An explanation of how he settled on the band name Pretty Bird. Smash. (the sentence-disrupting periods are part of it) typically involves Brian Field pounding his fist on a table.
The name—and its attendant physicality—captures the balance that Field and Matt Anderson set out to establish between beauty and noise, setting up delicate sounds just to demolish them.
"Essentially what we're doing is taking a pretty 12-string acoustic guitar that by itself could lull people into a sense of whimsy or fantasy, and applying a lot of totally disagreeable drum bits and effects to it to destroy any sense of beauty, and then bring it back," Field says.
Field, the band's singer and songwriter, plays a 12-string acoustic guitar, bi-amped to maximize distortion and volume, while Anderson pounds a homemade drum kit that's anchored by a 26-inch kick drum. ("They're not subtle. They're ridiculous, giant drums," Field says.)
Having sung in a post-hardcore band in Boston in his late teens, Field got back into music a decade later in Tucson, playing open- mic nights in 2007, which evolved into a duo called Traffic Violator. Pretty Bird. Smash. started mid-2008 when Field turned to Craigslist to find a drummer for a new project.
"I wanted to keep the whole two-piece thing going, but get louder, and Matt actually said, 'My drums are built to play really loud. I hope that's not a problem,'" Field says.
After buying more amps to match Anderson's booming sound, Field began to tinker with his songwriting, abandoning some of the lighter elements of his singer-songwriter persona and reinventing songs he'd already written.
"At first it was a little clumsy. It was taking what was supposed to be an expression of some sort of frailty or emotional vulnerability and applying bombast to it," he says. "It seemed a little shoehorned and forced, but we've managed to integrate the two personalities pretty well into something acceptable and cogent."
Pretty Bird. Smash. actually runs contrary to any sort of fanbase Field may have started to build as a solo singer-songwriter, but doing what felt right musically was more important. Field's term for the band's sound is "hardcore anti-folk."
"Once we started getting louder, punk and metal and rock kids were just going to say that a 12-string acoustic is acoustic music. But the folk fans say it's too loud," Field says. "We've kind of painted ourselves into a corner, but we both just like to be expressive. As far as realizing these songs between Matt and me, we have the ambition to make these songs sound as ballsy as possible, as interesting as possible."
Field says he comes to the band more as a songwriter than a musician (he didn't start playing guitar until he was 21) and still has a deep-seated fear of writing something that somebody else has already written.
"As far as lyrics, I try to write from the perspective of the victimizer, rather than the victim," Field says. ("There's blood on those pages!" Anderson jokes.)
"It's easy to write a song about having a broken heart, or being misunderstood, but it's more difficult to write a song from the perspective of a total asshole and then make that character seem sympathetic," he says.
Field drew influence from bands he says made it OK to say whatever he wanted: Fugazi, The Dismemberment Plan, Propagandhi and The Mountain Goats.
"Up until 2006, I'd written maybe four songs in the last 12 years. A buddy of mine said, 'Hey, you sound like the Mountain Goats,' and I said, 'Who?' I started listening and then wrote a bunch of songs that were overtly influenced by The Mountain Goats. I felt a little safer knowing that I could write freeform like that and fit it into a song."
Pretty Bird. Smash. set out to record shortly after forming, with two EPs ready for release. All the songs were written while Field was performing solo and translated to the band.
Love Songs for Awful People was recorded in bits and pieces but didn't really capture the band's live sound, so Field and Anderson set up a one-day session, recording Baked Alaska entirely live at Home Recorded Culture, with Michael John Serpe.
Both EPs will be unveiled at a release show on Jan. 23 at Plush, but the band's current set contains about half new, unrecorded songs. Field and Anderson have new amps, keyboard effects, a looper and a homemade lap-steel guitar. "Sometimes we're a seven-piece band between the two of us," Field says.
"We've reached a critical mass. We've done everything we can to fill out the sound," Anderson says.