We order a couple of pints and start chatting about music.
Raz Mataz Magazine (RMM): How would you describe your music?
Pete Eastmure (PE): I play what I call folk soul. It’s rooted in the folk tradition but it’s soulful writing and singing, with lots of piano, guitars, and some horns on the latest record, Songs for Mezz, released on January 30th.
RMM: How long have you been playing, and how many albums do you have?
PE: I’ve been in this business for about 30 years. Let’s see… two albums that are available right now. One got kind of buried in the mastering process and is not available right now. And I’m working on a new EP now.
The record I just did that I’ve been promoting has flugelhorn, trumpet, and trombone (Chris Butcher from the Heavyweights on trombone)… about 10 guest musicians total. Hammond organ, drums, bass, piano, and I play guitars and solo piano on one of the tunes. It’s a bit of a stew.
RMM: Let’s talk about your background. When did you start playing and who were your influences?
PE: I started playing when I was about ten years old. I took one year of guitar lessons and really loved it. My family had these records around the house… Tijuana Brass, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash. A real mix, and I gravitated towards it all.
When I was about 14, I started listening to Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Neil Young a lot. I was kind of in the folk-rock tradition. So at that time I started playing a lot more guitar, and started writing songs.
RMM: Growing up in the Neil Young era, if you will – being in Ontario, did you relate strongly to him?
PE: I can identify with him for sure. He was living in Omemee, and I was thinking, “How can this guy be living in this same area and then follow his dreams and move to California?” I really related to his songs about isolation, loneliness. So I hitchhiked out of my farm when I was 18, hitchhiked through the States to California. I had to get out and find my own way.
RMM: Then what?
PE: I kept hitchhiking around. I went out East to a small town called Chester in Nova Scotia. I met some guys at the Atlantic Folk Festival, just around campfire jamming. They invited me back to form a band, and we ended up being a big local band. We’d play the limited venues in the town, and play summer festivals in the summer. We practiced and played six or seven days a week.
Then I came back and did some other stuff, some theatre stuff, but kept writing songs. It was all about the music for me. I met up with Oliver Schroer, the world-renowned fiddle player, and he actually ended up producing my first record. His atmospheric stuff really suited my folk base.
I was also influenced by Bruce Cockburn, Glenn Gould, and Joni Mitchell of course. But I never wanted to be labelled strictly as a folk player.
I listened to other stuff too… Genesis, Pink Floyd. What I’m doing now is more what I call cabaret folk, with a lot more piano. I recently collaborated with Rachel Mercer, one of the world’s top cello players.
RMM: Let’s talk a bit about the music that you’ve been recording and producing recently.
PE: I’m interested in creating an environment that’s conducive to the songs. I use the expertise around me, so everyone collaborates in making the sound. This album was digital, but recorded with vintage gear. And we’ve got some really great musicians playing on the album. People who are really tried-and-true, but also people that I connect with personally. I’m not interested in playing with hired guns; I need to play with people I dig. That way the music resonates with people.
I want this album to sound like it could be played live. I have a lot of respect for musicians that layer a lot of stuff up in the studio – people like Bon Iver really come up with some amazing stuff. But I want my stuff to sound honest to how I play live.
RMM: I noticed in your photos that you play a Strat [guitar]. Tell me about your gear.
PE: I play a copy of a vintage 1963 Tex-Mex Strat. I just bought a Nord Electro 3 which I love. And my acoustic is a 1963 Guild F-40. I’ve had it for more than 30 years. It’s been everywhere with me. There’s a photo of me playing it in 1979. Same guitar, same strap even! I don’t feel greedy about guitars. I don’t need ten guitars because I can’t play them all – they call me to play them, and I need to pick them up and talk to them.
I’ve only been playing piano for a few years, but I’m getting a lot better and writing a lot more on it. Some people tell me I’m better at piano than I am at guitar.
RMM: Tell me a bit about the album you released in January.
PE: The record that I just released is called Songs for Mezz, which is my daughter’s name. She chose the songs, her favourites while the was growing up, so that’s why I dedicated the record to her.
RMM: What do the next few years have in store for you?
PE: The music industry is changing every day. People admire great songs. Burt Bacharach said, “Never be ashamed of writing a popular song.” I seem to be able to relate to people from age 20 to 70, so I really don’t care how the trends go. I’m going to be true to my own style and my own life. If that happens to criss-cross with something that’s trending, then that’s great, but it’s not going to change how I approach music.
I play in Ottawa and New York City a lot, mostly because they keep asking me back. I’m doing it solo right now. I’m also writing a novel right now about my hitchhiking trip to California based on my original journals. That’s in the works. And playing lots of shows, including the Toronto Jazz Festival coming up. And I’m looking forward to the show on Friday!