz (our first studio record) and realizing that the only consistent criticism was that the album wasn’t a reflection of our live sound. Now, as a studio technician, I don’t generally believe a record should sound like a live performance, but going back to my previous comments about some members of the community having a very specific notion on what folk music is or should be I thought it would be fun to put out a stripped down record.
From that point forward Jake and I talked about all the people who really encouraged us and supported us in our first five years trying to figure out who the band wanted to be when we grew up. From a sound perspective we were looking to put it together in the vein of Redbird’s first album (Redbird being Peter Mulvey, Kris Delmhorst, and Jeff Foccault’s folk supergroup). Many of the tunes on the album are the songs of those early influencers – Anthony da Costa, Red Molly, Session Americana, Tim Gearan, and Jimmy Ryan to name a few. Of course we then added songs by folks we would love to work with as well (Gillian Welch, I am literally sitting by the phone). After putting together a list of songs Jake, our drummer Dan, and our mandolin player Eric McDonald spent a day with our engineers and good buddies Matt Ramer from Digilog Sound and Chad Pucklowski camped out in my parents’ living room while they were away for a weekend. I’m told, if you are a true sound enthusiast, you can pick up the background hum of the family refrigerator in some of the songs.
PJN has recently founded a new community based organization called Tribal Mischief Productions. Your first venture for this new group was to produce a CD to benefit the SAMFund and the Andrea Coller Memorial Award which is a terrific way to help young survivors of cancer get back on their feet again after undergoing treatment and rehab.
Tribal Mischief is a production company we’ve started whose charter is enabling community building through entertainment, fundraising, and volunteer work. Our simple charter is to help raise awareness to causes and communities we believe in. It’s funny, I think Grooving Forward: Vol 1 (the disc) is the first thing we’ve put that name to, but Jake and I have been working together on projects like these for years. Pesky J. Nixon is a band I share with Jake, Dan, Eric, and the other musicians we play with, Tribal Mischief is an idea that Jake and I are dedicated to. Things like the Lounge Stage to me are the projects that Jake and I work on while wearing our “Tribal Mischief” hats, not our Pesky ones.
Jake has two kids and I am getting married this month and plan to raise a brood of my own. Working with and developing communities that are progressive and caring just resonates with me. I should point out that we are not political, we’re just idyllic and focused on giving ourselves something meaningful to work towards and gathering a community we can be dedicated to working for.
What’s next for Pesky J. Nixon?
The same thing we do every night, try to take over the world one crowd at a time — make people smile, sell some records, laugh a lot, and go to sleep content that we’ve done our part.
Oh… you meant specifically.
This winter Jake and I are going to find some retreat time and write the material for the next album and begin fundraising for it. We hope to get the attention of Clearwater Folk Festival and the Philly Folk Fest this year: Clearwater because I believe wholeheartedly in their mission of green technology, environmental stewardship, and never ending sing-a-longs, Philadelphia because it is another beautiful community that we believe in, and would love to be a part of.