New York-based singer-songwriter Peter Kelly is hard at work on his first full-length album as a solo artist. Yesterday, he dropped the effort's third single "Inside Out," following up the previously released "Tailwind" and "Fear of Landing," and he hopes to release the album by the end of next month. Ahead of its release, Music Times spoke with Kelly about his education at Berklee College of Music, his decision to go solo, the milestones he's reached, the things he still struggles with, the stories behind his new album, and more. Here's what he had to say:
Music Times: Can you tell me a little about your journey into music and what made you want to be a musician?
Peter Kelly: My first introduction to music was that my cousins were musicians. So when I was really young, like 5 or 6, my cousins played drums and bass, and I would go over there, and I always wanted sit on the drum set. Then I got a little older, I got into the whole MTV thing, watching the videos. I wanted to be on TV, I wanted to be in videos. That's what got me to start taking guitar lessons. Within a couple years, I played with a band that was an all children's band. We did like 1950s and '60s covers of old school Motown and we used to open up for all these old acts like The Coasters and The Shirelles, bands my parents liked. That band really set it all for me because playing in front of these bands that my parents knew. Seeing their excitement made me excited about it. That's what kind of propelled me into wanting to get good at it, advance, and get into writing and things like that.
MT: What influence did your guitar training at Berklee College of Music have on your music style and writing?
PK: I was a guitar performance major, and I think when I first got to Berklee I wanted to be like Steve Morse or Eric Johnson or one of these shred guitar players. I got there and spent a lot of time trying to get really fast on guitar and learn all this guitar trickery. But toward the end of my Berklee career, I was actually playing with this pop band and were writing like pop rock, Gin Blossoms-type of stuff. I was interested in the writing and the arranging of that style of music. Then all of a sudden, my focus shifted away from shredding to just trying to make songs. I kind of just gave up wanting to be a guitar god, and I put my energy into writing.
I remember my last year at Berklee there was this guitar teacher there named Bobby Lee Rogers, and he was one of my private instructors. He was supposed to work on my shredding, guitar god stuff with me, but he ending up asking me, "What do you want to do with your career?" And I was like, "I really want to be a writer." And he was like, "Good, that's what I do, too. Let's forget all this other crap and focus on what you write." So I would just write some of my earliest songs, I would bring them in and he would critique me. Then eventually I started singing. I didn't start singing until later. I was always afraid of singing. I kind of just always had the guitar in my hand and hid behind that. Then once I got sick of dealing with singers, I was like, "Well, I got to start singing now." And that was the birth of me as a singer-songwriter.
MT: Having that background in guitar, you don't necessarily force the whole guitar-driven thing in all of your songs. Some of your songs are more piano driven. Can you talk more on that?
PK: I think when I listen to music, I don't necessarily listen for guitar. I listen for a good song. I don't care if it's a Rihanna, electronic dance song, I listen for stuff that's good. I think the most natural thing for me when I write is to pick up a guitar and start with that. So everything ends up revolving around what I'm doing on guitar. But I don't need to put a guitar solo in every song or do something super interesting on guitar for every song. I think it's more about the song and just whatever it needs. I've never liked those long, extended jam band stuff. I was always a fan of Dave Matthews, but the thing that drove me crazy when I saw him live were these long jams. I was about the music and the song and the chorus and the hook. So that's where I tend to focus now. When I first was a writer, I felt this pressure to have to use these guitar chops. But it was kind of self-indulgent, and it didn't really do much for me.
MT: Prior to going solo, you were in a few bands. What are some things that you miss about being in a band and what are some of the advantages you've noticed going solo?
PK: I guess what I miss about being in a band is the camaraderie there. It's a lot easier when people are sharing the burden of everything. To play live, we all know what the deal is. We're all going to show up, we're all going to make no money, and we're all going to work just as hard. I think now going solo, everything falls on my shoulders. I am financially responsible for everything that goes on. I have to bear all the burden of everything. But on the upside of that, there isn't the band politics that dominated a lot of those bands. The members would change, and you'd find yourself with someone who was a problem or someone who was unhappy, and more time was spent on fighting than anything. What are we doing here? Do we want to try and make this band successful, or complain about whose idea we used and why?
I got so sick of it. I stopped for a while, and I was just playing with a cover band until I met this guy got me involved with this country band called The Roadside Poets. They recruited me as like a second guitar player. That's where I met John Campos, who's producing me now. I was like, "You know what? I'd like to be doing my own writing and stuff again, and this isn't the place to do it because I'm just playing third or fourth fiddle to everyone else." And the producer who produced that album kind of pulled me out and said, "Why don't you do it on your own, and I'll work with you." I just liked the process better. He became the band and the person to bounce ideas off, the person to work with.
MT: You have a new album coming out. Do you have a release date for that yet?
PK: No, absolutely not. It was going to be out about a year ago when it was supposed to originally be just another EP. Then we decided to do a full length album. So we had to go back and write some more music, and we were shooting for the end of February, but there's no way it's going to happen. So it looks like probably the end of March or so the album should be done. We have three more songs that we're finishing up. They're all about 50-60 percent done in terms of recording. We just have to finish them up, mix them, and get this thing done. We've been working on this a long time.
MT: Do you have a title for it yet?
PK: I don't. Do you have one?
MT: I don't know, I'll have to listen to all the songs. I've only heard the two or three that are out there right now.
PK: There's "Fear of Landing," "Tailwind," and we [just released] a song called "Inside Out." It's a romantic love ballad in the vain of like an old-school, R&B-type thing. I wanted to get this one out before Valentine's Day.
MT: How many tracks are you thinking for the album?
PK: There's going to be 10 songs. There are going to be two songs from the last EP, "Maybe" and "Forever, Again." Then there are eight new tracks.
MT: From the songs I've heard so far, they seem to be self-reflective, but also encouraging and uplifting. I don't know if I'm reading into that correctly, but if that's true, what inspired that direction?
PK: I think these first two songs; "Fear of Landing" and "Tailwind" were definitely uplifting type of vibe, but most of my songs tend to not be. There aren't a lot of happy endings in my songs. They're usually about a bad situation. "Maybe" obviously is a moment of sheer loneliness. "Forever, Again" is about a break up -- you're fighting to get this person back, but she never came back, so there's no happy ending there. The other songs, I don't know, it's kind of just what's going on in my life at the time. On the song "Tailwind," I woke up and was in a good mood, and that's what came to me that day. And most days aren't like that, but I don't write a song every day. For every one song that you hear, there are three or four that got scrapped or went in a different direction. But I have to like the sentiment and feel like it's genuine for it to be put on the album.
MT: Where did you record the album?
PK: My producer has a studio in Astoria (Queens) called One Mind Music. It's essentially just a little hole in the wall with a desk and a computer and some recording equipment. The entire album, with the exception of the piano on "Maybe," was recorded in that little space.
MT: Were you both playing all the instruments or did you bring in session musicians?
PK: I play most of everything that you hear. There's a bass player from my cover band, Paul Briscoe, who plays bass on a lot of the stuff. There's a new song that we have called "Suicidal" that's going to be on the new album, which invited a sax player friend of mine to play on. And on "Inside Out," I actually have my former singing teacher, Eve Soto, featured on it, because I want it to have a bit of an R&B feel, and she's a crazy amazing R&B, soul singer. So that was kind of cool that we got to do something like this together.
MT: Were there any artists or books, or anything that you were listening to that informed the album, that we might hear little hints of?
PK: I don't know. I think there's always that classic singer-songwriter vibe to everything I do. There's always that Billy Joel, Dave Matthews sound. But I'm not one of those guys who has to stick to his roots and everything has to be an acoustic guitar and a smoky voice. I like modern production, too. I love Pink, and I love Katy Perry. I love how those songs are produced, and there are definitely those types of influences in terms of the sounds that you hear and their vibes. It's kind of creating a hybrid of those genres. I'm not trying to go for anything, but I'm trying to combine things I like. Whatever it sounds like, it sounds like.
MT: Is there any particular message or feeling that you're trying to leave your listeners with on this album?
PK: There is definitely not a theme throughout. I think every song represents a different feel. "Fear of Landing" was about me dealing with people who were addicted to drugs and alcohol and trying to relate to them and help them. "Tailwind" was about, geez, today is just a great day, and I feel great. "Inside Out" was just me and my girlfriend had a fight, and I want to show her how much I love her and write a song for her. I wrote a song about writing her a song kind of. I was sitting there at home, and she was out, and I wanted to surprise her with a song. I was trying to describe me sitting there. There's a lyric "you'll be home soon, so this will have to do, and all I want to say is I love you." That was what was going on that day. The music I was fooling around with kind of set the tone for that.
MT: So it's more of a reflection of your life, day in and day out?
PK: Yeah, these songs have been coming over too great a period of time to be a concept album. There's no Dark Side of the Moon here.
MT: Do you have any tour plans?
PK: There's no plan for any kind of extensive tour. Touring is a big, expensive thing to do, and my feeling with that is to try to develop a lot of my following through social media and things like that. If there's not a demand for me to go on tour, I don't see the point in touring. The music industry, it's a different animal now. I don't think people are going out looking for new music in small clubs like they used to. They'd rather go to a club and watch a DJ or something. So it's like, I have to find new ways to expose the music. If the demand is there, then I want to go out and play and get to people. I love it, but it's fiscally irresponsible to do that right now.
MT: So when you do play shows, what is your live show like?
PK: I've been doing mostly just solo acoustic shows since I started this solo career thing. I pick songs that work well on just a guitar. There is a band that is in place, though. We rehearsed, put together a small set, and are ready to play when we need to play. Hopefully that will be once the album comes out.
MT: What are some personal milestones you've reached in your career, and what are you still struggling with?
PK: My goal as a child was to be a rock star, and I guess there's a part of me that still thinks that's the goal. I mean, I don't need to have the long hair and spandex on, but I want to have my music on a large stage. I want to be the soundtrack of what's going on. That might be selfish, but I want as many people to know about the songs as possible. It's the uncool thing to say. The cool thing is to pretend like you don't care what happens, and then it happens and you walk around with an attitude. I want to make a career out of music, and to make a career out of music and live off music, you have to make that music that pays you.
I mean, I'm making music that I like, so it's not really selling out if I'm doing what I want. And if the music sells and sells a lot, then that's good because I can keep doing what I'm doing, and I can do more with it. I guess that's the thing -- how to get it so I can solely focus on that as a career.
As far as other milestones, I've had my songs on the radio which is amazing. I've had my songs on TV. I've had those things that reassure me that, "All right, you're doing the right thing. You don't necessarily suck at this, you should keep pursuing it." "Tailwind" premiered in Songwriting Magazine, and for me that was kind of a big deal. I have a song "Oz," and I performed it for the United Nations and Arnold Schwarzenegger was actually in the crowd. It's cool to think that someone like that heard my song, and I got a little nod.
Actually, when we put out the first EP, I got contacted by Dave Matthews' manager, and it was kind of like, "Wow we really like your stuff; are you touring?" And I was like, "Not yet." "Are you signed to a label?" I'm like, "Well no not yet." And they were like, "Tell you what, when you're singed to a label and touring, give us a call." It was like, "We love what you do, but you're a financial liability right now." But you know, I can't be angry about that. These people can't afford to take risks. They need sure things, and I'm trying to make myself a sure thing. I'm trying to do the best job at that.
The new singles "Inside Out," "Tailwind," and "Fear of Landing" off the upcoming album are now available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon. For more information on Peter Kelly, head over to his official website and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.