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 2 of the interview is available here.
Coming back to this album, you mentioned I Don’t Give A Fuck About You. Was there a specific person in mind there?
My wife says it’s always about her (Laughs). And she claims that she wrote the line “are you listening?” from Where You Used To Be as well because she says that to me all the time.
They’re not like autobiographies. You know, they’re personal songs, but everybody is in them. There’s a swarm out there and suddenly some of the things will land, and some of them will come into your head in a particular moment and you know you just have to accept that some things arrive.
I’m always grateful that I actually have a song because I’m always thinking nah, that’s it, end, there are no more songs. Which is kind of why it was interesting working on this album because every time we’d finish a song I’d be thinking, oh fuck what have I done, and like I don’t have anything else. There’s nothing else. But then, there’d be a gap of a week or two weeks or something like that, and then I’d try something and I’d think actually no, this could be something, you know. So it was like a process of very fresh discoveries for me and I think I actually handled the pressure of that better than I normally would, because normally if there’s any pressure on me to do something I just crumble and fold. ‘Oh no, I can’t do that’ (Laughs). My philosophy is usually, if at first you don’t succeed, give up.
You’ve a good body of albums at this stage. They share an aesthetic and I’m interested in what inspires you. Is it art, is it movies or…
It’s the usual kind of confetti or constellation of influences that are in all our lives. You know, like a song, a movie, a poem. I still read poetry, buy poetry books, because I think it’s important that there’s such a thing as a poet in the world, because there’s nothing in it for poets. There’s no glamour, there’s no money, but they’re doing it simply because this is what they must do, so I like that idea, they have to. And of course, the writing is so phenomenal as well. There are lots of things that I pick up on. I do tend to get obsessed with certain things. There are things from my past that obviously are still huge with me. Just the other day, it was the Day of the Dead, the first of November. I read “Under the Volcano” (Malcolm Lowry novel) when I was 22 or 23 and for the first 50 pages, I just thought I’m not gonna read this. But I got to page 50 or 51 and I did not want that book to end. That’s had absolutely no effect on my writing, by the way, that just happens to be something that I’m talking about that I deeply love, and that is with me, it’s within my bloodstream.
When you hear the first Velvet Underground record it just goes into your bloodstream, you’ll never forget it. You’ll never have that feeling about it again because it’s the wildest, freshest, thing you’ve ever heard. And that you’ll never feel that way again. But it’s there, it’s within your bloodstream and even if you never play it again it’s within your bloodstream. So a lot of the things I like tend to be like that. And, of course, you know, I just, I’m really, I’m not anywhere in this class of people but I absolutely love you know the great American songbook. I love Jimmy Webb, Hal David, Burt Bacharach, the pair of them, and it has to be the pair of them, they absolutely depend on one another for me, for the song to work. It’s like infinite melody I love. And just one line is enough for me.
I can’t really say I wanted to be anything or anyone in particular but all these things float around within me as they do within everybody. Dylan said he wanted to be Little Richard. I never had that kind of feeling. But I did like writing songs… I don’t know where that comes from, ‘cos there’s no Walsh songwriting dynasty.
I’m referred to as Peter Milton Walsh, that’s simply because I was in the same class in eleventh and twelfth grade with a guy called Peter Graham Walsh and the form teacher, used to call the roll, used to always distinguish us by saying Peter Graham Walsh, Peter Milton Walsh, so it kind of stuck. In Australia, Milton is just an absolutely ridiculous name. But my grandfather, who was a train driver, he was Thomas Milton Walsh, and my dad who was a truck driver he was Jack Milton Walsh. So there’s a train driver, there’s a truck driver and, I have absolutely zero interest in any kind of transportation industry matters at all. It’s just not something that ever appealed to me. I never thought, oh Dad I’d like to grow up and be a truck driver just like you. Never occurred to me. He left school at 12, never read a book in his life, a very different guy.
My cousin, who was in Sydney, came up to stay at my parent’s house when I was 12 or 13, and he brought up his acoustic guitar. He had been sent to a Catholic school where they learned Sinnerman, which I think was probably from The Seekers, not Nina Simone, and they also learned a Peter, Paul and Mary song, I think. He showed me how to play the songs on the guitar. I had never picked up a guitar before! I used to work in a supermarket on Saturday morning, so I saved some money and bought a guitar. Of course, when you play guitar all you think about is writing songs.
I was a radio kid, so I would listen and when you’re listening to maybe 10, 20 songs that’s the most songs you’ll hear across a week. It was top 40 radio, those things get into your bloodstream as well. I grew up in the sixties so it was a golden age for beautiful, huge melody. You could hear it, and you could chase songs because you could guarantee that it would turn up on the next station, you’d listen to it on one station, you’d flip over to another you could guarantee it would turn up within the next hour if you loved it enough. I remember doing that with a song called It’s Not Easy by an Australian artist called Normie Rowe, and I would just chase the song across the three top 40 radio stations, trying to hear it. So that world is gone. Now it’s just fucking infinity.
The interview continues in Part 4…