Interview with Peter Milton Walsh (The Apartments) – Part 2
by Killian Laher
Peter Milton Walsh has been recording and touring under the name The Apartments for more than 40 years, on and off, coming through personal tragedy to emerge as an artist of a substance. No More Workhorse spoke to him from his home in Sydney, over zoom, the first Irish interview of his career. Part 1 of the interview is here.
Did you want success? Were you working towards it?
P: I was definitely not a person who did the work. I have a friend from that period and I just remember having this conversation with him. It was in the late 80s, and he’s poking a finger, we’re somewhere a party or somewhere like that, and he’s poking his finger in my chest and he said, “you don’t do the work, you’re like the grasshopper who sang through the summer and then the winter comes and you won’t have done the work”. This was from someone who was doing 200 shows a year or something like that, because at the time that was exactly what you had to do. Either you were a radio person, and that’s where things were gonna happen for you. And you know, The Smiths, obviously things happened for them on radio. But for a band like The Go-Betweens the only way that they were gonna succeed… and in some ways for The Triffids and absolutely for The Bad Seeds, the only way that was gonna work was if they worked their arses off and did 200, 250 shows a year and just kept going. And I didn’t do that. I would love to find a way to blame somebody or something for things not happening but it all comes down to me! (Laughs)
That just wasn’t your thing.
Look, it’s a casino life anyway, being a musician, that’s the nature of it. You might as well be at the track or you might as well be rolling dice over the green baize, but that’s the kind of life that it is. So, that’s why I definitely feel like I have obviously had some luck.
Well, you’re still out there, you’re still putting out music. The new album might actually be your best, in my opinion.
I feel sort of conflicted saying this, but I’m really fond of this album. I felt that the last album (No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal) was me catching up with a bunch of things in my head and things that I just wanted to say. I wanted to have a record of a time, sort of thing. So that was almost me catching up to my own past. Whereas with this one it was a very different approach. And, in fact, it was kind of wilful, because I found that recording No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal I had everything in my head. I knew where the horns should be, I knew where the strings should be, I knew the piano… if I could play the piano! I played the piano on the title track but then I got a proper piano player for the other songs. So basically, I knew everything, and I had it all prowling around in my head… so then what I’m trying to do is get what’s in my head, that I’ve carried for such a long time, that I’ve been haunted by, and try and get that down.
Whereas with this album, I had a batch of stuff lying around, I was gonna record it with Antoine (Chaperon), who’s the guitarist and Natasha (Penot) who sings and plays keyboards, they’re both in France, and Nick Allum who lives in London, who played with Microdisney… or no with Cathal (Coughlan) …
Yeah, he played drums in that band. I was gonna do that with those guys anyway, so you know the idea was oh let’s go to Antoine’s studio, because he’s got a studio in Tours, which is about two hours south-west of Paris, and we’ll meet up for three weeks, record the album, and I’ll move to Berlin.
But there’s no money and with Antoine, it’s his own studio. I had to work around everyone’s timetables, and they said September. And then they said, what would be great is if we actually knew what we were gonna do! Have you thought about sending us some demos? Laughs.
So, then I did a couple of demos and I thought, I really fucking don’t like capturing something and then trying to recapture it. You know, do I do a demo and then love the demo and then go into the studio and try and get what happened there in that moment, in that present? Do I try and get that? I don’t wanna do that. And so then I had a change of plan. I thought, I like those demos, but I like the process so much that I thought: I’m not gonna do any more demos. I have to do this live, and I have to do it in the moment, and I can’t do that in France. Because it would have been a lot of pressure put on everyone there, particularly the way that I work, cos I’m quite spontaneous and I also don’t know what I’m doing! I’m very scattered, so I need some sort of discipline there. Anyway, you know, I just found a guy to work with, a really exceptional guy. He’s got a very small studio and it’s about 10 minutes from my place. I never even knew about him, and then I started asking around and people said oh you should try this guy. So I went into the studio…
Who was this guy?
It’s Tim Kevin, he’s the producer. I just went into his studio and I said to him I’ve done two demos and I am gonna record those songs, but I just want to keep the stuff that I’ve done on the demo and I’m not gonna do it again. So I played him the demos and he said, the audio’s fine we can do that. And I said I really don’t know what I’m gonna do here, because I just wanna try stuff out as we go. As it turns out he was booked up a lot so I wasn’t able to get in there for a big slab of time. It was one day a week… or two days a week. And also, it was daylight hours, (starting at) 10 or 11 and we’d finish at 5 or 6 because he had obligations at night time. So it was a very casual way to do it but I went in with just scraps of things, and I would play it to him and I would say, I’m not sure if this is something but it feels to me like it might be something. The first thing that I did with him was I Don’t Give A Fuck About You Anymore. It was the first day in his studio and I said, I’m just gonna play you this thing. I had the acoustic guitar and I was sitting on his couch and I thought… this kinda feels quite good. I’m sitting here, playing the acoustic guitar and it felt very good to me. Anyway, I said, I think there’s something in that and he goes, absolutely there’s something in that. That’s a song.
So I was just writing it in that time as well, there was no bringing the past into the present. It was all the present. Up until I made No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal I hadn’t been making records for a long time so to me, this feels like making a normal record. Whereas with No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal I wasn’t really making a record. I really wanted to just get things down. I didn’t know what I would do with it but I thought just fuck it if I do not get these songs down I either stop, and that’s it, I’m not going to play again. Either I do this, or I don’t go on. You know it was almost that I’d reached that point in the way that I felt about the songs and the material. And because of the material there was, I kept, you know I also felt like this is what I must do to honour my son. (*Peter’s son Riley died in 1999 of a rare illness)
And, so, you know, there was something about that as well. So it (No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal) was a very different kind of album. This one (In And Out of the Light) felt like I was making an album, it was almost like being a musician again, whereas the last one felt like I was doing something else, if you know what I mean.
Was it a sort of catharsis?
I’m pretty dubious about the catharsis thing because I think that sort of says oh, yeah, dealt with that, next! Whereas I think that things that happen to you are there with you forever.
You don’t just put them away.
No, you don’t just put them away and you haven’t processed anything. You’ve just done what you had to do almost. That’s how I feel. I know there’s a belief in that and possibly that does work for some people but it’s another thing that didn’t work for me. It was just like, no. (Laughs)
The interview continues in Part 3…