Aptos native Brent Pierce has been writing songs for a long time. Back in 1983, at the age of 17, he wrote the country ballad “Times Are Rough,” a fictitious song that details events that lead to the main character’s divorce. Years later, he went through one himself.
Surprisingly—to him, at least—many of the details are accurate. So now, when he plays it, it sounds like he wrote the song from his life experience.
“It’s weird, because normally you write a song about something that happened to you,” Pierce says. “This one was in reverse—I wrote it, and then lived it.”
The original version was written for his first group, Brent Pierce and the Larson Hill Band, which featured him, his brother and some high school friends. They disbanded in 1987. A re-recorded version of “Times Are Rough” appears on Pierce’s new EP Sweet RoseMarie, his first solo record, released in June.
Other than a few tweaks in the lyrics, the addition of a fiddle and some tighter finger-picking, the updated rendition of the song is very similar to the one he wrote as a 17-year-old.
These days, locals likely know Pierce for his group Brent Pierce and the Acid Grass Boys, which has been around for a few years. It originally started when he joined local rockers Monkey Boys, blending bluegrass and rock.
“Acid Grass Boys are a group of rockers backing up this hillbilly,” Pierce quips.
As much as he’s enjoyed playing with the Acid Grass Boys, he’s wanted to record a solo album for the past 14 years. When live music shut down last year, Pierce finally had the time to make it happen. He wanted to pull tunes from his several decades of songwriting and find the best players for each song. He started recording in May 2020, and it took him a year to complete.
“I’ve been in the business a long time, and I’ve made a lot of friends, some local and some out of town,” Pierce says. “I was home a lot, and so were my friends in Nashville. I wanted to do a full LP, but due to my pickiness, I decided to do five strong recordings, and hopefully get to do a follow-up.”
There’s a lot of diversity on the record. Pierce wanted to show everyone that he’s much more than a banjo-playing bluegrass guy.
“I wanted to put out a wide range of what I do musically, from the traditional mountain music sound to a more progressive rocking feel,” he explains. “And hit some traditional country bluegrass. Since it is my first release, I want the folks to get a feel of all my music styling.”
This record is also special to pierce because he spent several years away from the local scene. In the early ’90s, he got married and had his first daughter. He had to work a real job, which left little time for gigging. He worked as an audio engineer at Warner Brothers in Burbank, as the Master of Sound at Paramount Great America and as a stage/sound tech at Harrah’s in Reno.
He kept playing music, though not as much. After his divorce in 2015, he moved back to Aptos and immersed himself in the music scene again.
“She had enough of me. So I moved back to Aptos—my home,” Pierce says.
His return to Aptos was a re-education process for him in music as well. And it continues with the solo EP.
“I just wanted to give a little something for everyone,” Pierce says. “I wanted to play all my instruments and not be put into a box. Music to me is an expression of the emotion that you’re in—sometimes it’s a banjo, and sometimes it’s a Telecaster.”
For more information, check out brentpiercemusic.com.