Five Questions With… David Picco
The St. John's-based roots-rocker and former Jetset Motel leader has released his fifth solo album, Out Of The Past. Here he discusses his creative approach, his musical family, a love of the Velvet Underground and Townes Van Zandt, and a misplaced guitar.
By Jason Schneider
On his fifth album, Out Of The Past, David Picco takes a cue from the title in offering a classic alt-country collection, one that echoes the gloriously raw and edgy recordings of Uncle Tupelo, Tom Petty, and Drive-By Truckers. But in other ways the St. John’s NL singer/songwriter uses this approach to address the present with searing clarity, as he has adapted to life’s harsh realities.
Picco began Out Of The Past with over 20 songs, 10 of which made the final cut after recording sessions with Krisjan Leslie at Lab Of Chaos in St. John’s. Joining him was his trusted band consisting of guitarist Sean Murray, keyboardist Ryan Kennedy, drummer Chris Donnelly, and bassist Paddy Byrne, along with some special guests.
It was not so much a sense of nostalgia that permeated the material, but more of a willingness by Picco to show more sides of his personality through his music. Out Of The Past is Picco’s first release since 2015’s Start Again, and was made following a return to St. John’s after living in Toronto for 12 years. During that time, Picco performed with his former band Jetset Motel and worked closely with producer Don Kerr (Ron Sexsmith, Rheostatics), along with producing an album himself for Kyp Harness.
Fans of the CBC’s Republic Of Doyle will recognize Picco’s music from the show, and, just as its creators worked to move beyond Newfoundland cultural stereotypes, Picco’s music naturally appeals to roots rock fans everywhere. Out Of The Past is available now through davidpicco.com and he officially launches the album on May 31 with a show at The Ship Pub in St. John’s.
What makes Out Of The Past different from your past work?
I think this album is my most cohesive work yet, and for me, that's always something to strive for. On my other albums, the goal was to write a bunch of songs and pick what I considered to be the best ones. This time around I had much more material to choose from and decided to pick the ones that best fit together. I left off a few that may be stronger songs but didn't fit as well. I also self-produced, which was a first for me. In the past, I've always co-produced with someone else. That said, my current band had a huge amount of input, and I think their playing on this album is great.
What songs on the record are you most proud of and why?
If I had to pick two, I’d say Down the Road and Gone and the title track, Out of the Past. The former because it came out exactly the way I heard it in my head when I wrote it. A couple of people told me that the organ and guitar solo sound like The Velvet Underground, which I love hearing because they're probably my favorite band of all time. The latter because it's for two dear friends that passed away in the last couple of years. But in a sense, it's for everybody that I've lost in my lifetime. It's a nice feeling to write a song quickly without thinking about it too much—just letting it fall out—and that's what happened with that one. It took about 20 minutes, which is pretty fast considering it's the longest song on the album. I'm also very happy with the arrangement; it's pretty epic. Maybe a little over the top but I just wanted to go for it and not hold back. Springsteen does it about five times per album, so I figure I can get away with it once!
What are your fondest musical memories as you were growing up?
So many. I have two older brothers who love music as much as I do so there were always great albums around. Early on it was lots of heavy metal and British Invasion stuff. I became obsessed with the Beatles by Grade 1. So did my brother Chris, although my oldest brother, Charles, still says that they're way overrated! My father was pretty good at singing and playing guitar, and I have lots of nice memories of him singing. He didn't take it too seriously, but he was a real natural when it came to ballads. My mother had a nice voice too, but she was a little shy.
What song by another artist do you wish you had written?
Again, so many. But it's usually the universal ones that keep coming back to me. I’ve been a huge fan of Townes Van Zandt for years, but lately, I've been listening to him a lot. If I Needed You is one of the most simple, perfect songs you could ever hear. I’d also pick John Lennon’s Watching The Wheels because, from the first time I heard it when I was a kid, I thought, this song is my life. I’d also have to pick What Goes On by the Velvet Underground for being one of the best rock ‘n roll songs of all time, and Farewell Transmission by Songs: Ohia. Jason Molina was simply incredible, and it sucks that he's gone.
What’s your best touring story?
My former band Jetset Motel was doing some shows around Ontario and Quebec many years ago when I was going through a break-up and was just miserable and all over the place. After we played in Montreal with a band called Fudd, I grabbed my guitar case, threw it in the van and the next day we drove to Ottawa for the next show. We were late, and when I opened the guitar case as we were quickly setting up, there was a different guitar in it. It turned out the guitarist from Fudd and I had the same guitar case. So I got up on stage with a Paul Reed Smith—it didn’t look right at all and was hard to play. It felt like I was playing guitar for the first time, just awful. I explained to the audience at least twice what had happened. A couple of days later I saw a review of the show. It said “Picco’s set was somewhat hampered by the disappearance of his guitar,” with a picture of me looking very uncomfortable. And needless to say, the guitarist from Fudd wasn’t very happy with me!