Interview with Pete Lawrie
Welshman, Pete Lawrie has just released his debut album ‘A Little Brighter’ and will be in Ireland to play the Body & Soul Festival on June 18/19. I caught up with Pete to chat about to chat about his new album, camper vans and golf!
You come from a musical background, your parents are musicians, playing with The Liverpool Philharmonic and your Grandad played on the Beatles’ Strawberry Fields Forever. Did that influence or sway you in any way as to what path life would take?
‘Yeah, in the sense that I was surrounded by music from an early age and there was instruments around. I certainly wasn’t pushed into it. It was amazing to me. I used to go watch my parents rehearse in the orchestra every Saturday, which was amazing cos you just sit in an empty auditorium with a full orchestra. My first present was a trumpet from my Grandad, which amazingly, today, I’ve just put my trumpet in the bath. I haven’t played it in so many years that it seized up and my flatmate just asked if I’d play trumpet on a track he’s playing. So I just got it out today, which is a strange coincidence.
I was just surrounded my music and instruments so I guess it did influence me but my sister isn’t a musician so it certainly wasn’t like we were told to do it.’
So in your teens did you do the usual ‘be in crap bands?’
‘Yeah, definitely! I played trumpet is a ska punk band called ‘Project Pigeon’ (laughs) and I played keyboards in another band called ‘Fat Sandwich’ so I certainly did the crap band thing.’
Your voice is very distinctive and has been compared to Tom Waits. Does your vocal style determine the kind of music you make? I heard you were into hiphop as well?
‘Well I’m working on some new material which is more sample based actually. If anything I wish my voice didn’t sound the way it does sometimes because it lends itself to being on a more organic track really. Sometimes I’d like to do something completely different. I suppose in a sense it does a bit. Yes, I would say sometimes my voice determines the nature of the music underneath it.’
Your album ‘A Little Brighter’ is just out. Since your early E.P.s, how do you feel you’ve changed or progressed when you hear the final album now?
‘It’s a strange one because the album was finished for a very long time and I’m constantly trying to write new music. So, by the time it had come out, it was kind of an old record to me. There’s still a lot of stuff on it that I’m really proud of but I think it’s important to keep progressing so, it didn’t feel new to me.
I was really excited for it to come out and proud of it. It was nice, just to let it go, you know? I’d lived with those songs for a very long time and it felt to me like that it was out and people would either like it or they wouldn’t and I could do something new.’
There’s normally a fairly sizeable gap between signing to a label and getting your album out, like you’ve mentioned. You signed to a subsidary of Island which has a an amazing legacy. How have the label helped you in your progression to get to where you are now?
‘As you say they’ve got an amazing history and it’s amazing to be a part of that. I grew up listening to Nick Drake and obviously Bob Marley and in later years stuff like Back to Black is an amazing record. It has got an amazing history.
I’d like to do as much as I can myself and I think it’s really these days to do that, like make your own videos, be pro-active on the internet and keep working and keep developing. They can help with the things like marketing, its sounds crass to say but things that you haven’t got the means to do yourself, a website, a proper video, things like that. So I think they can help you in that sense.’
Seeing as music industry and music landscape has changed, what are your expectations for the album or are you using this as a launching pad for your next releases? From what you’re saying it seems like you’re itching to get brand new music out there?
‘Yeah and I think it will be a completely different sound. I’m not even sure what name it will come out under, I just want to do something completely different if I’m honest. It might be that, that record is the last Pete Lawrie record and the last.. (laughs) in terms of I just want to do something completely new.’
You’ve opened for some amazing artists and you’ve worked with Fyfe Dangerfield also, how important is it for an artist’s career and for their progression to work with other people?
‘I think it’s really important to reach out to other people and certainly people who don’t necessarily do the same thing as you. That’s not to say that all artist’s should do that. I mean, there’s records that are so insular and that’s what makes them incredible , like Bon Iver or something.
But then even him, he’s just done stuff with Kanye West and things like that. So I think it’s important to just keep being a fan of music and to keep being influenced by different genres and things. I think it’s important not to pigeon hole yourself in terms of genre.’
It’s a lot of people’s dream to get signed and release a record, I guess the last thing you want is to get bored and it seem like a job?
‘Yeah definitely and don’t get me wrong when I say this, I was working in a petrol station in Wales, in a little village and the opportunity came along. I think its really really important to not rely on the prospect of getting signed to a major label. There’s so many avenues to go down, internet, maybe getting your music synced to things and just creating your own..
It’s really difficult for a label to break a new artist and the artist hasn’t necessarily got a ground swell of support already. You take someone like Mumford & Sons who had, by the time they signed were selling out 1000 capacity venues. Then no one could ignore them, radio couldn’t ignore them and people couldn’t ignore them because they had their own thing going. I think that’s really important for artists now, even get a Facebook page and keep updating it with videos and things. You want people to be coming to you rather than you having to go knocking on people’s doors.’
You’re coming to Ireland for the Body & Soul Festival in June. Are you going to bring that yellow Volkswagen Camper van (as seen in Pete’s videos) ? It’s brilliant!
(laughs) I hate to admit this but it’s not ours! I do have one, there’s one sitting on my drive but it’s no where as cool as that one so I’d love to say I’d be arriving by that but it will probably be planes, trains and automobiles unfortunately. I would love to say yes.
In your videos you have quite an organic acoustic sound, is that what we will hear over here?
‘Yes, I’m going to be doing stripped back shows this Summer which I really enjoy because I was petrified with them at first, I’d be used to doing a gig with a band behind me and relying on that I’ve just done a tour of the Scottish highlands on my own and it was really eye opening because it means people can hear the words in the songs and especially if they are hearing the songs for the first time, it’s a great way, really, really hear them in their naked form.’
If you weren’t a musician, what profession would you choose?
(Laughs) ‘I love food and animals, I don’t know what profession puts those two together (chef perhaps?) I was going to say butcher… (laughing). I don’t know, something with either one of those things, either a chef or a zookeeper.’
Who would play you in the movie of your life? (Pete’s enjoying these, he’s laughing his head off!)
‘Good question, oh God! Let’s go with.. that’s impossible.. ok.. Let’s go with a young Jack Nicholson because he has the best face.’
Final question, has anyone asked you if you play golf yet?
‘Oh yeah, he’s Irish isn’t he? I get these Google alert things where I get an email if something is on Google about Pete Lawrie and I’d say 99% of the time, which is what I like, they’re about this golfer. And, he seems to be doing very well. Maybe we should do some sort of event, The Pete Lawries ?’
Here’s Pete and the famous yellow camper van: