August 28, 2008

Interview: Pete Green

Pete Green is an acoustic singer-songwriter operating from Sheffield, who seems to be comfortably at home in the UK indiepop circuit. The love is clearly going both ways. His first single Everything I Do Is Gonna Be Sparkly was released last year on Atomic Beat Records, and his new EP Platform Zero is on the verge of being released on Lostmusic Records. I had the pleasure to ask the enthusiastic singer some questions.

Hello Pete! Very quickly, for those who don't know you yet: can you give us a brief history of Pete Green?

Hello Dennis, hello everyone! Right, well, I was born just as Grimsby Town were about to win the fourth division championship, which makes me dead old, and formed my first band 15 years later when some boys from the year above at school knocked on my door with quiffs and guitars and Smiths T-shirts. I was in a really good band called The Regulars when I lived in Birmingham, where I also ate my first vindaloo, and when we split up in 2002 I started playing a few solo gigs but nobody really noticed. Then I moved to Sheffield in 2004 and my entire life has been chuffing brilliant ever since. I'm enormously grateful to Sam Metcalf for giving me some gigs in Nottingham and to Marianthi, Christos and Andy at Atomic Beat for putting my single out last year - without these beautiful people I might still have just been playing songs to my cat.

You've recently formed a band again, The Pete Green Corporate Juggernaut. How and why did you get the band together? Is it 'just' your backing band, or can we expect you to work together creatively as well?

Well, it's much more fun playing popshows with a band than on your own, cos you get to move about and stuff! So I'd always really wanted to play in a band again. But the real reason the Juggernaut formed is that I thought of the name when I was drunk and decided it was brilliant. Ten minutes later I bumped into Dan at a gig and Dan had already offered to play bass if I started a band, so I said: "Yeah, let's do it, cos I've thought of a brilliant name! You're my best mate you are, I bloody love you." Then we poached Rob when Monkey Swallows the Universe split up. I do like to let things just fall into place rather than go chasing around, but you have to move quickly when you want a drummer. It's about the only time I've moved quickly in my whole life. Dan and Rob are a really creative rhythm section - definitely more than just a backing band. The parts they've come up with seem to breathe new life into my old songs. I feel deeply excited to think about the new stuff we're gonna work on together. And I've told them they should feel free to suggest anything at all when we're arranging a song. I hope they're not too shy to take me up on it.

Your new EP Platform Zero is released as Pete Green, without the band. Can you tell us a bit about the recordings on it?

Yeah, this record came along just slightly too soon for the band, sadly. I recorded three of the songs in Stoke back in the spring, with Pete Bowers from the mighty Horowitz doing the twiddly producery thing. Let It Go By was the odd one out, which I recorded myself at home beforehand. I find home recording such a massive hassle though, and studios are so expensive and make me too nervous to sing well, so doing it at Pete's was the perfect solution. I love the sound he's achieved on the EP, especially on my guitar. And it all came very naturally, probably cos it was so relaxed an environment. There was always a cup of tea on the go, and in between takes we nipped downstairs to check the football scores on Ceefax and Pete cooked some pasta. He really is the loveliest man in pop.

In the song Best British Band Supported By Shockwaves you strongly criticise the NME awards. It starts: "I was 21 when I last bought the NME". Do you remember why you lost interest?

I think it was when they started inventing scenes that didn't exist. You know, that whole 'new wave of new wave' thing. And 'romo'. What was that all about? It just seemed to be getting really daft, and cliquey and self-referential. Compared with the crimes of the current NME, that all seems quite trivial, doesn't it? It's ironic really. If they were to suddenly climb back out from up the arse of the Industry and start giving a shit about music again, and just be daft and cliquey and self-referential, then I'd probably start buying it again.

Was there one specific band or artist that made you rethink music when you were younger?

Originally it was The Smiths. Predictable, eh? I didn't know indie existed before The Smiths. The only popmusic I knew in the mid-80s was the top 40, so it didn't mean a lot to me. And then when I heard The Smiths I realised that popmusic didn't have to be so phoney and cynical and impersonal and self-important... everyone has their own version of this story already though, don't they? And mine doesn't add anything new. But I've rethought music again and again since and realised lots of other, equally important things - like you don't need big labels, promoters or media that are driven by profit, and you're better with ones that people have started up for themselves, driven by love. But it wasn't a specific band or artist that made me see this - it was the indiepop underground as a whole. Which is fitting, because the movement as a whole is much more important than any individual band or artist.

If you could go back in time, take one song and bring it back as your own, which one would that be?

Oooh, this changes all the time! At the moment it's Shimmer by The Flatmates, which I've sort of rediscovered lately. I first heard it when I was 16 or something and completely fell in love. The feedback and the buildy-uppy intro, the dirty guitar and scratchy production, the brilliant stark restraint of the snare drum, lifting and releasing the whole thing, and a fantastically catchy melody and most of all the way it's sung, which sounds moonlit and glamorous and forlorn and defiant all at once. I love that kind of girl vocal more than anything. When Debbie sings "so laugh it off and turn away" it still makes me shiver and thrill like it did all those years ago. I guess if I were doing the time machine thing and nicking it, I'd need to change into a girl as well to be able to sing it properly. But, y'know, I think I could cope with that.

You seem to be completely integrated in the indiepop scene, while technically if we would want to put a label on you it would be 'singer-songwriter'. In Happy Being Me you sing: "The scenes can fit around me and I'm happy being me." Do you ever feel like an outsider?

Kind of. I'm not really part of the Sheffield music scene - there's an inner circle I don't belong to. And I'm always the odd one out if I play solo with other acoustic acts, getting looked at like something they've just wiped off their shoe. The indiepop scene makes me feel very happy and relaxed but even at Indietracks I struggled to get into the partying and stuff, for some reason. While the Bubblegum Killers were playing my record I was wandering around the edge of the site looking for a place to sit and think on my own for a bit. So maybe it's partly by choice, cos I need a lot of time on my own. Some of the happiest moments of my whole life - I mean the real, transcendent moments of total heavenly bliss - have been on the dancefloor at Offbeat but some have been when I've just been sitting in a pub on my own or walking along Cleethorpes beach. And Happy Being Me is actually a song about one of the great things that happen when you're growing older - which is no longer being all hamstrung by insecurity and shyness and "am I doing it right, am I saying the right things, am I wearing the right things?" like when you're 16 and you first start going to gigs and stuff. When you mature a bit, and realise who you are and what you're about, you're not bothered whether you're an outsider or not. It's more important that you're you. So I suddenly realised quite recently that I can actually be the one who decides what those 'right things' are now. It was a big revelation, and a liberation.

If you see someone like Kate Perry at number one in the UK charts, does this still trigger some sort of emotion in you, or are you at peace with the fact that most people apparently don't care about music the same way you do?

I'm not bothered any more really. There's no point getting your knickers in a twist about the charts. Industry music is no more relevant to the indiepop movement than Baroque chamber music or horse racing. What we do and where we are now is wonderful and I'm just about completely joyous about the whole thing. I guess it'd be nice if indiepop were a little bit bigger in the UK, so that when I put a gig on I could be sure of paying the bands a decent whack every time, and so I could go and play in faraway places like Exeter and Cardiff and Edinburgh where I've never played before, and be sure of earning enough to cover the train fares. But not too much bigger, because it's just wonderful as it is. And being able to hop on a train and play a popshow to a few people in Derby or London or Stoke, drink some beer, crash on a sofa, and hop on another train the next day - this is my idea of success. It's what I've wanted since I first picked up a guitar 20 years ago. And it makes me outrageously happy, happier than I used to think I'd ever be in my whole life. We've got a beautiful scene with everything we need. So I'm completely at peace with that. Especially if everyone keeps telling me I'm brilliant.

Any chance we'll see you perform outside the UK one day?

I am not much of an international traveller, cos I'm scared of flying - but I'd love to play abroad. Maybe I should start with France, cos then I could go by train! But if somebody asked me to play in Scandinavia or the USA or something, and it was do-able without losing gajillions of pounds, then I would totally overcome my fear. Even if it meant having to drink loads of beer and get drunk so I just sleep through the flight, well, that's a sacrifice I'd be prepared to make.

What's next? Can we expect an album, perhaps?

Maybe! Right now I'm recording five songs with the band and I'm not sure what we're doing with them yet. We're touring in September when Platform Zero comes out, but then I have to stop gigging for a little while towards the end of this year cos me and my girlfriend are having a baby. Eeeeeee! I'll be back in the spring - right now I'm not planning any further ahead than that, but I'd like to do some kind of Juggernaut release next year and an album would be lovely. The little DIY indiepop labels aren't very keen on albums though... so if the big boss man at Rough Trade is reading, do give me a shout!

Thanks for reading, everyone, and thanks for giving me the chance to talk about myself, Dennis!

No, thank you Pete, and congratulations on becoming a father! Also: don't forget that you can easily reach The Netherlands by train or car as well.

Visit Pete's website
Buy the Platform Zero EP at Lostmusic Records
Preview the Platform Zero EP at Last.FM
Buy the Everything I Do Is Gonna Be Sparkly single at Atomic Beat Records

Download (Mediafire)
1. Pete Green - Best British Band Supported By Shockwaves

Or get the free MP3 straight from the Lostmusic website.


Marianthi said...

That's such a great interview. I hope you keep doing them, Dennis.

Unknown said...

Indeed. A lovely interview it could only be because Pete is one of the loveliest human beings alive and one can spend hours talking with him!

And good call on 'Shimmer.' That was the song that was playing as I walked into the sweaty basement of Little League and I just new it was going to be a good night. I'd really love to hear you do that, your vocals all reverbed out!!


Kippers said...

I'll third that emotion. Nicely done, chaps!