You wouldn’t expect to find a band called the Feisty Piranhas hidden away in a quiet, gated Camarillo community, cranking out their adrenalized and highly tuneful brand of punk rock from inside their massive, aerodynamically designed rehearsal space/recording studio. Then again, there are a lot of things about this quartet you wouldn’t expect. For instance, their drummer, 47-year-old Peter Lust, owner of the sprawling estate where the group practices, is currently employed as a “spacecraft consultant.” Bassist Will MacGregor, 48, has played with everyone from Chuck Berry to Tori Amos to Fear. And rhythm guitarist Mike Gossard is a mere 15 years old.
But perhaps the last thing you would ever suspect about the Piranhas after listening to them is that their singer, lead guitarist and main songwriter is nearly deaf.
Peter Lust III (referred to by the rest of the band as Peter Alex) was born with only one fully developed ear. He is 95 percent hearing impaired on his right side, 50 percent on the left. And yet, his musical acumen is stunning. He picked up the guitar at age 2. By 9, he was writing songs and jamming with his dad in their garage. Now, at 19, he has two full albums under his belt, has toured the country, and his band has appeared on multiple Grammy ballots. And he shreds the six-string.
“It’s almost like Beethoven,” his father says. As the parent of a hearing-impaired child, Lust felt a responsibility to improve his son’s quality of life, which is why he introduced Peter Alex to music at a young age. He simply wanted to give his kid a platform to leap from. “I just happened to get sucked in.”
Obviously, the bond between parent and child must be plenty strong for the two to play in a band together, considering most bands operate like dysfunctional families anyway. But while the Lusts certainly display a deep connection in discussing the Piranhas, their music is actually a collision of opposites. A drummer for 35 years and originally from Canada, Peter II honed his chops listening to Rush, Yes and other progressive rock behemoths. The influence is clear just by looking at his drum set — a humungous collection of cymbals and toms that would make Neil Peart jealous — and the band’s original robotic-piranha-in-space logo, designed by clarinetist Jens Schnabel, 38 (not to mention the fact that the band employs a German-born clarinet player). Peter Alex, on the other hand, grew up listening to punk — Pennywise, NOFX, Bad Religion, etc. — the exact antithesis of everything his father’s favorite artists represent. By combining straightforward arrangements with instrumental virtuosity, however, the Piranhas have achieved a sound that is remarkably powerful: simple without being sloppy, big without being ostentatious.
Contributing to that power, of course, are the two other, unrelated members of the group. Before MacGregor and Gossard joined, the Lusts, along with Schnabel, performed with a laptop providing the other instruments used on the Piranhas’ first record, Shocked. Once the other two came aboard, the band’s sound took on a whole new dynamic, one in which the Lusts remained the primary creative force while still leaving MacGregor and Gossard room to make their own decisions musically.
“Me and my dad both have big egos,” Peter Alex admits. “Both of these guys come in totally egoless.”
It took the newly expanded Piranhas a year and a half to produce a record together, but since its release in August, #The End# has been steadily garnering attention from the Southern California independent music scene. Like its predecessor, The End was recorded completely in their home studio. According to Peter Alex, it’s a concept album — about the apocalypse, naturally. Each song deals with a different aspect of a planet coming apart at the seams. Although he claims to watch CNN on an almost continual loop, Peter Alex says he was careful not to write specifically about the world’s current situation in order to avoid dating the lyrics.
“I’m not a fan of the war and of hatred for other people,” he says. “To put the fate of the world in a single person’s hand — it’s a foolish thing to do … I’m tired of people ignoring it. I can’t run for office, but I want to change things.”
Despite his aversion to totalitarianism, however, Peter Alex does not hide his own plans for widespread domination: “I want people to hear our record. I want them to take an hour out of their day to listen. And I want to take over the world.” He might not be there yet, but he’s certainly on the ladder. As the elder Lust puts it: “Everything is bubbling. Nothing is erupting yet.”