By Georg Forchhammer.
In 1988 the first PM album was released an in the front of the band were Peter Mayer. The PM album became a milestone in west coast pop music and after the first release things went quit about the band. Many years after Peter Mayer came to Europe to perform at the west coast festival in Paris, and suddenly people found out, that there has been 2 more PM album released, and Peter Mayer came with a brand new album called “Green Eyed Radio”. This kickstarted his career again in Europe and since then he has been active on performing an releasing albums. Blue Desert is having a talk with Peter Mayer about the past and the future.
– A lot of people here in Europe know you from your debut album,”PM”, from 1988. Compared to a lot of other music from the 80’ies, you introduced a much more light sound with less keyboards/big reverbs. What expectations did you have, being signed up with Warner Brothers and Elliot Scheiner as co-producer?
PM: When we learned of Elliot Scheiner’s track record, and initial response to our demo tapes, which was extremely positive, our expectations were very high. Elliot, had so much music business and recording experience having worked on ground breaking CD’s from Steely Dan, Aretha Franklin, and many other artists. He brought his unique, clean, and crisp sound to the PM album that fit pretty well with our style. There was a certain sense of demo-itess from the record company though, in that they felt they heard things on the demo tapes that was not present in the final version of the album. These demos had been done with Jay Oliver, a dear friend of ours from St. Louis and an incredible musician/producer in his own right. To Jay’s credit, I believe we captured some strong performances for the demos, and he made them into a kind of magic that may not have been as well balanced as the work we did with Elliot, but had something that the people at Warner Brothers were very fond of. The expectations we had of Warner Brothers, as the very capable, reputable company that it was, was that they would promote our album agressively and get the music out there. They started that way, but because of one reason or another the follow through was not there.
– The sound on the 3 PM album is a mixture of different musical styles. Some songs have a beat that reminds me of “The Police” – a kind of British sound. What inspired you to that sound?
PM: We were huge Police fans, and you are right on to hear those influences in some of the songs. All three of us had a very wide listening range in the music we loved, but a few groups stood out; The Beatles, James Taylor, Elton John, Peter Gabriel and The Police to name a few. The Police had that wonderful mixture of rocking energy, soulful performance, great songs, and musical inventiveness in their incorporation of jazz harmonic elements. On Red Wine and Lemonade we were searching for elements that might push us beyond what we had been doing thus far in production and playing.
– On the 3rd PM album, “Red Wine & Lemonade”, you re-recorded the song “My Intuition”, in a funkier version spiced with a sitar kind of guitar. Weren’t you satisfied with the first version on “Street of Dreams”?
PM: We had had a lot of requests from record companies that we had been shopping our music to, to put more edge in the music. While now I think those requests were hogwash, we were making changes. Red Wine and Lemonade was recorded during that period when PM was moving away from the heavier keyboard and sequencing sound that we had been using to a more live sound, with just the trio of guitar, bass, and drums. We were interested in playing really live, so that we could take the songs where they wanted to go, rather than where the machines told us to. While re-arranging songs that we had been playing for our live shows to fit this new format, Jim came up with the Fretless Bass intro that you hear on the record. We thought it was a nice change, and decided to put it on the album.
– There are a lot of changes on the next album,”Green Eyed Radio”. First of all, you change from the group name “PM” to your own name. However, it’s basically the same people you played and still play with, Roger Guth and your brother Jim.
PM: Yes, with the addition of Tommy Kennedy on Bass. Jim actually produced that album more than he played on it. It was a period where PM had decided to take a break from itself, and I was trying anything to move things forward and keep the music coming. If I had it to do today, I would have done it differently.
– There seems to be this thing, that people want to categorize music in to certain styles. From “Green Eyed Radio” and on, you mix a lot of different styles in your music, for example folk, country, latin and, of course, the Beatles inspired songs.
PM: I have always been a fan of many different types of music. But more than being a fan, I want to be moved by the music I play. I could choose to do only one style, but then I feel like I am moving it, rather than having it move me. The more natural process for me is to be walking down a street and see an incident, and suddenly have a lyric, or a musical piece running through my head. If it moves me it starts occupying my life, and demanding I do something with it. I realize that this is not the best music business move, in that they usually demand specific categories that you can be fit into. But, I don’t believe that we are born as categories, or mini radios that walk around broadcasting the prescribed signals. I get bored listening to the same thing over and over, and I expect some of the listeners out there do too.
– The music also becomes more and more acoustic, and the sound of the different instruments becomes more realistic/natural.
PM: Yes, I believe that has come from my introduction to the acoustic guitar by people like James Taylor, Paul McCartney, Jimmy Buffett and Mac McAnally. At one point it became a necessity while on tour with Buffett to play more acoustic, and I grew to love the sound and power of that instrument.
– In “PM” you played all the guitars, but later on, you started working together with guitarist, Vince Varvel. How did that begin?
PM: When PM moved to a more “live” sound as a trio, we really missed some of the harmonic options it gave us. Vince was a person that I new had a similar background harmonically to us, and he was very open to working with us, with his input of ideas, and reception to direction as well.
– Do you arrange the guitar lines together with Vince?
PM: Some of them yes, but most of the time I would say, “I’m looking for an echo like line here, and a wash, or a pad there”, and vince would go and find it. We’d work with the chord voicings until we were both happy, and Vince has an incredible harmonic ear.
– On “Romeo’s Garage” we hear you play the blues (BB’s got the blues). And indeed very convincingly! Can we expect more ‘outlets’ of blues later on?
PM: I don’t consider myself a blues player at all, but I am in love with playing the guitar. I look forward to doing some more of that on the upcoming record.
– You have also worked together with another great singer/songwriter, Mac McAnally, both on “Romeo’s Garage”, “Stars and Promises” and on his album, “Word of Mouth”. I guess you’ve met each other through working with Jimmy Buffett?
PM: Yes, Mac has become a great friend, and he has been a huge influence on my and my acoustic guitar playing.
– How do you feel that two such strong musical personalities like you and Mac McAnally complement each other?
PM: When I first met Mac, it was in a studio session in Nashville. We were recording a song for Jimmy Buffett. It was a very simple A minor reggae song. I was playing an electric part and Mac played the acoustic guitar. The engineer started rolling tape, and I couldn’t believe the groove that Mac was getting out of his guitar. His touch created a sound that fit perfectly into the mix. It was very powerful. I think we work together very well. Mac comes at music very intuitively, and has great creative ideas. He may not be able to tell you what chord he is playing, but he is led by his ear. I tend to be a little more theory oriented, in terms of knowing the functions of the chords and considering different options.
– The big unplugged wave started in the beginning of the 90’ies with Paul McCartney and Eric Clapton. Your contribution came in 1999 with your “Spare Tire Orchestra” album, a ‘simple’ production with just you, Jim Mayer, Scott Bryan and Vince Varvel. How did that album come along?
PM: We had been doing many gigs together as the Peter Mayer Group, or PMG. One evening, as a fill date we played a gig, believe it or not in a hair salon, with just percussion, acoustic guitar, acoustic bass, and vocal. We put two mikes out in front of the band and played. It was an absolutely magical night, and we all promised to immediately start working on an album of that kind of production. For Spare Tire, we put two or three mikes in the room and just played. There was very little overdubbing.
– On “Spare Tire Orchestra” you chose to re-record “Moonlight over Paris” from the PM debut album and “India” from the “Red Wine & Lemonade album. Is there a special reason for choosing these two songs from your back catalogue (apart from them being wonderful songs!)?
PM: We thought it would be interesting to do the songs again with a different arrangement. People had been asking for Moonlight Over Paris, but could not find the PM album. So we decided to get it on board Spare Tire.
– It almost seems to be a tradition among artists, especially American artists, that they make a Christmas album. On your album,”Stars & Promises”, you play your own songs and very original and personal versions of well-known Christmas songs, among which an outstanding version of “Angels We Have Heard on High”, that has made me and a lot of my friends lose our jaws (in a “Tom & Jerry kind of way”…). What was your reason for making a Christmas album?
PM: Christmas has always been a favorite season for me. The original idea actually came from a Pastor friend of mine who asked if I’d be willing to compose some Christmas songs to raise money for charity. One by one new songs were written, and we had enough for an CD. I did not want to do the standard spin off Christmas album though, with Jingle Bells etc. So Jim and I decided to do it more as a World Acoustic Music Christmas album.
– Since them, you have made a “Stars & Promises Alive” album, also with a fantastic live sound quality that is seldom heard – actually, I have to go back to 2 albums, Kenny Loggins – alive from the Redwoods and James Taylor Live in ’92, to find a similar great sound. Can we expect more live albums from you, or maybe concerts on DVD?
PM: Yes we hope to do a Live Peter Mayer Group album in the next couple of years. We also have a Christmas DVD in the early stages of development.
– Your latest studio album, “Stirrin’ Up The Water” is a collection of songs you have written over the past 8 years – songs for baptisms, weddings a.s.o. The recent years you have played more and more concerts in churches. How is it to perform in a church compared to standing on an ‘ordinary’ stage?
PM: It was actually quite scary at first. I have always found a home in the church being a missionary son, but to actually go in with a group was kind of strange at first. I realized that some of my feeling was from the stigma that “Christian” artists have had. In other words, if you are a Christian artist, you don’t rock and roll, or vice versa. For this very reason we have been mixing up some PM songs in with our concerts in the churches. To me the notion of music about religious beliefs being more “sacred” than others is a fallacy. Music to me is a gift we have been given by the creator, and the doors and ideas about it should be flung open for dancing instead of being closed for inspection.
– You played in Europe back in ’97, and in an interview you said that the audience over here was much more present and listened much more intensively to your music than you were used to back in the USA. Since your songs are very personal and emotional as well, isn’t it sometimes frustrating to play for an audience that isn’t quite attentive?
PM: I found European audiences very attentive and respectful. They seemed hungry for music, and I found that very refreshing. We have great audiences and fans in the US, but sometimes we are so media saturated that there is a threshold you must break through to reach people. I can’t wait to come back overseas again. It has been to long away from Europe for us.
– The music industry has developed in a direction so that a lot of artists like yourself have started their own record companies, releasing their own material and then selling it over the internet. In the beginning of your career, PM was signed up with Warner Brothers. Would you like to have a big record company behind you again or are you satisfied with having your own company, Little Flock Music?
PM: Right now, I am very happy being independant. I have been able to choose directions, and manage at a smaller business level, and keep initial costs down to reasonable levels. I firmly believe I would rather be artistically fulfilled than financially fulfilled. There are obvious advantages of being with a record company but right now I can’t think of any that apply to me. I guess I would like to have better distribution, to make the albums available in stores or outlets, but the internet has provided many people with a store that is just as easy to use. There may be a time, if the situation is right where we are ready to move on, but for right now it’ll remain a Little Flock.
– Well, Peter, you have made 9 albums since 1988, and that’s amazing! Are you currently working on a new album? If so, can you tell something about it?
PM: Yes, we have 6 tracks recorded already, and about 6 to 8 more to put down in May. I’m very excited about the songs; the music, the direction. It, as usual, will be something a little different. The challenge of this album is that the recording process has been stretched over a long period of time. I’m confident though, that when it comes time to finish it, it will make some music. It involves the PMG, with the addition of Chris Walters on piano on several tunes, Native flute, and a string trio on several as well.
– You have said that it was a great experience to perform in Europe back in ’97. Is there any chance of seeing you here again in the future?
PM: Everyone in the group has commented in the last couple of months that it is high time to come to Europe again. The European community of listeners has given us so much support over the years, and it’s our turn to come and play. We will be looking into tour options after the new album is done.