Peter Peter, photo by John Londono
Montreal songwriter Peter Peter has been bitten by the M83 bug.
Whereas the 28-year-old’s first eponymous record was all about dour guitar tones and maintaining intimacy, his second release, the straightforwardly titled Une version améliorée de la tristesse, is packed with soaring synths, roaring saxophone solos and grabbing refrains.
The “HoMa” songwriter launches his album tonight with a free show. I spoke to him on the weekend, at this year’s Festival de musique émergente in Rouyn-Noranda, where he premiered his new five-piece band.
Erik Leijon: First obvious question: why the change from a mostly guitar-based sound to a synth one?
Peter Peter: I bought a Roland Juno-106 from the ’80s. I bought a couple of keyboards actually, we have two and I’m ordering a Roland Juno-60 on eBay. I also got rid of my guitar pedals; I have two or three but I used to have a pedal board, so I got rid of it, mostly because I was tired of singing and switching tones on the pedal at the same time.
I always liked synths, but I didn’t own any until about a year ago. I used to be more into guitar tones, like Dinosaur Jr., but I don’t care about the tone anymore. With guitar I feel like I’m doing the same pattern, but now I’m composing and singing on top of the music instead of playing and singing at the same time. It’s different.
EL: Did it require you to write songs differently from the way you did on your first album?
PP: I still start with a riff — well, now a synthesizer riff more than a guitar one. And I sing — not words, but just melody, and it sounds like English but it’s not. Then when I have my melody, I write words out. The recording was different though.
The songs were written last summer, and it went pretty fast. I knew where I was going, and I knew I wanted sax on it. I knew I wanted a St. Elmo’s Fire or a John Carpenter vibe. With the first album, I wanted to keep the intimacy of my bedroom, to keep it like a demo, but when I recorded it, I was super stressed and didn’t know where I was going. But on this album we had fun, we were even drinking; on the first record, I was so serious I had a no booze rule while I was working.
EL: Is it difficult to write English melodies and then put French words to it?
PP: The thing is I don’t listen to French music all that much. I just don’t. It’s not that I don’t like it, I just want to go the way English songs go, but with French poetry. It has been difficult, but I’m working faster now and it’s getting easier. When you use your voice a lot with French words, you have to sort of keep yourself neutral and not sing too high or low, otherwise it naturally sounds a bit cheesy. I look at Elliott Smith as a singer who was able to keep it neutral.
EL: Are you still writing about Montreal?
PP: It’s still talking about Montreal, talking about the streets. It’s similar to the first album in that way but there’s an evolution. I’m talking about my feelings, but I’m also talking about my friends’ feelings as well. I talk about being in Montreal, being in the backseat of a cab, wasted and going somewhere but you don’t know where, you’re talking on your phone, you’re just looking to gather with friends and find that happiness.
I’m the same person as with the first album; I’m still stressing about everything. The only way I’ve changed is on the first album I only talked about me and my bad feelings, now I’m talking about having fun — not dancing and partying fun — but trying to be happy, trying to get better. ■
Peter Peter launches Une version améliorée de la tristesse with a performance at Cabaret du Mile End (5240 Parc) tonight, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 9 p.m., free