Singer-songwriter opens up about his new album, past, hopes for the future… and cats
Peter Barbee has been making music for 10 years and has no plans of stopping anytime soon. Under his latest moniker, Among Savages, the Nashville-born singer-songwriter recently released his sophomore album, Accounts of Friend and Foe. The soulful new collection of songs takes Barbee another step closer to his dream of creating music full time (the fact that Beyoncé’s choreographer Dana Foglia and her touring dancers helped with his video for “If You See Her” helps too), a goal that may not be too far off for the artist.
ARTISTdirect caught up with Barbee to discuss the new album, the moment when he decided he wanted to become a musician, and the necessity of cat sunglasses.
Hello – Please introduce yourself.
Hi, I’m Peter!
Where are you right now?
I am sitting in the basement recording studio that I built in Mt Washington in L.A. Hiding from the heat so that I can think.
Tell us about your new project: Who did you work with? Where was it recorded? What’s it about? Is there candy?
Well. I wouldn’t say that this is a new project. I’ve been working as the sole member of my band for about 10 years. I decided to go with a moniker after living in Nashville and everyone around me was putting out their albums with their real names. I guess I’ve always viewed music as an opportunity to break the character of who I am – or an opportunity to be someone else really.
I wrote this album while traveling around for a few years. South + Central America, Europe, Asia, and the good ole US of A. I always bring a modest recording setup with me – so if inspiration were to strike, I’d be able to sketch out some ideas. But the full length was recorded with my friend Daniel James (Canon Blue) in Nashville. We tracked the thing in about 10 days like a great ball of fire. I kept tweaking things over the next six months or so, adding and taking away until I finally passed it on to mixing engineer Craig Alvin – and then on to Shelley Anderson for mastering.
The formal explanation is this – I’ll copy and paste: “Among Savages is a living, evolving musical project about one man, Los Angeles musician Peter Barbee’s coming to terms with the trials and treasures of fading youth.”
But in my own words, I’d say that I only write from things that I’ve experienced. There is a lot of messy stuff on this album about bad relationships, self doubt, outgrowing my world views, a friend that passed away, moving across the country – basically everything that I’ve been through that emotionally connected me to my art form in a natural way.
There is probably candy. But there will also be cigarettes and booze for the adults.
How do you describe your music to new friends?
I always say that I’m trying to rip off Jeff Lynne. But if people need a modern influence I tell them that its somewhere between Arcade Fire and Alt-J. For the most part I try to avoid having to explain. I’m too close to it to tell if those are very accurate descriptions.
Other than Among Savages, what should your hometown be known for?
Sevierville, Tennessee is known for being the birthplace of Dolly Parton. I love her. But lesser known is that Cormac McCarthy spent a lot of his time there. I believe he wrote The Road and Blood Meridian while serving his time somewhere close by.
Please look around you right now and please describe the first item or person you see that’s significant to you (and that your relationship with it/them). Can we see a photo?
Well, my girlfriend’s kitty cat named Dad (she’s a she) is here visiting me. I’ll take her outside and put her on the 12 foot tall cat tree that I built for her so you can see her in her spot. This cat just really jazzes up the place. I like it when she’s down in the studio while I’m being creative. She, for the most part, is just at peace down here and naps the day away – but sometimes she fully pulls me in to her primal approach and we party for 15 minute segments, which is a healthy way to get some distance and perspective on what I’m doing. Also a better way to waste time than mindlessly scrolling Instagram. ( Her hashtag is #himynameisdad.)
(Question! – who makes cat sunglasses? It’s dangerous to maneuver a cat tree with your eyes closed)
What first inspired you to pursue music? If it was a musician or a specific piece of music, please tell us all about why you find it so inspirational…
I remember my mom taking me to the symphony when I was a little boy – probably 6 or 7 years old. I am from a family of six kids, and I am the 5th, so the rarity of getting to go somewhere with one of your parents solo, much less a symphony… no wonder I became a musician. That probably sealed something in my psyche back then. Music is magical, and from that point on I was aware of its existence and power.
What’s the best advice anyone has given you about pursuing a life in music?
It might take 20 years to become an overnight success. Scary reality – but, hell, I’m well over halfway there now!
Not including your current crew, who (alive or dead) would you love to have in your van for an all day drive from gig to gig?
Probably the 3 Amigos or some variation of.
Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short
Elan Musk, Bernie Sanders, and Walt Disney
Bob Marley, Dalai Lama, my sister Evan
What song best sums up your life right now?
Probably the songs on this record. Specifically “Fear” and “Art of Living”.
What is the best reaction to your music you have experienced so far?
One that comes to mind is getting to tour Europe for the first time a couple of years ago. Feeling music cross over a language barrier and really still speak to people. Just knowing my purpose even if it’s just a flash of a memory was enough to keep me pushing toward today.
Take a moment to dream – Where do hope to be a year from now?
My hopes are that this record opens up a lot of opportunity to travel and find a team of people that really understand who I am and what I’m trying to create. The business side of things seems to get in the way of the creative side for me, so if someone savvy heard this record and fell in love and decided to handle all of my business affairs, that would be stellar. I feel most alive when I am creating and traveling, so hopefully a mix of the two. I’m also really excited to finish up my studio. I’ve been piecing it together for years, and it will be a great day to feel settled in my creative space.
What’s your next step towards that dream?
Honestly, it probably has more to do with my ability to take care of my own heart, body, and mind than anything. When I am at my best, I take that very seriously. My first album felt like I was living in the past, now I feel like I’m letting go of the future worries. Hopefully, I’m finally learning to live in today.
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