Audeze pushes the limits of music with Anthony Pirog

March 30, 2024

Anthony Pirog knows nothing of stylistic limitations—his music is beyond category, embracing not only jazz, but avant-garde and indie rock, free improvisation, electronic sound, and ambient soundscapes. Pirog has established himself as one-half of the duo Janel & Anthony, with his trio featuring Michael Formanek and Ches Smith, and with The Messthetics, featuring Brendan Canty and Joe Lally, the rhythmic section from Fugazi.

Anthony wearing Audeze LCD-X headphones

"My LCD-Xs allow me to hear things in a detailed way that I have not had access to at home before. I am in the studio quite a bit and am very focused on getting the best possible sounds to tape. " - Anthony Pirog
Here's our chat with Anthony:
Can you pick out any highlights from your work that you're particularly proud of?

My musical highlights have to be the two records I've released with my wife, Janel Leppin. We started our duo, Janel and Anthony, in our early twenties and recorded our first record in my room with a single SM57. Through that recording I found out that I had a creative voice musically and actually had something that I needed to say. That recording got us performance opportunities and we sold thousands of copies of it for five years. Back then we burned our own CD-Rs and had booklets printed at Kinkos. A label, Cricket Cemetery, released a five year anniversary edition of that record on vinyl eventually but we did it all ourselves for a long time. Our second album, Where Is Home, was released on Cuneiform Records in 2012 and that was another highlight. That was the first time someone put their stamp of approval on what we were doing and that opened many doors for us.

How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on these days?

I try to be a contributor more than anything when I'm in a playing situation these days. I try to add whatever I think will enhance what's happening at any given moment even if that means not playing anything at all. I contribute compositions when necessary and just try to make the music worth listening to.

How did you get started in music? What kind of music did you listen to while growing up and how has that progressed?

I started by listening to Doo Wop, early rock and roll, blues and surf music in my dad's car when he would drive me to school. I feel that hearing that music early on gave me a sense of what I was looking for in terms of melody. When I was 11, grunge was all over the radio and that was kind of a gateway into the underground. My mom would take me to hear live music that I was interested in when I was young so I could experience what it felt like to be in the room with some of these people. By the time I graduated from high school I was listening to jazz, free improvisation, contemporary classical and things have just kind of developed from there. I've always wanted to hear things I've never heard before and that desire continues to this day.

Can you name any factors that influenced the course of your musical life? Heroes, role models, moments, interactions, etc?

When it comes down to it, I am simply a guitar enthusiast. I just love guitar and I have so many heroes it's crazy. It would be easier to name them by genre. If I had to name a handful I would have to say that Bill Frisell, Nels Cline, Sonny Sharrock, Derek Bailey and Danny Gatton got me very excited about playing my instrument. I've always just wanted to play. In middle and high school I would play with anyone I could. I didn't care if I thought they were better or worse than me. I just loved to make sound. I feel lucky that I was able to create so much music with so many people early on. I learned a lot in those early years.

Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles? Would you approach it differently now?

I feel like it was a challenge for me to find a singular outlet for all of my interests on the guitar. By that I mean finding a way to incorporate all of my interests into a single project. I didn't want to be a "jazz guitarist" or a "blues guitarist" but someone who was informed by all of these different styles and make music that was more or less genre-free. When I started to write and perform with my wife, Janel Leppin, for our duo, Janel and Anthony, that was the first step in the direction I wanted to continue on. We were combining jazz, classical, free improvisation and world music because of our education and interests. Things for me culminated with The Messthetics. Playing with Joe and Brendan really got things to the dynamic and energetic levels that I always wanted to perform at.

Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?

I love Benson Amps. I have a Monarch and will be getting a Vincent for an upcoming tour this month. I love my Klon Centaur. I've taken that to every show I've played around the world since I bought it. I love my Abernethy Sonic Empress guitar. It's been my main guitar for years at this point. Fuzz pedals are something I love. I especially love my Collector Effector Zonk Machine.

Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire toward a similar path for their own careers?

Have an idea of what kind of player you want to be and never give up. You have to be the person that's the most excited about what you're doing and you can't let negativity or rejection get in your way or stop you. This is not a means to an end. It's a process that continues for as long as we're able to do it.

How long have you been working with headphones, and how do you typically use them in your workflow?

I've been working with headphones my whole life. I started by listening to music on my parent's stereo while lying on the floor with headphones when I was a little boy. I had a spiritual moment listening to Sonic Youth's song Washing Machine with headphones on that set my path in a certain direction. I've always recorded with headphones. I've always checked mixes with headphones. I've always checked mastering sessions with headphones. I listen to headphones while touring or traveling. It's a big part of my listening, playing and performing life.

How have your Audeze headphones affected your work? Can you tell us what you've been working on with them recently?

My LCD-Xs allow me to hear things in a detailed way that I have not had access to at home before. I am in the studio quite a bit and am very focused on getting the best possible sounds to tape. We go to great lengths to care for the sound in the recording environment but I have not had a way to monitor the music like that at my home until now with these headphones. I have been reviewing mixes and masters for my new records (including the recently released The Nepenthe Series Vol. 1 and The Messthetics and James Brandon Lewis) with my LCD-Xs at home and cannot believe the clarity, range and depth that I can perceive with these headphones. I am also very excited to listen to my record collection again through my LCD-Xs. Thank you for the amazing and inspiring sounds, Audeze!