Five Questions With… David Picco
The St. John's -based singer/songwriter releases a new album, Live It Down, tomorrow. Here he discusses its creation, his two favorite songs, a memorable video, pandemic life on The Rock, and his hopes for live performance.
By Jason Schneider
For the vast majority of us waiting impatiently for Old Man Winter to depart, David Picco has released the perfect song to get through the next few months. Waitin' For The Summertime is the second single from the St. John's, Newfoundland singer/songwriter's latest album Live It Down—officially out Feb. 26—and it's accompanied by a video made from some stunning mid-20th Century home movies that's sure to tug at the heartstrings of anyone with any connection to that period.
The haunting qualities of the song itself are indicative of Live It Down as whole, finding Picco veering away from the gritty alt-country sound of his acclaimed 2019 album Out Of The Past, and experimenting with looser, Kurt Vile-esque vibes. The change is partly a reflection of Picco’s experience during pandemic restrictions, as eight of the new album’s nine songs were written over a three-month span in 2020.
Live It Down is certainly a glimpse into of the new world of sonic possibilities Picco has embraced, part of an evolution that has been playing out since the mid-‘00s when he was a member of the roots rock band Jet Set Motel. From there, he became a familiar face within the Toronto roots rock scene, working closely with producer Don Kerr (Rheostatics, Ron Sexsmith) and cult hero songwriter Kyp Harness.
Following his move back to St. John’s in 2015, Picco released the album Start Again, with Out Of The Past taking his sound into territory that Americana UK described as “rock-infused country with echoes of The Velvet Underground.” For more info, go to davidpicco.com.
What makes Live It Down stand apart from your past work?
This album is different for a few reasons. The main one is that all the songs, except for one, were written in a span of a few months and they all came easily. I wrote and recorded a dozen but cut it down to nine songs. It worked best like that. Most of them popped in my head when I was out walking, and for the most part I just had to pick up my guitar when I got home and fool around with chords for a while and refine the melodies.
The song Waitin’ For The Summertime was made up on the spot in the studio just from strumming a few chords. The drummer, Chris Donnelly, started playing a cool part and I made up most of the words and melody right there. My vocals are all live off the floor, which I haven't done since my third record back in 2011. Mark Feener, the engineer and co-producer, is a huge part of this album and he was able to get some nice atmospheric sounds that I didn't have on previous records. But at the same time it's pretty stripped down which I like because I'm tired of hearing over-produced music these days. There's no end to the tracking you can do, and it's too much. I wanted to do this album pretty fast and get it out.
What songs on the album have particular meaning to you and why?
My two favourite songs are In The Fall and Goin’ On Down. They're both nostalgic and close to me. I suppose because of everything that's going on I've been thinking about my childhood and both these songs are kind of about that. In The Fall is a little memory I have about my mother and I—something that I didn't really remember until I wrote the song. I wish she were around to hear it, I think she'd like it. Goin’ On Down is about growing up and realizing that there's a big world outside your hometown and wanting to see it. I've been fortunate to travel quite a bit throughout my life and I hope to do a lot more of it.
The video you've made for Waitin’ For the Summertime has some amazing old home movie footage. How did that come together?
Yeah, the video is nice. My good buddy Brad Gover suggested that we find some public domain footage and make something out of it. I had a few suggestions but he ran with it and came up with something really moving. He's an excellent editor and it really enhances the song. There's something about the parade part that hits me.
How has life been in St. John's during the pandemic?
Up until a few weeks ago it hasn't been too bad since the first lockdown. Everything was opened—at limited capacity—and live music was happening and it felt like it was only going to get better. But unfortunately the numbers are way up again so who knows when we'll get back to where we were at the beginning of the month. But at least around here you can get outside, in the woods on hiking trails and stuff like that. I'm not a big fan of winter, but I have a couple of dogs, so I get them out every day for an hour or two.
What's your mindset looking ahead to playing live on a regular basis again?
I had a few shows earlier this year and was supposed to have my release show this weekend but it's cancelled of course. I'm looking forward to playing solo regularly because I've put that on the back burner for a long time and only recently started doing that again. As for band shows, I usually do one every couple of months, and I'm always excited for that. But overall I haven't played live enough over the last couple of years. What I'd love to do is start playing overseas when and if everything gets back to normal. It's something I've wanted to do for many years but wasn't in the position to do so for many reasons. But now I am, and I'm hoping it can happen.