Tucked between the towering casinos of Biloxi and the sprawling shipyards of Pascagoula lies Ocean Springs, a precious little Gulf Coast town you’ve more than likely zipped past on I-10. Her most famous son—to date—is Walter Inglis Anderson, a troubled but incredibly gifted artist who illustrated the flora and fauna of the South, his style seamlessly blending an organic touch with geometric precision. A Walter Anderson alligator could come to vibrant life with a series of hand-drawn, intricate diamond shapes, each colored in with bold, simple hues.
Though not quite as accomplished—yet—or as troubled as Anderson, Benny Divine might be the next great artist to put Ocean Springs on the map. Today he calls New Orleans home, but it all started in that bayside hamlet with its connection to the greater underground music scene of the Gulf Coast. A hodgepodge of cities from Gulfport and D’Iberville in Mississippi to Mobile, Alabama and beyond, the region has consistently produced extremely odd but always well-crafted, expressive bands for decades. Two of its most tortured artists—Roman Gabriel Todd (who bestowed the “Divine” on Benny) and Chad Booth (who you might recognize today as Gary Wrong)—would take Benny under their respective wings and bring his musical talents to fruition with bands like Roman Gabriel Todd’s The Beast Rising Up Out Of The Sea, and Wizzard Sleeve.
Since moving to New Orleans in 2009, Benny has been a rhythm section staple, from the bar rock of King Louie’s Missing Monuments (as the bassist) to the dark-psyche of Heavy Lids, where Benny pulls double duty on drums and keyboard. It was at a Heavy Lids show where I realized Benny was a better (and faster) drummer with one hand than most of his peers are with two. Benny is the kind of drummer who can play at around 200 beats-per-minute, drop a stick, pick up a new one, scratch his nose, and never miss a beat—all with the intensity of a couch potato flipping through the channels; or, as his Facebook profile states, someone rolling up to the Shoney’s breakfast buffet in flip flops. It’s this kind of super chill, yet rock solid musicianship that a diverse array of artists—everyone from the 9th Ward’s own Quintron to Nashville’s Natural Child—have come to rely on.
Last summer, Benny stepped out from the proverbial rhythm section shadows, under the more bedazzled moniker of BÊNNÍ, to release his first major solo outing on Goner Records, simply titled I&II (to represent the album’s two distinct studio periods). It’s a record bathed in all the amber hues of analog synthesizers and vintage pulp science fiction, a fusion of intricate calculation and freewheeling spirit that Walter Anderson himself might appreciate.
Over some wings and fries at Parasol’s, I caught up with Benny to talk about his upbringing in Ocean Springs, the quest for the perfect road food, that time he was literally Quintron’s left hand, and what it takes to be a zen bouncer.
What kind of a town is Ocean Springs, for anyone who’s never been there?
When I was growing up there it was like a little artist beach community. And now it’s kind of like a bunch of bars for kinda rich, hippie people. It’s turned into that, basically. But when I was growing up it wasn’t like that at all. It was just you know, a quiet little [town]. Everybody talked about Walter Anderson and Shearwater Pottery and all that shit.
Are you a fan of his work?
Yeah. When I was growing up my dad made films for ETV [Mississippi Educational Television] in Jackson (I was born in Jackson, but I was only there for two years). And when we moved down to Ocean Springs, he did something for public television there, like a Walter Anderson documentary with some guy playing Walter Anderson. I just remember that a lot from as a kid, them showing that in school and me being like, “Oh, my dad’s making that.”
When did you start learning to play music?
I started pretty early because my dad played music too, so he always had a guitar. He liked to do bluegrass kind of stuff so he always had something sitting around that me and my brother could fuck with. But my mom was a school teacher and I would sit after school when I was 7 or something—whatever third grade is. I’d sit in the music room with the music teacher and she would show me stuff and then I’d mimic it, play by ear basically. That’s how I started playing music in general. That’s how I learned to play drums, everything. Just watching what she did and then I would do it.
And did you end up in the school band and all that?
I did school band for a few years, yeah. Was bass drum #2 at OSHS [Ocean Springs High School] and I did it for three years. When I went to [tryouts], they determined that trombone was best for me but I didn’t want to. I wanted to play drums. Every kid wants to play drums.
At what point did you start to get into punk or whatever you would call it? When did you start playing in bands that weren’t the high school band?
In high school we had a band called The Volatiles, and that was like a punk band. My first band—they all kind of happened at the same time. I was in a band called Buttership. First it was called Doomtown and the Uncut Whiskers, which was like a weird band. That was probably the first band we really did where we covered “Hold On Loosely” (38 Special), but we would improv a lot. That turned into Buttership, which was mostly just improv, and that’s how I met Quintron. He used to come play Gulfport all the time. You know the Orange Grove Community Center? We would play with him there… Quintron ended up asking us to play Knoxville with him, thinking we would book shows up to Knoxville, not realizing we didn’t know what we were doing and we just drove straight to Knoxville and played. And he was like, “You guys didn’t play anywhere else in between?” And we were like, “No.”
What was your first impression of Quintron and all those people when y’all crossed paths for the first time?
I thought it was crazy that there was somebody doing something like that, and that it was successful. Because we’d done weird shit and everybody was just like, “Oh you guys are fucking weird,” you know? But seeing Quintron being successful doing something like that was kind of like, “Oh hey, maybe we can actually do cool things.”
But you didn’t have any expectation for anything you were doing? You didn’t think it was going to go anywhere?
No, not at all.
“SMALL TOWNS, THERE’S NOT REALLY SCENES THERE…NOTHING WAS REALLY STOPPING US FROM JUST DOING WHATEVER THE HELL WE WANTED.”
The Gulf Coast scene has always been on the edge of New Orleans but very impactful. Can you talk a little bit about what that scene was like for you, because you were right in the middle of it.
Well, Mississippi on the coast, there used to be a lot more of a scene, there used to be shows all the time… There was Kirk’s House of Rock, which is now a car dealership. There was a place, Hawg’s Tavern, [and] the room you played in was called the Maggot Farm. This dude Mitchell (Recovery Period), he used to book shows all the time on the Coast there. And this other dude, Carl, he was the one who booked Quintron all the time. All those dudes are older now, working at the casinos or something. So, from what I know, there’s no more shows on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; and if there are, I have no clue about it. But Mobile, for a while there—I moved there because I started playing with Roman Gabriel Todd, and then me and him ended up touring—there was a lot of cool stuff going on there for a while too, and now it’s the same thing. It’s like both of those areas are hitting a weird spot.
That scene has always been kind of amazing. And I wanted to talk about Roman Gabriel Todd. He was Supreme Dispassion, right?
Yeah, that’s when I first met him. He used to play Gulfport all the time, and he played with Buttership and one day he stopped doing Supreme Dispassion and asked me, “Hey, you want to play drums in this band? I got an idea where it’s just bass and drums and a gong.” So then, literally a week before Katrina, I moved to Mobile and started playing with him. Katrina hit and then we went on a West Coast tour, like immediately.
What was your path into punk rock? I’m always curious how you get into stuff like that being in Ocean Springs, which is not the most cosmopolitan place in the world.
I was super into prog rock. And I had this jacket where I put a bunch of prog rock patches all over it, so it looked like a punk jacket but it was Emerson, Lake & Palmer and a big YES back patch. And this dude, Danny Giamalva, had moved from Arizona, and that attracted him. He super loved This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb and Fifteen and those kinds of bands… He moved to Ocean Springs and started going to our high school, so we ended up talking to him. And we were into some of the same music, like Slayer. I didn’t know much about punk and he played Subhumans for us for the first time and a couple of other bands. He played Crass for us and we were like, “Wow, that’s really cool.” And then he started the band Volatiles and got us in it. That was the beginning of punk stuff, for me at least. Then playing with Todd, he showed me a lot of punk music. And then from Todd, I started playing with Chad and that was the brunt of the punk, you know?
How did you meet up with Chad? What was your first encounter with him like?
I think me and Todd were playing a show in Montgomery, and Chad was living in Wetumpka at the time because his wife was going to school or something like that, like way in the middle of Alabama. And he came to a show that we played and he was like, “Hey, I’m about to move back to Mobile and you’re gonna be in Wizzard Sleeve.” He was all wasted and stuff. “Yeah, we’re gonna party. I’m moving back and you’re gonna come over all the time and we’re gonna jam.” So we did Wizzard Sleeve for a while, then Bane joined us and we did that for years. And then it changed to Gary Wrong Group.
I think it’s always amazing, the bands that come out of that area—they’re just so crazy. Why do you think that is, that they’re so eccentric (and also very good)?
I just think since they’re small towns, there’s not really scenes there. And Mobile, obviously there’s a little bit of a scene, but there’s nothing really stopping anybody from thinking, “I’m gonna not look cool,” or “I’m gonna look stupid,” especially in Ocean Springs. Nothing was really stopping us from just doing whatever the hell we wanted, musically. Other bands were either screamo sounding bands or metal. But everybody was all in it together. It wasn’t like, we don’t go to your shows cuz you’re this kind of music. You’re playing shows with any kind of band, just all up in the air. Kind of the same in Mobile. It’s not big enough to have these really tight-knit scenes like New Orleans does. So there’s more freedom to just do whatever the hell you want instead of trying to fit in somewhere.
I feel like New Orleans is like that. A lot of the great bands and musicians in this city, they’re from the suburbs, like Metairie or the West Bank.
Well yeah, you look at a band like Dummy Dumpster, and it’s a weird, different band. They’re from Arabi or Chalmette, and those towns breed those kinds of bands because those bands, you know, they don’t have a form to fit. They’re just kind of doing whatever it is they want to do.
One thing I’m also curious about is, Chad’s older than you, right? Most of the people you play with are.
That’s always how it’s been. When I started playing with Todd, he was 10 years older than me. I was probably 18 and he was in his late 20s. I don’t know why that happened in particular. I just assumed it was because I was a decent musician and they were like, “OK, we need a decent musician.” I figure that’s how I got in everywhere I got in.
Does that age dynamic ever materialize?
Well, in a situation like with Chad, he has a lot more life experience—or he had a lot more life experience at the time than I did. He was much better at just showing up and being like, “Hey, I’m here. I’m everybody’s friend now” when I started playing with him. Where I was still figuring stuff out. That was the only time I felt like there was a really huge dynamic between the age difference, and I thought it was just because he had already done this a bunch. He had already been on tours, toured Europe and all that stuff, so he knew what he was getting into. Whereas, I’d only done a few tours with Todd, which were Todd’s first tours too, being in his late 20s. Todd wasn’t exactly the most social, sociable dude… He’s just Todd; it’s just how he is. So with Chad, he shows up immediately, finds the party… and that’s stuff that over time I’ve learned to do myself, on tour. But at the time I didn’t. At the time, I’d just be sitting there like, oh fuck.
What you’re saying about Chad sounds, in part, like maybe that’s his natural personality but it also sounds like tour survival.
Exactly, yeah. He was probably like that on his very first tour, you know, like the very first time he went out on tour he was probably exactly like that. But I just read it as experience, to me. So that was an age thing, even though, like I said, it probably wasn’t.
But now you have toured many times, many places. Is that a skill you’ve acquired?
I feel like I’ve acquired that, yeah. I feel like I’m pretty good at doing that now. I have a lot of friends now all over the world. For a while, touring, when you’re playing to nobody every night and it’s like weird shows, it’s hard; it really gets to you. But you get to a point where you just roll with it, you know? And then when you start playing… like I started playing with Natural Child where it was big shows, getting paid a lot… It was great, but at the same time I kinda missed the old [tours]: playing a small venue or house show. They did too, you know; I could tell they missed playing house shows and hanging out with people, as opposed to sitting in a green room all night. You don’t realize until you’re sitting there saying, “Man, I really hope they have a green room so I can just sit on my ass and eat snacks.” And then you’re like, “Fuck, really? Is this really what I want to do?” This tour I just did solo was more back to my roots. Even though it was me doing a solo thing, it was playing smaller places. I played house shows; it was so much fun. And I was so on it the whole time. There wasn’t a time where I felt like I just wanted to sit in the van. I felt that was my Chad peak, this last tour. Because I was in charge, so I had to be. I had to show up and be like, “What’s up? Let’s party!”
Right, that’s part of the job, is to be an affable guy.
Yeah, I’ve always been kind of the side dude or the hired gun, so being in charge was a lot of fun. I thought it was gonna be stressful but it was great.
That’s a big transition. Was that hard?
I thought it was gonna be horrifying: Oh my god, I can’t believe I’m doing a tour where I’m in charge. But it was great; it kept me on my toes. I was always pumped and ready to go, because I always had to be ready.
That’s two completely different personalities to inhabit: the pocket supportive player and the main guy.
It was scary, you know? The only tour I did before that was a European tour with Heavy Lids we’d just done. And of course John Henry [Heavy Lids’ guitarist/vocalist] was in charge because it was a Heavy Lids tour and I was just kind of on it, doing my solo thing for fun. So going out on my own, yeah. It was super stressful but immediately I just got into the fucking swing of it.
At what point did you decide you wanted to do a solo thing?
I did a solo thing in Mobile a long time ago, where I played drums and programmed music and sang with it, but it didn’t work out. I didn’t really like it that much. So I’ve always wanted to do a solo thing. I was in the studio and I messed around with a Juno 106 [synthesizer] that they had there, through this little acoustic guitar amplifier and it just sounded so good. You play anything on it and it sounds amazing.
Is that what’s on the album?
Yeah, that’s one of the main things on the album, is the Juno 106. You play it and it’s like, oh yeah, sounds like a fucking soundtrack. So that’s half the reason I did it. I found one of those for cheap.
Is that one benefit to living in a place like Mississippi, is you just come across better equipment?
Oh yeah. Not necessarily better equipment, but you come across rare shit for nothing that you would otherwise never find. The thrift store near my house—America’s Thrift in Ocean Springs—had to have been the greatest thrift store on Earth to me. I found an RMI electric piano there for $20, I found a Casiotone (701 I think); I found that for $10. That’s what I used in Wizzard Sleeve for all those years. They’re not that expensive now but, thinking they’re four or five hundred bucks now, at least RMI electric pianos are. That’s changed now though, because Goodwill, they have the online auctions. So they see something that looks worth anything, they ship it off to Goodwill headquarters and they put it online for auction.
In your liner notes you make a point that says “no softsynths were used in the making of this album.” For those of us who don’t understand the significance, what does that mean?
Softsynth is like a software synthesizer. It means virtual synth that you can download—which, a lot of people say you can’t tell the difference. Sometimes I feel like you can’t, sometimes I feel like you can. Half of my record was mixed down on a computer, and the other half was mixed down on something Quintron has that’s like a rack with a disc player in it. And to me there’s a huge difference between the sound; it even bothers me a little bit. Not to where I think it’s bad, but I can hear the difference.
Did you jam with yourself or did you have an idea of how your songs were going to sound?
Half of that album, I have demos of when I was in that recording studio on my old phone. Half of those songs are demos I recorded and then re-recorded into songs, and then the other half was just me turning on the machine and fucking around until I had something I liked. Everybody was like, “I really love the vocoder,” but it’s really just a talk box coming through one of those microBrutes. I was at Quintron’s and he had made a talk box, and I’ve always loved Zapp & Roger, “More Bounce To The Ounce” and all that stuff. So I hooked it up to his keyboard there and was messing with it and thought, I gotta get one of these. My girlfriend got me one for my birthday, or for Christmas or something, I don’t know. And then I was doing all these robot voices… and people liked it so much live, that’s why I did two talk box songs on there. And my next album’s gonna have two talk box songs too.
Are you already working on the next one?
I’ve pretty much got it finished. I’ve gotta mix it down again.
How much equipment do you have?
A lot of it’s in storage right now because I don’t have that much space, but I’ve got a lot of keyboards. I don’t have a lot of synths, but I have a lot of keyboards, like, electric pianos that I’ve gotten from thrift stores over the years. I have probably like ten all piled up, like Crumar Roady and this weird-ass one that Lefty just gave me out of Euclid that he had in the back that I’m trying to work on. I’ve got an old Wurlitzer that I got for 20 bucks. I got stacks and stacks of shit like that in storage, but at my house I have basically my live setup: a Juno 106, Roland MC 505, Roland RS09 and an Arturia MicroBrute with a talk box. And then I got a Yamaha keyboard amp and a Peavey bass amp that I play through.
If your house was on fire and—assuming everybody’s safe, all the living things—you can only grab one thing before the whole house just goes up in flames, what would that be?
Honestly, I guess that Juno because… I’ve rarely spent money on expensive stuff. And that Juno 106, that was necessary for me to do this project because of the way it sounded. I found that for 600 bucks and that’s the most I’ve ever spent on any music gear ever—which was hard for me to do. And now those things are worth 1200 bucks maybe, or $1000… No, I’m gonna change that. I would grab the 505. It’s the thing where I get all my drums and bass sounds out of. I would grab that, because, first of all, I’ve had that thing for maybe 12 years. It’s got so many songs in it that I’ve programmed; not only my solo stuff but I was in that band Super Nice Bros, it’s got all those on it.
“YEAH, I’VE ALWAYS BEEN KIND OF THE SIDE DUDE OR THE HIRED GUN, SO BEING IN CHARGE WAS A LOT OF FUN.”
When you moved to New Orleans, was that just to be closer to the action, so to speak?
Kind of. Matt Russell was opening Siberia. He was like, “Hey I’m opening a bar, why don’t you move over here and help me?” I said “OK.” I was tired of Mobile. All I was doing there was just drinking at the bar all the time.
That’s right! You were the door guy at Siberia for a long time.
Yeah. Well, he told me, “Come over and help me open Siberia. You can bartend.” Moved over, helped tear down the walls, built all the stuff in there. So it opens and I ended up working door there for like two or three years in the beginning. Never bartended.
Now that is an art unto itself, the door guy.
And I am not a door guy either. I’m not the kind of person that goes and beats somebody up, you know? But it was actually very effective, the way I used to work door there. I wouldn’t be like the other door guys: choke them out, drag them out. And it worked a lot of the time, if I’d just come up and be like, “Hey man, come on, why don’t we go talk outside?” and just get them outside and be like, “All right, you’re not allowed back in.” It worked a lot of the time. There was one time where I had to actually punch this little crusty guy that spit on me. He had a little puppy and he kicked it, so I punched him.
That’s definitely worth a punch. That’s amazing: you’re a good door guy, in addition to everything else.
Well, I’m sure they didn’t think I was a good door guy. They wanted me to grab somebody and toss them out the door, but that’s not how I am.
How often are you on tour, like what percentage of your year do you think you’re on the road?
Well, when I was in all those bands—Missing Monuments, Heavy Lids, Excarnate, Natural Child—I was on tour half the year. Now, I’m not doing any of that, only doing Heavy Lids and my solo thing. So now I want to just try and do two or three tours a year, maybe three weeks at a time. At the most.
What’s your favorite thing about tour?
Food. Meeting people and food. And obviously, playing the shows.
That’s a distant third, sounds like!
Yeah. [laughs] But I love regional food and partying with friends from out of town. It’s nice to experience somebody else’s little world for a night, you know what I mean? Like what they do when they party and then the next day what they want to eat after they’re hungover.
What’s some of your best-of list, if you were to put together a Benny’s guide to restaurants or food?
I like weird regional chains. There’s this place, it’s based out of Sacramento, called Jimboy’s Tacos. It’s not even really that good, it’s just weird. They have these weird tacos… it’s like they dip the whole fucking taco in the fryer… they put parmesan cheese on the outside. And that to me was the weirdest thing—and hilarious—that there was this local chain, Jimboy’s Tacos, parmesan cheese on the outside of the taco. And just to make sure, we were there and I asked the dude, “What kind of cheese is this?” And he pulled out the little green Kraft parmesan cheese thing.
You’re quite the epicure on tour.
Oh yeah. I just got Skyline Chili for the first time, which is a Cincinnati thing. I’d been on tours in that area so many times and [everyone] was like, “No, we’re not going to Skyline Chili. That’s horrible. What’s wrong with you?” So finally, since it was my own trip, and I was in charge, I was like, “I’m going to fucking Skyline Chili!” I went and I loved it. It was my favorite chili I’ve ever had. I’ve always loved eating garbage food. It’s fun, you know? You feel like you’re getting away with something.
What’s a good pro tip for tour, or something you’ve discovered that helps you out on the road?
I literally just discovered on this last tour: don’t fall asleep in the back of the van. Don’t get groggy, don’t take a four hour nap on a drive because then it’s just going to ruin your night, because you’re gonna be all blaaah.
I know you’ve had a lot of van troubles in the past—
Tell me about the van you have now, because didn’t you have to go to California to get it?
Well, it was a Natural Child van, [it] broke down in… Iowa City? Somewhere horrible in a snow storm and we just left it in an alleyway there. So, on another tour I was expecting Seth to get some fancy new vehicle because they were kinda pro and we’d had music on movies and t.v. And I thought, “He’s saving up all this money; he’s gonna get a Sprinter or something crazy like that.” And then he sends a picture and it’s an old paddy wagon, basically. It’s like the old chain gang van that you see on the side of the interstate. I thought, we’re gonna have some problems with this thing, but we never did. So Seth moved to L.A. and didn’t want to drive a big-ass van around. I went over, bought it, drove it back: no problems. Right when I pulled into town, a/c went out, something with the rotor was messed up, like, immediately. I’ve always had bad luck with vehicles. So I was kind of expecting something bad to happen, but it hasn’t been horrible yet.
I thought it was more of a leisure van.
Well now it’s a leisure van. We turned it into a leisure van but it was a prison van, from, I’m pretty sure, north Mississippi somewhere. It was funny: we found a bunch of old porn stuffed in the air vents. We had to take the siren lights off the top. Used to have the CB in it. We set up a little living room in there, a little L shape in the back. Got a cage built in the back now. All the locks in the back are disengaged. I got a kill switch on it. It’s impenetrable. Even if somebody tries to steal it, they’re not gonna be able to. So, it’s a little ridiculous to drive for a solo act where I’ve got a couple of keyboards and a couple amps. But I can sleep in it. It’s like a little hotel… I was trying to get a minivan but everybody I know that tours with a minivan, every time I see them come through they got a new minivan; they can get maybe two tours out of it. But I know people who’ve had Econolines—because [my van is] basically an Econoline, it’s a Super Duty. I’ve seen people that have driven those up to 500,000 miles. You just gotta take care of them.
Yeah, too many bands don’t respect that their vehicle is their live-or-die.
Yeah, and that’s something that was new to me. When I went and bought that van with my own money… that’s when I really learned: I have to appreciate this thing; I’ve gotta take care of it; I gotta get the oil changed; I gotta learn how to fix stuff myself. And I’m really into it now; I love it. I never thought I’d be a car person, put brake pads in myself, all that kind of shit. Never thought I’d care about that, but it’s exciting.
What’s your sci-fi poison? D&D, Philip K. Dick, Star Trek?
There’s a lot of stuff I really like. I really like the Conan series [by Robert E. Howard]. I love those books; I’ve always loved those. When I was a kid I was a super Star Wars nerd… I liked all the side books, like Tales from Mos Eisley.
You read those? I mean, that’s hardcore, not everybody does that.
Yeah, I read all those, I loved that. I’ve recently gotten into Star Trek: The Next Generation… I played Magic: The Gathering a lot when I was a kid, and the Star Wars card game. I don’t know if you remember that one, it was just like Magic but Star Wars.
Tell me about the time Quintron broke his arm, and then you literally had to be his left hand?
Yeah, he broke it right in the midst of Mardi Gras season last year, and he had all these shows booked, including a big show in Chicago for one of their Empty Bottle anniversary things. So he was just like, “Hey, I know you can play keyboards… You want to be my left hand?” And I was like, “Absolutely.” So it was very simple, you know? I mean, I say it was very simple, but his stuff is loose. It’s not all set. He’ll jam on something for a while, so there was that element to it.
How did that work logistically? Were you just standing behind him or next to him?
I would just stand next to him and he would look at me and be like, “Hey, this part’s about to happen.” We practiced a few times but it’s not like we practiced a lot. Luckily I knew the songs because I’d listened to a lot of his stuff. We didn’t do it perfect—I didn’t nail it. I had to keep my eyes on him, you know, go back and forth and he would kind of look at me. I think it was the One Eyed Jacks show, we were in a position where I couldn’t really look at him that well, and I kept looking over and he was just kind of like, “What???” It was a very loose kind of deal.
How did you get involved with Natural Child?
They used to come down and play here to basically nobody, and I was the only one that would party with them. And they hit me up one day: “We wanna be more country and we know you play keyboard—come do some country keyboard with us. We’re gonna do a family band.”
One common theme is you have backed a lot of extremely eccentric people. Do you ever think about that?
No, I’ve never really thought about that. That does make sense, I guess. I would like to think it’s because I’m a good musician, but maybe it’s just because I’m nice.
Yeah, it’s a little of both.
photos GARY LoVERDE
Transcription by Michelle Pierce