Interview by Brenna Kischuk
Peter Slocombe’s new EP, A One Way Ride, showcases his unique blend of musical training and influences. The album is intimate yet performative, evoking feelings of back porches and Sunday mornings alongside Saturday night jazz clubs. Despite technically impressive arrangements, the songs feel effortless thanks to Slocombe’s skill as a musician and multi-instrumentalist. Improvisational elements can be found on each track, often in unexpected and exciting places, and the songs complement each other artistically while offering variation in tempo, tone, and mood. Here, Peter talks about his musical influences, the process of transitioning into a solo artist, and some favorite tracks from the album.
What instruments do you play on the album?
On the album I play acoustic rhythm guitar and Sasha Birrittella is the lead guitarist – he handles all the fancy stuff. And then for other projects I play saxophone, clarinet, flute, bad piano and, of course, sing.
Your musical background is impressive and extensive. How did you get started?
I took up clarinet at seven, saxophone at twelve, and played a bit of guitar (electric and acoustic) in high school. I have undergrad and master’s degrees in music from CalArts, where I also took piano and guitar lessons whilst getting my degree in saxophone performance.
Much of that background is based in jazz, which has it’s own unique and improvisational style that pops up in various songs on your EP. Can you speak a little more to how that’s affected your songwriting?
A surprising number of musicians have jazz backgrounds, and while some make it strictly as jazz performers – we call them the jazz elite – it’s incredibly competitive and difficult to reach a level where you can make a good living. Many jazz musicians end up working as session players and live sidemen in a variety of genres and styles, which is what I do on saxophone. Jazz teaches advanced harmony, rhythm, improvisation, and experimentation, and I think encourages me to bring more creativity to songwriting either in terms of melody and chord relationships or in my approach to lyrics. My cowriter on the album and professor from CalArts, Paul Novros, has always been great at pushing me creatively as well. I brought a lot of songs to him when I was working on the new EP, and he has a real talent for tearing things up and putting them back together for the better.
I’m sure jazz is going to make an appearance here, but what are some of your musical influences?
I’m a music fanatic and constantly changing what I’m listening to, although I do go through periods of obsession when it comes to styles. In high school I listened to a lot of rock, a little jazz, and some rap. In college I was jazz obsessed – I think I spent most of my student loan money in the jazz section of Amoeba Music buying anything I could get my hands on. Sadly all those CDs are in boxes in the closet now, as I don’t even have a CD player anymore. But they were in heavy rotation for a while. More recently I’ve been diving into southern music. Mostly older country, bluegrass, blues, Americana, that kind of stuff. It’s incredible how much music can paint a picture of where it came from. I get a feel for the people who made it, imagine the places that inspired it, more so than with any other genre. Maybe it’s because I’m from England but I’ve become a bit obsessed with the south and its history. Plus, my fiancé is from Texas so I like to pretend I can bring a little cowboy to my British roots.
The music scene in England is iconic – that must have affected your early interest in picking up instruments.
Definitely. I moved to the U.S. when I was eleven but grew up listening to all the English rock and blues musicians. My parents were big fans of anything from the 60s and 70s, British or not…Beatles, Stones, Clapton, John Mayall, James Taylor, Neil Young, The Doors, etc.
When did it become important for you to start releasing your own music, and how did you find your footing as a solo artist after playing in more collaborative and studio environments?
I’ve always felt driven to write and release music – it’s probably my favorite aspect of being a musician. I love performing, but there is something amazing about putting your ideas into a shareable format, and knowing it has the potential to be around after you’re gone. Maybe it’s a slight attempt at immortality. Although, the high that comes from making an album drops off pretty quickly and by the time it’s released I’m excited to work on something new.
The other exciting aspect of focusing on my own music is that it requires me to step away from the saxophone and challenge myself with other instruments. Sometimes the saxophone can be a difficult instrument to enjoy without having a band or playing live, and with A One Way Ride I wanted to get back to the basics. I was able to relax playing guitar and not worry so much about the regimented practice routines and stress of professional performance that comes with the sax.
If you could collaborate with any other musician on a project, who would it be?
There’s a lot, but right now probably Randy Newman or Bonnie Raitt.
What are some of your favorite tracks off the EP?
“You Like Coffee and I Like Tea” was one of those songs that came super easy – I finished it in about two hours, took it to Paul and he said yup, change a couple chords, and that was it. I also like how silly and playful it is. I have a tendency to write nostalgic love songs and morose stuff, but this one just felt good. It was fun, and I’m trying for more of that. I also am partial to “Eastern Wind.” I love the feel of the song and enjoy playing it live. I wrote it about England so it holds a lot of meaning to me personally, but I also find other people really relate to it.
What did you want to achieve with this record, and how did you decide what did and didn’t belong?
With my performance background I’m lucky enough to know musicians capable of great recordings, and so I wanted to record my music with that talented group. I prefer live music and don’t like overproduced projects with too much editing, dubbing, all that stuff, so this was an opportunity to find my own balance of live and studio performance. I wrote the lyrics separately from the songs and we threw some guitar and Wurlitzer on top, but all the songs are live with no click. The tracking took two days total – one with the full band, and one just me.
There were two other songs I was hoping would make the record, but in the end they got cut. One didn’t make it strictly due to funding and limited time in the studio, but the other one needed some rearranging. I’m bummed about that one because there is a ton of potential in that track, but it needed too much work to make it onto this EP.
I’ve been spending some time trying to hone my skills as a solo performer and book more gigs. It would be great to get some regular weekly slots and more private events that can help sustain a living as a professional musician. Also, I just started rehearsing an acoustic band with some friends and we’ll be playing here in L.A and working on some more original material. Stay tuned!