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An Interview with Peter Katz of Peaer

by Julia Leiby

At the end of September, Purchase, N.Y.-based band Peaer will release their second LP, which is self-titled and on Tiny Engines records. Fronted by lead singer-songwriter Peter Katz, and rounded out by Max Kupperburg and Michael Steck, the trio creates tight, precise songs about repeating behaviors and thoughts, and fear of change to overcome those ingrained habits.  The seven-song LP, following 2014’s The Eyes Sink Into The Skull, has golden crests and dips, building to crescendos but never letting loose into chaos entirely. I talked to Peter on the phone about the new record, his influences, the recording process and his methods of songwriting when he’s in a drought.

Post Trash: I know your lineup was kind of in flux. Who plays what on this record?

Peter Katz: Max Kupperburg plays drums and Michael Steck plays bass. Michael and I are best friends from [Purchase] college. We met at orientation, and we were living together for two years. When I was making demos he heard all of them, and had played music too [and] he joined in. And then Max was a friend from Connecticut who I knew was going to be attending Purchase, so I kind of hit him up and he agreed to do it, and so we were a band for like probably a solid year and we made that record together.

PT: Where and how did you record it?

PK: Our friend Jeremy Kinney, also a Purchase student, graduated with me in 2015, and helped us record it. He was a recording engineer at Purchase, and we did the drums the last three days of classes, actually one day of drums, in this really nice studio at Purchase, and we recorded them to tape. So we did all the drums and scratch guitar and bass. Besides the drums, the only thing that survived that session was the guitar solos. That was in May of 2015 and throughout the summer we would meet up with Jeremy who was based in Kingston, NY and kind of made a mobile recording rig with him and lay down tracks. We’d go to Purchase and find empty rooms and we’d record guitars; we did bass in my kitchen, and some vocals in the attic. Lucie [Murphy, of Bruise, another Purchase-based band)’s singing parts are recorded in my old apartment, and electronic drums we did at Jeremy’s apartment. We were able to do it wherever, and just use wherever we were comfortable so we didn’t have to book time in a room. We could just be at home making food and laying down tracks, which worked out really well.

PT: Who are your influences?

PK: In reference to this album, in the band, we would all routinely watch David Bazan’s band play on KEXP. We would watch them together, or I would watch that performance on my own a bunch. It was really cool to have a goal to inspire to be, as metric and dynamic and as in tune with each other as David’s band. David Bazan, his solo stuff and Pedro The Lion have been huge, huge influences on my growth as a musician. Also, at one of the first Peaer full band shows we ever played, someone came up to us and said we sounded like Duster. I had never heard that band, so I went home and I listened to Duster and I quickly was like, I want to sound more like this band. Mostly Stratosphere by Duster. I resonated with how contemplative they were in their writing; most of the songs are one or two parts that maintain interest regardless of how many times they’re repeated, so I think that was important. Another huge one is Pinback. I think that they are very effective and very subtle, and they have really great tones, I love the amount of bass texture going on, and the grooves and tight quality of everything…effective without being dramatic. I find myself growing away from overdramatic style. And Modest Mouse, I try and emulate Isaac Brock lyrically a lot, I think his humor and sense of wordplay are great, and they also hang on one riff for a long time and maintain interest and keep you with them, which is something I always really liked.

PT: In your song, “Drunk,” you have a line, “drunk with the hope of love, slow and rough” that is similar to a Duster song ‘”The Landing” – “drunk with hope for the better things.” Was this intentional/purposeful?

PK: Absolutely, yeah. I wasn’t trying to cloak my inspiration too hard, when I sat down to write that song I was trying to think like, I want to write a Duster song, so I let it come through.

PT: Do you plan to go on tour after this?

PK: We just started working with Ariel [Bitran] of Vanguard Booking; by the end of 2016 we’ll have a lot of tours in place. This year we have 4 days in support of the record coming out, playing NY, Boston, Connecticut, Philly. And we’re just about finished booking a 3-week tour in November with Pupppy. We’re playing in Charlotte [where the label is based] and playing with Tiny Engines bands on tour so it’ll be like we’re settling into the family and getting to know the network. We’ll be thinking about it more strategically now that we have an agent to work with us.

PT: On “Pink Spit” you sing about being tired of doing the same thing over and over. What was going on in your life when you wrote the song?

PK: "Pink Spit" was the first song written for the record; it kind of turns out that the songs on the record are essentially chronological, in terms of how I wrote them. I think it had been a considerable amount of time since I had last been in an involved romantic relationship, and I found myself thinking about the same person the same way, even after all that time, and I no longer wanted to be kind of dictated by those feelings, and I wanted to treat them more as a friend and not let get in the way, and it seemed like this very redundant feeling that was happening for what seemed like a long time. I knew that I had plenty of bad habits, and maybe still do. I would do something that wasn’t particularly healthy for my body, and I would be frustrated, like I know this [is bad] but I’m still doing it, like ‘I keep scratching the same itch’. [Pink Spit is] how it felt like it was tough to grow.

PT: You repeat lyrics, such as “in motion but still stagnant,” in “‘Third Law,” do you do this anywhere else on the record?

PK: I think that’s the only time I repeat lyrics on the record. That was involved in the themes of that song, being in orbit around something, I thought that was a lyrical trick to depict that in a way. It started off with the vocal melody, [which came as] I was walking home one night, and the very beginning, and I had those lyrics. That was one of the songs I wrote in my bed when I was falling asleep really quietly. I have a really quiet voice memo of it, and I’d play it in my car and you could hear all the noises of my breathing and stuff. I haven’t found a situation where it’s been as appropriate thus far, but I’m trying to approach repeating lyrics in a bit different of a way. Like starting off lines the same way and ending them differently, but it hasn’t struck me recently.

PT: “Sick” and “For the Rest of Your Life’” both seem to concern kind of obsessive thinking about what you want but can’t get. Other than singing about them, how do you express/exhaust these thoughts when you have them?

PK: I usually try and approach it in a realist manner, like I’m not gonna act like I’m deserving of this, I’m not gonna act like it should be mine. [But that] if it’s not happening it’s not happening for a reason. If I were to act upon certain things then maybe I could achieve those things, but it’s a balance of not feeling entitled, not letting that feeling of “I deserve this” overpower or outshine others. Gritting your teeth and going through with it, and hopefully finding something else to feel better about. Or, if I’m being realistic and it will fit within the confines of my life, I’ll explore it.

PT: Do you find yourself writing a lot of songs at once, or is it more gradual? Are there periods when you’re having trouble writing?

PK: I’m sort of in a little drought right now, I haven’t written anything I’m proud of in multiple weeks. In the past it has kind of come to me in spurts, like in a week or two I can write three or four songs, depending on how good they really are, I let my guard down and I can finish some songs. More recently, with a change of place, my life has changed in different ways this summer. It’s been kind of a hurdle to find a creative space, and so it really changes. It can be overall gradual. For the record we were finishing “For the Rest of Your Life” the week we recorded it. Even still, when I play those songs with a rotating lineup, I like to be able to find new ways to play them and change them, to breathe new life into them so I don’t get bored. The same song can have a different life.

Peaer is out today (9/30) via Tiny Engines