A conversation with Chad Peck

 

    We spoke with Chad Peck about how his family remembers him as a child, feeling comfortable being a contemplative loner, being fascinated by VCRs, why big data may lead to civilization’s decline and the value of abandoning the Internet.

    Sometime over the past 10 years, I started thinking more about writing songs and less about complicated signal paths. It was really painful at first.

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    Morgan Enos

    The last time I saw you, we were completely isolated from the rest of a housewarming party with a couple of acoustic guitars, attempting to learn the most harmonically impossible Beach Boys tunes possible. It reminds me of how psychedelia and disorientation can be achieved just through plain old music. Do you apply this principle to your own work at all?

    Chad Peck

    That was a super fun night. Not the worst party foul I’ve ever committed, believe it or not. The short answer is yes, absolutely. The longer answer:

    I started playing guitar in 7th grade. For the next five years, I was pretty much only concerned with exploring the mechanics of the guitar. During that time I became pretty gear-obsessed; the idea of being able to radically change my guitar sound by spending $100 and tossing a new pedal in my signal path was very appealing. (Full disclosure: I still find that very appealing.)

    I started making records in my early 20s. Very early on, I took the plunge and bought a bunch of recording gear. I had a lot of blind faith. Around that time, I felt like my years of woodshedding and collecting equipment had finally paid off: “Hey! I’ve got a pedal that will make the sound we need in this part!” It was such a satisfying feeling. The downside of this approach was that it would hang me up on actually doing stuff. “If only I had this thing, we could…” It was kind of a built-in escape clause.

    Sometime over the past 10 years, I started thinking more about writing songs and less about complicated signal paths. It was really painful at first — I was definitely not approaching “Surfer Girl” on my first attempts at writing songs with melody and arrangement at the forefront of my mind. I’ve definitely grown a lot as a songwriter through my 20s and 30s.

    There were a few eye-opening moments along the way, even this summer: I recorded four songs at Electrical Audio and didn’t use any of my own gear, not even my own guitar picks. The end result still sounded exactly like me, just because of the chord inversions I favour/the tunings I use/the way my brain conceptualizes music. It was freeing. I do think gear is important, and I do have an infinite/evolving shopping list, but it doesn’t hold me up anymore.

    I mostly think in terms of songwriting and production at this point in my life. I guess when you get obsessed with Brian Wilson, like I know we both have, you naturally start thinking more in terms of emotional impact and less about technique. And you know that a 1-6-4-5 progression creates a certain feeling, and you start realizing that there are variations on that feeling that you can use to match the tone of the song, and so you make purposeful and clever decisions. Eventually it becomes part of your subconscious and intuition. The cleverness serves the song, not vice versa.

    Do you know “Hammond Song” by The Roches? It’s my current “perfect” song. Very simple production, incredible singing, and as haunting/beautiful as they come. You feel differently after you finish listening to it which is, to my mind, the purpose of music.

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    I’m listening to it now. It’s really beautiful. It reminds me of Neil Finn’s new album, Out of Silence, which I’m pretty attached to right now. It’s crazy how a simple melody can just knock your on your ass when there’s a whole ensemble singing it. But I’d like to touch back on what you said about leaving the song feeling like a different person, as it were. Is it unpleasant for you to hear music that leaves you feeling nothing? It sure is for me. Thoughts on this?

    I’m not sure if “unpleasant” is the right word; I just don’t participate in activities that make me feel nothing. My relationship with music is not particularly temporal; I’m not concerned with novelty or nostalgia in music, with the exception of listening to what my friends are working on — I’m always interested in that. Herd mentality in music scenes used to frustrate me to no end. I distinctly remember seeing certain bands in my late teens/early 20s with my friends; they would be losing their minds, and in my head, I would just be repeating “This sucks. It’s not very good.” Now I find it much easier to disconnect, stay the course and “enjoy my symptom,” as Žižek says. I’m much more comfortable with being a contemplative loner at age 35 than I was at 25.

    As I’ve gotten older I’ve definitely become more open-minded in terms of what I’ll listen to and I’m happy I evolved in that regard. I’m also now okay with (but still slightly suspicious of) people who don’t understand the world through music. (That is a joke. Sort of.)

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    I know that you live in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Did you grow up in this town? Regardless, please describe your hometown to me, as well as what you were like as a little kid. What was your personality and demeanor like?

    I actually live about an hour outside of Halifax. I did grow up here. I live on a dirt road in a five bedroom house with my cat, Molly. It’s really beautiful here, even with the mildly oppressive winters. I usually spend part of the summer in NYC and part of the year touring, which rounds out my perspective.

    I was a quiet kid. I did well in school (skipped the first grade!) and played sports. I tended toward the solo positions —  goaltender, pitcher, catcher — which, in hindsight, seems to be obvious foreshadowing. I remember being fascinated with my grandmother’s VCR. I read a lot.

    My first memories of music are “The Imperial March” and Sports by Huey Lewis. Like many people my age, Nirvana were the band that switched me on to music. The most important formative experience I had as a young musician was learning how to play the song “Goldfinger” by Ash — three teenagers from Northern Ireland, presumably geographically isolated like me, writing this dark, majestic song with a million chords in it that somehow made sense.

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    Please ask your mother, father, and grandmother what you were like for some perspective.

    Mom, Donna


    “Quiet… deep thinking… not a follower… sensitive… loyal… focused…”

    Dad, Darrell


    “Good kid… looked after his little brother Brennan when he came home from school… liked school but found it too easy, needed to be challenged… one thing that really upset him was controversy… didn’t want to hear anyone arguing and fighting… people did take advantage of his good nature… took a passion to music…”

    Grandmother, Verna


    “Always happy and looking for new adventures… serious, quiet and obviously proud when he mastered something new… loved and loves fun and games…”

    I am being presented with a fact that I know to be true, but am choosing to ignore that fact. That, to me, is terrifying and makes me feel like I’m losing my mind.

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    I’ve actually never been to your region of North America, so I’m curious about the view of US policy over there. I live in New York, and I felt nauseated about the news today, like it was actively making me a less intelligent person just by reading the headlines and pull quotes. How do you view the decline of Western civilization?

    I wouldn’t want to speak on behalf of anyone except myself, but I don’t think the Canadian view of US policy is as universally disdained as you might imagine. It seems to me that there’s a similar mix of political views here, just seemingly not turned up to 11. (I’m not sure a Spinal Tap reference is appropriate here, but I want to counterbalance the gravity of the question, even momentarily.)

    This is a hard question to engage with because you pull on any thread and find what feels like an infinite regress, but party politics/blatant partisanship is my current mental block. It’s depressing to me to see presumably intelligent people cower under their leader/party because the alternative is deemed worse. Political ego would be hilarious if it wasn’t so terrifying. This is not a problem that is limited to the United States.

    Following this tiny thread: government accountability should be so much easier than it was even 20 years ago; there is such amazing journalism happening at all times and access to that journalism is open to anyone with an internet connection. But partisan thinking has spoiled the public as well, and people are actively engaging in cognitive dissonance: I am being presented with a fact that I know to be true, but am choosing to ignore that fact. That, to me, is terrifying and makes me feel like I’m losing my mind. You don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to recognize that governments work best when the public is misinformed, sometimes wilfully so.

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    What is the oldest or most treasured article of clothing you own? Why have you hung on to it for all these years? Is there sentimental significance? Do you think clothes make the man or woman, or vice versa?

    I have a Montreal Canadiens jersey my dad had made when I was a baby. I will keep that forever. I have a weird rule where I don’t throw out any band shirts, either; the reasons for that seem less obvious as they take over my closet. I don’t wear most of them.

    I think people should do whatever they want with fashion. Like most things in life, I find adult anxiety about being “out of step” a little hard to comprehend. As for me, I’ve dialed in my look; lots of crew neck sweaters, lots of denim.

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    What are you currently working on in your studio? Can you describe it in detail?

    I usually set up whatever mic I’m using for vocals so that I can stare at these postcards when I sing. It helps somehow. They’re from a set called called “Greetings from the Ocean’s Sweaty Face” by McSweeney’s. Tangentially, Dave Eggers sent me a drawing in return for a Kestrels record and a fan letter. It’s one of my prized possessions. I painted the room black and my friend has since named my studio the Obsidian Lair. I like it.

    I am currently working on a bunch of tracks culled from three separate sessions in Chicago, Easthampton, and Halifax. Specifically, I’m working on a song with the working title “Devil’s Triad”. I had an idea for song that has parts alternating between the keys of E and Bb, which is a naturally unpleasant interval that I associate with palm-muted heavy metal guitars. I wanted to make those two keys work together in a hyper-melodic song despite their natural dissonance. It’s working really well — there’s a languid overture, a tight Strokes-y verse, MBV glide guitar, acapella breakdown, and a triumphant outro.

    There are varying transitions between those two keys throughout the song, until the end; somehow they just seem to work together in a beautiful way at that point. It’s about seven minutes long at this point and I am anticipating it being the last song on the next record I release. I’m proud of it. The person who does our radio will likely panic when they see the track length.

    I’m not writing paeans to Gaia. It’s just nice to focus energy on tasks other than hitting “refresh” or thinking about how to perfectly document an event.

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    What is your view of online culture? Do you think the overwhelming flow of big data is just something we should ride, like a wave, or should we probably completely distance ourselves from it for the sake of our mental and emotional health?

    My Internet use has definitely declined over the last little while. Peak Internet for me was message board culture, and I kind of gave up after social media supplanted it. I now mostly use the Internet to read Twin Peaks theories, buy rare records and research guitar pedals/Fender Jazzmaster upgrades. This conversation notwithstanding, I am unlikely to post my deep thoughts online unless it’s about an LA-2A clone or variations in the Super Fuzz circuit. I do like seeing and hearing what my friends are up to and I’m glad I have a phone that makes it easy to stay in touch with people I care about. Also, the likelihood of me ever getting a record deal without the Internet was pretty much nonexistent. I can’t write the Internet off completely.

    With regards to big data, it seems to work in concert with the decline of Western civilization. I started getting really into running this summer and spending a lot of time just wandering around New York; stepping away from the Internet definitely made me feel better about the world. I suppose that’s an ignorance/bliss scenario, though…

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    Tell me a bit more about that. I feel like the multitudinous voices entering your consciousness every five seconds via social media can lead to a sense of paralysis. Was this experience kind of like walking out of the Vegas Strip and into a meditation garden?

    I should be clear: I’m not writing paeans to Gaia. It’s just nice to focus energy on tasks other than hitting “refresh” or thinking about how to perfectly document an event. I guess what wears on me is the social media-induced simulacrum. Obviously people should present whatever image they want; I’m not immune to that impulse. It’s just that the gap between reality and the carefully curated online experience that can be soul-killing. The thought of rehearsing a smile with a front-facing camera is bizarre to me.

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    Finally, can you describe the funniest thing you heard of in the last few weeks? What about the saddest thing, or the thing that made you the angriest?

    The two funniest things I’ve heard in the past few weeks:

    4 Referring to a cat: “I like to consider her more as a roommate with a very uneven distribution of responsibilities.”

    4 Referring to a musician: “He should get credit as an acoustic diffuser on that record.”

    I also really love Rob Delaney’s tweets. My brother Devin and I almost exclusively communicate by sending our favorites back and forth.

    Outside of the obvious mania in the media, I tend to get sucked into The Dodo on Instagram for a 60 second execution of dramatic structure: anger, sadness, and redemption.

    Thank you.

    Data


    Conversation: 128
    Curated by: Morgan Enos
    Conducted by: Email
    Published: February 13, 2018
    Total questions: 10
    Word count: 2392
    Reading time: Nine minutes
    Hyperlinks: 9
    Imagery: 1

    Metadata


    Paean: Unwritten
    Refresh: Unpushed
    Reality:
    Signal: Rerouted
    Energy: Focused
    Triad: Unlocked
    Dissonance: Natural
    Contemplation: Accessed
    Comprehension:

    Relation


    About the subject


    Chad Peck is a Canadian-born singer, songwriter and guitarist who performs in the bands Kestrels and We Need Secrets. He also runs the label Noyes Records.

    About the curator


    Morgan Enos is a songwriter and journalist originally from California. His curatorial work for North of the Internet aims to strike a deeper place in his conversation subjects — the dreamy subtext to the linear everyday. Morgan also frequently writes power pop records as Other Houses about joy, outer space, frustration, chess and spiritual light. He resides in New York, where he continues to creatively fire on all cylinders.


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