Despite what his singing voice suggests, Pierce Edens does not chew gravel, swallow sandpaper or have a small bass resonator lodged somewhere deep inside his chest.
For years, the local songwriter says he tried to “sweeten up” his voice. Thankfully, it resisted, because on his debut full-length album, Party Dress, his screams sound like the wise product of a thousand years’ worth of wars and loves gone wrong, as if he just woke up from a life of hard drinking and is now ready to tell his tale.
“Growing up, most of the music I heard was live, in school, or at church, or at festivals and community gatherings,” recalls Edens. “And the kind of music that it was, was old-time — ballads, hymns, old songs. I never really thought about that, it was just there.”
Edens sees the songs he writes as a country upbringing fused with a later love for grunge. “I kept that kind of music around, put it side by side with Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Alice in Chains. And that, I think, is kind of where my music resides,” the musician explains. “All that stuff shines through, and I think it’s my job to attempt to not filter any of it. I think that’s what honest music is — not thinking about that, and just letting it be what it is.”
With the exception of lap- and pedal-steel guitarist Matt Smith, all of the members of the Dirty Work were originally drawn to Asheville to attend Warren Wilson College.
The quartet came together at the urging of multi-instrumentalist David Mack (also of hip-hop group GFE). He introduced Edens to bassist Michael Olivier and Smith — Mack’s longtime friend. According to Mack, when Edens and Smith met, it was “like they got married. They just set up in the living room and played for two weeks. Michael [and I] didn’t even come to practice.”
Edens, who graduated with a degree in philosophy in 2003, was born and raised in Madison County’s Brush Creek, where he grew up learning songs from old-time legend Sheila Adams and hanging around the Marshall Depot, where locals like Josh Goforth get together for regular bluegrass jams.
The songwriter literally brought the band back home with him to make Dress, staying at his folk’s place and recording the album over the course of a single whiskey-fueled weekend last summer at Silvermine Studios in Marshall.
“It was so much fun, great, probably one of the best times I’ve ever had,” declares Edens. “We didn’t map out our songs so much. We just went in there and played, kicked it up. We caught what we do. That’s all we were ever after.”
But more often than not, the place Edens refers to as simply his “home,” or “the pub” is West Asheville landmark, the Westville Pub.
The bar has a rich history of not only showcasing, but employing some of Asheville’s most promising young musicians. Members of Menage got their start bartending and playing there, and on any given night patrons are served by any three of the four members of Agrolola. Edens used to work behind the bar and now regularly hosts the venue’s Monday open-mike nights. So the pub is a fitting location for the release of Dress.
The family that plays together
Edens shares more than living quarters with his wife, Jane, a vocalist in the Barrel House Mamas. Over the years, Edens and his various backing bands have teamed up with the Mamas for countless shows and collaborations. The Mamas cover Edens’ “Spirits” on their recently released debut, Gathering, and lend back up vocals to Dress. Together, they have cultivated something of a roots and folk rock revival in West Asheville, nurtured by the support of the Westville Pub.
So, when it came to laying down tracks for Dress, Edens got by with a little help from his friends. Producer Adam Johnson assisted in transforming the solo acoustic blues of Edens’ 2004 EP, four songs, into works of angsty, Southern rock ‘n’ roll.
Smith’s wailing guitar lines define the new instrumentation, breathing fire and soul into barn burners like “Baby Doll” and “Pretty,” and weeping gently along with Edens’ deep moans on more reflective songs like “Creeping Vines.” Many of the tracks would be right at home on Americana and AAA radio.
Edens gives due credit to his band mates.
“They have been right there with me on the clay every time, taking the song further than I thought it was going to go, or taking it in a different direction than I thought it was going to go and making it better.”
[Jake Frankel is a freelance writer based in Asheville.]
Pierce Edens and the Dirty Work release Party Dress at the Westville Pub on Saturday, Dec. 9. 225-9782.