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Making Canada Proud with True Talent: An Interview with Peter Bloom
By Mark Kirby
(more articles from this author)
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There are more rock-and-pop-influenced singer-songwriters on the musical landscape than there are punk rock bands - I guarantee it. So if you're going to make music in this style, you'd better have something that sets you apart from the stumbling herd. At the very least, you need to have a few good songs with something to say; otherwise, why bother? Peter Bloom, a singer-songwriter who fronts a killer band and isn't afraid to be intense and real, has all of the above. He takes elements of the classic rock of the Beatles, Springsteen and others and uses them as the basis for personal expression that has both sincerity and a flare for the dramatic. Bloom also mercifully eschews indie rock pseudo-hipster cool and “blah blah whatever" lyric-writing for passion, with songs that address relevant topics ranging from today's politics to the eternal drama of life and love - be it love of one's fellow human or one's brother. The playing on the CD Random Thoughts (from a paralyzed mind) is excellent throughout, especially Bloom's piano-man stylings on the keys - but the real the stars here are the songs.

[Mark Kirby] What are your earliest memories of music?

[Peter Bloom] I'd have to say playing xylophone in preschool - I'm serious! We were taught music via the Orff method (named after composer Carl Orff). I soon followed that up with some killer licks on the recorder. I apparently showed a lot of promise at a young age, four or five, and my mother was encouraged to get me into piano lessons. But we couldn't afford piano books, let alone lessons. So I actually didn't pick up an instrument until a good friend left his drums at my house when I was fifteen. I taught myself to play over a few months. The friend took up bass while my brother handled guitar in what became our first "serious" band, The Elementals. I had always enjoyed singing in church and just about anywhere, so I also became the lead singer, by default really.

[Mark Kirby] What music were you into when you were young?

[Peter Bloom] I discovered Elvis when I was five or six, thanks to my dad. Elvis is still my number one music "icon." But as I went through my teens, I had the benefit of older siblings who bought a lot of various music, so I had the pleasure of listening to everything from The Romantics to the Police, from the Stones and Zeppelin, to Simon and Garfunkel and Elton John. I also got into two acts who have helped shape my musical journey: Springsteen and the Beatles. But my biggest "band icon" as a teenager was U2, hands down. I also liked a lot of the alt and punk rock music of the 80s, from the Smiths, The Cure, and Echo and the Bunnymen to the Sex Pistols, The Ramones and The Clash. So the teen years covered a lot of musical influences. Did I mention Barry Manilow? Never mind.

[Mark Kirby] How did you get started performing music?

[Peter Bloom] The Elementals gigs would have been my first official performances. Before that, church and school talent shows were the places I sang.

[Mark Kirby] What incident, record or show made you want to be a musician?

[Peter Bloom] It was a combination of Elvis Presley's Gold Records - Volume 1 I believe, and the movie Grease. And subsequently, I wore out the soundtrack! I actually had the pleasure of meeting my childhood hero, John Travolta, a few years back. I was so thrilled; it felt as though I was a kid all over again! He is such a terrific performer and person. He actually hugged me twice during our encounter!

[Mark Kirby] What was your first band like?

[Peter Bloom] Loud, sloppy and full of spunk! We were not seasoned musicians by any stretch, but man, did we put on a show! And the fact is, we wrote some pretty darn catchy “college rock" tunes. I'd bet they would still go over now! "Three chords and the truth." Well, more like "three chords and some booze!" That'll always be a big part of my musical identity - the raw energy part, not the alcohol. We were definitely young, wild and free. Well, maybe not free, but we were cheap (insert rim shot sound here)!

[Mark Kirby] What are your current influences?

[Peter Bloom] You know, it's funny - although my music would likely be categorized as "singer-songwriter" at its core, I'm still primarily influenced by bands - classic bands. If I had to be specific, I'd say the Beatles for musical structure and melody, Queen for vocals and "flare", U2 for passion and earnestness, Springsteen for lyrics. I know you're probably thinking, "How about an artist who started within the last twenty years?" But really, although there have been - and still are - some terrific, somewhat more current bands (for example, my perennial favorite, Foo Fighters), they are few and far between. I appreciate their music, but don't find as much creative inspiration in it as I do with the classic artists I mentioned. That being said, I'm sure people will hear a little Keane, Verve and even Stereophonics in what I do. That's great; I love all those acts!

[Mark Kirby] Did you study music in a formal setting?

[Peter Bloom] No, I can't read or write music. I'm a self-taught hack on drums, piano and acoustic guitar! I have had some voice training, or, more accurately, retraining, as a result of my former chronic voice disorder. But even that was never formal training per se. If I have any regrets, that would be one of them - never learning to read and write music, and to play at least one instrument proficiently. But maybe in some ways, my limitations contribute to my strengths. After all, I don't tend to get caught up in what is "right" or “wrong" technically or theoretically. If it sounds good in my head and feels good in my heart, then I go with it. That's when the more original ideas surface.

[Mark Kirby] Describe the evolution of Peter Bloom Band.

[Peter Bloom] I wrote and recorded a record over the last two years. Producer/keyboardist John Jamieson and I arranged it. John plays piano and sings backup for the live shows. Guitarist Justin Abedin, who laid down all the guitars and bass tracks for the CD, is my lead guitarist live. My buddy Damian Morrissy had been helping me with a live duo, playing bass and singing backup, as the CD was being put together. So he has continued in that capacity. Justin recommended Roger Travassos on drums, and we were finally ready to perform the songs live as a band. That's been the 5-man lineup since our first show in December 2007. I still do shows alone, too. We've also done a couple of shows as a trio. Whatever works for the venue and event.

[Mark Kirby] With so many singer-songwriters operating in the world of pop, what sets your music apart from the others?

[Peter Bloom] I think I may have already answered that question when I referred to my influences. I don't think my material quite fits the traditional "folk" or "Americana" vibe of many of today's singer-songwriters. As great as many of them are, I don't want to run the risk of putting out really good background music. I want my music to leap out at the listener. Even my gentlest ballads contain big, soaring vocal and instrumental moments. I'd like to believe that I still have the heart of a rock band front man. And I think that comes across in the music. In fact, the next record might surprise a few people in that it will likely have a much more pronounced rock edge to it. I've got to evolve, or regress - I'm not sure which. Either way, I've simply got to be true to what's moving me at the present time, which is rock music and, hopefully, insightful lyrics.

Peter Bloom Band - Helping Hand (LIVE)

[Mark Kirby] What is your favorite song on the record?

[Peter Bloom] It changes every time I listen to the CD, every time I play a show, every time it rains, every time the sun shines. I think that's why I'm pretty sure I've made a good record. It doesn't rely on one song or one vibe to get you through. There is hope, insight and maybe even a little inspiration to be found in all sorts of musical manifestations throughout the CD. Now if I absolutely had to pick one song, I would probably say “Walls." Melodically, lyrically and performance-wise, I'm really pleased with that one. Mind you, “Helping Hand" is a great gospel-flavored show closer. And “Haven't Hit the Floor Yet" still brings me close to tears every time I hear or sing it. Did I mention “Let It Go"? Now there's a potential pop-rock gem. And “Careful" has that alt-rock sensibility, you know? Okay, sorry; I'll stop now.

[Mark Kirby] For independent artists in Canada, what is the music scene like?

[Peter Bloom] I'd like to think that Canada supports its homegrown talent. There is definitely a fair bit of government funding available to music artists. Mind you, a good chunk of that goes to relatively established acts. I know CBC Radio really tries to support indie Canadian music. On the other hand, my cynical side wants to whine about our Canadian inferiority complex, and how it so often seems that Canada doesn't fully acknowledge its own brilliant talent until it is recognized abroad. Barenaked Ladies, Feist, Arcade name it. It just seems that it takes some degree of European hype, or U.S. popularity, before Canadians wholeheartedly embrace and endorse their own. Although the anecdote I'll use to illustrate my point is a film example, I think the musical experience is similar: The brilliant actress/screenwriter/director Sarah Polley deservedly won seven Genies this year for her movie Away From Her. And yet the only question some Canadian radio bozo could ask her was how it felt to be nominated for an Oscar. She was at the Genie Awards ceremony at the time! On the bright side, I think the internet is making national boundaries gradually less relevant. Good music from anywhere on the globe is easily accessible and embraced as good music, no matter where it is from. Mind you, the sheer number of wannabe artists is countless times greater now than it was ten years ago as a result of the net and cheap recording technology. Canada or no Canada, the acts that are going to thrive, or at least survive, will have to focus on making great music and getting it out directly to the people, regardless of national borders.

[Mark Kirby] How about the music scene in Toronto, specifically?

[Peter Bloom] Toronto is Canada's biggest city, so there are a lot of potential fans here. There are many places to play, and my experience with other acts is that they are quite supportive of one another. One of my favorite new artists is the incomparable, Juno-nominated Justin Nozuka. We played some shows together locally, and we co-wrote a tune on his debut CD Holly. He has emerged from the Toronto music scene over the past couple of years, and has taken Europe by storm. He's about to "invade" the U.S., and I have no doubt he will succeed there. The awe-inspiring Justin Hines (writer/singer of the #1 Canadian radio hit "I Wish You Well") is another force to be reckoned with. He, too, is from the Toronto scene. Maybe I should change my name to Justin! Then there's the Montreal indie scene, which seems to have exploded over the past five or six years. I played out west relatively recently, and I found that to be a pretty solid scene as well. And of course, the east coast has always enjoyed a very strong music scene. Music is in their soul...and it's "right some good!" Ultimately, wherever the artist is from, true talent and drive trump everything else. Canada has a LOT of amazing music to offer the world; we just have to stop saying "sorry" first.

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