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Interview: Pete Molinari

PUBLISHED: 12:55 27 February 2009 | UPDATED: 15:40 29 October 2010

Photo: Domink Gigler

Photo: Domink Gigler

Rob Garratt

With a big-label third album in the pipeline and a gig in Norwich, ROB GARRATT donned a beret and took five to speak to later-day beatnik Pete Molinari.

With a big-label third LP in the pipeline and a gig in Norwich tonight, ROB GARRATT donned a beret and took five to speak to later-day beatnik Pete Molinari.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

British folk-blues troubadour Pete Molinari cut his teeth chasing the ghosts of Dylan and Kerouac in New York's Greenwich Village, before coming home to record his debut album in punk-painter-poet Billy Childish's kitchen.

Last-year's retro follow-up, A Virtual Landslide, saw White Stripes soundman Liam Watson expand his sound to great critical acclaim.

Tonight he's back in Norwich.

t How's the tour going?

“I've just got back from a tour in Scandinavia - but this isn't really a tour, just a few British dates scattered here and there, one in Norwich, one in my home town, a few in London including one supporting Devon Sproule. At the moment my focus is to record. I am recording an EP and I'm working on a new album. I'm going onto a different label - I can't say which at this stage but there's a couple of different ones fighting over me and that doesn't seem a bad place to be in.”

t You grew up in Kent but you are very influenced by American music?

“A lot of people ask that, it's a weird thing. I come from a big family and my older brother had a big record collection and I was influenced by that in a lot of ways. I grew up listening to what my friends would say was strange but I would say was normal. I listened to some English music like The Beatles but not as much as the American music and European music I heard through my family.”

t Where did that come from?

“I've got mixed parentage and an Italian background - my name's Italian - and they listened to a lot of Italian and French music and I would listen to that and you can hear it in my music - but America played the biggest part.”

t You famously had spent two years there gigging.

“It was weird really - I went to Art School for awhile and when that finished I had family in San Francisco, so I started there and visited LA, and then I started to go to New York on short trips and one short trip turned into a long one and I ended up living there. That trip is the way that I started on what turned out to be my apprenticeship, for want of a better word. That's what I think sets me apart from a lot of people in the singer singer-writer background - I learnt a lot of my music from the past, but is still has a fresh feel.”

t What inspired you out there?

“New York just got hold of me. I didn't find it, I felt like it found me. I felt at home there. It felt very different to what was happening at London at that time. The whole romantic idea of being underground, meeting different people and reading a lot of that literature and learning how things should be done with substance. I learnt from a lot of greats - I sing the way I do but for the writing I got to learn from the best. I wanted to learn to do it right and just have my own way with it. I don't care much for originality and pushing boundaries I just want to be authentic. The only way to be original is the performance of it and the way of putting your feelings into it. I wanted it to be real and creative and heartfelt.”

t And what happened when you came back?

“I came back to see my family in the short term, I didn't have plans but I thought I was going back to America and I felt like I'd be back there pretty soon. But I started to make some records with Billy Childish. It was just something that panned out that way. He asked me to do some shows with him and I just learnt so much. He noticed that I was passionate about it - as part of the British influence he was the biggest one, less in the music and more in the way he was doing things - the way he was doing it with real conviction - that kind of appealed to me in the same way that I was finding myself in America.”

t And then you made your first album in his kitchen?

“Yeah I recorded in his house, it felt right, natural, but I wouldn't want to make it there again. But it felt good and took me on another stage from where I was in America. Then I went into a working relationship with [White Stripes engineer] Liam Watson, which I guess is your next question.”

t Do you want to say anything about making your second album with him?

“That's the biggest thing for me - an artist-producer relationship. I'm glad I have found someone who understands the music I am doing and has some love for it and excitement for it. There's a lot of people that don't know how to do it. It's that relationship with a producer that makes something great and it just seems to work. It's not for everybody, people have different ways of doing things, but he has a massive understanding of the music I grew up with.”

t And what about the next album?

“The next thing is to keep recording. Every time I come off tour I have written stuff and I come back and make these demos, we have tons of songs and we're planning the next record. We've already done a couple. It's the same process as the last, recording with session guys, I like the idea of working with strings and backing vocalists, I don't know how it's going to turn out. I just go in there with the songs and get creative and it all comes together.”

t Are you scared the raw feel could get eaten up by a bigger sound?

“No, I don't think it's going to get to the stage where I am going to feel uncomfortable. It's just going to have a little bit more time, it'll still be live with a group with as little overdubs as possible. I like listening to gospel music and if we were to use backing vocalists it would be quite subtle, I just want to make beautiful music. I don't care about making the best record ever made. I just want to make best I can do. I just want to carry on the way I have been carrying on. There's a bit more expectation on this one because now people that like the last one are waiting on it, but I don't feel any pressure, I just want to make records that I find something good in.”

t How do you write songs?

“I like the spontaneity of it, I like something that's heartfelt. A lot of the time I like it to be something that's happened to me. Some experience of something I have been through. Like most songwriters I have a melody and when I have something I feel like I want to write I use it. I don't stay on stuff for too long, I don't take three months or make too many corrections, it's always better that way. If I correct things I never think it's as good that way.”

t Do you have any advice for budding songwriters?

“Make sure you write about something that is uniquely you, not so much the whole sound more in its content. You can have a million record labels and producers telling you how to sound, but stick to your guns. Don't make a record that everybody else wants you to make. Make sure you're working with someone who understands you if you're collaborating and if you're working alone make sure you're doing what you want to do. Art should be made personally, feel your substance and emotion you need to put into it.”

t Do you remember Norwich?

“I've only been there once. I played a small venue, the Arts Centre, where I'm playing again this time. My memory of it was being picked up, playing, and leaving again. I remember it being a good gig. It's nice to be coming there again.”

t Pete Molinari plays Norwich Arts Centre on February 27.

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