Pierce Kingan has one of those faces that you just know belongs to someone who’s ready to get silly. I was instantly drawn to him. He has a kind of shy magnetism, yet is both inquisitive and confident. My first question backfires: “So is it true you’re named after Pierce Brosnan?” “Actually yes,” Kingan says with a puzzled look, mistakenly thinking that I may have been given some Nardwuar-esque intel. I don’t. But my next question throws the rest of the interview into a charming and earnest disarray. “Why so much music, Pierce?” I ask, referencing his absolutely manic output since 2016, as his latest project with his band The Pierce Kingans makes for 14 EPs in the last six years.
“Because I thought I was going to die,” Kingan bluntly responds. At first, I thought he was talking about a universally relatable existential dilemma. After all, everyone in their 30s seems to think they’re going to die at age 40. Instead, he points to a protrusion at the top of his rib cage and tells me about his experience with Brugada Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that causes potentially fatal irregular heartbeats. “See this? It’s a defibrillator I had put in back in December. Before I got this, the average life expectancy is 40, so I was like, ‘Sweet, I’m gonna die at 40, so I’m just going to get all this shit out as fast as possible.’”
I’m obviously stunned. Expecting Kingan to simply reveal himself as particularly impatient or, at the most, some sort of neurodivergent prodigy, I certainly didn’t expect such a literal reason for his prolific output. “I got this put in and now I get to live for a longer time,” Kingan says, his voice trailing off a bit. We both laugh uncomfortably at the gallows humour when I observe that he sounds a little disappointed. “When they put it in they stopped my heart. I actually died,” he says. “And you know what I dreamed of? Nothing.”
I remember the suddenly on-the-nose lyrics to one of Kingan’s recent singles, “Code Pink”: “Code pink because I miss my baby. Code blue because my heart stops for you.” It’s this kind of playfulness that infuses The Pierce Kingans’ music — not just in the puns that make up the titles of his EPs, like Achieving Inner Pierce and Pièrce de Résistance — his humour and candor oozes through the upbeat alt-pop milieu, creating a dark tableau for his saccharine vocals and glistening guitar harmonies to nestle on. The result is a droll but incessantly catchy sound that runs the gamut of influences as diverse as Michael Nau, Tim Koh, John Maus, The Strokes, and the Beatles.
How did such a singular talent come to be? When his mom caught Kingan and his twin smoking weed at age 15, she decided to give them something else to do. When his brother took up guitar, legendary record producer Colin Stewart put a bass in his hand. After completing the music program at Vancouver Community College he joined The Prettys, A Vancouver band who made a name for themselves with their unruly rock shows and finely written and performed power pop songs, and was recruited briefly by psych outfit The Orange Kyte to play bass on their exceptional 2019 LP, Carousel.
Still, it’s the life-saving output of the Pierce Kingans where his unbridled creativity—to borrow a technique from Kingan’s album titles—was really able to pierce through. Besides him, his band features frequent collaborators Ian Browne of Matthew Good Band and No Sinner fame, DIY musicians about town Jay Slye and Wes Cook, as well as his self-described ‘old man band’ of touring musicians. Since he hates waiting to record, he’s also enlisted Zac Martin and Matty Reed for the lo-fi bedroom pop recordings that he continues to pump out.
Kingan has no time for fetishizing gear or recording equipment, and often moves on quickly when he completes a song. He’s never satisfied. Nothing fills the void. He simply must keep creating with no end goal. “The pandemic taught me that I just really like the art of crafting a song, recording it, sending it out, and saying goodbye,” he says. He has no desire to recreate it perfectly in a live setting, or even reach that perfection in the recording studio. The first draft is the final draft.
The whole project exudes this rawness. At the same time, if there’s a self-therapy aspect to his process, it doesn’t exclude the listener—we’re in on it. And since Kingan hates when bands discover a formula and just repeat it, the output is always fresh. He’s also wary of painting himself into a corner by sticking with a single genre. After all, as he sings on “Wasn’t Promising,” “We only get one life. One chance to make it work.”
Kingan’s catalogue works, which is why South African label Subjangle Records recently approached him to make a 30-song double CD compilation of his favourite songs titled May I Pierce Upon You. Vancouver label Boat Dreams from the Hill (Candela Farm, Sort of Damocles), who released his latest EP Achieving Inner Pierce as well as 10 of his previous EPs, will also be releasing one more cassette.