Harps, Bells and Bollocks – an interview with Pete Lawrie

pete-lawrie

The platform at Dingle Road station is dark and deserted as I climb off the train to meet Penarth’s best kept secret: local singer-songwriter Pete Lawrie. A handshake and a short walk later, Pete and I arrive before some metal shutters. With a click of a remote control, they rise gradually to reveal a silver Porsche 911.

“Not mine. The landlords’,” says Pete.

We have come to the hub of Pete’s music making operations; a flat rented for him by his record label which has been converted into a studio and rehearsal space.

Through the first door is a sparsely decorated room with a drum kit in it. A flight of stairs with guitars lining the walls leads to a decent sized attic space containing yet more guitars, some expensive looking recording equipment, and Pete’s long-time friend and drummer Elliot Wall.

Although he hasn’t gigged for 18 months, Pete has been keeping himself busy. After signing up with Chrysalis Publishing and working on songs for a year, it was decided it was time to start looking for a label. Field records, a subsidiary of Island records set up by Dido’s brother and Faithless member Rollo Armstrong, soon came calling. An album is now in the pipeline.

Tonight Pete is making a gift for his girlfriend on the eve of their one year anniversary, but I’m here for a preview of some of his other creations.

“Not to be too Blue Peter about it, this is actually one I made earlier,” he says, as the first strains of Jimmy – one the prospective songs for his debut record – wash over the room. I ask about the album.

“It’s scheduled to be out later this year, but there’s no set deadline. The end of this year, something like that,” Pete says.

“I don’t think music or any other art is something you can apply a routine to. I don’t think you could work nine to five at it. But not working sends me mad, so I try and do as much as I can.”

“I wrote up 30 tunes, some before I’d been signed and some since. We’re now on 15 and I’m going to record all of them. 12 will make the record.”

Pete is appreciative of the freedom the label has given him, and believes he and Armstrong share the same philosophy.

“The difference with Rollo’s label is that it’s not just some dude in a suit – he’s actually made really good records. He’s a musician not just a number cruncher. His opinion is one that I respect,” Pete says.

“One of the first things he said was that he wanted to make a proper record, where it’s one continuous thing. I still love records, I like having an inlay, some artwork, just holding it.”

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Pete was born into music. Both of his parents were at one time professional musicians, and his mother still plays the oboe for a living. His own experiences as a player are varied.

“I’ve played trumpet in a ska punk band, keyboard in a hip-hop band – I even attempted scratch djing in a band once,” he says.

“I’ve always tried to make different kinds of music and listen to different kinds of music. I spend a lot of time listening to stuff like DJ Shadow and instrumental hip-hop.”

His wide-ranging tastes shine through in his own work. Although modesty makes Pete declare he is making “nothing new”, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Pete is adept at both piano and guitar and wields these instruments in interesting ways. The looped piano phrase which tinkles away in the background of The Good Few for example, is a motif borrowed from hip-hop but it is used to good effect here in a completely different musical setting.

In terms of Pete’s vocals, comparisons to the strong, rasping tones of Ray LaMontagne or Ben Ottewell from Gomez are obvious. If there is one other thing Pete does have in common with some previous artists, it is that he has already developed the talent of writing about personal experiences and making them seem universal through his lyrics. This is particularly evident on All That We Keep – an anthemic, layered song which is sure to make the album.

It is safe to say one influence Pete Lawrie does not hold dear is his namesake Peter Andre.

“Peter Andre reckons Mysterious Girl came to him in a vision. If God sent him that song in a dream, I’m not going to heaven,” he says.

“You’ve got a bit of a God complex if you think God’s taking time out of his day to say “you can have Mysterious Girl”. If it’s true I’m annoyed because I have to fucking work at it. But that’s the part of it I really enjoy.”

Pete is hoping to tour extensively when his new album released and is in the process of auditioning a band, having recently recruited guitarist Matt Miles. Getting in a bus and gigging across America is a vision he has been keen to make a reality for some time. It is just the practicalities of projecting his epic sound in a live setting which he believes may prove troublesome, especially with regards to All That We Keep.

“How the fuck do you perform that live? I’ll need 15 people and then a gospel choir,” he says.

“But fundamentally behind all the songs there is a chord sequence and lyrics. You can get into it and find that amongst all the harps and bells and bollocks I put on it. Even if we stripped it down to playing with a four piece you could do a version of most songs.”

As I step out into the night to get the train back again, I soon find myself whistling one of the tunes I have just heard. Something tells me the sounds being made in that Penarth flat will soon be echoing round the world, and next time we meet, the Porsche will belong to Pete Lawrie.

Click here to check out Pete Lawrie’s myspace

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~ by seanbradbury on February 19, 2009.

One Response to “Harps, Bells and Bollocks – an interview with Pete Lawrie”

  1. Lovely rendu at the end there Princess. You’re a pen wielding man.

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