As a huge fan of The Walkmen, I met their decision to part company back in 2013 with both trepidation and excitement. The former because one of the truly great bands of their era were calling it a day, the latter at the various solo projects they were already making plans to explore. One of the first of the band to dip his toes into the solo waters was Peter Matthew Bauer, who emerged in 2014 with his excellent, and in hindsight criminally underappreciated, debut album Liberation! Since then he’s formed his own record label and management company, Fortune Tellers, and released an equally intriguing second record, Mount Qaf. Almost five years since his last release, Peter is set to return this September, with his third solo record, Flowers. The album was recorded between his current home of Los Angeles, and the Philadelphia studio run by his former The Walkmen bandmate, and current co-producer and drummer Matt Barick, running, “everything we could” through a spring reverb and, “Matt’s soviet era delay pedal pedal”. Today Peter is premiering the latest track from the album, Miracles.
Discussing the inspiration behind Flowers, Peter is quick to point out that despite being, “filled with a kind of dread”, the album is also a celebration of, “the little joy that remains”. Miracles is a big part of the record’s theme, and it is a track Peter describes as, “probably the most straightforward, folk style song I’ve ever written”. The track seems to flicker between the past and the present, reminiscing over, “the strangeness of growing up”, before leaping back to the here-and-now of pandemic-era Los Angeles. As Peter explains, “for me, it’s expressing a lot of the fear and decay of the present time”, with writing concluding on Christmas Day last year.
The track enters like a torch song, Peter’s guitar taking on a touch of Kevin Morby as he laments friends parting ways, “out on the century’s end and our friends are all leaving alone”, before the whole thing bursts into light on a flourish of brass. The trick is repeated throughout the song, moments of quiet contemplation cut through by arresting blasts of energy, “would you shout out to the mystery my friend? Like an airplane crash, I’ll see you in the end, last night on earth before it starts again, I’ve got a feeling I can’t seem to win”. The song ends not on a conclusion as such, instead, it finishes with a sense of what was, an attempt to hold onto simpler times, as he repeats, “I don’t believe it now, it’s like it never was”. It is easy to read this song as a simple backward glance, an attempt to get back to how things once were, yet it’s more than that, it’s the passing of time, the blurred image of our youth, hazy half-remembered moments viewed the only way they can be, from the here-and-now. Standing in the present, gazing at the past and the future, Peter Matthew Bauer seems to know you don’t get to choose, there’s only tomorrow, and with Flowers, Peter’s future looks well worth celebrating.
Check out the video below and read on for a Q&A with Peter below
FTR: Hi Peter, you’re premiering your new track Miracles today, what can you tell us about recording the track?
This song became part of a long narrative that runs through the entire record.The words come from a notebook filled with hundreds lines I wrote all at at once over a day. They were originally tied to the last song on this record. I wrote them by double tracking my voice for hours on end over a loop from that track, line after line. Later, I pieced them back together into new narratives over different songs.I am realizing that I can explain the whole album more and more as trying to capture this hidden force, this strange atmosphere that I’m guessing most people have been feeling over the last few years. I was trying to use my own personal experiences, my own early life to explain it, even while my focus was on now. This song is a combination of early moments and almost nostalgia. In DC, there were a lot of railroad bridges. The song starts out in the era when I was growing up, at a party of with a bunch of kids on a railroad bridge, screwing around, climbing on the tracks. It ends in downtown Los Angeles in the 21st century during the pandemic, watching miracles performed in the street.
On Christmas Eve last year, my entire family came down with Covid and I remember working on this song over the next few days to keep my brain focused on something as I was feeling pretty out of it. The last step was adding the horn arrangement. Matt Barrick, who produced it with me, had toured with the Westerlies in 2019. It was his idea to reach out to them. The song is just them and me on an acoustic and an electric guitar. They knocked it out of the park.
FTR: It’s been nearly five years since you last released a solo album, what made now the right time to return?
I think I get real stuck being very disillusioned by music and, at the same time, it being the one thing outside my family that I really care about in an overwhelming way and just have to make despite the heartbreak of watching it kind of disappear into the ether these days. Over the last five years, I worked on a lot of other peoples music and with a lot of other artists. So that kind of kept that feeling at bay and let me do some positive things with all sorts of different people out in the world. From there, I got to this place where I was not thinking about what I was doing, what was going to happen, or analyzing the music I was making very much at all. That’s sort of where I need to be to make a record. It’s a pretty great feeling.
FTR: The record is coming out on your own label, how have you found running a label compared to being signed to one?
It’s great to work with other artists. It’s great to feel like you’re doing something to help other people get heard in a time where it’s really hard to be heard. So I love that part of it. I love watching artists grow. Releasing my own records will be cool once I get through it to the other side and can look back. It’s a nice feeling to be doing it on my own.