PJ Bond: Redefining Success.
PJ Bond toured the world as a solo artist and with various projects for many years. And then he gave all that up.
Now, he works at American Sardine Bar.
And he couldn’t be happier.
Images by Natalie Piserchio.
I make sure the glasses are clean. At least, that is what I tell people now when they ask what I do. These days, I work behind a bar but that’s fairly new for me. For the better part of 15 years, you’d have had a better chance finding me behind a windshield on tour or on the computer booking tours. Back then the idea of success was an end goal – these days it is more about progress and comfort.
I signed my first record deal in 2003. Four months later, my buddies and I graduated college and tried to take our scrappy DIY indie band, Outsmarting Simon, from the basements to the big stages like we’d seen so many do before us. The early years, while still in college, started out solely as fun and they were.
We toured the East Coast on breaks and put out a demo that helped us sign with Triple Crown Records. The label gave us a couple thousand bucks and we went straight out and bought a newer van and a trailer. We’d made it!
The van broke down on the way off the lot. A trailer wheel fell off in California. We tried to scratch out a worthy existence everywhere in between.
All told, Outsmarting Simon played close to 500 shows, released an EP and two LPs, were on a decent label yet could never put more than 100 people in a room. Every time we’d get a small step up or feel like we’d reached a milestone, we’d look around and realize that not much had changed.
It always felt like the one thing we needed, the tiny missing part, was just out of our reach.
Eventually the other boys got tired of sleeping on dirty couches and surviving on cans of beans and Saltines. Considering all three of them had degrees in engineering, I couldn’t blame them. They all got jobs and I felt lost.
Next, Philly-based Marigold asked me to sing for them. We wrote some songs and things started to feel really good. There was a buzz and positive movement. Still, we exhausted every connection we had to try to sign to a good label or get on solid tours and things started to feel stagnant.
After many very fun but poorly attended tours, the band had few options and started to splinter.
As Marigold fell apart, I was offered a position as a hired bass player in The Color Fred, with ex-Taking Back Sunday/ex-Breaking Pangaea member Fred Mascherino. Fred and I knew each other from my Outsmarting Simon days and I liked the idea of joining a band with a guy from my past who’d gone on to do big things. With his talent, experience and connections, it seemed Fred could push the band to a respectable level.
I made it through two East Coast tours and a full U.S. before I got myself fired.
By the next week, I’d secured a position in a backing band for a singer on Geffen/Interscope who was managed by the company that broke Fallout Boy, Gym Class Heroes and Cobra Starship. Nine months of playing music I hated in the backing band bought me the opportunity to get paid well, sleep in hotels, tour on a bus and play to packed houses.
I did not feel successful. I felt cheap.
Every opportunity to move up the ladder felt less good. The band members were all let go that winter and four days later we’d found work with a new singer on Universal/Motown. It quickly became clear that management didn’t want to pay us properly and this fizzled out before it got off the ground.
After watching every band I was part of either fall apart, fire me or disband, I decided to try things on my own. I gave up my home and most of my belongings, stored some books and records in my friend’s basement and left.
The first year I played close to 250 shows in 12 countries, released a full length, EP and wrote part of a book chronicling it all. And it still felt so far from success.
At any point, if you had asked me what would make me feel successful, it would always be some version of “making it,” feeling like I actually had a comfortable career making music, that I was supporting myself doing the thing I loved, that people appreciated my music and wanted to hear it. But, even when I had some semblance of all of those things, it never quite felt like I did.
My older brother once asked me if perhaps my problem was not a lack of success but a misunderstanding or misapprehension of my situation. As a life, an adventure, it was the most wildly successful experience one could imagine. I’d spent the last many years traveling the world, playing music and making friends. He was right, but the problem was that I had not set out to be good at making life an adventure. I had set out to be a full-time musician.
This discord is what created the problem.
I could not see the things I had as amazing because they were not the thing I wanted in the beginning. Shifting views became important and necessary for my survival and happiness.
After about four years of touring solo and still not having a home, I began voicing more often that I may want to find a place, get off the road. I also realized I was spending less and less time working on music and spending more of my free time reading books about food, learning about craft beer.
In the spring of 2014, a great friend offered a room in his house and I decided to take him up on it. For what was supposed to be just a few months, I slept on the floor in a small room in his South Philly rowhome. That summer, I helped open the beer garden at Spruce Street Harbor Park, worked harder than I ever had and, for the first time in a long time, felt satisfied. The milestones were small but they came often and more definitively. The payoffs, literal and figurative, came quickly.
As the summer was coming to a close, I was offered a position as a barback at American Sardine Bar and so started my time behind the bar.
Working as a barback is hard and thankless but if you have a good crew, it can be incredibly rewarding. I’ve been lucky enough to work for some amazing people who have a lot to teach and I’ve tried my best to learn as much as I can from them. In my off time I read books about cocktails, craft beer and food preparation.
Every day I feel like I am progressing and sharing knowledge with others.
In my almost two years with the company, I have worked my way up from daytime barback to managing bartender and floor manager. I have learned so much and each day, I get to take care of people, give them a place to relax and feel comfortable.
It is a good feeling knowing my books and records are in one place, that when the seasons change, I don’t have to track down the appropriate clothing in a box in someone’s basement. It is nice to lay my head down on the same pillow each night, feeling like I may have made someone’s day a little better.
At home, if I feel I’ve made some progress, learned something new, then I feel successful.
At work, it doesn’t matter if I am the barback or the manager – if people are happy and if the glasses are clean, I’ve done my job.