An Interview with MS Saint

By Kat

MS Saint is the new musical project of Domenica Pileggi, a Philadelphia-based experimental artist. After spending several years recording and touring under the moniker, “I Tried To Run Away When I Was 6,” Pileggi is hoping to break away from the simple chords and specific narratives of her first project to pursue a more avant-garde “controlled chaos” in the style of Beverly Tender and Palehound. She also moonlights as a neighborhood dog walker.  

This past weekend, Pileggi stopped by the studio to talk about her new sound, being a not-dude guitarist, and working through stage fright.

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How did you get started making music?

So I’d been kind of playing various instruments on and off since I was a kid—like piano, et cetera—but I guess two, two and a half years ago I had a lot of time on my hands. I wasn’t going to school and I had some health issues so I wasn’t leaving my house that much, so I kind of just picked the guitar back up and accidentally wrote that whole first album, self-titled, I Tried to Run Away When I Was Six stuff. And a lot of people reached out to me pretty soon after doing that, which gave me a lot of like—it make me think it was a lot more accessible and possible for me to do even though it really just happened by accident. So I ran with it, kept doing it, played some very nervous, horrible first shows, got through that whole phase of it, and I guess it just stuck. I’ve enjoyed it for longer than I expected to so it seems to be a good, consistent thing now that I’m working on.

Where did the name of your first band come from?

Everyone always asks me if I actually tried to run away when I was six and there’s not like a cool story…I guess it’s a metaphor. I don’t really want to indulge in it too much because I’ve kind of moved past that project, but it doesn’t have that much context. I feel like people are always hoping for a cool story and there’s not one.

Yeah, I feel like a lot of band names are like that—they make you wonder, but there’s not really that much behind it. The wondering is the important part.

Yeah, I mean there are definitely some details that fueled choosing that name. But I don’t think it’s anything relatable.

I mean, I tried to run away when I was six. So I’m sure it resonates with some people.

Yeah, to a neighbor’s house? [laughter] That’s about as far as people usually get. I’ve heard a lot of “I tried to run away stories” since having this name.

[Laughter] Cool. So I know you’re now in this transitional period where you’re now in MS Saint?

Yeah, I am going by MS Saint now. I chose that name because visual art-wise I’ve gotten really into just drawing on Microsoft Paint and I don’t’ want to call it my brand, that sounds so stupid, but it kind of caught on and is something aesthetically I’m really drawn to and has become kind of a running joke. Also I had kind of moved past the songwriting style I was doing with the old project in terms of…one day I kind of decided I actually wanted to learn to play guitar, so I challenged myself to write a series of songs where I’m not allowed to use any of the traditional chords that I know. So I just kind of locked myself in my room for a second and noodled around and figured out what sounded cool and kind of surprised myself that I knew how to play more than a few chords. So it’s kind of just been growing from there. I’ve just been enjoying having the option to do more if I decide to, and being able to navigate this instrument that I feel like I’ve been playing for a while but haven’t actually been learning more about. So it’s just kind of a learning process, but I’m still producing music in the mean time.

“Something about being a not-dude musician makes me want to be a really good guitarist.”

That’s really cool. What do you think, if anything, inspired you to get to know this instrument?

I guess…it’s kind of hard to say. I have a couple friends that the music they’ve been working on and coming out with recently has been chaotic—I think a lot of people use the term avant-garde—it’s almost like half performance art, half music, and that’s something that I’m really drawn to and intrigued by. So my friend Molly is in this band Beverly Tender, and she’s been doing wild guitar stuff that had me kind of wanting to work on it. I’ve been listening to a lot of Palehound, and bands that just are using this instrument in ways that I hadn’t even really considered. Which isn’t to say that I prefer that over strumming chords because I think that can also be utilized in a great way, but again it’s nice to have the option to really use this instrument if I do decide that I want to do something more technically challenging than I would be able to. So I guess just listening to a lot of especially not dude guitarists, I’m very—just, amazed by them being out there and doing that. I feel like at first I was very shy because I was not a guy playing music and just felt like there was a certain kind of music I should be playing, or a certain way to approach things, but I’m starting to be a little more shameless in that regard and not be intimidated by the scene. I guess the politics of music are a whole nother conversation, but something about being a not-dude musician makes me want to be a really good guitarist.

Good for you, though—I think that’s really real. I feel like there are so many great dude guitarists out there that it is this kind of trope, in a way that it isn’t for women.

Yeah and there are just as many great not-dude guitarists out there but they just aren’t getting the recognition that all these dudes are, so I think that the more they get up there and do their thing and aren’t shy about it—it’s just going to represent that that’s a possibility to more people and I think that’s really cool.

Wow, yeah. Are there any specific female guitarists that you really look up to?

Yeah, Beverly Tender, Palehound, Palm…Palberta has been really cool for me. Just a lot of—I guess you would call it experimental—people that are doing something that is not quite the norm, which I think is another way that it’s easy to overlook because it isn’t just straight up pop music that sells. Which I also love, pop music that sells. But there is something that really catches my eye right now about doing something that doesn’t really make sense. The term I’ve been using a lot recently is controlled chaos in terms of instruments. I’m just very intrigued by people that are doing something that turns heads, that is questionable at first but is really kind of incredible to me.

I know something that really draws me in when I listen to your music is just kind of the depth of emotion—I was wondering if there are any specific either ideas or emotional places that you find yourself returning to in your creative process.

Yeah– I feel like it feels a little weird to talk about because my music does have this kind of dark intensity across the board which I don’t think I intend to happen, but as any form of art is being made it’s definitely fueled by what I’m feeling at the time and I definitely work a lot harder on making art when I am in a weird head space or feeling lonely or isolated or whatever. So I guess a lot of that does come out. But I guess recently with the new MS Saint stuff I’ve been trying to carry the same vibe and emotion but a little more vague. Whereas I used to kind of list specific stuff, events and references, now I’m kind of coating it in layers and layers of poetry or whatever. So you can still…I think I like it in that it’s relatable because of being so vague, like you can take the general message and apply it to your own experience as opposed to me singing about specific events in my life. I’m glad people enjoyed hearing about it but I don’t know that they could exactly relate to it. So it’s the same vibe, but a little different.

“I’m just very intrigued by people that are doing something that turns heads.”

Cool. So you talked about controlled chaos as the sort of aesthetic that you’re going for. How much of it do you think is chaos versus controlled? It definitely feels very raw and organic and spontaneous, but I’m sure there is a lot of effort and reworking that goes into it.

So with this stuff it kind of depends, because I’ve been switching between playing it solo which is not as chaotic because it’s just me and I can only play so many parts at once—getting a little more advanced in my parts is the fun part of me playing solo— and full band. I’ve been getting together with a some friends to play full band stuff, and working that out with them we’re definitely headed in the direction of more like background noise and other elements happening that I wouldn’t be capable of solo necessarily. So full band leans more to the chaotic side hopefully when we’re through working everything out. But solo I guess is still pretty under control.

What would you say is the best show you’ve played?

Oh wow…I was really lucky to open up for the Mitski, PWR BTTM, and Palehound tour in Philly in November when I was still playing I Tried To Run Away When I Was Six stuff. So the only issue I had with it looking back on it is that I was still playing old stuff that I’m not crazy about anymore, but the show itself and being able to play with some of those people that I’m friends with and that I admire so much was a really incredible experience, and it was my first full band show, so that was really fun, but also I toured the West Coast with Free Cake For Every Creature in July and that was just like…it’s hard to pinpoint which shows I liked because you’re playing a show every night for so long they kind of all blend together. But I’ve definitely had more good shows than bad shows so it’s hard to pick a favorite.

Do you have any kind of pre-show routine?

I, a hundred percent of the time, am very scared. I don’t’ really have a routine other than to just try to get up there without puking. Still, after all these shows, getting up there and starting is very, very hard, and I haven’t figured out how to calm myself down beforehand yet, but usually halfway through the first song you realize what’s going on and it’s fun and it’s great. But I would love to figure out some kind of routine to not feel so sick and nervous before I play the show.

Do you have any kind of dream show—a band you’ve always wanted to tour with, or a place you’ve always wanted to play at?

I can’t say I really have one that I’ve thought of, but I’m planning a big tour for the summer that I don’t want to reveal too many details about yet, but it’s a big tour and I have a feeling some pretty close to dream shows will happen on it in that amount of time—at least a couple.

Ah, I want to know!

You’ll hear soon.

I’m sure. We’ll definitely look forward to it!

So when did you start dog walking?

I started the day after I got back from tour this summer. So the end of July, I started walking dogs. [Laughs] It’s amazing. Best job in the world.

Listen to the full interview here: