I don’t know the music from Peter Broderick for a long time but with the first listen I was fascinated by his beautiful music. He was recommend to me by another band called Tubelord (you know who I mean, don’t you?). The first thing I heard was “Human Eyeballs On Toast” (from “How They Are” EP) which is one of the most wonderful and at the same time saddest songs I have ever heard. Shortly after that I have had the chance to catch him live in Berlin (you can read about it here).
Peter Broderick has released numerous records until today - own records, split releases, scores for film and dance. He is using piano, guitar, violin, his voice… to create music full of emotions. On one Friday evening not long ago we sat down at his kitchen table, drank coffee (and is was good coffee!) and talked about his music, touring, the downside of living in Berlin (yes, there is one) and things in between that. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed doing it.
Dörte Heilewelt: One of the first things I was wondering - do you prefer instrumental music and with lyrics?
Peter Broderick: No, I don’t think I do. I think I have had different phases where I listen more to instrumental music or more to vocal based music. In the end I think it is one big thing for me. I don’t care for one thing over the other.
Do you have sometimes phases where you just write more instrumental and sometimes phases where you write lyrics?
Definitely. Like when I made my first record which is pretty much just piano and strings I really thought that was the kind of music I wanted to make for a while. I didn’t think that the same year that that record came out I would be releasing a record that was all singing. I didn’t really think that would happen but that just sort of more happened as an experience to see if I could do it myself. I just wanted to know it if I could do it, tried it out and really enjoyed singing and making music with voices.
You take the best of both then…
Yeah, and a lot of times…when I first started singing in my music I think I was more using the voice as an instrument. I wasn’t really that focused on the words. The melody came first and the very end I would throwing in some words that fit the melody that made some kind of sense in my mind. But nowadays I started more focusing a lot more on the words. Sometimes I will even start off with a poem and then make a piece of music to fit that, to fit the words specificity.
If you have a song where the lyrics are very important to you, do you mind if there are not really important to the listener?
Not at all. Anybody who gets any kind of pleasure from the music and whatever way they do it’s fine by me. I mean there are no rules to how you should listen to music.
Sometimes I think that i when I listen to music that I have to get the lyrics as well to show respect…
Yeah, sure. I know what you mean because I myself can listen to a song a hundred times before I actually realize what it’s about and I might never realize what a lot of the songs are about. And actually a lot of the times I listen to the music I am not listening to the words. It really depends on the kind of the delivery and how your mind set when you listen to it. But actually when I started to be more focused on the words myself I definitely started to pick it up more as well and listening. It just depends where you are focusing I guess. Sometimes it’s just hard to understand, too.
When I can’t read the lyrics I am pretty much completely lost. But I think when you don’t put your lyrics in you booklet, then it’s the artist fault and not mine. [said with a smile]
Yeah, exactly. From my first vocal based album I purposely didn’t put the words in there because I didn’t really felt that it matters so much. I felt if people pick up on that it’s fine and if they hear it without, it doesn’t matter. But on the latest one I really wanted the words to be printed and put a lot of effort into on how they look on the page and how the whole thing comes together.
And with some songs like “Human Eyeballs On Toast” it was like really import to understand what it is about?
Yes, definitely and a lot of people didn’t actually.
I don’t know you music very long so the first thing I read and heard about you was reading your blog post about “Human Eyeballs On Toast” and how the reviewers misinterpret it.
Peter: I just felt like I had to do it. My label would forward me reviews from the album and I saw maybe three or four times people say “The words are unnecessarily sad talking about wanting to kill himself and …” and it just really bombed me out that they wouldn’t get it and so late one night “please understand me … [making writing movements with his fingers and laughs]”.
You also always explain how you recorded your music like on the “Home” (2008) which instruments you used and where you recorded it - is it important to you that people know about this things?
If they want to know, if that helps to complete the picture for them. I am the kind of person who wants to those details so I want to make them all available to people who want them.
You play like a lot of instruments. Is it right that you picked them up mostly in high school?
I have a lot of instruments that aren’t over here in Europe, they are still back in Oregon. When I was in high school I start collecting instruments all of a sudden and I would go to friends houses and go the attic or the garage and find and old box and find an accordion, dusted it off and said “hey, can I have this?” and they said sure, take it. I just started collecting all these instruments: accordion, banjos, flutes, anything. I have a huge pile of stuff. It’s mostly not here. Over here I don’t have any things with me. I have a guitar and a violin and some really small little instruments.
Do you miss those instruments sometimes? When you record something?
Yeah, absolutely. I think a lot of my recordings have, say I have to make some recordings for a film - I have been making music for some films recently - and the score is entirely depended on what instruments I can get my hands on at the time. So, if I had all these other instruments I would have a lot more options.
Then it would probably take longer to write it?
Maybe or it would be easier because of instead of using one Keyboard and trying to get a little something that sounds like a banjo just having a banjo and recording a banjo.
Can you live of your music?
Yes, somehow. I mean I do a lot of different things - there is touring, there is recording for other people records if they need violin playing, there is making my own records, there is making music for films and dance and that things and there is touring with another bands. It’s a lot of different things that kind of somehow add up. Who knows how long that will last but for now it works.
Do you have anything that is the most fun for you? Like recording or touring, making your own music or making something for others?
It really depends, sometimes a concert is the highlight of the month or the year and sometimes it is a recording session. It changes all the time for me what is the best. Sometimes recording is not so much fun and concerts are much more fun and sometimes it is the other way round.
Do you sometimes think your songs could be too personal? Like too much about yourself?
Yes, sure. I mean I have definitely sometimes wished that I could write a lot more like maybe fictional stories that were completely outside of myself. But that’s not really something I am very good at yet. So most of the things that come out of my head are pretty much are about me and my experience. Sometimes I wonder who wants to know all that stuff. But that why I don’t sing all the time. That’s why I make a lot of music that doesn’t have any voice at all because sometimes it is not necessary I think.
Did you ever put one song down because it was too personal?
Oh yes, sure. There are things like that. Songs that are only for my ears.
No one will ever hear them…
Well, I mean have some things that I have recorded that I will only show a friend or good friends.
When you wrote “Human Eyeballs On Toast” was it important to you that it isn’t writing with a pointing finger?
Definitely. Because I mean I don’t want to point any fingers because I don’t want fingers pointed at me. I would never try to put myself above someone say that my way is better. But to simply put yourself in the place of something else or someone else then just try to imagine it and write it down. It feels like a less nasty way to sort of say something that feels really powerful to you.
Cover art is important to you, isn’t it?
Definitely. I mean it’s part of the record, right?
Yes, definitely. I am totally with you but sometimes people are releasing their stuff just digitally or if they have a booklet it looks like shit.
Sometimes if the packing is too terrible it can ruin the music. Unless it is so terrible that it is actually kind of good.
Do you have like a favorite cover art?
Favorite cover? [thinks, sighs] I have to think of it. I mean there is a Dutch artist that I really like called Machinefabriek who I worked with a bit as well. He is also a graphic designer and he makes all the design for all of his work basically. For me the design and the paint that he uses and the font that he uses is just as important as the music. He is one example where I can really think of where the design is so much a part of what he is doing. I really love the overall picture I get when I see it. Especially over 40, 50 different little releases and so you see this pattern all the way across this visual look. Not even a look because it changes but something…I don’t know…a graphic element that really connect it…
…so you see it’s him. A little special something. I like to have something I can touch and be happy.
It’s a shame when you buy a record and you’re really curious and when you open it, it says nothing.
Do you still download music?
I don’t really download music at all. I don’t listen to nearly as much music as I used to mostly because I have been so busy making music. So when I finish I think would rather read a book or watch a film but people send me music all the time. I have so much music to listen to. I usually have a big pile of CDs and a bunch of mp3’s that people have send but I don’t have the time to listen to. But I would much prefer for the record I really want to hear I always want to buy it. I always buy it. If it is important to me I will buy it because that is part of the picture.
[…] Several years ago when I was kind of more epically seeking out records of someone whose record not coming out in the next couple of month I will find it on the internet first and would buy it when it comes out.
When you play live on your own on the stage and then you had Nils with you on stage in the end. What do you prefer to have someone with you on the stage or be on your own?
Well, it kind of goes back on what I said before about it depends what you are used to. And sometimes I get into a tour and it takes a few days to feel your actual instrument set up and it’s this tour and these are the songs you can play and once you get into a sort of groove anything can really work. I hope that any arrangement can work - solo, two people, 10 people, whatever. It all takes a little practice and getting used it. But I love the simplicity of just playing solo and travelling solo but it is also a little bit lonely sometimes. Say you have been back to a place playing the fourth or fifth and you’ve been there solo every time, it feels as an artist you want to do something a little different to change it up, bringing some more people playing the music in a different way. So, I am actually planning for the first time to put a bigger band together. It will definitely be something different and I am sure there will be people who will say “Oh, he was better when it was just him and his guitar” and there will probably people who will say “It never sounded that good before”.
Good question. I ask myself that sometimes, too. I think I am here because number one reason probably is that my friend Nils is here who is one of the best friends I have and I work together with him a lot. I shouldn’t say work, we play together. We have fun together.
Is it work for you to write music?
Not with Nils. No. Just the last week we got together because we are going to Japan together in April, so we have been playing to make a little record together to sell on that tour. So, we just got together for one week in the evenings and make music together and the end of the week we had a little record finished and this is the most fun thing in the world. So easy and so natural feeling and so rewarding, too. He is a big reason why I am here. And also because all my work, my travelling and my score jobs - most of it is all in Europe. And when you are travelling around Western Europe a lot and you’re working in Western Europe a lot Berlin is very central and cheap place to be. That’s why I am here.
…Berlin is a very artistic city at the moment, it always was.
The word is out all over Europe you know that this is the place to be…
You’re already living here. If you wouldn’t live here already I would tell you to think about it. I’ve met quite a few people who said they love Berlin and would love to live here and I always say stay away [laughter].
I don’t really can say I feel at home here yet and I think I big part of this is the language thing. And German is really difficult for me especially because I don’t speak any other language fluently and I have been in this course trying to learn just to feel a little bit more at home here. But I think it still hasn’t happened. I miss out on a lot of ways to explore the city because I am too afraid. I don’t want to disturb the peace. [me starts to laugh, and then the both of us]
What are you going to do when you’re going out to destroy the peace in Berlin?
I have actually been yelled at on the street by an older man just for speaking English. He told me he wanted me to die and on the street. And I have I had so many people being really, really rude when you just start speaking English.
Yeah, all of a sudden.
Where have you been?
It’s mostly in official places like the post office or anything where people are standing in a suit, in a café or a bar no problem, but in these kind of places I feel really uneasy about it. I had this packages that I needed to send and it was growing by the week and by today I had I think 15 or something packages. And finally I need to go to the post office but it stressed me out so much to go to the post office. It feels so difficult which is so stupid but that is the way it feels to me at the moment.
I feel so sorry [I really do]! Maybe no one has ever told you but the people who grew up in Berlin and who are born here are said to be very unfriendly in general. It’s like a common rumour that Berliner are very unfriendly but also because we are very straight, very honest very often not like in other parts of Germany where they always will be very friendly and talk behind the back. Maybe no one has just never told you that we are not a nice place to be sometimes. I am actually a bit ashamed that people are like that.
I just wish that just every person could spend 6 month travelling around the world just to know how it feels like to be a foreigner and just to know how it feels like to not know the language and still want to. I think there are so many people who don’t understand that at all. And I think it is important to get on the other side of it.
Thank you for the interview and the coffee, Peter.
Peter will be on tour with Efterklang for few weeks when they show their movie “An Island” (by Vincent Moon) and as he said he will be in that one as well. That is, of course, no surprise since he is a member of the touring band. He also lived in Copenhagen for a bit and we both agreed at some point how strange it is walking through the streets of Copenhagen at 5 in the morning being totally sober.
He will also play some more shows after that and then come back and then go on tour in Japan and so on (he is one really busy man). If you want to keep up I recommend to watch his site: http://www.peterbroderick.net/.
Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed it.