The Relics’ front man Joseph Pieper is nothing if not enthusiastic. On the phone, he rushes through the requisite good-afternoon greetings, focusing instead on his love of performing for Macon audiences and his band’s September 15th show at JBA.
“It’s a great audience,” he says. “I’ll never forget the first time we ever played there. I think it was March of 2021 at The Hummingbird, our first time doing a three-hour set. Our guitarist’s amp was broken. It kept on spiking up loud in volume, and the bartenders were getting pissed off about that, and they told us only play one last song, but the rest of the audience wanted to hear more. After we did what was gonna be our last song, the entire bar–about 100 people or so– all started chanting unanimously, simultaneously, “One more song! One more song!” It was awesome. I was like, ‘Can we do one more? Let’s do one more!’ We ended on ‘Wake Me Up When September Ends’. The entire bar was singing along. It was a really special moment, especially with it being 2021, coming right out of COVID, and we were playing live music again for the first time in a while.”
Pieper considers Macon a respite from the pay-to-play venues that are the norm in their hometown, Atlanta, and a chance to play for lively, receptive crowds. Venues like JBA give The Relics the chance to demonstrate their versatility. Piper is a songwriting chameleon, crafting original songs in the vein of his favorite bands. Consider the group’s latest single, the summer-perfect “Sunshine”. The breezy number, with its acoustic strums and vocals that offer a hint of a British accent, ascends to a chorus plucked from the UK. Of the song’s origins, Pieper says, “I was listening to a lot of Jet and Oasis. I like how Jet does certain chord modulations where they change the key of the song on certain parts and then go back into the original key. That was something a theme I noticed across a lot of their songs, and I emulated that with ‘Sunshine’.”
“I was listening to a lot of Jet,” he continues, “when I wrote ‘Standing Tall’. I was taking some of those influences from them and also bands like them, like The Rolling Stones, and putting that into a song. When I wrote ‘Roundabout’, I was thinking of writing a Green Day-like song. Sometimes though, it’ll just be a completely random idea that pops in my head though. It’ll come out and just something that was not really from anyone else. It would just be something that came out of my own mind. With ‘Tonight’s the Night’, one of our first songs of our first EP, I had just watched the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers documentary, and I was trying to write something that had that kind of sound like the Heartbreakers. I definitely like to pay homage to my influence with my songwriting. I never claimed to be a completely new-type-sounding artist. That’s not what my goal is. My goal is not to reinvent the wheel. My goal is to write songs that people are gonna enjoy and are catchy.”
Catchy, indeed. Pieper’s songs can range from the muscular, riff-driven (“Addicted” and “Fighter”) to the bouncy and melodic (“It’s Alright” and “What’s Stopping You”). Yet all find common ground radio-ready, uplifting choruses, an optimism embedded in the band’s DNA. During the pandemic, The Relics faced uncertainty, but never succumbed to doubt.
Pieper says, “That was a tough time for a lot of bands. A lot of bands died during that, but I’m grateful that we were able to survive that and actually come out better. We did what a lot of bands didn’t do during that time. A lot of bands took time off. They either might have been recording or just took time off. But we did live streams, and we also released a lot of videos. We released the cover of ‘Wake Me up When September Ends’ because I knew that song was gonna hit hard that year because it was 2020. I knew people were gonna resonate with that song because it was more relatable than it ever was that year.
“Everyone wanted that nightmare to be over. We also did a cover of ‘In My Life’ by The Beatles because it was the 40th anniversary of John Lennon’s death. that year. We also did a lot of livestreams, so if we couldn’t play in front of you in person, we’d play in front of you on your phone or your laptop or whatever you were watching from your living room. And we did. We actually gained more fans by doing that because there were a bunch of people I knew from high school and college and the past tuning into these live streams. They were like, ‘Man, your band is awesome! I wanna see you guys.’ They came out in 2021 and saw us and that had never happened before that. So we got introduced to fans that were never listening to us before that. We actually came out of the pandemic better. I hate to say it, but it almost worked in our favor.”
The band has returned to the stage rejuvenated. Given the band’s rich repertoire of originals and carefully curated covers, deciding on a setlist has become something of an art for The Relics. “It’s of a mixture of a lot of things,” says Pieper. “For one, we’ll put our best originals on there, our songs that we know are gonna keep people’s attention. Unless we’re playing a three or four-set where we have to play everything we know, we’re gonna put our best originals on there. We basically trick the audience into them thinking that that’s a song that’s already famous. We’re gonna say, ‘All right, y’all know this song!’
“With our covers that we do, it’s a mixture of what we want to play and what we know the audience will like to hear. We never gonna do anything that’s not in our style. We’re not gonna cover Journey. I don’t have that kind of voice! We’re gonna pick crowd pleasers, but we’re gonna pick crowd pleasers that we know we’re gonna do, ‘She’s So High’ for the past several years, and ‘Long View’ by Green Day, ‘Running Down Dream’ by Tom Petty, ‘Born to Be Wild’, ‘Yellow’ by Coldplay, and ‘Mr. Brightside’, of course. The one that’s most different from our genre that we make it into a rock song is The Weekend’s ‘Blinding Lights’.
Pieper understands that variety is vital. “We do a little bit of everything. We know the audience is gonna dig from the experience.”