by M. L. Lanzillotta
I first encountered alt-rock trio Copes (Sebastian Pinto, Alec Pugliese, Vinnie Burke) at the Black Cat in 2017, when they were playing a benefit show for a homeless shelter. Afterward, I went home and listened to their album for days. I’ve been a fan ever since. It’s hard not to be. There’s something so simple – so familiar – about their music. Copes sounds like a rawer version of pop-punk bands many Gen Z’ers grew up with. The pleasantly vague lyrics can mean whatever the listener wants them to. This gives them a comforting universal feel. The tempo isn’t wildly fast or painfully slow, either. Same goes for the intensity. Their music inhabits a ‘Goldilocks Zone’. Also, there’s an aura of friendliness to Copes. Even the musicians themselves look like ordinary dudes. You know, the type of nonchalant guys you might meet at a record store, which only adds to their appeal.
Alchemical Records: So… how did you guys meet?
Seb: Uh, you can go with that one (gestures to Alec)
Alec: well, we had been playing bands for, what, five-six years?
Seb: Longer than that.
Alec: Five or six years with all three of us. Uh, and then, before that it was me and a couple of other people – my friends Jimmy and Brandon – and we were looking for another guitarist, and they knew Sebastian. And Sebastian came over one day, and then he was in the band, and that was like…
Vinnie: that must’ve been 2006. Like, ten years ago. At least ten years ago.
Alec: You didn’t know Vinnie from, like school or anything?
Alec: We did go to the same schools.
Vinnie: But we met at band practice.
Alec: I was a friend of a friend…
Seb: Who came to a show.
Alec: Who came to shows – wait, no, hold on…. Jesse lived in Laurel, so you guys were friends with Jesse – right? – and then I was friends with Jesse, so that’s how I met you guys, I came to a show.
Seb: Though you weren’t living in Laurel then, you met him in high school.
AR: So… how long have you been playing together as this group?
Alec: Uh, this group? Three years. Right?
Seb: Yeah. Three years.
Alec: Around three years now. Yeah.
AR: I know I saw you in 2017 at the Black Cat.
Alec: Yeah, we did play the Black Cat.
Alec & Seb: in 2017.
Seb: That’s sounds right.
AR: That concert inspired my second book, by the way. Er, so, how do you guys go about writing songs?
Vinnie: Usually, one of us brings in a lick. A short riff. Like, really short. And then, ah, we’ll play it for a little bit and expand on that, and kinda go from there. Sometimes Sebastian will come in with, uh, some, like, some words and a melody and some chords. So that’ll be more like a song kinda put together. And then we’ll just add stuff, take stuff out, and polish that up.
Alec: I mean, some songs are like written pretty quick. Or, like, somebody comes in with – Sebastian or Vinnie comes in with something, and they’re like I want this to be like this. Sometimes it’s just a riff and it takes a whole year of us playing the same riff over and over again, and building a song from that. So, a bunch of different ways, really. But that’s the gist.
AR: Do the lyrics mean anything? Or are they merely words?
Seb: I guess what I try to do is write things that kinda sound fun to say and that people can interpret different ways. I’m trying to be a little bit more straightforward nowadays but, for the last album, I was just thinking just right think “he means this!” but when somebody else reads it they think “no, they meant this!”. So, your personality interprets what the lyrics mean. So everybody interprets them differently. And what you say about them reveals something about yourself.
Vinnie: I do remember at the time when we did [the] recording and finalizing on vocals, we actually did go over all the lyrics and discuss like what they meant to all of us. But I’ll be honest, that was – what? – two-three years ago. So don’t remember. But we definitely did discuss it.
Alec: I just wanna say, like, we’ve got that whiteboard in the band room. And he’ll come in with lyrics and he’ll write them on the board. And we’ll look at them and we’ll be like, first off, we’re like “oh, I like that, I like that, I don’t like this.” But then we’re like, “what does it mean to you?” And one song could mean something to Sebastian but then mean something totally different to me and Vinnie. And I think that’s what’s cool about, mainly, lyrics in general. But, I mean, I know that when you write stuff it comes from inside. Y’know what I mean? It comes from somewhere. Even if you’re not trying to writes something with any over-exaggerated meaning, it could mean to me. It can mean something to me. I know that’s kinda complicated, though I think it’s the best answer we can give.
AR: Who got you guys into music?
Alec: Do you want to go one-by-one on that?
Alec: How ‘bout you, Sebastian.
Seb: Uh, my older brother played guitar. And I always thought he was kinda cool and then, y’know, heard rock bands and I was like “I gotta try that out”. I was, like, 12.
Alec: I mean, for me… I was always interested in music, from classic rock and stuff like that. Really, it was these guys and a couple other people that got me into, like, punk rock and ska music back in the day, in High school. We all kinda bonded over that and we still do. I’d really say that bands like Bomb Music Industry, Streetlight Manifesto, No Effects, Blink-182… like, literally, I’m listing off things probably everybody would list off. But for me that was a definitely a huge influence there. How about you?
Vinnie: Uh, I mean… I’ve always played music. My sister and my mom took piano lessons, so, ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to play piano. So, I started with piano lessons then I… like, started playing other instruments like guitar. Then I finally got a drum set and started playing with other people. Then I went to college for it and everything. And then… for, like, band influences? I’d say I’ve stuck towards really the punk, pop-punk, and pop-rock kinda stuff. Blink-182, Green Day, that kinda area.
Alec: But I would definitely say, like, now… personally, I mean, my music interests definitely changed. Like, Indie Stuff. Carseat Headrest and, I don’t know, a lot of stuff that’s out there. People who are currently releasing music.
AR: What was recording that first album, Never Better, like?
Alec: That’s a loaded question.
Alec: Because, together the three of us, we’ve been through a lot of recording, like-
Vinnie: For other bands.
Alec: Our last band, Sweat Life, we – I mean, I did the least amount of stuff, probably-
Seb: I think she’s asking about this band.
Alec: Yeah, yeah. I’m saying, I mean, the albums we worked on in the past definitely made it a lot better.
Vinnie: The big thing on how this album was recorded was that I hiked the Appalachian Trail. I through-hiked the Appalachian trail while the recording was happening. So, before I left, I knew that we were going to work on this album and I’d be gone. So, before I left, we recorded all the drums for all of the songs. And then I left, and they went to a different – we call it, studio B-
Alec: My Mom’s house.
Seb, Alec, Vinnie:
Vinnie: Alec’s house. And they recorded all the guitar and the bass… and the vocals. And they sent me stuff. I remember walking to the top of a mountain so I could get service on my phone, so that I could download the Dropbox app – because I didn’t even have the app on my phone yet! – so I could download the app and download the songs, so I could listen to the songs and give them notes. Then, after I got back, we finished up with my backup vocals, harmonies, and… and we went back to mix and master with Mike Walls, right?
Alec: Yeah, Mike Walls.
Seb: From Infinite Pizza…
Seb and Alec: …and Queen Wolf.
Alec: Great bands. I was just gonna say that, like, definitely it was considered our first quote-unquote “album”, but I was just saying that, since we had so much experience working at home and doing this DIY recording, from all the other bands that we’ve done stuff with. Like, this was kind of… I think this album sounded pretty good. Like, from years and years of experience… of screwing up and not knowing what we’re doing with this home studio stuff. With this last album I was kinda like, “oh! We actually know what we’re doing… it sounds pretty good.”
Vinnie: They next one’s gonna be even better.
AR: You were the ones who made the music video on the Gameboy, right?
Alec: Yeah, yeah We were the ones who made a music video on a Gameboy camera.
Alec, Seb, Vinnie:
Alec: Mainly because I wanted to. When I was in college I did a lot of, like, art projects and installations and like experimental video work with outdated technology. And I’ve always loved video games. When I was in college I was experimenting with actually making videos with a Gameboy Camera and I was just like, “aw, shit, this would be really cool for a music video”… and we wanted to make a music video… so I was like, “well, shit, we’re just gonna do it!”
Vinnie: We just started talking about it and then, uh, after we did a little bit of research – I think Alec did a lot more research – after we did a bit of research Alec was like, “nobody has done this before, nobody has used a Gameboy to shoot an entire music video.” So, for me, I was more interested in being the first people to do that. Like, that was a driving factor.
Alec: Personally it didn’t have anything to do with the song necessarily. I know a lot of people do music videos that have to do with the song… this was just one where it was us playing, we wanted to make it kinda trippy, y’know. If you wanna relate it to the song, like… [the song’s name is] Vertigo! There are parts of the song where it’s, like, pretty trippy. And that’s all done in the Gameboy camera. But, yeah, mainly ‘cause I wanted to do it. And recently a German newspaper came out with an article that included our video because it was talking about other music videos filmed on game consoles. So that was pretty cool.
AR: …and that’s all. Thank you, guys.