Posted: January 1st, 2012 | Author: admin | Filed under: Feature story | Tags: kevin mcmahon, lucky pierre, nine inch nails, prick, trent reznor | No Comments »
Background note: This feature originally appeared in The Plain Dealer, in 2004, when Kevin McMahon released a deluge of CDs comprising work from all eras of his stop-start career. He’s since retreated again from the spotlight but he’s undoubtedly working on something spectacular. Hopefully he’ll see fit to share it soon.
As early as 1979, Kevin McMahon was described as Lucky Pierre’s “misguiding light.” In an interview with the Cleveland-based fanzine CLE, the young McMahon comes off as prickly, cagey, willful and abstract–all the things you could want in a post-punk-era singer, just as long as you didn’t have to interview him.
“I don’t know how to answer that question,” he tersely responds to an opening query from CLE founder Michael Weldon. “But I imagine I won’t know how to answer the rest, either.”
Twenty-five years later, McMahon holds a printout of that article in his long, pale fingers and laughs. He doesn’t remember doing the interview, but he does recognize the subject. Sort of.
“I think that was done in a sort of postured mode,” he says. “It seemed more important to express that sort of thing at the time. Now it doesn’t seem that important for me to express it in interviews. If I have something to say, I’m probably going to say it through the music.”
People–even post-punk-era singers–can mellow with age. That’s not surprising. What is surprising, however, is that McMahon is once again expressing himself through Lucky Pierre, and what he has to express is often wide-eyed optimism. Clearly, it hasn’t always been the case.
The singer spent much of the last decade fronting Prick, an electronically-distressed-glam band signed to Interscope via Trent Reznor’s Nothing Records. In 1995, he recorded a well-received debut album and toured with David Bowie and Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails. Then he was unceremoniously dropped from Nothing as he demoed songs for a follow-up in London.
“I’ve contributed to my own situation,” he says today. “It’s not like I would do anything just to succeed in the business. And it becomes less appealing every day. You hear what makes it and it’s like, ‘Why even bother?’ It’s become cartoonish. I’m not saying there isn’t any talent out there, but the majority of the business is run to make interchangeable stars and just keep the money rolling.”
Dejected, McMahon returned home to Cleveland’s west side, deciding at the time that–in his somewhat sarcastic estimation–he had two choices: “Kill myself and start over or just maim myself and come back to Lakewood.”
But Cleveland has clearly agreed with the mercurial singer. In 2002, he finally released the ambitious follow-up to Prick’s debut, The Wreckard (exclusively available at www.prickmusic.com). And now he’s released a more pop-oriented album as Lucky Pierre, the excellent ThinKing, which features the line, “It’s beginning to feel a whole lot better than ever before.”
“I’m always keeping my eye on the bright side,” he says with a laugh. “I think you’ll have that corroborated by just about anyone.”
He’s also made available on his Website (www.luckypierremusic.com) a cache of recently unearthed Lucky Pierre records–vintage vinyl from the ’70s and ’80s, used copies of which have traded on eBay for as much as $60. In many ways, the release and re-release of the Lucky Pierre material has brought McMahon full circle.
Sitting in a booth at Maria’s Roman Room in Lakewood, Ohio, he sips a glass of Chianti and obligingly plays This Is Your Life after scanning the old fanzine interview. Not coincidentally the restaurant sits on the same city block as the Phantasy Nite Club complex where Lucky Pierre rehearsed and performed to then-record crowds during the group’s initial heyday.
Formed in the mid ’70s as a vehicle for the prolific songwriter, the band has an incredibly unwieldly history, broken up by numerous line-up changes and intervening side projects (some of which–like Fear Of Blue–McMahon plans to release in the near future).
Clevelanders will best remember the early ’80s version of the band–a mod-inflected new-wave group featuring McMahon, bassist Tom Lash, guitarist Dennis Devito and drummer Dave Zima. But Lucky Pierre’s former “misguiding light” readily clears up any confusion about the group, stating that Lucky Pierre Music–his longtime publishing company–has always been simply a platform for his wide-ranging muse.
“Songwriters like The Kinks’ Ray Davies and T. Rex’s Marc Bolan resonated with me,” he says of his early inspirations. “When I heard people singing about things that you’d never hear in a normal pop song, it made me think that I could just write about whatever I wanted to. If no one liked it, then so what? It was never my idea to try to become a famous songwriter, just to become a famous songwriter. I do it because it’s a form of expression.”
And that’s not likely to change. As he sings on the infectious “Beginning,” “Writers keep on writing until they are done. Are they ever done?”
Well, are they?
“I think I’ll probably keep going even after the grave,” he says with a laugh.