Peter Searcy Interview (05/20/04)
By Sean Koepenick

Peter Searcy has been making music for quite a long time. Almost immediately he gained critical acclaim singing with the thrash pop of Louisville, Kentucky’s Squirrel Bait. Most of the band members were about 15 years old at the time, which made the unbridled ferocity of songs like “Sun God” and “Choose Yr Poison” seem even more amazing. Musicians like Bob Mould and Evan Dando praised the band in print and even Spin magazine stated that Peter Searcy has “the best voice in rock and roll next to Paul Westerberg.” But by 1988 and just two releases, Squirrel Bait was history.

Searcy quickly formed a new group called Big Wheel. While more melodic than his previous outfit, the trademark vocals were still at the forefront. But a new found maturity began to show in the songwriting department. “Walking Song” and “Daddy’s At The Wheel” deserved to be big hits. Big Wheel left an impressive output of 3 solid records before disbanding in 1993.

From the ashes of Big Wheel rose Starbilly. Starbilly was a return for Searcy to a sprawling two guitar sound and tracks like “Unmistakable Tick” and “Heather” rocked as Searcy’s lyrics burned brightly above the din. Even on a cover of Husker Du’s “Diane”, Searcy was able to grab the song and make it his own. But Starbilly was also relatively short-lived and in 1999, Searcy decided to take the solo route.

2000 saw the release of Could You Please And Thank You, where on the strength of the single “Losing Light Fast”, the record did very well. Touring followed, but the momentum of that record was diminished when the record label began to experience some financial problems. Undeterred, Searcy continued writing and in 2004, his patient fans were rewarded with two releases-Couch Songs an all acoustic effort recorded almost entirely in his home studio and Trust Falls, a full on band effort that for now is being sold only at shows. Pick them both up if you can to experience a fantastic singer, songwriter and performer who is sure to break out into a much larger spotlight once the masses hear these great new records. Peter Searcy was gracious enough to discuss his musical career with us and his plans for the future.

E.C.: How and when did you first get involved with music?

Peter Searcy: I started out playing violin when I was six. I played it until I was about ten. I took up cello after that and still play to this day. My grandmother played piano for the old silent movies. Music was an every day part of her life. She was the person who I credit for turning me on to music. This is all her fault.

E.C.: Was Squirrel Bait your first band?

Peter Searcy: No, I had a really bad new wave band when I was fourteen. We were called “Introduction To Dance.” I think we called ourselves that so we could go by the initials “ITD.” I wore a beret. I think that says it all.

E.C.: Looking back on it now, how would you describe the experience of being in Squirrel Bait?

Peter Searcy: Quick, fun, innocent. Kind of like a first kiss only with a lot of music critics watching.

E.C.: What song are you most proud of having created with that band?

Peter Searcy: It has been so long, wow, I guess I would have to say “Kid Dynamite.”

E.C.: Do you have a gig from that time period that was your favorite?

Peter Searcy: Playing with Husker Du on their “New Day Rising” tour. They are one of my all time favorite bands.

E.C.: With a lot of punk/underground bands that were under appreciated when they first started out now giving it a second go round, could you foresee any situation where Squirrel Bait could record and/or play again?

Peter Searcy: Not really. I could see making music again with members of the band but not under any kind of reunion thing.

E.C.: What type of artists/bands were you influenced by when you first started playing music?

Peter Searcy: Huskers, Minutemen, Beatles, Stones, Minor Threat, Misfits, Byrds.

E.C.: Big Wheel was your next band after Squirrel Bait. What record with them are you most happy with?

Peter Searcy: The first album. I wish that I could compile one Big Wheel album out of the three. We didn’t do very much self-editing which I think we could have used.

E.C.: Do you have any favorite shows with Big Wheel?

Peter Searcy: Playing with Big Star when they reunited.

E.C.: What record with Big Wheel was the most rewarding for you to create?

Peter Searcy: “Slowtown.” That was the first time I got a chance to work with a good producer. It was great to have someone other than a band member to bounce ideas off of.

E.C.: Why did Starbilly only last for one album?

Peter Searcy: We ended up lasting for a couple of years. We toured a lot, which cut into the time we would have been recording.

E.C.: With three solo records under your belt do you feel that you have established yourself as a solo performer?

Peter Searcy: Yeah, sure. But that in no way means that I wouldn’t be into working with another artist on a project. There’s nothing in the world that compares to that “all for one” feeling that goes on within a band. At the same time, if I’m writing the words, music and putting my heart into it, it might as well be a solo project.

E.C.: Where did the idea to record “Couch Songs” by yourself come from?

Peter Searcy: “Couch Songs” came out of demos. I was recording a lot in my basement, just acoustic guitars and vocals. I’ve played cello ever since I was a kid. One evening I laid a cello part on top of one of the demo’s I had recorded. With just a few tracks the songs sounded complete to me. We just took it from there, guitar, vocal, cello and some piano. It was an effort just to keep it simple.

E.C.: Why did you decide to release “Trust Falls” at about the same time?

Peter Searcy: “Trust Falls” hasn’t been officially released yet. I’ve been selling it at shows. We are still trying to find a good and loving home.

E.C.: What has been the most memorable solo gig for you?

Peter Searcy: Playing on the Austin City Limits stage during SXSW. That place is a shrine to music.

E.C.: What’s the largest audience you have ever performed for?

Peter Searcy: 20,000 or so at Music Midtown in Atlanta.

E.C.: If you could collaborate/write a song with any artist tomorrow-who would it be?

Peter Searcy: Neil Finn from Crowded House is a fine, fine writer. I also like some of the designers from “Trading Spaces.”

E.C.: What new music have you been impressed with lately?

Peter Searcy: I like the Twilight Singers stuff quite a bit. I like Black Cross from Louisville. I’m all over the board. I’m looking forward to a new Fiona Apple album. She’s a great loose cannon.

E.C.: Is there any band that you would love to share a double bill with?

Peter Searcy: So many. Off the top of my head I would have to say Lillax, the girl band that does eye commercials. You know that they’ve slugged it out in a van for years living off Hot Pockets and Diet Coke.

E.C.: What would you like to accomplish next in your musical career?

Peter Searcy: I like guitars. I would have liked to have started playing guitar on stage sooner. I didn’t start playing live until I did the solo thing.

E.C.: What do you do for fun when you’re not writing songs?

Peter Searcy: I love watching basketball, playing tennis, video games, and walking my greyhound. I’m a geek. I like to travel when I can. My soon to be wife is a great travel partner. We have a lot of fun together.

Peter Searcy Selected Discography-

Squirrel Bait - S/T EP -Homestead Records-1985
Squirrel Bait - Skag Heaven - Homestead Records-1987 (Both re-released by Drag City/Dexter’s Cigar imprint-1996)
Big Wheel - East End - Giant/Rockville Records-1989
Big Wheel - Holiday Manor - Mammoth Records-1992
Big Wheel - Slowtown - Mammoth Records-1993
Starbilly - With Loving Care EP - Independent Release-1994
Starbilly - Master Vibrator - Buzz Records-1995
Peter Searcy - Could You Please And Thank You - Time Bomb Recordings-2000
Peter Searcy - Couch Songs - Initial Records-2004
Peter Searcy - Trust Falls - Independent Release-2004