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Everything Is Bigger and Better for the Pierce Brothers

The indie folk sibling duo tell Rolling Stone AU/NZ about how they’ve changed as both musicians and men coming into their third album

Pierce Brothers

Dara Munnis

As the sun begins to dip beyond the horizon of Victoria’s southern coastline, I find myself in a van in a dusty car park at the back of The Westernport Hotel in San Remo. Beside me sits the Australian indie folk duo the Pierce Brothers, who are preparing for their final summer warm-up show before heading to Europe for what will become both their most successful and challenging overseas tour to date. 

This setting is hardly the most glamorous of rock ‘n’ roll vistas but it’s a familiar scene to twins Jack and Patrick Pierce: they’ve got 50 shows across two continents to contend with this year alone, and that’s just the shows they’ve announced so far.

“It’s been 10 years since we released The Night Tree, which is the EP that kind of got us on the map,” Jack says, turning to face me from the van’s front seat. “Our first tour of Europe was also 10 years ago, so to sit here now and say we’re going back to Europe, with a new album coming out soon, is just mind-blowing to me.”

There was barely time for the band to recover from jet lag when they returned home for the Australian leg of their tour and to celebrate the release of their new album, Everything Is Bigger Than Me. This leg included a stop at Bluesfest Byron Bay last weekend, where they debuted songs from the album as part of their new live set. 

Gracing the stage at Bluesfest or playing iconic venues like The Corner Hotel or The Espy used to feel like an impossible goal for Jack and Patrick back in their humble busking days: it was on Melbourne’s Bourke Street where they first honed their performance style, quickly learning that there was much more to music than songwriting ability.

Now, over a decade later, they’ve sold out multiple shows at both of those aforementioned venues, as well as at many other equally iconic spots around the globe, including Amsterdam’s Paradiso and The Garage in London.

“I never thought we’d be in the position we’re in now, and I think it’s [the] human condition that more is never enough – you acclimatise when everything happens with music and suddenly you’re doing things you always wanted to do… you get comfortable very quickly and you just want to go on to the next thing,” Patrick says. “We really try to stop and appreciate how lucky we’ve been, because I think it’s really easy to forget we’re the luckiest people in the world to be able to do what we do.”

A life in music, in some form or another, always seemed destined for the brothers.

Born into a close-knit family of five siblings in Melbourne’s Eastern Suburbs, their parents named them after the Irish poet, teacher and 1916 rebellion leader Patrick Pearse. 

“Mum was a history major and liked the idea of Patrick Pearse, especially because she was a Collins and it was Pádraig Pearse and Michael Collins – with John being the middle name for her dad,” Patrick explains of their names, which fans now delight in using as Pierce Brothers trivia. “Then they got twins and they’re like, ‘John Patrick (Jack) and Patrick John’ – until I was 15, I thought that’s how all twins got named because it just made sense.”

As the pair grew, they were heavily influenced by older brothers Leigh and Justin, who listened to ‘90s-era rock and grunge and played the guitar.

“They weren’t super into music, but they played guitar and we wanted to be cool like them, basically,” Jack says. “We never really got into buying music or records. We wanted to learn and play rather than listen, and we wanted to perform – that came in all sorts of ways, like musical theatre and rock bands, metal bands when we were at school, all sorts of experimentation stuff.”

Both brothers cite Paul Kelly and Damien Rice as favourite songwriters, so it comes as no surprise when they reveal that Everything Is Bigger Than Me was almost a stripped-back acoustic record. “We always came back to the acoustic guitar and did things we love, and then folk just seemed to speak to us the most,” Jack says.

Instead, their third album morphed into something that perhaps represents the true essence of the band better than anything they’ve previously released.

“When we were in South Africa, Pat and I were playing with an idea we had from a jam session which didn’t really have any lyrics, and we just wrote out this whole song,” Jack recalls. “We were like, ‘That’s really cool, we’re writing an album, and this is how the album will open.'”

The pair quickly fell into what Jack describes as a “writing hole” which enveloped them for the first part of 2023. 

“When we got back, Patrick went to the Philippines and I went up to Stradbroke Island and I just sat there with a guitar every single day. I was on holiday with my kids, but I’d just kind of sing for them every day, and that’s where the song “Everything Is Bigger Than Me” came from, that’s where “Hollow” came from, that’s where “Wilder” came from,” he adds. 

“By the time we got into the studio, I’d already done a lot of pre-production on a lot of the songs, which is way more prepared than we’d been in the past.”

Having a new home studio allowed Jack to track the backing vocals and additional elements of production prior to bringing Phil Threlfall, who had mixed 2021’s Into the Great Unknown, in to engineer the project. No amount of preparation, though, could alleviate Patrick’s anxiety.

“It’s the most stressful thing making an album, because so much work has already gone into it and then we get in there and I start freaking out,” he says. “I get blinders on and just really, really focused on that, and if it’s not that way, then I start panicking.”

It likely didn’t help Patrick’s anxiety levels that this was the first album the brothers set out to produce themselves. “Phil was just on as an engineer at first and doing a wonderful job, then by the end of it we were like, ‘Yeah, you’re a producer on this as well now,’ because we became a little team,” Jack says. 

“This is our first foray into producing for ourselves rather than getting a producer on board and entrusting some of that to them, so I wanted to be prepared for that and it worked out; there [are] some moments on this record that I think have encapsulated us better than we ever have before.”

The more time Jack spent in the creative process, the more his confidence grew. “I always second guess myself when I hear it later, after it’s released – I’ll do that with all my records – but I think I’ll do it less with this one because I’ve spent more time with it.”

Jack’s confidence wasn’t shared by his brother, however, who second-guessed himself from the writing process.

“I will write and then I’ll hate it and then I’ll like it and then I’ll hate it again. I’ll ditch it and then I’ll write something else and then I’ll go back to it and then I’ll go maybe… and then I’ll bring it into the studio and Jack’s like, ‘This is great!’ And I go, ‘Okay,’ but then I procrastinate,” Patrick explains. 

“That’s why when we were going through all the tracks and came to the song “Everything Is Bigger Than Me”, I was like, ‘That’s the name of the album for sure,’ because when everything gets bigger than you and gets away from you – I identify with that.”

On album track “Corner of the Sun”, which he penned with his brother’s help, Patrick details having a panic attack while walking on stage.

“I listen to that [song] and I’m like, ‘Should I have done something different?,'” he sighs. “I find it really hard to write a song and commit to it – I’ve got a million unfinished tracks here that Jack is like, ‘Hey, this is great, let’s build them.’ I just need to sit down and get my brain to stop craving dopamine and just focus for a second… don’t look at the phone and just finish the job, I think that’s really the biggest issue with me.”

Belying his internal battles, Patrick appears the calmer of the two during live shows, steadfastly maintaining the rhythm of the set – quite literally – as Jack’s frenzied energy entertains the crowd. 

“Jack is the Freddie [Mercury] of the band,” Patrick quips, pointing out that the last time the Pierce Brothers performed at Bluesfest he was forced to do so without Jack, who was struck down with COVID, and it took no less than three people to fill in for his brother. “I can run the music, but Jack really runs the show.”

Speaking to his larger-than-life stage persona, Jack says it’s something he developed both as a way for him and the crowd to get more out of a show.

“I get very flamboyant because I think that if I lose my inhibitions a bit then people will be more comfortable to lose theirs by watching, and in turn they can enjoy the performance a little bit more,” he explains. 

“It helps to get into a flow state where I can feel myself not be too worried about getting the cues exactly right, and you could do that with alcohol, which I did in the past, but now I try not to drink before a show. So to get into that flirtatious mood I’ll start dancing around and anything I can do to help get on that plane.”

Off stage, Jack is a father of two with a mortgage and a regular job (when he’s at home). The contrasting routines of a touring musician and a working-class dad is something he has, at times, struggled with, and it has crept into his songwriting.

“The song “Studio” is about being too obsessed with music and a guilt that I felt while I was away; it’s kind of about the worst version of myself,” he says. “It’s the story of the man who can’t see what he’s losing in real time because he’s too focused on music or the studio or performing, so it was a lot of these guilts that I felt, and talking about all that came to a really powerful song.”

Everything Is Bigger Than Me is a sign of the Pierce Brothers’ maturity as both musicians and men. Patrick laughs as he recalls a recent conversation with a fan who noted such an evolution.

“They said it was funny watching the themes of our songs developing from our early to mid-twenties – ‘You were just fucking self-involved and singing about yourself’ – when our songs were all heartbreak and woe is me,” he says. “Then as we fell in love with our partners and got married, it was about anxiety or family and all that grown up stuff.”

For “White Dress”, Patrick had the help of Ben Campaign after showing Ben the song, which he planned to perform on his wedding day, at 3am on his buck’s night. Ben also co-wrote “Blood”, a song about the fraught nature of being in a band with one’s brother, with Jack.

“It’s a lot easier to have blowouts with somebody in your family than somebody you’re friends with in a band, so it can make things more volatile, I think,” Jack ponders. “But we can create some really cool things as well, and creating cool things can become volatile as well, so it can feel a little reckless. I think it’s a good thing, though.”

Things can become particularly tenuous on tour, Patrick points out, when sleep deprivation and forced close quarters become a precarious mix.

“It is tough, especially when communication either goes out the window or expectations don’t match up and there’s a lot of history there; if you’re low on sleep and you’re not communicating well you might miss something that then can bring up an old argument,” he says. “Some of our crew will just shake their heads and walk off while Jack and I rip shreds off each other.”

Patrick and Jack are clearly vastly different people to those two keen musos who busked on Bourke Street all those years ago, but a pure love for music still lies at their core. As they begin clocking up the miles in their biggest year since 2019, they maintain sincere gratitude for their lives right now: touring the world together, playing their songs to people who care, as they watch the odometer tick over.

“We only get to do this because people all over the world decide to give up their Thursday or Friday or Saturday or Sunday night and buy tickets and get someone to look after the kids and the dog to come and dance with us and watch the show and sing along,” Patrick says. “And that’s never fucking lost on me.”

Pierce Brothers’ Everything Is Bigger Than Me is out now. Read Rolling Stone AU/NZ’s review here