EAR CANDY MAG - December 2011

WE ARE THE SAND
Interview with Peter Lacey,
Stephen Kalinich, and David Beard

By Ronnie

Intro:
"We Are The Sand" is Peter Lacey's 8th album since 2000, and possibly his most ambitious. Collaborating with both Stephen Kalinich and David Beard (Editor of Endless Summer Quarterly), "We Are The Sand" is a song cycle, played like a radio show from the mythical,"LAC-FM on your radio dial, with new and improved Lacey-vision!"

I recently talked to Peter Lacey, Stevie Kalinich and David Beard about the concept behind this fascinating project...

EC: The last time we talked in an interview, you were collaborating with Stephen Kalinich on 2009’s South Downs Way. For the We Are The Sand CD, you have also teamed up with David Beard (Editor of Endless Summer Quarterly). How did this come about?

David: It all began with Peter being inspired by Frank Holmes’ cover illustration for the SMiLE 1967 edition of ESQ (published in March 2005). The cover shows a hand (inside the SMiLE shop) turning on a radio saying, “And now let us return to those golden days of yesteryear.” Frank also added two text bubbles saying, “We are the sand,” and, “We are not the sand box.”

Sometime in mid 2005 Peter sent me a new song titled, “We Are The Sand.” This early version included the lyric, “I’m sending out to you, in the latest ESQ…we are the sand, but not the rock.” I instantly fell in love with the song, and loved the fact that Peter created something so dynamic using Frank’s cover for the inspiration. “Cabin Essence” has always been my favorite Beach Boys’ song, so it was easy to dial into the “we are all a part of something much bigger” concept.

Between 2003 and 2006 I had begun writing songs in earnest. The first realized results were with SideB Music’s recording artist Chris English on his Dreamtown CD. Those songs – “Sunshine Routine,” “Summer Revisited” and “Downtime” – enabled me to get some solid footing on the collaboration process with a recording artist. The big difference between Chris and Peter was Chris lives where I do (Charlotte, NC), whereas Peter and I have actually never met (face to face). Peter and I were lucky because we are like-minded in our big picture thinking.

Right: SMiLE 1967 edition of ESQ (published in March 2005)

EC: With three people now on the “team,” how did you, Stephen and David approach the writing for the CD? Did you start out with a concept or theme?

Peter: David led the direction...inspired by a barrage of influences we share…for instance: The Beach Boys, The Moody Blues, The Beatles, The Goons and Monty Python. The radio concept was Dave’s as he’s been a DJ in real life and was able to give it an authenticity. I absorbed his suggestions and we set about jumbling them all together in various permutations.

David: From the beginning I was very specific with Peter, because a lot can get lost in the translation of emails. Peter says, “absorbed,” to me, that’s an understatement. Peter’s level of trust with my suggestions/ideas was paramount to the completion of this album. The Moody Blues were a heavy influence on the creative process, because of their initial seven conceptual albums between 1967-1972. Pet Sounds, SMiLE and Van Dyke Parks were also steadfast markers throughout. We both felt that it had to be honest; whether it was sincerity, humor or beauty. At the end of the day it was Peter’s name on the CD, so I worked really hard at making sure the trust he bestowed in me was earned.

In early 2006 Peter and I had one idea, and that was to write a suite about the four seasons of the year. “Drinkin’ in The Sunshine” was the summer song, “Time, Less Reason” was the winter song, and the track that we had for autumn was called “Saving Days,” which (without the words) sounds like a hybrid between The Beach Boys’ “All This Is That” and “Fairy Tale Music.” “Saving Days” ended up as the instrumental bed under “Notes From Cornwall (Pt. 1).” I think “There’s A Feeling” was the song we wrote with spring/pre-summer, I’m not sure, but it did make it on to ESQ’s Carl Wilson tribute CD Under God. With the radio concept I just went back to the Frank Holmes cover and looked at it for further inspiration.

Peter: Stevie Kalinich and I have kept close since our meeting in 2008 and so it was a sheer joy to involve him in the project, and we recorded two of Stevie’s poems of an appropriate maritime nature from his trip to Cornwall in 2009. There’s a line in the title song “We Are The Sand” that goes, “And you will comprehend/Laguna to Landsend we are the sand part of the rock,” and Stevie made that actual journey…CA to Cornwall! We also wrote the song, “An Open Heart” to which Stevie wrote the lyric.

Stevie: Peter just included me in the project that he was doing with David. At first I was a touch resistant, but later if felt inwardly okay to see where the world would take it. I know David, but I did not directly work with him. It feels like they included me in their project and some of my poems blended perfectly. I love the album. Peter and David are the ones responsible.

EC: Was it a case of Peter mainly writing music (not counting those songs solely credited to Peter), with Stephen and David supplying the lyrics?

Peter: Yes, that was my job except for “She’s A Rainbow,” which Dave sent me the demo for. My contribution was the arrangement. Dave recorded his spoken parts – poetry and DJ spots in America and sent them here to be clothed in music. Stevie had recorded “Notes From Cornwall” whilst over here in 2009; it was selected from many hours of the recordings we made. So I sat in the loft as usual and recorded the music and sent various try-outs in format to Dave who worked hard honing the whole concept, binding into the most satisfactory of combinations of spoken poetry, radio announcing and general wackiness! I also invited my longtime friend and session musician Jon Fielder along and Sarah Raynor on saxaphone for "Call It A Day".

David: By October 2010 we had gained a lot of momentum, and ideas were coming out left and right. I just got married on 11-11-11 to Gretchen; “She’s A Rainbow” is about her. We played the song at my wedding during the cake cutting; it was a great moment. I did not write the song for the album, but once I fleshed it out I realized how well it worked within the confines of what we were doing, I sent it to Peter. There is a lot of my soul in the lyrics. I wrote “A Pool Of Thought” and “Why” when I was going through my divorce in 2007…so sharing these lyrics was where I completely put my trust in Peter. You can hear the results…pure magic!

EC: The CD plays like a radio show, starting with the announcement, “LAC-FM on your radio dial, with new and improved Lacey-vision!” I love that there are commercials/announcements in between some songs, etc. Who came up with the radio-show the concept? And who plays the part of the DJ and who wrote the announcements/commercials?

David: “It’s up, it’s down…it’s square and round…” It all started with having something like the BBC, but that’s being used [laughs]. We developed LAC-FM by using Peter’s last name…that was all it took to get the wheels turning. Because of Frank’s illustration, I began to wonder what the radio inside the SMiLE shop would be playing… What type of stations, etc. Everything crystallized for me when the idea became, “a day in the life of Peter Lacey.” It was important to create an inviting listening experience, so the radio station(s) needed to change with the type of music. For me “Part of the Rock” is like the intermission in The Beatles movie HELP or the great cutaway scene in Monty Python’s Holy Grail where the writer dies. That was one of the tracks that I partially mixed and produced for Peter, in order to provide him with something that he could wrap his ears around. It was important to pull on that creative wheel as much as possible. It was okay to be serious, funny, etc., but without changing the radio dial it wouldn’t make sense. So “Part of the Rock” is where we go off the reservation and you hear a talk radio station, a Bali radio station, and even a snippet of The Laughing Gravy’s [Dean Torrence] “Snowflakes on Laughing Gravy’s Whiskers” [B side to “Vegetables”]. The additional commercial and station changes represent oddball humor. Not everything you hear on this album is actually on LAC-FM, but we manage to get back there by the end of the album. As far as Lacey Vision goes…Peter and I both loved the fact that it was a radio station with a new video apparatus that was inexplicably mentioned.

This was the riskiest part of our collaboration because I didn’t know what type of sense of humor Peter had. It’s one thing to email an idea, but to have it translate from the page is something else all together. My initial trip into the recording studio was with a blank slate. I didn’t know what I was going to record until I recorded it. I got lucky, and had the whole Lacey Vision and LAC-FM concept down in one hour. My second trip was scripting out different commercial bits, and the third outing was to create the LAC-FM radio jingle. My biggest challenge, once a voice was decided on, was to not be an obvious imitation of someone. It was important to this project because Peter is from West Sussex, so it had to be the Queen’s English. Being a huge Peter Sellers fan helped.

EC: On the title song, “We Are The Sand,” I can't help but notice a similarity in theme to Brian Wilson’s “’Til I Die.” Where Brian Wilson sang, “I’m a cork on the ocean floating over the raging sea” – you sing, “we are the sand – part of the rock.” Similar themes, but different emotions – am I too far off the path here?

Peter: Good question Ronnie! My own thinking was akin to Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” in the line, “We are Stardust, we are golden” and that we are all carbon! In the case of We Are The Sand we are all particular unique people, and share a common humanity…grains of sand belonging to rock. It’s a bit of an old hippy theme running through it, but it is a dream some of us still have. It’s a positive song. In contrast as you say, Brian’s “’Til I Die” is dark emotionally, but shares the maritime metaphors!

EC: Speaking of which, there seems to be an ongoing underlying “elemental” theme to the songs: sand, rock, sky, water, sunshine, streams, waterfalls, sea, the breeze, rainbows, pool of water, etc. Is this what you describe as the lyrics “Our song cycle” in the song, “Full Circle”?

Peter: “Full Circle” was the last song I wrote for the album. Something of a resume…a summary. I’d started out with BEAM! in 2000, which was saturated in Beach Boys/Brian Wilson influences and over seven albums diversified, so it was returning home to some extent for me and a pleasure to be in the company of Stevie and Dave. And I say the maritime theme is essential to the album. See what Stevie and Dave have to say.

David: When I heard “Full Circle” I was blown away. It struck me that this was a bit of a journeyman album for Peter. So now, changing the radio station made even more sense. I went back to Peter and asked him if he had any instrumental snippets of incomplete songs, etc., that could be used for other stations that we would be flipping through… He sent me a rocked-out version of “Drinkin’ in the Sunshine”…that became a “Cool Glass of Shade,” which precedes “A Pool of Thought.” After more plotting, we used “Zephyr” (from Anderida), “Psychedelic Tie” (from Behind the Scenes) and “Sanctuary Cove” (from BEAM!) with the latter used on the album coda…so that’s where we end up when the album finishes; back where it all began for Peter. The different elements you mention came easy, because we were already in that creative mode that was inspired by SMiLE through a Frank Holmes’ illustration.

EC: I like the little Beach Boys references found throughout, some in lyrics and some in sound. For instance, the “Cabin Essence”-like banjo on “Drinkin’ in the Sunshine” and the train sound effect on “Notes From Cornwall (Pt. 2).” Or the lyrics, “Sunny down stuff” (“There’s a Feeling”) and “The love that you give returns to you” (“An Open Heart”). Was this David Beard’s influence?

David: Both Stevie and I.

Peter: “An Open Heart” is pure SJK!

David: Part of what makes this album so great is Peter’s willingness to make everyone a part of the team. His genius lies in his ability to hear beyond the immediacy of an idea or thought. I was a little uneasy about using “Sunny down snuff” as a lyric, because it’s pure Van Dyke…But what a great lyric!! I wanted to change it, but Peter stood fast and said, “We’re keeping it.” To my ear, this is the most dialed in Peter has ever been to The Beach Boys’ sound, but even with the heavy Moody Blues, Beach Boys, Monty Python influences, this is still very much pure Peter Lacey…he’s better than ever before.

Stevie: Originally I wrote the lyric for a Jane Seymour project and it never happened. When Peter started this project it seemed to fit in and he asked me if it could be included. My memory about the events surrounding (this project) is not clear. I feel like a guest on their project. I cannot take credit for much of the theme except in that some of my work coincided with what they were recording and creating. I am grateful to both of them and they have produced a lovely album.

Peter: We were all into the theme together with so many similar and familiar influences, so it facilitated itself.

EC: There are two sets of lyrics with a similar theme: “This is the path to freedom...” (“Notes From Cornwall Pt. 1”), and “Now we’re walking down the path of life” (“There’s a Feeling”). This seems to be the second “theme” for the album – that there is a “path.” Stephen says, “It says yes to life Listen.” So, the “path” IS there for all to see?

Stevie: There is a path to life. I believe if we open up to it and it is within us. It is more of the “Be Still” theme…“A Time To Live In Dreams.” There is that within us, which if we open up to it can give us calm and peace and inner wisdom, the more we get a limited self out of the way and allow grace to speak through us then we can become liberated. Two themes in my work or some of it are Listening and Being Still and through the beach and sand and activity one can realize the stillness. It is not a passive stillness but one that expresses itself in acts of grace giving and kindness.

David: The different themes are intertwining…they all work within and around one another; that was our goal. When I set about sequencing this album with Peter, each song (and moment) needed to connect to both the previous and subsequent listening experiences. We wanted each song to compliment the other, but we also wanted to keep the listener engaged in the song cycle.

EC: Stephen, the mood on “Notes From Cornwall (Pt. 2)” is almost fatalistic. Was the purpose to point out that every person has “dark times” or fears?

Stevie: Through our dark times and challenges the spirit rises up and the possibility of great joy appears within the individual. Through sorrow the song rises. Life is hard and cold…brutal at times but we must not give up because of this. I would rather than fatalistic it is positive in the sense of instead of sitting by and letting life happen to us we create meaning even though sometime are efforts are futile. It is still worth creating something more meaningful. Brian Wilson and I have talked about this many times even yesterday.

EC: I love how you end the album with “Naomi’s Song” (representing youth?) and “Call It A Day” (representing experience?). Now the “song cycle” shows that “The world spins in antiquity” and some things never change – they are just accepted facts. You end the album with hope and acceptance, a seemingly perfect ending.

Peter: Naomi is my oldest daughter and truly deserves a song dedicated to her. Yes it’s a song of celebration, new life. “Call It A Day” is a little world-weary, BUT holds out for hope...so a bittersweet finale in my opinion!

David: This was another area where we worked hard at creating just the right mood. It was important to hear Peter turn off the radio, leave his home, escape to the beach and walk on the sand, which is where the album ends, and then begins again (with the radio turning back on).

EC: Finally, it must have been some editing job, inserting all the little song bits and themes in between the longer songs and the radio parts. It’s almost as if Peter Lacey has gone “modular”? Did you have to play around with themes much – or did you pretty much know where each part was going to go for the overall effect?

David: We tried four different variations of sequencing until we arrived at the final decision…It took a great deal of energy and time from each of us, but something as expressive and unique as this collection requires that level of scrutiny. Peter is a musical master, and I hope everyone gets turned on to Lacey Vision!

Peter: As I say we worked hard trying to slot the pieces together, things were changed or abandoned, but finally we arrived at something that seemed to work as a satisfying whole. And here I must thank Charlie Brennan my digital editor who knitted everything together to the point of frustration at times, but well worth the time and effort I think. Thank you Charlie!!

Past EAR CANDY articles about Peter Lacey:
Interview (June 2000)
Interview (August 2000)
Interview (October 2001)
Interview (May 2003)
The Importance of Peter Lacey (October 2003)
Interview (Aug 2005)
Interview (Sep 2009)