Peter Broderick: ‘It’s Time To Back Away From Music’Interview
Peter Broderick divulges the narrative behind his third studio album.
We all know one of those people. Those people that are so sickeningly and so mindblowingly productive that you have to have a real 'moment' when you find out their age. Peter Broderick is one of those people. With a discography that would put some of the most prolific musicians to shame, the 25 year old multi-instrumentalist from Carlton, Oregon is set to release yet another record this month, his first of the year, but we'll let him off, afterall it's only February.
The 'originally' titled 'http://www.itstartshear.com' is set for release via Bella Union on 20th February. Broderick's third solo album, if you ask the man himself. “It's only the third time that I've set out and said, 'ok, I would like to make an album and I would like it to sound like this, this and this,' and kept working until I got there,” he tells me when I call him to discuss his forthcoming record. “All the other things have been specific projects that came out of trying to make a living as a musician.” So modest as well then. Excellent.
Your forthcoming release 'http://www.itstartshear.com' was produced by Nils Frahm who is regularly referenced within your previous works, including track 'Hello To Nils', as well as the Oliveray collaboration you did together last year. What was it like working with an old friend on this record? What did he bring to the table?
It's great to work with Nils. I've been in Berlin almost two years now, and over the last couple of years, he's been growing his own home studio more and more, and he keeps upgrading it all so it's a very special place for me and for him, and for a lot of friends that we have that are making music. We all really believe that he's capable of making a very special sound in this place. He collects a lot of vintage equipment that gives very warm sounds. He knows a lot more about sound than I do, and I had some ideas for the music but I wanted to work with someone who really had ideas for the sound in ways that I really couldn't, and that's where Nils came in.
Talking about the sound, you've previously spoken about how you wanted 'the sonic timbre of the songs treated equally as important as the music itself'. What did you mean by this and do you think you achieved it in the end?
It was just really an intention, I'm not really sure what I achieved actually. But by that, I guess I mean that by creating the record, that was a very long process, at least for me. And in that time, just spending equal focus on the music itself and also sometimes just focussing on the sound, trying to get outside of what is this song, what is this instrument or just the timbre of the sounds, just does this violin sound sharp and scratchy or does it sound warm and fuzzy? There was a lot of thought about the sound itself as opposed to just the music.
You mentioned that you spent quite a long time working on the album and you released various other LPs and compositions during that time. Did any of the experiences you had creating or recording your other releases simultaneously shape or influence this album at all?
Yeah, absolutely. At the end of 2009, I had a surgery on my knee and at that time, we were almost finished with this album but then when I had that surgery, I realised that I wasn't going to be able to tour for a while. I got into a very dark place where I didn't really feel like working on the music anymore. I took a long break and then decided to come back to the album at a different time. During that break, I ended up writing this other little album, which came out in 2010, it's called 'How They Are'. It's a very, very simple thing that's quite beyond what we worked out in many ways, so I think the whole process has definitely influenced other things that I've worked on.
With 'How They Are', you intended to write the album so that each track had a guitar and vocal. Did you set any similar parameters for yourself on 'http://www.itstartshear.com'?
This album is really the first one that I intentionally said, "alright, no rules this time". I'm always putting constraints on myself like, “this is the album that's just guitar” and “this is the one that's just piano and strings”, so this time I just said no rules, anything goes, whatever feels right for the song, we'll put in there.
In terms of the album's title and the website to which it refers, the idea of people downloading music and missing out on images, lyrics and more is quite a generous approach. Do you have any specific hopes or aspirations for the website?
When I started this idea of the website title, there were a lot of different incarnations it took of what it could be. It was meant to be a much grander thing with interactive webstuff but at some point during the process, I became really sick of the computer. I felt almost like I'd become a professional emailer instead of a musician. Then I decided to strip it back and take it back to the root of the idea which was just to share the ideas of the songs with people in a way that all the listeners or at least almost all of the listeners will be able to access. I just hope that some people will actually go there because I've written a lot of text for different things. I don't even necessarily hope that people read it all because it's a lot of information I'm putting up there. I just hope that people take what they want from it and listen to the music in a way that feels right for them. I'm very curious to see what happens.
All of the album's tracks are tributes to someone or something. Do you find it easier to write with a specific topic in mind?
Yeah, in some ways. It definitely helps to give me a focus or gives the song a focus so I can just decide that this album is the one that I don't have any rules for so then you have to put a focus somewhere at some point. It wasn't even a conscious thing to make all the songs about someone or something but that's just how it kind of turned out. I realised at the end that each song really had that focal point of where it started and that's kind of what I'm explaining on the website as well.
The second song on the record, 'Blue' was written by your father. What made you decide to include it? Is it close to the original form or how did you go about interpreting the track?
In 2008, when I was spending Christmas with my mother, she pulled out this cassette tape and it was a song by my father that I'd never really heard. I always knew that this tape existed but I'd never heard it. She played it for us, and for the first time while I was listening to it, already my mind was spinning with, "alright, what can I do with this? I need to get this released somewhere or I need to do a cover version and get this released and get it out into the world." Actually, his version was released in December on a small boutique record label from Berlin, his original version on 7". My version is actually quite a bit different. His version is just guitar and voice, and the whole thing is covered with this wash of duetting effects and it sounds very psychedelic, really hard to hear his voice coming out of it. I was really taken aback when I heard it. My version is using some of his delay effects but I made it much sweeter sounding, with gentle guitars and strings. So there's some things that are similar but also some things that are just my own.
The title track 'http://www.itstartshear.com', has quite a different sound to the rest of the record. What's the story there? Is that a hint at a possible direction for the future?
I don't know really what the future is. I worked on this one for so long that I'm ready to put this out and take a little break before I start to work on the next thing but that was definitely one of the last things we made for the album. Actually, we made that song because we had finished all the other nine songs, and we realised that there's nothing short enough for radio play on this album so we kind of joked around about making some sort of single and then I thought if we're going to make a single, it should be a rap song. And that's how the idea started. We made the beat first and I couldn't really rap for some reason so I ended up just having to speak. I can see myself going into some more beat-driven things in the future but I'm not sure how much right now.
I wanted to ask about 'Asleep' as well as that has contributions from other people on there in memory of a personal friend. Do you think you'll look to collaborate more moving forwards?
Yes, I love this idea that the internet makes it possible to collaborate with anyone and anybody who's paying attention to what you're doing. I also have a Flickr page, or I had one, and for a long time, I was posting lots of little free songs and making little assignments for people to do, and taking the words they write and putting them into a song. On my website now, I thought there should be a biography page or something that explains about me so I started to try to write and I just had no idea what to write so I just wrote, "What would you like to know? Send the questions to here." And then I started getting questions and for each question, I would basically pick up an instrument and improvise something and speak over that and post it up there as an audio file. So each question was turned into a kind of strange talking song or something. I like these ideas of just collaborating with strangers and getting people to feel like they're part of the music because in the end, listening to music is often more about the person who's listening to it than the person who made it. So the more people know that they're a part of this thing, the better.
'How They Are' was recorded live - how did the recording processes of the two albums differ and what was the set up like this time around?
This was really scattered. We spent about a week in a studio in Portland, Oregon and nothing was really live. Everything was one track at a time, one layer at a time. And I think that's probably why I did it live for 'How They Are'. When I recorded 'How They Are', I was in the middle of this one track at a time nightmare for this album and getting so involved with all of these layers and adding and adding and adding until it felt right so I wanted to do the opposite. We also did recordings all over the place. Some things I did at home by myself, some things we did we the Portland studios, some in the Berlin studio. I realised that that's not my favourite way to work anymore. I love what we did with it this time around but in the future I could see myself leaning more towards more live recording.
With the 'Music For…' series of releases, how does the writing process compare to creating solo studio albums like 'Home', 'How They Are' and 'http://www.itstartshear.com'?
Those are different in that it's music for someone else. I didn't sit down and say, "ok, I want to make a record". I made that music because somebody came to me and said, "we have this project and we'd like to have some music and we'd like you to be involved." And from there, that is the inspiration, that is the idea that gets the whole music going so it feels not like something that stems so much from my own freewill but from a group effort. But even though it's just me making the sound on my own most of the time, it's a very different experience where you have to meet the expectations of other people and get in to one group vision as opposed to just your own vision of how things should be. So it's a different experience for sure.
I read that you're planning on taking a break from writing for a while, is that right?
Yeah, I moved to Berlin a couple of years ago but I still don't feel like I've actually moved here because I've been travelling all over the place for the last four years. So this year is going to be kind of a 'take a break year' and trying to get a little bit more sorted out and feel like I have some sort of a home life. I'll always be playing music but I have some other things I need to catch up on like learning German and doing bank stuff. Just really practical things that get lost when you're out on the road all the time. I think it's time to back away from the music a little bit.
So do you have plans to tour this album eventually or is that completely out of the question at the moment?
I won't be touring this year at all, actually. I have one show in Cologne in Germany next week and then I have two concerts in Belgium in February and I believe that will be it for the whole year. I will probably be doing some concerts with the Danish and I work with, Efterklang. I might be joining them for a few things later this year, no big tours just a few short trips but as far as solo shows go, I don't think it will be until next year that I do another big tour.
Peter Broderick's new album 'http://www.itstartshear.com' will be released on 20th February via Bella Union.
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