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Peter & the Wolf: A Life Without Dishes PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Wednesday, 26 September 2007 02:38

Peter & the Wolf Red Hunter thinks he's pretty good at the music business, which is why he's doing it all wrong.

"Wrong" in the sense that he's not following the established models. He wants to put out multiple records each year. He is refusing to send out copies of his new release, The Ivori Palms, to reviewers. He avoids conventional music venues. And he's not interested in playing material that doesn't reflect his current mindset.

That go-your-own-road philosophy extends to his life. In a phone interview last week, Hunter - who is, with whatever collaborators he's collected on a given day, Peter & the Wolf - said that he hasn't had a proper home for two years. When we talked, he was on his way to a car dealership, looking for a vehicle big enough that he could largely live out of - maybe a Honda Element. "I'm going to be a snail for a while, or a turtle," he said.

His brand of homelessness doesn't sound necessitated by destitution. He's a wandering spirit, more comfortable without the trappings of a house or apartment. "The further I get from it, the easier it gets," he said. "I can't even remember what that was like. I think about the dishes I owned, and I was thinking, ‘What was I doing with those dishes?'"

In his musical life, Hunter - who hails from Austin, Texas - has similarly divested himself of nonessential things.

"I guess what I don't like is the business that is set up by non-musicians who want to be around music," he said. "I think it's very unnecessary. And that goes almost as far as even reviews. For this record, The Ivori Palms, when people write me asking for copies for review, I have just decided not to answer them. ... That's my handmade art ... . What I get in return from sending it off to someone ... to judge on their first or second listening and then make that judgment public, I don't really think that it's worth it."

The album was recorded over the summer in a warehouse in Canada "that I could sort of squat in, live and work without much hassle because it was such a small town," he said.

Peter & the WolfPeter & the Wolf's first widely available release, Lightness (on the Worker's Institute label) was full of hushed, exhausted, haunted folk songs, with "Safe Travels" providing a dreamy, breezy respite. For The Ivori Palms, Hunter said he was looking for something approaching upbeat dance music - a style he compared to Motown a cappella. But "I had so many ideas that were still folk songs," and the album ended up a mix.

The Ivori Palms, he added, is a return "to the roots of demo-ing. I kind of just made it on an eight-track and took the songs ... and had those mastered. There was no elaborate mixing stage. ... So you're hearing essentially the first draft of songs, but rather than re-recording them, I'm just going to keep moving forward. ...

"It ties into my whole current take on being a musician," he continued, "which is that instead of putting out one record a year on a label, and having there be three to four months of setup time, and then the tour, and then back into the studio at the end of the year for the next record, I've decided to make maybe four records or so a year, and do them on my own, low-budget.

"The reason is because I write a lot more than I'm able to record at the rate that you would go in a studio situation on a record label. I write so much that by the end of the year, I really am pretty far away from the songs that I'd written a year ago. ... And to keep tapping into that state of mind night after night on tour is not genuine enough to be able to really stand behind it. I would much rather get in front of an audience and communicate with them what I'm going through that day, or at least that month ... ."

There's a philosophy behind whatever Hunter does, even when it appears that he's merely being difficult. He went on a sailboat tour of the East Coast last year, and once played a show on an island that could only be reached by canoe.

The goal was to get away from traditional music venues. "Now I'm kind of settling on a happy medium, which is not a show that requires every single member audience to be this adventurer that leaves town by bicycle to go to the map point and figure out where the show's going to be, but at the same time not in a venue where the sound guy hates you the minute you walk in the door. It's more like trying to find places run by artists themselves. Art galleries seem to work really well. A world away from the music business, essentially."

His unconventional approach includes an interest in selling fewer of his records. He's sold roughly 1,000 copies of The Ivori Palms. "I think I wanted to count the record in the hundreds, and it's more than I was prepared for," he said. "It's taking too long to make them all by hand. So I'm going to have to make less of the next one and sell them for more or something."

He plans to make up for the lack of sales volume by recording and releasing more material. "If I put enough of them out, I actually make my living that way," he said.


Peter & the Wolf will perform at 7 p.m. on Sunday, September 30, at Huckleberry's, 223 18th Street in Rock Island. Cover is $5.

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