The Trouble with Peter Mulvey
In the past year, singer-songwriter Peter Mulvey has had more than his share
of strange and often tragic happenstances. His previous recording label
dissolved. His trusty Chevy has been broken into three times. He has lost
clothing, a computer and his beloved hand-made Irish guitar. And if that
weren't enough, he recently had an odd exchange with Senator Edward Kennedy
Oh woe, Peter!
Still, despite a year which might drive a lesser performer to quit (or at
least to join Teddy in a drink or two or three), Mulvey has persevered,
continuing to tour relentlessly in support of his latest album The Trouble
With Poets (Signature Sounds). Come Rain or Deep Blue or even Rapture, Mulvey
just keeps on plugging.
During a recent stop in Boston (where Mulvey got his start playing in the
subway tunnels), Mulvey took a moment to put things in perspective and
explain why he has not gone mad (at least, not so much that you'd notice).
[Matthew] I hate to drag you through it one more time, Peter, but tell me
about your recent misfortunes and how they have affected you.
[Peter] What, the car thing? Well, sure, my car has been broken
into three times in the last year, but that's nothing! I was recently
introduced to Ted Kennedy and had the presence of mind to say 'Thanks, Man!'
Considering the first thing I did as a performer was an all roller-skating
production of "Oklahoma" and the most recent was Ted Kennedy, the break-ins
were just a blip.
Losing my guitar was kind of a drag. Well it was more than kind of a drag.
But I got two new guitars- On the road I play a Seagull, but it does well.
In the studio, I use an guitar built by Julius Borges III which is a bit too
delicate to take on the road.
[Matthew] When and how did the new album come together?
[Peter] Well, the material was almost totally written in June- two months
before we recorded. Goody [i.e., producer, co-writer and accompanist David
"Goody" Goodrich] and I sat in my apartment in Milwaukee and just cranked
out tunes. He brought in more than half of raw guitar configurations and
then we just bashed stuff around and came up with melodies and then the
lyrics just fit in those syllabic constructions. Sometimes, they come so
quickly, it's hard to tell, but usually it's the music first. At least I
hope it's first. I'd suspect it was the music first even with guys like
[Matthew] What does the new album mean?
[Peter] I have NO idea! This one is the furthest open to interpretation of
any record I have ever done. Most of it is narratives and characters
speaking, some of whom your guess is as good as mine. It's a good record
with good stories. I like them. But I don't even know what they mean
anymore. For example, ""Wings of the Ragman." I thought it was about a dead
guy trying to talk to the living who can't hear him. But perhaps I'm wrong!
[Matthew] So how do you choose your subject matter for songs?
[Peter] Some sounds will emerge and a line will solidify from those sounds.
Then if you keep your mind open and as k who is speaking, the lines just
write themselves and follow each other. Goody was definitely part of the
lyric-writing process, if only as a barometer for the interest level. I
could just read it on his face if a song was interesting or not. And if I
couldn't, he'd tell me!
[Matthew] What will your fans recognize in the new album and how would you
describe it to new listeners?
[Peter] What I hope people will here is all the records I've done mangled
together. This one felt like that. It has the buoyance of Rapture and
compositional technical hoo-ha of Deep Blue (both on Eastern Front) and
freedom of Glrencree (a live album recorded in Ireland). It's getting harder
to describe as my interests are branching out. From a marketing standpoint,
it's getting harder to define. It's American music, but there's some
Radiohead in there, which is British .... The quickest thing to say is that
it's Nick Drake meets Los Lobos. Oh, God! That's the type of thing some
marketing guy says and that makes me ill
[Matthew] How are things at the new label?
[Peter] It's great! They're real low key and laid-back and also they have the
machinery that put out the RESPOND benefit CD and all their other great
artists. I mean, it's really cool being in the same stable as Richard
Shindell and Mark Erelli and all them. It's cool!
[Matthew] Will you be taking the album anywhere new, in terms of touring?
[Peter] No, unless we go to Europe. We pretty much play everywhere in US and
I play Ireland a lot, so the UK would not be new. So except for Europe,
perhaps, there won't be much new. This is the tour circuit I'd love to
playing at 50. I'd love to be filling the venues where I am an opening act
now and maybe be able to play three-night stands at some of the smaller
[Matthew] Do you still go back to the subway?
[Peter] Oh sure! The next time I come to Boston, I got five days there, so I
figure I'll spend the morning playing in the subway and the afternoons
biking to Walden Pond. Not that I can guarantee I'll get a spot because it's
[Matthew] Is the subway scene more competitive than it was when you started there?
[Peter] Not more competitive, but it has reached its equilibrium.
[Matthew] What else would you like to be doing when you're 50 (or a few years
[Peter] I have got to learn more music and find a method for writing that is
more constant. That's the one thing I want to develop more- discipline. I am
now working on standards from the 30's 40's and 50's and I also spend time
trying to figure out what guys like Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill are
doing. If I can incorporate more discipline, that would be great. I do so
many live shows, I have become adept at watching and learning from what I
do. It's the rest of that thing - the repertoire and stuff - that need work.
I think I'll find the time as I go on, but I'd really like to expand my