An Interview with Peter Lacey (February 2005)
By John Lane
(August, 2005 questions by Ronnie)


Peter Lacey's "Songs From A loft" will see an official release date on Monday, the 8th of August. So, we've decided to re-run the February 2005 Peter Lacey interview, along with a couple of new questions.

E.C.: My first question for you (as always, ha ha) is: when are we going to get a new release from you? I know this might be a little premature.

Peter Lacey: I'm deep into recording album 5 as we speak. I'm looking for even more of an eclectic collection than SFAL. It's sounding good so far to me! As an independent label, Pink Hedgehog can't easily call the shots as far as release and distribution goes, but I'm hoping for a release in 2006 all being well.

E.C.: Do you constantly write new material, or do you take "breaks" between releases?

Peter Lacey: I constantly dream up songs and have a tresure chest of doodles to access (as a result of miss-spent teenage years some would say,- my mum in particular). There are breaks, but these are caused by other things taking precedence, the real world in a nut-shell!. Nevertheless, my dreaming returns at anytime.

E.C.: Looking over your past work, how do YOU think you've grown as an artist?

Peter Lacey: Well Ronnie, BEAM! was an experiment, just to see if I could make a decent noise on a 4 track studio and nothing has changed in that respect, except I think I get better at handling the limitations imposed by the gear. As a songwriter I hope I've grown by virtue of attempting to write in a variety of different styles. But, the main measure of my progress has been the encouragement I've received from lots of good people, (Ronnie Dannelley - stand up!) such encouragement inspires me to keep trying and improving my music.

E.C.: Will you take any great departures from you work in the future, such as an 'acoustic' album? Or do you just go with your instinct?

Peter Lacey: I really don't have an agenda, I just go along with the flow and then formalise the outcome once I've enough songs to make into an album. You can't force these things!. I'll do the "Unplugged" when I've run out of new ideas and a "Greatest Hit" cd once I've had one!. Seriously Ronnie, I don't want to become too contrived!.

E.C.: Finally, what are the aspirations for you as an artist? If the sky was the limit, and you could change anything, would you?

Peter Lacey: If the sky were the limit I'd like to borrow McCartney's valve-run recording gear from the 60's and record on that. I'd like independent labels like Pink Hedgehog to have as much clout as the heavy industry companies and allow the vast array of creative music out there the attention it deserves in contrast to the sausage factory conveyor belt sounds that dominate the media. Otherwise, I'm quite happy, I really think success lies in being creative.


On the heels of the new release of Peter Lacey’s 4th album “Songs from a Loft”, the artist was gracious enough to consent to an interview. Herein Lacey offers a never-before-discussed peek into his creative process, his surroundings, and the background on each song. Fans and newcomers alike should discover a richer portrait of the artist that is Peter Lacey.

I. Background to Present

E.C.: Through press releases and previous in-depth interviews, we’ve gotten the thumbnail sketch of the precocious English boy whose love of music had roots in an almost idyllic spring – speaking specifically of those stories of you sneaking into the school’s music room, the near-epiphany of witnessing your father’s reaction to hearing “Eleanor Rigby”, and your session work. Let’s go a little bit beyond those experiences. What was your formative, first-band experience like? (You know the well-worn adage, “You never forget your first.”)

Peter Lacey: My very first band experience was in Secondary School. I must have been about thirteen and I was the youngest in the group. I remember we had the opportunity to play at the school concert and our set list comprised 3 and a half songs, the "highlight" being Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Of Love" the simple riff of which I had just got the hang of. At the School concert we were placed as the penultimate act before the Headmaster finished the show with his beloved Brass Band. I remember being very nervous but also very pleased by the opportunity to play at a relatively loud volume on a stage!. Two vivid memories remain for me of the show, firstly, my Dad who was in the audience went out during our performance and was violently sick (which was a bug he had and not as I thought because of the music). Secondly when our last distorted chord evaporated and the audience minus Dad gave some applause the Headmaster strode on to the stage with black cape and Brass Band in tow with a look of thunder on his face, (he'd sent me home to get my hair cut the previous week) his distain for our contribution was evident and he whispered to our leader these indelible words "Never Again!". He was right. He then turned to the audience and said, "And now back to reality"....picked up his baton and launched the brass band into "On Ilkley Moor Bar T'at". Happy days.

E.C.: Somewhere on the internet, there exists a chat in which you allude to a younger, wilder Lacey accosting one of your music heroes after a show. Was there a Peter-Lacey-as-wild-and-wooly-rocker part of your life that your fans never knew about? I realize we often shed our earliest influences, but were there things you listened to, music-wise, that might shock some of your fans?

Peter Lacey: I don't really think I've listened and liked any music that would shock anyone!- I like to think I've got a broad musical taste, but I couldn't find enough harmonic interest in Punk music for sure, and the lack of melody in Rap. I like a touch of the 12 tone series and that's as radical as I get. Conceptually I like the manifesto of the Avante Garde, but can't listen to much of it. Give me Nat King Cole any day of the week.

E.C.: If you had to point to one record in your budding years as the one that gave you pause for thought – the one that made you feel a sense of urgency and commitment about your own craft – what was that record, and why?

Peter Lacey: I'd really have to compile a long list of records that galvanized me into playing, but in the simplest sense, it would be The Beatles, "Please Please Me" because it was my introduction to pop and I just marveled at how they managed to play their instruments and sing at the same time. I remember thinking, "I'd love to do that! -I must find out how they do it!”

E.C.: By the time you arrived at Beam! , how would you describe yourself and your journey (which I leave purposefully open-ended to your taste) to that point? Obviously the same experiences that nurtured and informed Beam! are not necessarily going to be the exact same that led to your most recent work.

Peter Lacey: The "journey" from Beam! to SFAL has been one of such richness for me, it was a real struggle to begin with, grappling with my 4 track portastudio, but I was determined to get a half-decent sound together. I had and have this open ended vision of creating collections of songs that would attempt to express how I feel about things in a poetic but real way, in the time honoured tradition of singer/songwriters such as Joni Mitchell and Dylan, You gotta have yer mentors.

E.C.: You’ve no doubt discovered that whenever you release an album, it invites comparisons to legends. (I’ve been guilty of inflicting that upon you as well.) Do you ever find yourself trying to distance yourself purposefully from the same comparisons that keep surfacing? Do you ever find yourself a little annoyed, or are you overall flattered? This is a fine line here that I’m asking you to tread, because obviously people don’t invoke these comparisons to denigrate your work; they’re meant as praise. But still…

Peter Lacey: As far as being compared to legends goes even in the positive light of praise, I find it difficult to relate to what's said, I personally think greatness is something you confer on others and if you believe it about yourself you are in trouble!. Don't hang on to your ego is my advice. Truth is, I have absorbed musical influences from people who I admire, if people like what I do then I'm very pleased.

E.C.: In terms of the amorphous ‘music industry’ – with its numerous tiers ranging from Mt. Olympus-Beatley heights to the more humble but recognizable levels of XTC, The High Llamas, and Prefab Sprout – do you find yourself detached from the big picture, such as it is? Are there ever moments where you quite honestly find yourself looking over your shoulder? And if so, what are your thoughts? I guess I’m asking you to speak to the ebb and flow of so-called movements, and how you find yourself buoyed along in the midst of everything that’s being flung out there? There’s something ‘stubborn’ about your work, which I think is an attractive quality. Do you find yourself writing any music ‘in reaction to’ something, or to go against a particular grain?

Peter Lacey: As far as being detached from the big picture goes, I think I'm confined to creating a minority music for a minority. Many indie artists are in the same boat. I do sometimes think If I'd be active back in the late sixties, early seventies things might have been different. I'm truly proud and lucky to be able to put out my music through a small but mighty indie record company and to make music that isn't a slave to fashion or fad, its about being centred on the music not about stoking the pop machine.(thanks Joni!) Maybe that's the stubbornness you detect, John!

Above: Artwork by Kathy Baker

II. The Creative Process: The Birth of a Song

E.C.: I think musicians and non-musicians alike would find it interesting to know how the process works for you, from germ to germination! How does it all start for you, Peter? Is it the stray note of paper that you tuck in your wallet, or do you have a tape recorder that you carry around? Where and when do the first inklings make their imprint?

Peter Lacey: I used to work with bits of paper and a dictaphone, but it was always on the level of some anxiety. As time has gone on I've learnt to relax and let things happen. I've been lucky to have cultivated a good memory for words and sounds. So for example most of the songs for SFAL were written in my head, relatively well realised before I touched an instrument. I wrote Sandman (Of The Southern Shores) on holiday in the north of and England the words and tune together while driving the car and going on walks. I visualised the appropriate chord changes and it was only on my return home that I tried it out and with a few adjustments had the song in the bag. As they said at my school, "practice makes prefect". By and large that's how I get songs these days. I get the ideas first and entertain them in my head and then apply and check the ideas at the keyboard, works a treat and saves doodling for endless hours, sometimes with nothing to show for it!. Time is precious.

E.C.: Are you of the school that assembles a batch of demos and then proceeds into album-making terrain, or do you flesh each song out in its own time along the way? Are all of your demos fully-realized songs, or do you find yourself sometimes melding a part of one song into another to form the completed song?

Peter Lacey: I don't make demo recordings as such either now, (truth is John, I always think of the albums as demos!). These days, I record a song once it's structure is clearly worked out. I used to spend more time dreaming of songs (Lowell George - thank you) than making them. As you say John, I then flesh out the tunes with the sounds I think fit, and that is a process of constantly trying things out until I know its right, like a painter trying out different colours. Soundwise the direction the songs take is dependent on those decisions and that's the joy of the creative process, you launch out into new territory making the map up as you go!

E.C.: Fans of your work will note the long-time presence of your apparent right-hand man/confidante/pal Jon Fielder. I’m wondering if you could speak to a couple points: (1) What are the circumstances/origins of your friendship/collaboration? (2) Regarding his placement on your albums – at what point do you find yourself needing the Fielder touch, and how would you define it?

Peter Lacey: Jon Fielder is a long time good friend and a trained musician, a strong ally over the years. We have both benefited from our musical liaisons. We have played in lots of bands together and recorded together for many years. I think of him as a kind of George Martin because he can bring clear formal musical knowledge to bear on matters, and as an entirely self taught jungle musician I've learnt a lot from him. He is also a superb keyboard player who can play great improvisations at the drop of a hat. So, when I needed his dexterity for such songs as The Finishing Touch (listen to the beautiful piano figure he contributes) or the organ solo on Lo Fi-Hi Fly...speaks for itself. He also is a dab hand as an arranger and scores for strings, so Ellen Street and The Old Haunt are entirely enhanced by his skills.

E.C.: When do you ‘know’ that you’ve reached completion of an album? I realize I’m asking you to pinpoint a sometimes-indefinable, intuitive sense – but give it a go!

Peter Lacey: I know I've finished an album when I sense I've got a balance between the songs and I've got to say what I wanted lyrically. In this cerebral process I mentioned I sense the moods I want to convey and then attempt to make it so. In the early days it was all so erratic,- touch and go, but you most certainly get better through persistence.

E.C.: You might already be aware of this, but a Playboy interviewer once asked Lennon for a blow-by-blow account of most of The Beatle songs – which I found fascinating. I’m wondering if you might indulge us all with a few brief thoughts on each song from the new album – exposing a bit of the forethought behind them, where they were coming from (e.g. did the song come from a simple, innocuous scrap of an idea OR was the song born of something much bigger, weightier than the naïve listener could suspect?).

Peter Lacey: With SFAL I knew about half way through what mood the album would take, I envisaged the front cover, the lone humming bird against the moon and the back cover of the bird drinking nectar from the sun that became the mnemonic as it were. I like to think it explores the extremes of happiness and despair. That's all I can say, because then the listener takes over.

My take on the tracks in brief are:

Sandman (Of The Southern Shores) - It's me inviting the listener over to Sussex and I'm taking you sight-seeing over the landscape and into my world. The Sound effect were recorded with a Marantz reporter's cassette machine at The Seven Sisters Country Park by the cliffs and seashore. Strange tidings I bring.

More Than Wonderful - A song for a child very close to me who has a heart untainted by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. The song is a wish to keep it that way.

The Saddest Night (In The World) - I wanted to try and capture what it feels like to be lonely and alone.

Sunrise - Corny and contrived as this sounds, I wanted to capture what it feels like to be together with someone you really love.

Curios - This one quite deliberately evades definition, but its partly about the fact that time like a Tsunami wave takes everything with it.

The Outermost Inn - takes you on a journey to a hostelry at the nearest faraway place. Sound as A Bell - about life being both precious and volatile all at the same time.

Orient Tear - Is partly based on a Japanese musical scale and its sentiment is what the Japanese (as I understand it) call, "mono no aware" meaning a feeling of gentle sadness at the passing of time.

River Round - is a tune I began singing whilst following the serpentine little river that runs near our house with my kids. It started as a nursery rhyme we all sang. It then turned into a celebration of the rural through the seasons.

Wally Thomas - Is my all time hero. I worked at St Dunstans, a home for those blinded in World War 1 and 2. Wally had been in bomb disposal and one went off whilst they were dismantling it. It left him totally deaf and blind, but, over time to become a man of great strength, humour and wisdom. He loved music and despite not having heard for over forty years then, raved about it like there was no tomorrow. He would come to the concerts we put on and I'd do a spot with a guitar,-a few Beatle tunes,- he would come down to these events and sit at the back, when he sensed people clapping to my efforts he would join in heartily, which he meant partly as a joke and out of some sincere support for me. I could talk about him forever. I've never met anyone of the same magnitude.

The Finishing Touch - is my concern with political and miltary power, destruction is anathema to me.

Lo-Fi-Hi-Fly - celebrates the tenor of the album and my quest in general, keep slaving over a hot portastudio trying to turn base metal into gold or something like that. Its punk veneer owes much to my first band experiences where everyone wanted to play with Hendrix wild abandonment which I still do in the covers band I'm in with Jon F.

The Old Haunt - difficult to talk about, but its about having to say goodbye to significant people you can't live with and have to live without.

The Garden Of Sleep - in the sanctuary of your own bed and head, where the problematic world is temporarily of no concern.

To Summer Eyes - a ditty to end the album and a lyric about getting wiser as you get older. It's also a homage to my muse.

E.C.: A hallmark of every Lacey album is the gravity of your lyrics. At the risk of asking a potentially loaded question: what informs/balances this batch of songs that maybe didn’t appear previously in other albums? Perhaps this is too self-conscious of a question for you to answer – but what I’m getting at is, the ‘architecture’ of Loft’s structure is different from anything before it.

Peter Lacey: I honestly didn't think of the album as a different direction. I only wanted to keep the music fresh by not letting things become perfunctory.

E.C.: Almost at the end here: unfortunately, most of your fans can’t take a tour to West Sussex and pay homage to the site where you’ve created all of these wonderful songs – but could you give us a kind of sketch of the Loft itself? What’s the ambience of your recording space like? Are there little, idiosyncratic things that you have in the room which give you comfort (e.g. the walls of my friend’s studio mixing booth are lined with postcards/cards from friends and family)? How has the environment changed from Beam! to Songs from a Loft? I guess I’m asking for a virtual tour, Peter!

Peter Lacey: Where we live in West Sussex is on the edge of a relatively small town where it's a stone's throw into the woods around. There's a lot of green here, the perfect antidote to the city. It reminds me of where I grew up in Hangleton, Hove, ( funnily enough, McCartney resides in Hove at this present time) There's easy access to the Downs and the great sense of freedom these hills provide.

This last autumn the builders came and changed the structure of our house; the loft is now partly ready to become rooms in the roof. I have the equipment set up now next to a velux window which means in the summer I can get some fresh air. I now have vistas to the Sussex Downs. Over time the space will be turned into proper rooms and the loft will no longer exist. Gone will be the summer days when I almost barbequed up there and winters when I had icicles hanging from my nose. Prior to the conversion, the loft where I recorded all my Pink Hedgehog output was a corner of the attic with loft boards covered in a bit of old carpet. It's a very dry sound up there so things are captured clearly. Equipment wise, nothing has changed since BEAM! - I've got the portastudio and the AKAI 4000DS reel to reel. I still use the Maplin echo/reverb unit, my digital guitar and Roland Juno. It's dead simple but I think it works. I have a 1 bit mini-disc recorder for mastering. All my friends are now going entirely digital, but that stubborn streak won't let go of me!

I've a few possessions up there. I've got a green man mask up and a Victorian photo-realist painting of some beech trees, and a black and white picture of Kathleen which inspired Kathy in Chiaroscuro, (sister to the girl from Ipanema). It's just a loft, but a place always set up for using away from all the activities that go on in the house.

E.C.: Lastly, if you are comfortable, your fans will want to know a little more about this ‘Kathleen’ that places so prominently in all of your albums. Who is this muse (your wife no doubt)?

Peter Lacey: And of course Kathleen is the best of muses because she supports what I do and likes the music to boot! She also does my art-work for the albums and makes concrete the whacky visual ideas that pop into my mind. Who needs an imaginary muse when you've got a real one at home.

E.C.: Thank for taking the time in answering these left-of-field questions, Peter.

Peter Lacey: Thanks John.

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)

Peter Lacey websites:
Songs From A Loft Website
Peter at the Pink Hedgehog website
Positively Beamin'- The official Peter Lacey fan club
A site about Peter's first album, BEAM!