Editor’s note: Last month, Phil Cook—of Megafaun, Phil Cook & The Guitarheels and a half-dozen other projects—sent a text to let me know his friend and collaborator Trae Pierce was bringing his band to Raleigh. Could we write something about the show? I agreed, and we did. But I also asked Phil if he’d like to ask Trae some questions about making music, together and separately—an interview between friends. He also agreed. Pierce plays with The T-Stone Band Friday, Feb. 6, at The Pour House. The free show starts at 7:30 p.m. I’ll let Phil take it from here.
I first met Trae Pierce during the sessions for The Blind Boys Of Alabama’s I’ll Find A Way. My friend Justin Vernon had asked me to act as bandleader and arranger for the legends, and I was, in all manners, nervous. You see, I grew up in northern Wisconsin, among people with big hearts and big dreams. It’s also far away from just about everything, including all the music and musicians that spoke to me. We lived inside the records they made but mostly wrote off the possibility of ever sharing the experience of working with them. What’s more, these men had been professionals since the 1930s.
But I quickly came to understand that my enthusiasm would land on welcoming ground. Working with The Blind Boys, I was not only accepted immediately as an equal, but I also found that my knowledge of their records and the styles involved was appreciated and respected.
There was one member in particular in which I found a kinship within our quest to make great records. His name was Trae Pierce, and we became fast friends, ribbing one another and giggling throughout the session. He’s a gold-capped grinner to his core. I’ve never met a more focused artist. When I later toured with The Blind Boys for several weeks, Trae would sleep all day in the van, having spent the entire night working on his own music. If you have a conversation with Trae, he’ll share his vision within minutes. Ask his band, and they speak proudly of playing a part in such noble dreams.
Trae has played bass with the Blind Boys for more than 16 years and has five Grammy awards to show for it. Raised in Florida, Trae began working with touring gospel groups in his early teens, eventually earning such a reputation that he landed touring gigs with James Brown, The Ohio Players, Parliament-Funkadelic, Dr. Hook and Peter Gabriel.
Along the way, he had the idea to form his own band and write his own music. Those raised on Southern gospel know exactly what connects an audience to its performers and precisely how to unite the energy of any room. Trae is no exception. He’s spent the last few years recruiting, developing and honing a young group, teaching them how to execute his vision. They’re called T-Stone. They played last year to just six people (including the bartender) at Deep South in Raleigh, but they were jaw-dropping—30 straight minutes of bottled lightning unleashed on the few who weren’t prepared for it.
This band is as tight as they come, merging a deep R&B pocket with just a twinge of twang and and a satisfying load of funky payoffs. They’ve now become the house band at B.B. King’s in Orlando, and they’re headed for the Pour House Friday, Feb. 6. I wouldn’t call the show a safe bet; I’d call it a free chance to restore some faith in humanity.
PHIL COOK: You’ve been traveling the world for most of your life. You’ve shared stages with the biggest names in music from James Brown to Peter Gabriel. What inspired you to start your own band at this point in your life?
TRAE PIERCE: Well, Phil, the fact is I have seen a lot, but not seen it all. I want to see and experience much more in music but things I feel I haven’t seen. I knew that starting my own band can shed more light on them, and it surely has, because having my own band has already shown me some things I’ve never seen in my career. And we are still fairly new. I just wish I had started it much sooner.
Being a bandleader can be a challenge, especially for a group your size. Talk about your process of handling both challenges and successes.
My process of handling challenge is to always push forward and pass obstacles, don’t take no for an answer, keep the band moving as much as possible. We are seven people on the road; that’s a challenge within itself, but it’s our sound, and I won’t compromise the sound. Another challenge is the more members you have, the more personalities you have. Long trips are trying. But on the success side, the feeling that you get when you succeed or a fan comes up and says it was “the best show I’ve ever seen or “the most fun I’ve ever had,” it is worth it all.
What, in your experience, is the essence of a great live band?
I would say play as a team and not as individuals. You must provide great entertainment with great musicianship. Feel what you play but play what you feel. Everyone in this band is very talented. They play their own parts. Don’t step on toes. Got to know dynamics. Listen, and stay humble.
Why should someone take a chance and come out to see Trae Piece and the T-Stone Band?
Our show is very exciting, energetic, melodic, fun and full of surprises. We always have something going on in the show. We make you jump, sing, think and participate. Our music is well-rounded. I always say if you pour, Flo Rida, Ohio Players, James Brown, Peter Gabriel and Randy Travis in a jar, shake it up, then pour it out, it come out T-Stone.
We’ve been friends for a few years now. Out of all the folks I’ve met through music, I would say you are the hardest working person I know. I don’t know when you sleep. What are you striving toward?
I’m striving to spread our music as far and as much as we can around the globe, to continue to spread our positive, peaceful but fun message through music to a very wide audience and have fun doing it. Every year, things heat up a notch for us, so we hop the near future brings us into the forefront. Flo Rida once told me that good music and talent will always rise above it all. We have both. It will happen.