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He gets by with a little help from the Beatles

By Jonathan Perry, Globe Correspondent | June 9, 2006

"There's nothing like your band breaking up to give you freedom," says ex-Pills singer-bassist Corin Ashley, explaining the genesis of his solo debut, "Songs From the Brill Bedroom."

The disc, which Ashley celebrates Wednesday at T.T. the Bear's Place (he opens for Tommy Keene), marks a dramatic departure from the amped-up, mod-flavored power-pop he perfected with the Pills, a Boston outfit that built a loyal local following and a fierce one abroad.

Instead, as the title suggests, the new album harks back to the classic AM radio anthems by Brill Building songwriters such as Carole King and Neil Diamond. The most pronounced influence, however, is the Beatles and that band's early '70 s acolytes, such as Emmitt Rhodes, Badfinger's Pete Ham, and Harry Nilsson -- Ashley even covers the latter's "Daddy's Song."

"It was very much a conscious decision on my part to go in a different direction than what I had done in the Pills," says Ashley, whose band went out on a high note with its well-received final CD, 2003's "A Fistful of Pills."

"For the first time in my so-called career, I let my Beatles influence run rampant," he says. "In the Pills, we were all huge Beatles fans, but it was the one influence we were always a little shy about using [explicitly] because our sound and ethos was super-defined."

In fact, the Pills' penchant for manic tempos, crashing chords, and high-energy guitar riffs put them closer to the camps of neo-mods like the Jam and their forebears (the early Who, Small Faces, Creation) than the Fab Four. Ashley concedes that perhaps it was the Pills' way of keeping its Beatles devotion at arm's length. But with its old-school production style (the bulk of "Brill Bedroom" was recorded live to eight-track tape, with microphones set up around Ashley's Cambridge apartment), and an emphasis of song craft over showmanship, "Brill Bedroom" closes the gap. Ashley says he was going for the feel of solo-era albums like Paul McCartney's "Ram" and George Harrison's "All Things Must Pass."

For the project, Ashley enlisted cohorts and onetime Pills bandmates -- drummer Matt Burwell, guitarist Dave Aaronoff, and slide guitarist Eric Schmider -- dubbing his new backing band the Dirty Ticket.

"I think people think of me as a wildly enthusiastic person about music in general, and that's true," says Ashley. "But at the same time, there are a lot of insecurities that go into the creative process and so I still needed encouragement, and someone to give me the thumb's up on things."

One track, "Gin & Panic," written as his old band was breaking up, was "the first real song I wrote where I knew I was making a solo record. That was me saying, `OK, smarty - pants -- you've been jumping around at the end of songs and trying to sell T-shirts. Now what are you going to do?' So that tune was very much me distraught and reaching for my musical comfort food, which is anything with an Apple on the label."

After years of touring, Ashley eventually grew comfortable making music in his bedroom again, returning to the place where most musicians begin. "For better or worse, the Pills were a very ambitious band. We had an agenda. We thought we were the best rock band in Boston and we wanted to shove it in everybody's face. But with this, I don't have any agenda. I'm not trying to build a buzz or take it to the next level, as they say. I'm 38 and not trying to make it anymore. I just have these nice tunes and I want people to hear them."

Click the album cover below for more information about
songs from the brill bedroom


EMAIL: cashley@murrayhilltalent.com
PHONE: (781) 338-9701

© Corin Ashley