by Marisa Torrieri Bloom
Dressed in nice pants and a button-down shirt as he walks his kids to school, Mark Pires looks like your average working parent. But strip away the business frocks and hand him an acoustic guitar, and you realize Mark’s not so basic: In fact, he’s part of a rare breed of dads who can strum an axe like Dave Matthews. Listen a little longer, and he may start finger-picking a tune that will induce a state of musical bliss.
But while learning to play guitar was easy for Mark, now a dad of 3, there was one glaring challenge that used to stymie him when he tried to start his solo gigging career: a drummer, or rather, a lack thereof.
While he’s a whiz with looper pedals and can make his guitar sound like practically any recognizable instrument, Mark spent much of his adult life dependent on drummers and percussionists to round out his rock n’ roll tunes, which tend to capture the mood of Matthews’ music, with clear Grateful Dead influences. And while anyone can play a song with just a guitar, having drums changes the entire vibe of a set, filling it out or making it more rock n’ roll. And a fuller sound can often make the difference when transitioning from the open mic scene to bigger stages and crowds.
But as Mark would tell you himself, everything happens for a reason. And one day in 2011, when his percussionist cancelled on Mark last minute to play a higher-profile gig, the idea of building a cajón tailored to the needs of a solo guitarist came to him in a vision.
A few years later, The GigBox ™ was born.
Fast forward to 2019, and Mark’s patented invention for solo artists has gained an impressive following. The GigBox has received media attention that would make a public relations pro swoon — like broadcast segments on Fox News and News 12, plus lots of clips in community magazines and newspapers — and is a popular diversion at conferences like NAMM. It’s available at a handful of retail locations too, although the bulk of GigBoxes are ordered online (and made to order).
As expected, Mark can easily bang out tunes on The GigBox, using his heels to tap the sides of the hollow box in timed intervals to create high hat, snare, and bass drum beats.
Of course, for the rest of us who aren’t used to playing our own percussion during solo gigs, it’s a little trickier to get a rhythm going. I also had a size issue. I’m 5’2, and in sneakers my heels didn’t touch the ground when I started kicking the box and playing a basic chord progression. But fortunately for me — and others 5’4 and under — Mark has created a smaller, more petite version of his signature model — the GigBox Junior (as well as even smaller GigBoxes for mommy-and-me or daddy-and-me jams).
It’s a minor issue, because playing The GigBox is awesome. The first time I clicked the side of the box with my heel, I immediately wanted to start singing something new, rather than create a beat for an existing track. But if you want to play a classic tune, Mark offers tons of tutorials on The GigBox website.
In July, we caught up with Mark to chat about his journey to The GigBox, and how he balances his business with family and other responsibilities.
Rockmommy: So, how did you get your start as a musician?
Mark Pires: I didn’t even know I had a talent for music until I heard my friend playing ‘Warehouse’ [by Dave Matthews] and that’s the first time I realized it was possible to play someone else’s music. One of my best friends introduced me to Jethro Tull, the Grateful Dead, and then I and started listening to Pearl Jam, the Counting Crows, and other bands.
Six months into playing guitar, I got sick of playing Dave Matthews songs and started writing my own material. In college, I did a lot of theater — my first love was acting — and then when I started writing music, something clicked. Writing Songs that no one’s ever heard in the history of time, that’s unique!
I had a band in 2001 called The Reservoir— and in July 2001 won a big battle of the bands at Calf Pasture beach [in Norwalk, Connecticut] called IndieBob. We were promised two things. A college tour and distribution deal, and a recording session at Carriage House, a studio in Stamford.
So in July 2001 we recorded 11 songs in one day — 9 out of 11 songs were first takes — and then September 11th happened. So then, the record company that was giving us the distribution deal and tour went out of business. But they told us, ‘We just started a little company called CD Baby.’ We’ll give you a one-year membership for free [laughs]. We were supposed to get a college tour and a distribution deal — but instead we got a $35 membership to CD Baby.
Rockmommy: So what happened next?
Mark Pires: So in 2004, The Reservoir broke up. We got to a point where we just weren’t going. For a year and a half, we were just a power trio — me, a drummer and a bassist. We weren’t gathering steam, so after that I started my solo tour, which I’ve done until now. I was one of the first guys in the area to use a loop sampler, a Boomerang. It’s like a looper pedal. But the one I was using, compared to the ones today, was a million times harder. If I didn’t have my timing exact, the whole song was off. So I started the process where I went on the Mark Pires Solo Tour, and to fill out my sound, I had all these pedals in front of me… and I also had a guitar synthesizer, a Roland GR-33 to play trumpets, steel drums, whatever I wanted, on the guitar. I ran everything through a PA at whatever venue I’d play. So that was the way it went. The one piece I was missing was percussion.
Rockmommy: When did it first occur to you to create The GigBox ?
Mark Pires: My first son, Oliver was 2, it was 2011… and I was playing Georgetown Saloon [in Georgetown, Conn.] and another musician was backing me up — José Feliciano’s drummer — with a cajón. I never would have thought of The GigBox if he didn’t call me up and said, ‘hey I can’t make it to the show, call someone else,’ and I thought, ‘hey, I need to build a cajón.’ But then I realized the cajón it isn’t built for [guitarists]. It sits underneath us, and I was confused. How do I kick it and play? And as soon as I realized how ridiculous that look, I saw the GigBox in my mind. I thought, ‘what about something that comes through your legs? What if it was wider in the back and more narrow in the front?’ The GigBox lets you sit and completely comfortable.
Rockmommy: So how did you have the skills to build this?
Mark Pires: In life, we don’t know why we’re good at some things and bad at others. Some of the things I’ve had a knack for include songwriting. I just feel things. I’d say the same thing with The GigBox. I could say I have some experience because my dad is a builder so I’m used to tools. When I’d come back from the road, I’d be working for my dad, and be around carpenters and construction workers. The first GigBoxes were built in my father’s garage.
Rockmommy: How would someone get started playing The GigBox?
Mark Pires: We have four different models you can choose from — the regular GigBox, the Mini, which is 12 inches tall, the Junior, which is 16 inches tall, and the percussion version is 10 inches wide instead of seven-and-a-half.
Rockmommy: What’s the Learning curve for The GigBox?
Mark Pires: It’s like playing the guitar. Learning the guitar is a learning curve — when I first started playing guitar, I was having a hard time, and my fingers were killing me. It took me a lot of time to get past that. The GigBox was just the same. The best way to explain learning The GigBox is say you have to try to do it slowly. You get a bass going with your heel [taps heel on left side of GigBox], and then you get going.
Rockmommy: You’re a busy guy. How do you balance being a dad, husband, and entrepreneur?
Mark Pires: My wife, Lara, is the greatest mom — she runs the GigBox business and its PR while taking care of the kids 24/7. This allows me to focus on both Real Estate — I’m a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway — and allows me to build GigBox orders and broadcast live for my Real Talk show every night. Having Lara’s support allows me to have a successful work/life balance. This is important because my work schedule is not normal. I work 358 days a year — I know this because I did the math, and calculated the number of hours I spend working. And I work every single day of the year, except for vacation. Now there are some busier days than others. I tend to work long hours every day, and at night, I eat, hang out with the kids, quickly shower… and do Real Talk, my talk show, where I talk and play some songs with The GigBox. The balance can be hard. It’s about discipline, it’s about consistency. It’s very difficult, because there are times when I get home and I just want to put my feet up. And you know, The GigBox can give you better life-work balance — because our focus is too much on work, not on the positivity of life. The GigBox is an energy builder, an energy soother. My kid can have a rough day and start kicking and playing and then he has a smile on his face.
Rockmommy: What lessons have you learned over the years?
Mark Pires: Twelve years ago, I had a record deal on the table with a subsidiary of Jive Records. And my wife and I were going to get married six months later. I brought it to the lawyer in Darien and he laughed, and said, ‘there’s nothing here for you — it’s like the deal Billy Joel signed, when he signed away ‘Piano Man’ and didn’t get a penny for it’ and we went back and forth and I said, ‘you know what? I’m going to get married. I’ll just hang up the guitar and get a real estate license.’ And thank God I did that. Because the first thing a record label will do is put a band around you. And if that happened, I never would have invented The GigBox. It’s nice to be 41 and know you made the right move at 30.
Use “Rockmommy” in the coupon code at checkout and get 10 percent off your next GigBox.
— Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.