Thursday, September 5, 2013 , Updated 12:00 p.m., September 7, 2013
From SMU frat roots, band Jackopierce celebrates 25 years at Winspear Opera House
The duo thought they split for good in 1997. Now, they're working on an album.
DALLAS When Cary Pierce and Jack O’Neill of the Dallas pop-rock duo Jackopierce went their separate ways in 1997, Pierce thought they were done for good. He didn’t foresee continuing a day-to-day friendship, much less a musical reunion.
“We’d gradually come to a place where we were plateauing,” Pierce recalled in a recent phone chat. Their third studio effort, Finest Hour, “at the time was going nowhere after the label had quit promoting it. We’d sold 100,000 copies of the previous one, and we expected to go to the next level, but everything just stayed the same.”
At the point of the split, Jackopierce had enjoyed an unlikely journey from barely rehearsed gigs in the late-1980s SMU fraternity scene to major-label albums and healthy touring runs in the ’90s.
Despite open hostility from music critics who labeled its brand of folky pop too safe, the duo’s earnest, accessible tunes (“Three of Us in a Boat,” “Vineyard”) had helped build a sizable fan base around the country. But, as Pierce indicated, the breakup seemed unavoidable. The guys separated and went after individual dreams: Pierce made solo albums, began producing music for others and started a real-estate career in Dallas; O’Neill pursued acting in New York City and recorded some solo tunes.
They didn’t see each other again until 2002. Five years of heartfelt requests by former fans — along with encouragement from their former manager — had fueled the decision to do a reunion show at what was then the Gypsy Tea Room in Deep Ellum.
“We decided to play with our friends in Vertical Horizon as our backing band,” Pierce said of the fellow ’90s pop-rock act. “It was just the right timing, and throwing the other guys in the mix gave us a nice buffer so that Jack and I weren’t just staring at each other.”
Exceeding Pierce’s own expectations, the reunion show and subsequent writing and recording sessions renewed the guys’ enthusiasm for playing together.
During a second act that’s now gone on longer than the first, Pierce and O’Neill have released two studio albums — the most recent being 2012’s Everywhere All the Time — and are beginning work on another. While O’Neill still calls New York home, the two have found a musical middle ground of sorts — Nashville.
“Nashville’s perfect because it’s halfway between us, and we have a lot of our close relationships there,” Pierce said. “We’re focused on the writing. It’s a new leaf because Jack’s around more and willing to jump on more of the opportunities we have.”
The latest opportunity marks a celebratory moment for the guys. Pierce and O’Neill will honor the 25th anniversary of Jackopierce’s founding with a special concert Saturday at the Winspear Opera House.
After an onstage dinner with longtime fans and associates, the duo will play an acoustic set and also invite the likes of Vertical Horizon’s Matt Scannell and Dallas rocker Patrice Pike to join them onstage. The choice of the fancy venue and inclusion of the pre-show dinner are indicative of Jackopierce’s new approach to playing live.
“There’s a certain romance to playing clubs, but there are so many other types of places we’ve wanted to play,” Pierce said. “So we’ve been asking ourselves lately, ‘What would be fun?’ And we try to do those things.”
Saturday will give Pierce and O’Neill and their die-hards chances to reflect on the ups and downs of the band’s career.
“We want to turn this event into an experience,” Pierce said. “Whatever wrong turns we have taken along the way have gotten us to where we are now. We’re grateful to play music together.”
Plan your life
8 p.m. Saturday at the Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St., Dallas. With Patrice Pike, Evan & Jaron and Matt Scannell. $20 to $45. 214-880-0202. attpac.org.
Hunter Hauk is a Dallas freelance writer.
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