Original band members Travis Shettel, Aaron Stuart, and Andrew Bonner were still in high school when they formed Piebald (taking their name from a random word Aaron spotted in a textbook) and released their debut EP, Sometimes Friends Fight, in 1995. "Music was like our sports back then," Travis recalls of those heady teenage years. "We were never much of sports guys, but music was the thing that made us feel alive. Like, I never remember saying, 'I hope I can go outside today and play football,' but I do remember thinking, 'I can't wait to get home and play the guitar.'"
Although they retained this youthful passion for music-making, as the boys of Piebald grew into fine young men, their sound matured as well, over the course of 1997's When Life Hands You Lemons (Hydrahead Records), 1999's If It Weren't For Venetian Blinds It Would Be Curtains For Us All (Big Wheel Recreation), and the 2000 EP The Rock Revolution Will Not Be Televised (Big Wheel Recreation). "We started off with hardcore music, and today we still somehow fall in the punk/underground category, but our music has changed tremendously. We've grown up a lot," says Travis of Piebald's gradual shift away from their primitive early style (which, incidentally, is preserved for posterity's sake on their double-CD rarities collection, Barely Legal/All Ages). "Now, I don't even want to listen to our first recordings. Not that I'm not proud of us — it's great that we've been doing this for so long. But we would never write songs like those again."
Instead, Piebald moved forward and wrote ambitious, melodic, maddeningly catchy songs like the ones on their 2002 breakthrough, We Are The Only Friends We Have (Big Wheel Recreation), a watershed record that floored fans, critics, and even the band members themselves. "When we recorded that album, when it was all done we said, 'Holy crap, I can't believe we made this!'" gasps Travis. "And people would come up to us all the time and say, 'Wow, you guys wrote such a great album — I'm surprised you're not huge!'"
Travis admits, "Sure, it kind of sucks that we didn't become huge. I suppose ultimately you're making music for yourself, but it does make a band very happy when people like their music, and when lots of people like their music, it's a cool feeling. I think any band that tells you they don't want that is lying. But we don't really want to be famous — we just want our songs to be famous. It'd be nice to become rich from doing this, yes, but what we really want is for people to say, 'Whoa, have you heard that Piebald album? Every song on that album is awesome!'"
Surely everyone will be saying that about Piebald's latest pop-rock opus, All Ears, All Eyes, All The Time. Influenced by everyone from the Beatles ("a very important band in all of our lives"), the Stones, Hendrix, and Tom Petty to legendary indie-rockers like Weezer, the Pixies, Dinosaur Jr.. Pavement, Superchunk, and Spoon to even left-of-center rap acts like A Tribe Called Quest, it's a record that ventures far beyond the clichéd constraints of the "emo" pigeonhole in which Piebald are so often mistakenly placed (note the jaunty piano romp "Part Of Your Body Is Made Out Of Rock," the dream-rock sea-shanty "All Senses Lost," or the twee, Shins-like powerpop of "Giving Cup"). Says Travis of Piebald's all-encompassing musical styles, "We don't really feel we're an emo band; we're really more just like hippies that use distortion! Most of the time we're put in a category with emo bands, but we don't really hear the real connection. So we don't like that we're called that — but then again, we don't really like that any band is called that."
Although All Ears was produced by Paul Q. Kolderie (Cave-In, Dinosaur Jr., fireHOSE, Hole, Pixies, Radiohead), Piebald were admittedly still worried about whether they could top their previous landmark effort, We Are The Only Friends We Have. "You always want to like your new record more and feel that it's better than your last one, otherwise you wouldn't want to put it out," says Travis. "But Paul was really excited about the new songs, and all the people at the studio were excited, and it felt like we were on the right track, even though we didn't know for sure. And in the end, I think we at least did comparably musically. You still get what you need from a Piebald record. It's different, but you still get sufficiently rocked."
Indeed, All Ears is more than sufficient in the rockin' department. But at the same time, the band's aforementioned newfound maturity is evident in the album's surprisingly poignant lyrics, despite the fact that the man singing them — a frontman previously known for his satirical, oddball wit on earlier tunes like "The Monkey Versus The Robot" and "Fat And Skinny Asses" — may not want to admit it. "I don't know if I'd call the new album more serious. Maybe I would, but I don't want it to be more serious!" he laughs. "Funniness is good. We always want to avoid being completely whiny, like, 'Oh, poor me! Life's so sad! My parents hate me, and I failed my geometry test!'"
While Piebald thankfully avoid such angst-ridden emo clichés, it's hard to ignore All Ears' recurrent themes of regret and the all-too-rapid passage of time on tracks like "The Benefits Of Ice Cream," "Present Tense," "Put Your Slippers On Instead," and "Get Old Or Die Trying." And Travis agrees, "I suppose a bunch of these songs do talk about getting older, and I don't remember any of that being in our songs until now. I don't feel old by any means, but I am noticing I'm not real young anymore. Maybe I'm not old, but I'm going to be old, and I'm not going to be young again! So I think that's hinted at in many of our songs. It's not a funny subject or a happy subject; it's just life, and that's the way it goes. You can't really change it, so you might as well embrace it."
While the Piebald guys are still only in their mid-twenties (no, they need not worry about actual old age any time soon), it's this thoughtfulness and willingness to embrace change that's allowed them to come up with their best music to date, 10 years and four albums into their career; this attitude also ensures they'll keep evolving and recording exceptional music for many fruitful years to come. "We want to make music that makes us think about stuff, that gets our creative juices flowing and makes people say, 'Wow, I've never heard anything like this before; this is exciting and new and brave and bold. This is something different,'" declares Travis. "That's what Piebald strive for. I don't know if we pull it off, but we don't want to sound like we wrote a Ramones song — the Ramones did that fantastically 20 years ago! We don't need to do that again. We want to at least try to make things that haven't been created yet."
And as they keep pushing themselves to create, hopefully all ears and all eyes will soon be on Piebald, all the time.