Q&A with Peter Oren – Upstairs @ Whelans – 5/05/18 – Questions by Killian Laher
Can you tell me about how you got started, how did you get into making music?
I took guitar lessons around age 13 to 14. I had taken piano lessons fairly early, but I didn’t care to practice. Something about guitar was alluring. Neither stretch of lessons seemed to last very long. Later at the end of high school, I picked the guitar back up at about the same time I was getting into poetry. A good friend and I hung out and tried writing songs on our acoustic guitars. I think the first song I wrote that I still kinda remember was written over the summer between high school and college. I recorded and performed for the first time my first year at college in 2010 or 2011.
What were you listening to growing up in Columbus, your earliest influences?
My parents listened to a lot of Cat Stevens, Kate Wolf, Stan Rogers, CCR, Emmylou Harris, and a number of others. I think a couple of the first CDs my ma got me were REO Speedwagon and Jim Croce.
Anthropocene is a great album. Can you tell us how you came to put it together?
Thanks. I wrote most of the songs over the course of 2016. I was house-sitting for a pair of permaculture designers, and one of them asked me where the songs about climate change were. I wondered that myself, and so some of the songs on Anthropocene were born out of a sense of urgency towards the Earth’s ecological state.
I’d been in touch with Ken Coomer starting in about fall 2015, and we decided to record five songs in September 2016, find a label to support the project, and then round out the record with five more songs. Fortunately Western Vinyl came on to help out in early 2017, and the second five songs were recorded in spring that year.
I’ll note that “New Gardens” was an older song of mine which was re-recorded because the lines “Save the fences for the rabbits/ if you need a tool you should have it/ There’ll be room for everyone/ and we all need a home,” seemed timely considering the refugee crises and border issues happening the world over.
How do you find touring, do you have a settled band?
I generally play solo. It’s good to be busy touring, but it would be nice to travel with a consistent group. In the US, I generally drive myself around, which can be a bit lonesome and tiring. Nonetheless, it’s always exciting to be someplace new and to have the opportunity to play for people.
A lot of people compare you to Bill Callahan. Does this bother you or is it a compliment?
I understand the comparison and definitely take it as a compliment as long as people don’t think I sound like a copycat. I hope it’s just an easy-to-reach reference for my vocal range and mark of approval for the quality of my songwriting. I have a lot of respect for Bill and enjoy his music.
What do you think of current music, what have you been enjoying in recent months?
I think there’s a lot of good music being made these days. I really dig and have been listening to Big Thief (Adrianne Lenker), The Weather Station, Lean Year, Father John Misty, Sleeping Bag, Kevin Krauter, Hurray for the Riff Raff, The Flying Stars of Brooklyn NY, Durand Jones and the Indications, Angelo de Augustine, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Maggie Rogers, Sylvan Esso, and Jessica Pratt. I dunno. I could go on. There’s always more.
What else inspires you outside of music?
I’d really like to have my hands in a garden. Something tells me that free food projects and other local anticapitalist economic efforts would be a good way to contribute to tangible change. I can sing whatever I want, and maybe people as far away as Taiwan will hear me, but it’s hard to beat the satisfaction a meal fresh from your garden brings. Sometimes I just want to shut up and water some veggies in the sun. A slower, more stable pace of life sounds pretty good right now.
What’s next for you?
Good question. I know of a few things. As of today, January 18, my birthday is tomorrow. So that’s next. And a tour with Jens Lekman Jan 27- Feb 14 thereafter. I’ll visit Nashville for a quick covers session with Ken Coomer next week before tour starts. Maybe I’ll go to SXSW in March. In May I’ll be in Ireland to play Dublin and Kilkenny.