Technology with attitude

Peter Hanks – Interview on Life and Upcoming Tour

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"The reason I started writing songs, was U2. I don't want to say I was obsessed, but I owned the sunglasses and the jacket. I think I wrote my first original song at 14; It was total shit." - Pete Hanks

Pete keeps things simple.  As a musician for most of his life, he always knew music would be his profession. His confidence is impressive, his wit is impeccable, and his music is really (really) good.  He is from a small town in Massachusetts, but if you ask him he simply says Rhode Island. He started playing the guitar when he was 11 years old but he wasn’t any good, so he put that on hold until he was 14, when he realized girls fall for the guitar player. Smart boy. Pete has a rock star-esque personality that catches me off guard since I am a control freak. His free spirit and love affair with music sets the tone for our interview. Enjoy.

April Swaine: When did you realize you want music to be your career?

Peter Hanks: It was a perfect storm of absolutely hating school, realizing I could never work an office job, and discovering U2 – so somewhere around 7th grade. Though, If you ask my mom,  I came out of the womb with headphones and a microphone – must have been a painful birth.

AS: Do you think heartbreak writes the best music and if so, why?

PH: Ouch. I thought we were going to work up to that question. Maybe have a few drinks first? I guess I’ll start with – I think happiness writes shit songs, for the most part.  I think if you picture your favorite songs, they’re probably emotional and painful. I’m not saying you can’t write a good painfully emotional song when you’re happy, but if you did, it would sort of be a lie. I think a truly great song should be honest. I think heartbreak brings out a lot of honesty – you become more honest with yourself about your faults, but also about the faults in the ones you loved.

AS: I see the honesty in your music, it’s very earnest, and those emotions carry to your audience. Off your new EP Leave With the Lights On, one song that stood out to me was ‘Crying Shame’ – can you talk a little about what that song means to you?

PH: Thanks! I’m glad it translates. ‘Crying Shame’ was the first song I wrote when I moved to Seattle, and the first song I finished for the EP. I was living alone for the first time. I don’t really want to ruin the meaning of the song for anyone, and and take away its meaning for them at all – but for me, this was me having a conversation with a person I couldn’t have one with anymore. There are conflicting lyrics in there – some of it is bitter, “I hear you crying every night now, but there’s no one left to blame.”   That’s a rough one because it’s really just hoping that the person is in pain. But on the other side of the coin, some of it is really just a love song, “Though this love ain’t strong, I could carry you on my back.” This relationship isn’t right, but it’s worth the pain.  I think a lot of the time, after a relationship ends, you have that major juxtaposition of feelings – I can’t stand you, and I hope it hurts, but at the same time, I can’t help loving you – you big jerk.

AS: I think your sound helps convey that message. Do you call yourself Blues? Southern Rock? Or just good music?

PH: Good question. I guess it’s closest to Alternative-Country? It’s really a big mix of all the things I like – Black Keys, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Chris Isaak. There are a few major influences that don’t get seen in there – the basic song structure of all the songs is stolen directly from Noel Gallagher’s handbook

AS: You have a very talented team helping you musically and engineering wise. Did you have to explain in detail what you wanted the end product to sound like?

PH: I’d love to say that the recording process was a huge struggle, because it would make a better story, but it couldn’t have been easier. I really feel at home in a studio, pretending I’m a producer. I looked around for awhile to find someone I knew could do a good job with the sound – and I came across Spirithouse. The engineer there, Danny Bernini, has mixed some big names – Blondie, Martin Sexton… Notorious B.I.G. I said to myself, “Well f*ck, if he’s good enough for Biggie, he’s good enough for me.”  I talked to him for a while, described the sound, and asked if he knew some studio musicians who’d be able to work with it. This was all on a really tight budget, so there was a three day limit from start to finish – and they’d never heard the songs before. When we got in to the studio, within 30 minutes we were recording ‘Aim to Misbehave’.  Before we started the first take, I just gave some really basic notes – “This should sound like True Blood.” I think a lot of the instruments in the finished recording are from that first take. That really set the mood for the rest of the process. For a song like ‘Somebody’s Gotta Go’, I said something like “pretend you’re The Edge playing for Chris Isaak.” That’s the great thing about session musicians – ask and ye shall receive.

AS: I was going to tell you that your music reminds me of True Blood, but I figured you’d judge me for watching True Blood and possibly be offended.

PH: Are you kidding, I love True Blood!

AS: Last but not least, where can the East Coast residers see you live next?

PH: My next show is April 23rd at Rockwood Music Hall in Soho, NYC. If they can’t make it to that though, a small tour is in the works that would bring me from the East Coast all the way back to Seattle. It looks like the first show of that will be June 6th at Piano’s in the East Village.  Hopefully it will be a unique little tour – there won’t be a band, so it will be very intimate. Sometimes when a band/songwriter says “intimate”, it just means “acoustic and boring – bring a pillow” – but I’ll be playing electric guitar, and it might get loud!

AS: I am sure this year will be a blast for you and all who get to see/hear you play! We must grab a beer together when you make it to Seattle!

PH: Of course we will! There’s already a plan in motion for Seattle to be the last show, and it to end with a nice party.