Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Q&A With Pete Astor

Photo: Susanne Ballhausen

'Tis the season to celebrate and share our favorite music of 2015, but please pardon this interruption to hear a few tracks from an album sure to be on many of your "best of" lists this time next year. I received an advanced listen of Pete Astor's 'Spilt Milk', out Feb. 12 via Slumberland Records, and became so smitten by this master work that I felt like I had to let him know. The following is the result of this bold (and somewhat out of character) move on my part. Thanks for taking the time, Pete. You have been a hero for almost as long as I can remember.

[Dec. 23 Update: For you UK readers, Fortuna POP! is taking pre-orders for 'Spilt Milk' now.]

Linear Tracking Lives: The Loft seem to be remembered as much for the band's legendary onstage implosion and split as the wonderful singles "Why Does the Rain" and "Up the Hill and Down the Slope." With an additional 30 years of living, if you could go back and chat with the young Pete Astor backstage at the Hammersmith Palais on June 24, 1985, what pearls of wisdom about music and the business would you pass on to yourself?

Pete: Hmmm. Yes, good question! I think the thing which happened with The Loft was totally down to our inability to properly communicate with each other. I didn't seem to have the ability to negotiate what I felt; instead I let my frustrations build and build until there was an explosion. By the time I was in the dressing room at the Hammersmith Palais, it was probably too late; before that, I would say to myself to try and express what I thought. But, unfortunately, me - and the rest of us - didn't really acknowledge feelings in our day-to-day lives.

LTL: Last year you released a study of Richard Hell and the Voidoids' Blank Generation through Bloomsbury's 33 1/3 Series. It's actually on sale right now at the publisher's site. Let's sell some books. What was it about this quintessential New York band that shook you up as a young Englishman? .

This is how the book starts and I think this says it best:

Richard Hell was the one for me. He embodied exactly the right mixture of nihilism and ego that a sixteen year old needed. And he looked right. Like all the best rock and roll, here was someone - as we would all find out in the passage of time - who remained mired in the emotional onslaught that adolescence brings. And had no intention of doing anything other than continuing to wallow in its endless contradictions and rail against it with poise, poetry and an elegant sneer. Just another permanent adolescent, staring down the world. This was glamorous, elegant and damaged and signposted a universe of possibilities and I wanted in. It was love at first sight. It's hard to say exactly when the love affair started, because before you're really ready, so many things have to be in place...

LTL: I was immediately taken by how 'Spilt Milk' sounded so much different than projects like the Wisdom of Harry and Ellis Island Sound. This one will remind fans of your days with the Weather Prophets. How aware were you this was a return to form?

Pete: Everybody has different sides to their work but finally I feel like I've come back to being 'me'. I'm quite happy to make the music I am at the moment, within it's particular strictures. Doing the kinds of songs that I do I think of a bit like writing a sonnet or painting a painting a portrait or something: I'm not trying to re-invent the wheel, but working on doing something worthwhile using song structures, etc.

I also really like Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's ideas about creativity; he talks about 'flow', which is basically a state where you get to forget yourself, lose yourself in what you do. I realised that I could always achieve this when writing, singing, playing music - so I had to do it.

LTL: I'm a huge fan of Veronica Falls, and I see James Hoare is on the new album. How did you get together? What was his involvement with 'Spilt Milk'?

Pete: James and I have been friends a long time, since he was a student of mine, many years ago. In terms of 'Spilt Milk', he was the band, recording and producing the record in his studio. It was brilliant working together, we understood each other so well, we rarely had to say very much when we were working, with very few words we were able to make big and useful aesthetic decisions while apparently just drinking tea and looking out of the window.

LTL: I can't stop listening to "The Getting There". There is such a McLennan/Forster vibe on this one. What can you tell me about this song?

Pete: I always think of "The Getting There" as maybe taking place at a party, any party, where stuff happens which leads to big changes in your life, but you never know this at the time. Perhaps. McLennan/Forster vibe - thank you!

LTL: Since it's the end of the year, I have to ask. What are your favorite songs and albums of 2015?

Pete: So much fantastic music – just now, I'll grab these. I’m sure I've forgotten something, but...

Elvis Perkins – 'I, Aubade'
Robert Forster – 'Songs to Play'
Ultimate Painting – 'Green Lanes'
Father John Misty – 'I Love You, Honeybear'
Bill Ryder-Jones – 'West Kirby County Primary'
Mbongwana Star – 'From Kinshasa'
Waxahatchee – 'Ivy Tripp'
Darren Hayman – 'Florence'
Sleaford Mods – 'Key Markets'


Echorich said...

What a coup!
Great dialogue with Mr. Astor Brian! Spilt Milk is great music and you can tell how energized and engaged Peter Astor is. SOOO glad you brought up Richard Hell.

Swiss Adam said...

Great post Brian. I like Pete Astor and am looking forward to this release

Brian said...

Adam, I know you're a fan. You are the reason I didn't miss that last Ellis Island sound release. Spilt Milk will be out in January from Fortuna Pop in your neck of the woods. I would have linked to it in the interview for you UK readers, but the label doesn't seem to have a preorder going yet.

Echorich, Glad you found this interesting. You are going to love this record! No hyperbole... every note is perfect.

friend of rachel worth said...

Only have mayflower but love the 3 tracks you've included. Off to pre order now

Dirk said...

Brian, friend of the stars!

Very good interview, I didn't know that Pete was still doing stuff. One of the view artists who managed to lead two brilliant bands consecutively, The Loft and The Weather Prophets. Will listen to the songs accompanying the post when I get home this afternoon, but if they're good as well after all those years, he's a real winner!

The Swede said...

How great is that? I'm well out of touch with Mr Astor's music, but loved The Loft and Weather Prophets. These new tunes sound very encouraging. I look forward to hearing the whole LP. Great post!

Anonymous said...

Great interview! Should anyone want to buy a copy, the album is available direct from us (Fortuna POP!) in the UK and Europe now...


If you're in the US, you can find it via Slumberland Records...