The evolving dark carnival of Pariah Beat

Collective bargaining
By BARRY THOMPSON  |  February 23, 2011

Pariah Beat
FIDDLE UNION “For the first two or three years,” says Nick Charyk (left, with Emily Eastridge and Billy Sharff), “we really tried hard to make it a collective, a sort of democratic experiment.” 
Pariah Beat's new album, Bury Me Not, is all about death. Some songs are about death itself; others chronicle types of transitory phases. It's a nice thematic mix of death as in the big daunting inevitable unknowable and death as a metaphorical but not so daunting inevitable unknowable.

Not long after a wailing harmonica plays harbinger for the title track's brooding mission statement, it becomes clear that after four years of experimenting with every style under the roots-music umbrella, Pariah Beat have settled on being a country band. On the banjo-and-fiddle-driven ditty "I Don't Want To Go to Heaven," multi-instrumentalist savant Billy Sharff takes a respectful pass on any sort of afterlife. I prefer not to listen to bookender "Family Pet," a haunting ode to a euthanized companion. Dying puppies and kitties upset me. I do prefer to listen to an affecting slice of folksy balladry called "Rosary Beads" that decries Bible-thumping fundamentalists as dicks who will all go to Hell.

"There's something genetic there if you're raised Catholic," founding guitarist Nick Charyk tells me from off Interstate 89, somewhere in Vermont. "I had a dream once where I woke up in bed with stigmata. I pulled my shirt back and there was blood everywhere. It was the most gruesome, terrifying dream I've ever had. It's got to be fucked up when a kid has those kinds of dreams."

Yet Bury Me Not's very existence attests to the collective refusal of the Thetford (Vermont) trio to give up the ghost — to say nothing of their aptitude for self-reincarnation. Charyk, Sharff, and recent reacquisition of Jamaica Plain, bassist Emily Eastridge, are all that officially remains of Pariah Beat, which began as a carnival of punks-turned-gypsy-hillbillies that at one point, according to legend, ballooned to 48 members. The reality was probably closer to 12, tops, but that's still a lot.

"For the first two or three years," says Charyk, "we really tried hard to make it a collective, a sort of democratic experiment. Everyone was writing songs and singing. We made an effort to make it about the group, not an individual. I think it was a good microcosm of why socialism is tough to keep together."

In the interest of being able to rehearse and maintain consistent performance standards, Pariah Beat whittled down to a five-piece and relocated to a vortex of calamitous wonder called the AV Club in Jamaica Plain. Whoever of the band's circle was left living there got evicted in late summer 2009. Well before all that, Pariah Beat were expecting to open for Kimya Dawson in their basement, but they didn't. (The quick backstory: they invited Dawson to come over for dinner. She accepted, assumed they wanted a performance, and posted their address on her website. Eight hundred persons showed up. She left without playing after someone took a big ol' bong rip in front of her baby. Fortunately, Kimya Dawson fans are incapable of rioting.)

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