PETER GALPERIN
A Disposable Life
(Jetty Records)

 

Sounding like a young Leonard Cohen as produced by Phil Spector, NYC singer-songwriter Peter Galperin returns in 2013 with his second solo album entitled A Disposable Life. Featuring Peter in the studio backed up by a number of first rate musicians, including multi-instrumentalist Robert Aaron as well as master audio mixologist Andrew Schlesinger, the 8 tracks on A Disposable Life clock in at just under 36 minutes, yet there’s hardly a minute of wasted time. No instrument stands out per se but Galperin’s vocals and guitar work, as well as the sonic keyboard sounds by Robert Aaron are first rate throughout. Although Galperin’s lyrical subject matter is somewhat cynical and incisive, the whole thing is delivered with such panache and soul-searching sustenance, that it doesn’t come off so much as protest music as much as like a sonic TV show, case in point being the title track “A Disposable Life” (complete with cutting edge lyrics set to a super relaxing bossa nova beat no less), “There’s No Future” (‘it’s just another bad year for the world’) and even a hilarious song praising the multiple uses of “Bubblewrap” (‘I’ll take plastic over pleasure’) yet every track here has its rewards. Peter Galperin’s best album to date, A Disposable Life is a modern day pop masterpiece from start to finish. www.petergalperin.com


mwe3.com presents an interview with
PETER GALPERIN



mwe3: Can you compare your 2013 CD A Disposable Life with your first album Perfect World Today, which came out back in 2011. Who plays with you on the A Disposable Life CD and describe the vibe between you and the other players especially Robert Aaron and Andrew Schlesinger, who mixed the new album. Sounds like the new album is really a step up sonically and compositionally.

PETER GALPERIN: My first CD was pretty much a solo effort (writing, recording, mixing), but the new CD has involved a lot of other people on the recording and mixing side, and it’s a much more finished body of work because of that. I had already been performing many of these new songs live with my band, so our drummer Andy Blanco and I, with lots of back and forth with file sharing, started the recording process by laying down the basic rhythm tracks. Then, I had the other musicians (Carl Riehl, Nathan Warner, and James Hirschfeld) come into my studio to put down their tracks, while at the same time I brought rough mixes to Robert Aaron’s studio to record his tracks. Robert is an amazing musician who can find the heart of a song almost immediately. Every track he recorded (piano, organ, melodica) was filled with so many musical ideas that the hardest part for me was picking what to use... it was all good. After that most of the mixes went back to Andy to add additional percussion parts. Finally I delivered my finished mixes to our engineer Andrew Schlesinger who did his sound mixing magic. It was kind of organized chaos, but it worked. At the start I honestly thought this CD would take 6 months to do, but it took over 2 years.

mwe3: There’s an interesting sonic mix of electric rock instruments, vintage keyboard sounds and there’s even real horns on A Disposable Life too. Sounds like the idea was to combine a kind of Phil Spector wall of sound approach this time out, adding some cool echo sounds to a solid, well recorded wall of sound in that the mix is quite heavy yet appealing at the same time.

PETER GALPERIN: A lot of that sound came from Andrew Schlesinger and his super-refined ears. He’s engineered sounds for Casio and Moog, and when I first asked him to work on this project he had some definite ideas on how it should sound, even had me listen to other CDs (Ray Davies’ Working Man’s Cafe, Bryan Ferry’s Dylanesque) that he thought had a good sound that could work for our project. Each song we recorded had at least 30 tracks, drums/percussion alone would usually be 10-12 tracks, so there was a lot of sound to work with. We recorded and mixed everything in Garageband, which I know tech purists might view as a play toy, but it worked really well for us and allowed us to control the entire process in a program that all of us were very comfortable with. The final mix is powerful and dynamic, I wish my first CD sounded as good as this one.

mwe3: Can you describe the concept of the A Disposable Life title track? I know you sing about the concept of a ‘throwaway society’. What inspired the title and the title track of the new CD? 'Maybe it’s time for a serious upgrade'... (lol) It’s like protest music meets bossa nova.

PETER GALPERIN: I’m always writing down ideas, phrases, and concepts in a notebook. I happened to be in a BMI songwriters workshop last winter and one of the assignments was to write a brand new song about “trucks, food, or sleep” for the next week’s class. The three topics were just random thoughts from the instructor. I looked through my notebook and found the phrase “a disposable life” scribbled down and thought, oh, maybe I could write a song about food using that title. And then the idea grew.

I’m someone who keeps stuff, not like a hoarder, but just things that are meaningful to me. For example, on a shelf in my studio is an old tube radio that had belonged to my father. It’s probably from the 1940s, and when I was a kid in the 1960s I found it in the basement gathering dust so I brought it up to my bedroom. For some reason I thought it was cool. It got great reception and at night I could listen to live broadcasts of Willie Mays and the San Francisco Giants on station KGO. I lived in Seattle and SF was more than 1500 miles away, so that must have been a strong signal. But maybe it’s just a really well built radio. In fact I recently plugged it in, and it’s still working! Original tubes that might be 75 years old! It’s so old I half expected to hear Glenn Miller on Armed Service Radio coming out of it. How long does most electronic stuff last that we buy today?

I’ve also been reading about environmental issues like the Pacific Ocean garbage basin where a 1000 square mile area of ocean surface is covered with plastic debris. Somehow the various ocean currents gather in this area and deposit huge amounts of floating garbage from around the world. And then there are the 100-foot tall piles of discarded electronics (televisions, vcrs, cellphones, copy machines, etc.) found in garbage dumps from Manila to Mexico City. It’s frightening what’s happening to our planet, what we so easily throw away without a second thought to where it goes.

So to me “A Disposable Life” while on the surface is about reducing your carbon footprint, recycling and being more environmentally conscious, it’s really about the idea of holding on… to things… to people… to memories… in an attempt to give greater meaning to the ephemeral and fragile nature of life. We shouldn’t let some corporate marketing campaign convince us to throw out something just because there’s something new to replace it. That’s a manipulative trick meant to boost the corporate bottom line, not to give you a more fulfilling life. There is much more to experience in the short years we spend living on this planet than just being a consumer and getting herded from one “must-have” product to the next.

It’s a really important subject, so can you blame me if I give it a good bossa nova beat to get someone to pay attention to it.

mwe3: “There’s No Future” paints a bleak picture of life in 2013. What are some key lyrics in that song that sort of nails it in your opinion? I like ‘Why aren’t we out marching in the streets, we should be rattling some bones, but all we care about are cellphone apps and custom ring tones.’ It’s clear to me we haven’t made any progress since 1999, just bells and whistles which are nice to have but it seems real breakthroughs can’t be found in 2013. We came off a decade of bells and whistles, war and world wide terror, what’s the prognosis for the second decade of the 21st century? Anyway the song has some blistering guitar work. ‘TV wars with game show hosts’...heh heh... Sounds like a Bowie song.

PETER GALPERIN: I guess “There’s No Future” overlaps a bit thematically with “A Disposable Life”, but takes a much harder swing at the collusion of mass media and politics to control the mind of America. The various Mideastern Wars over the past decade (or two) have become such a perfect glossy marketing package for the media, and yet we learn nothing of the truth behind our government’s activities from watching the media. All we are given are the visual fireworks – the bloody skirmishes, the bombs bursting bright, the handcuffed “war” criminals, with so-called “journalists” repeating the same unsubstantiated rumors and hearsay hour after hour, just to keep the advertising rolling. And does the public care? Not really, as long as there’s a new iProduct/touchscreen gizmo to covet, no one’s getting very angry. Even the OWS movement is viewed by the majority of people as a bunch of freaks, a circus sideshow. But there are really only three choices today for anyone who can think – does the state of the world make you sad, angry, or numb? Choose one.

With every news event, scandal or disaster there is the inevitable media/political search for who to blame – it’s them, not us; it’s the Republicans, it’s the Democrats; it’s the liberal Eastern news media, it’s the conservative movement; it’s this country, it’s that country. A mobius strip of finger-pointing. Everything and everyone demonized by the opposition. If not who to blame, then we want to know who or what can save us (“each new crisis leaves us looking for some new Jesus”), and we want that info asap.

I’m much too jaded to think that a song can start a revolution... I know that only happens in Broadway musicals and Coke commercials, but the chorus of “There’s No Future” is a Zen-Buddhist-like appeal towards enlightenment – there is no future, only the present; don’t fall for the media-generated mainstream thinking; the world isn’t black and white, it’s complicated. Do your own research, form your own opinions.

I’m very happy with the guitar sound on this song. I don’t do many guitar solos, so when I do I really want to make them count. And I think these 12-bars sum up my anger quite nicely.

mwe3: From “There’s No Future” to “Bubblewrap”? Well at least that’s one way to take your mind off the wars and terror. (lol) Anyway, it’s nice to hear a tribute to the very useful bubble wrap which is a snappy way to take the pressure off. Why “Bubblewrap”? Pop sounds and bubble wrap just seem to go together... (lol)

PETER GALPERIN: “Bubblewrap” was a total experiment. I had a little 4-bar riff that I played on a kalimba (African thumb piano) and looped for 4 minutes. I wanted to see if I could write a song around it, and I wanted the kalimba riff to be in the background throughout the song. So the chord progressions had to be fairly simple. Back in my little notebook of ideas I had started writing an ode to bubble wrap, which I thought was a funny and odd idea, and the riff and the words just started coming together... sometimes that happens. This was not a song that the band or I had ever played live, it was completely conceived in the studio. I sent Andy Blanco my demo and he came up with the staccato drum sounds.

The thing is everybody loves bubblewrap - the actual product is two words but I don’t use it that way because I’m afraid of the legal issue. It’s kind of like potato chips – you can’t do just one – they are too addictive. But beyond highlighting obsessive-compulsive behavior, the song suggests bubblewrap as a metaphor for the impossibility of completely protecting someone you love from danger “… Every threat would be deflected, and you’d be safe from head to toe…”. And that probably stems from my own unease with the state of the world today.

mwe3: “What Are The Odds?” takes an existential look at being lost in space. What are you hinting at? Sometimes I think life is just a bad twilight zone episode, y’know? Anyway the song has a great beat and a wonderful hook. What are the odds that we’re all alone, sums it up nicely. ‘Will they be a life form we’d understand?’

PETER GALPERIN: It’s a love song to outer space when I sing “…a night sky with multiple moons is romantic indeed, even alien creatures need love.” I’ve been an outer space fan since I was a little kid when I had a telescope that I used to view the moon at night with... I also spied on the neighborhood girls with it. I followed all of the Apollo missions, and in college I attended more midnight screenings of “2001: A Space Odyssey” than I’ll every remember. But in “What Are The Odds?” I’m proposing that extraterrestrial life might not be the way movies and television has depicted it for us – the idea that alien life forms rather than being superior beings might not be that different from us at all and might have some of the same problems on their planet that we have on earth (bad traffic, talk radio, freezerburn). It’s certainly possible that they could share our worst human characteristics – maybe they’re really needy, maybe they smell bad, what if they just want to borrow money and have no intention of paying it back? Or “maybe, just maybe, they’re curious.”

This was one of the most difficult songs on the CD to mix because it had the most tracks on it. Live horns (trumpet and trombone), accordion, fender rhodes piano, a reggae-ish organ, lots of vocal harmonies, little outer space sound effects popping up everywhere. Definitely, the full Phil Spector treatment. When I started writing it I had been hearing a lot of the Gerry Rafferty song “Baker Street”... I think he had just recently passed away. I loved the smooth groove of that song when it first came out and I guess it influenced me on this one.

mwe3: “Straight Towards The Sun” has a kind of Shadows style guitar hook with a Bowie-esque vocal approach. Sounds like a tribute to man’s belief in blind faith or is it about Al Gore? How about that track?

PETER GALPERIN: “Straight Towards The Sun” is a bit of a departure because it was written as part of a rock musical titled “The Human Toll” that I was writing at the same time as this CD. It’s about the life and times of Robert Moses. I don’t really like musicals, but I’ve been fascinated with Moses’ life and his impact on New York (and the country) ever since reading the Robert Caro book “The Powerbroker” years ago, and always felt that it had the right story arc for some kind of media production.

It’s a big rousing number that is essentially Moses’ soliloquy – at the end of his life when he’s trying to justify some of the things he’s done, and how he’s gone about doing them. The Icarus reference in the chorus seems appropriate for someone who did things on such a grand scale. I guess it could apply to any larger-than-life, fatally-flawed individual who in some way either hasn’t lived up to expectations or hasn’t achieved greatness as promised... Al Gore might be in that category, Alex Rodriguez definitely is.

I love that big throaty guitar sound. I also used it in the final chorus of “Rainy Day Games”. You’re right, I guess it is kind of a Shadows, or Duane Eddy thing.

I’m shopping the musical around (12 songs and a 45-page script), so if there are any musical producers out there who have a thing for urban planning history and want to see it up under the bright lights, please get in touch with me. I’ve recorded demos of most of the songs already, and the script is complete.

mwe3: “Rainy Day Games”, is that song about growing up? I love the Bach fugue trumpet section in the middle. It’s a light subject matter and the bossa nova feel makes it sound tropical.

PETER GALPERIN: Yeah, the tropics at 48º North covered in moss. Growing up in Seattle, my childhood was filled with many wet and rainy afternoons that forced me to invent a lot of indoor games... because Milton Bradley only gets you so far. I wrote “Rainy Day Games” during a hurricane in New York when the city was completely shut down for a day. The hurricane got me thinking about those childhood times again and what I would do “…on dreary afternoons”, when I “…was so sure the jungle was just outside my room”. It’s a really fun song to play live, and Nathan Warners trumpet solo is a Beatles/George Martin tribute. Gotta have at least one song that doesn’t require too much thinking.

mwe3: “(No One’s) Better Off Dead”, is that another kind of protest song? Sounds like Phil Spector producing Phil Ochs or Bowie. Is that a real trumpet in there?

PETER GALPERIN: Protest song? Hmm, maybe. I guess most everyone protests death. But, it’s really more about seeing the glass half full, and realizing that even in ones darkest moments it’s always best to stop and take a deep breath. And maybe the situation won’t look quite as bad after all... I guess this is how I do “earnest”. I do like how the title can get shorthanded to “Better Off Dead”, which is the exact opposite of what the song actually means.

I think sound-wise we’ve got a nice “Nelson Riddle Orchestra” vibe going on what with the strings and harp. I have to say that one of the great benefits of working with a drummer like Andy Blanco is that he is so versatile and gave me so many rhythmic elements to work with in every song. The biggest musical surprise in this whole project for me was hearing him play the timpani in this song – completely unexpected, but perfect.

Can’t fool your experienced ears, I admit that the trumpets on this song are midi-keyboards, but the violins are the real deal.

mwe3: Finally there’s even a tribute to dogs as the closing number? As in city dogs doing their duty? “Doggie Gift” is a nice way to close the CD...sounds like an accordion in there! lol

PETER GALPERIN: When tourists walk around New York they’re always looking up (“wow, look at that building”). But locals know better. We look down at the sidewalk in front of us because that’s where danger lies. I’ve got nothing against dogs, but a dog owner who doesn’t clean up after his precious Fifi defecates on the sidewalk is a truly horrible, worthless human being. That said, I thought the concept of an almost love story that involves a dog, it’s female owner, and a male admirer might be entertaining. It’s told through a film-ish timeline of three overlapping stories that intersect at just the wrong moment.

Carl Riehl plays a wonderful light-fingered accordion solo during the instrumental break and again at the end of the song. I tried to use musical sounds and motifs that suggested wagging tales, sniffing noses (some of those sniffing nose sounds are actual sniffing noses), and bring a sweet, comedic lightness to this production. While I was writing and recording it in my mind I was playing an old Charlie Chaplin movie. It’s exactly the kind of thing that would happen to the little tramp – he’d see a girl walking her dog on the street, develop a crush on that girl, watch her for several days while he works up the courage to talk to her, and just when he tries to meet her he’d slip in dog doo... from her own dog no less. She’d walk away completely unaware of him, and he’d slink off embarrassed as usual.

mwe3: How about the guitars used on the new album? Any news of interest in the guitar world and gear world for you?

PETER GALPERIN: A lot of the same instruments that I’ve been playing forever (fretless bass, mandolin, violin, acoustic guitar), but I do have a new Gretsch 5122 hollow body that I used for the solos on “There’s No Future”, “Straight Towards The Sun”, and in the final chorus of “Rainy Day Games”. It’s good for a variety of sounds and has that great Bigsby whammy bar, which is real easy to go overboard on.

mwe3: I hope you can get a CD of A Disposable Life to Phil Spector. I wish they’d let him out to produce your next album. Oh well, what’s coming up for you in 2013, lucky 13 and beyond?

PETER GALPERIN: I just saw the Phil Spector interview, and then right after that I happened to come across the Al Pacino movie about him, so now I’m not sure who is who. So many hair styles to keep track of!

Like I mentioned earlier, I’m hoping to get the Robert Moses musical project off the ground this year, and I’ve already started writing new songs for my next CD. I’m toying with the idea of actually recording it in Brazil since I have such a love affair going on with all things Bossa Nova.

In the coming months I’ll be doing some solo acoustic performances both in New York and on the West coast, and the full band will start performing old and new material with me in a series of showcases in the Fall.

Robert, thanks for listening. You be careful down there in Florida, the sinkhole state (isn’t that the motto on their license plates?).

Thanks to Peter Galperin @ www.PeterGalperin.com

 

 
   
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