In the 2011 AP Readers Poll, screamagers Confide rated high on the list of bands fans wanted to see reunited. At the moment, however, that band’s clean vocalist/drummer, Joel Piper, is focused on only one thing: launching a solo career under his own name. Last year’s The Only One EP served as an introduction to his smooth electro-pop—something he’s also been known to explore under the moniker Avery Pkwy—while Piper’s forthcoming full-length, One Life, is even more polished. Due later this year (“We're looking at a summer release though haven't locked in the exact date,” he clarifies), it’s a credible stab at Top 40 crossover success—and a summation of his current headspace. “The title of the album came from a song I wrote called ‘One Life,’” Piper says. “I felt like that notion summed up how I feel in this new period of life. I only have one life, so I'm going to live it to the fullest, fearlessly and dreaming big.”
In the following interview, Piper revealed more details about One Life—including collaborating with the production company Red Decibel, who’s worked with Demi Lovato and Jonas Brothers—and moving away from heavier music. While you’re reading, check out this exclusive stream of “My Little Earthquake.” Although this song is on The Only One EP, this particular version will appear on One Life.
Many fans who only know you from Confide might find the music you’re making now quite different, although it’s well-known you’ve always had a soft spot for pop music and electronic beats. What was the songwriting process like for the forthcoming solo album, then? What was inspiring you?
One thing fans don’t know is that I actually turned down Confide's offer the first time they asked me [to join], because I was going to join a pop band called Bidwell, playing guitar and singing. I’ve always had an obsession with writing dance music and songs with memorable hooks. I ended up sticking true to my love for drumming and singing with Confide after they told me they wanted me to join because of the poppy/catchy-ness of Avery Pkwy.
Working with Red Decibel brought me to a new level of precise, minimalistic and focused songwriting I had never known existed. It was a challenge to have to try to raise my bar to their level. They've worked on huge multi-platinum records, so it was a real learning experience. As far as inspiration goes, we are basically workaholics using the mentality of painter Chuck Close: “Inspiration is for amateurs. Just get to work.” I love that quote. Inspiration is essential, but if you wait for it, you could be wasting a lot of time. We like to go out and find it.
How is this solo project different from—or building upon—Avery Pkwy?
I decided to use my own name for this adventure because I wanted there to be a separation from the 200-plus released and unreleased Avery Pkwy rock and “emo” electronic songs. I feel like “Joel Piper” and “Avery Pkwy” are two separate sounds, so I wanted to keep them apart.
What’s the biggest challenge writing pop music, as opposed to writing heavier music?
Writing songs with hooks or parts that move and connect to me is my only drug. I just can’t get enough. Pop music seems to come out of me naturally, but the biggest challenge is to make a song sound simple when in fact there is a lot going on.
It’s rather brave to embark on a solo career under your own name and go full-on pop. Why did you decide to go the route of a solo career instead of trying to get together another band?
Well, years ago Avery Pkwy was the result of not being able to find band members who could keep up with my pace of work or my drive. I've been in so many bands, and I've noticed bands will come and go, which is sad but true. So I was getting tired of investing my all into something that would end shortly because the members would get tired and quit. I felt it was time and I needed to put my investment into something that will not stop or give up when it gets tough. That's another reason I'm going out as Joel Piper; I'll always be me.
Tell us about collaborating with Red Decibel (Adam Watts, Andy Dodd and Gannin Arnold). How did you hear about them? Why did you want to collaborate with them?
A month after Confide ended, for a little while I was pursuing Avery Pkwy full time. Then I ran into mutual friend of mine, videographer/ photographer Daniel Chesnut. Daniel shot the Confide “Such Great Heights” music video and did a lot of video for Hurley. He was telling me about his new collaborator friend Adam Watts, who happened to work with this production company called RED DECIBEL. Daniel was saying how he thought they would love to work with me, since they were wanting to start working with new artists they could develop. I didn't think anything would come of it, but we ended up hitting it off and basically becoming best friends. I've been blessed to work with some great producers, like Joey Sturgis and Cameron Webb, and now since I'm doing more eclectic pop, things just totally connected with the RED DECIBEL guys.
We work really hard, but we have fun; it's tough to find both. They were some of the first people I've ever worked with that I saw eye-to-eye with musically. I guess they saw something they liked in me and what I was doing, so they wanted to help develop me and help fulfill my vision as an artist/writer/producer. Their studio is like a musician’s playground. We can record live drums, amped-up guitar, real piano, keys—literally anything—with no setup time, so it's a really creative environment. Sometimes I'll just cruise over there late and stay up all night recording ideas or vocal tracks.