Peter Lacey
By Ronnie

The promotion of Peter Lacey is truly a grass-roots effort. Never before had I heard so much hoopla about an album, which was not on a major label. But, this is the one case where I'm glad I did take notice and give the album a listen. I talked to Peter about the concept behind BEAM, the unfair comparisons to legendary albums and his recording hopes for the future.

E.C.: I first heard about BEAM on a Beach Boys/Smile message board. When I got the album, the only similarities to the Beach Boys seemed to be the use of vocal harmonies. In fact, I found your melodies (and horn/string arrangements) more reminiscent of Paul McCartney! In the liner notes of the CD, you say that your aspiration was to "take a dive into the inspirational pool of sound" of these songwriters. Did you simply want to invoke the spirit of these artists, to give the listeners something that is missing in today's music?

Peter: Well, I'm sure that for everyone, it's a question of interpretation. It has been amazing to receive such a diversity of perspectives on the songs!. There is a real patchwork of different thoughts depending on whose listening. And, by and large it becomes a "mix &match" affair for me, and all the richer for it. That said, there are some parameters needed, such as for instance when someone said I sang just like Bob Dylan(!) or that 'BEAM!' sounded nothing like the Beach Boys whatsoever!. Or, that it sounds exactly like someone I've never heard of!! But generally I've been most flattered by the comparisons, it's interesting because, even if you haven't heard of someone, it perhaps shows how we all fit into a greater musical community. From my viewpoint, connections to the Beach Boys and Paul McCartney are extremely relevant, as, invocations to their spirit was intended.

As for providing something missing in today's music, it's certainly not a responsibility I consciously undertook in anyway, I am always too busy taking care of the music itself to think of the 'bigger picture'. Actually I do worry about the 'condition' of pop sometimes I must say, but then again there's always been forms of 'shallow' music around, hasn't there? I just like to think that BEAM! fits into a genre and a legacy of pop that is meaningful in some way. That's all.

E.C.: Back to the Beach Boys Smile comparisons-the ONLY comparison I see to Smile is that BEAM opens with "Dawn Chorus", which is very similar to the Smile opening track, "Prayer". That seems to be where the comparison ends. I tend to hear more influences from the Beach Boys "Sunflower" album. How influenced were you by Smile or Sunflower?

Peter: Allusions to SMILE began with Domenic Priore's description in the sleeve notes to BEAM!. SMILE is in some sense, I think a modern myth, and as such it leaves people to add many meanings and significance's to it. In this light, Beam! has no link at all with this venerated 'album', and simply 'drowns' in close scrutiny. For my part, nothing that precise was meant. Domenic Priore was not making direct parallels either. But as I said, people will add their own significations.

And yes!, people have drawn comparisons with "Sunflower", "Surfs Up" "Holland", "Friends" and "Wild Honey"!, which is all very flattering, but also daunting that BEAM! should fit all these descriptions!. They are all albums I love, but I didn't deliberately set out to emulate any in particular. If anything, the intention was to 'dstil' the feeling I get in listening to lots of kinds of wonderful music, the feeling that gives you a positive sense of well-being even if the songs are sad. Brian Wilson is THE master of the art!. However, for me, the most flattering and incisive aspects of the reviews of BEAM! I have read is when people pick up on the identity BEAM! has for itself, not as something that's just a pastiche, or as 'sterile realism' to quote Domenic.

E.C.: I'd like to talk about the "concept" behind BEAM. Again, let me use a comparison to the 1967 unissued Beach Boys Smile album, which was called Brian's "teenage symphony to God". After many listens to BEAM, I came up with the comparison that this is Peter Lacey's "adult symphony to God." What I mean is that the album is more adult-theme oriented, with subjects such as: looking back on youth; the puzzlement and perplexities of life; relationships and love; the wonder of nature. In the liner notes, you give a hint of the concept of BEAM: "wherever you are, the metaphorical sun can always shine." Am I close to the mark here?

Peter: This opens the flood-gates Ronnie!. For my part, the songs are a quest to express my feelings, that hopefully others could relate to. It's me thinking through the medium of song. In this light 'BEAM!' might be a 'symphony to creativity' but even that sounds pompous to me, but it is a 'celebration of the aesthetic'. I see all artistic endeavor as a participation in magical thinking, where you attempt to make unusual connections, to see the world in a fresh light. There is the world you see and hear with your eyes and ears, and processes of seeing and hearing that don't involve either. The process involves fusing the elements of the inner and outer through metaphorical transformation in the hope of creating something new. (if that doesn't sound pretentious!- well you did ask Ronnie!) Anyway that's the impact a picture, a piece of music, a song has on me. BEAM! is my go. The 'simile of the sun' is a perfect expression for that quest I think, one of illumination.

E.C.: The only critiques of your album seemed to be people that get hung up on the Beach Boys Smile comparisons. Yet, your voice is neither reminescent of Brian Wilson or Paul McCartney. Is BEAM out-of-touch to what is currently going on in music? Or simply your attempt at a "listener friendly" album?

Peter: Well, others have said quite the opposite!-who am I to disagree!. As I said I think its unfortunate that BEAM! has been subsumed into the Smile culture, it doesn't belong in that specific area of interest. Also, direct comparison appear odious to me, I really didn't intend to be that blatant.

I'm sure BEAM! is 'out of touch' in some ways, it certainly doesn't fit the mainstream. But then there's a lot of music out there that doesn't, fortunately. All I know is that I was lucky to have the music championed by David Paramor (who was, incidentally a producer at EMI at Abbey Road in the 60's!) and that of respected writers who liked it enough to want to tell others.

E.C.: Your lyrics are not in the style of either Wilson or McCartney. They are more poetic and esoteric. Again, in the liner notes, you say that you are "more than happy for you, the listener, to gauge their meanings". Did you disguise things of a personal nature in your lyrics? Is there intentional ambiguity? I also pick up a lot of nature themes, is there a "new age" (I detect Druid-like themes in such songs as "Cathedral of Trees") underlying theme in some of your writing?

Peter: You are most perceptive Ronnie!. The listener's liberty to 'gauge meaning' is something we have already mentioned. I have my intentions, but any work that has 'gone public' will generate a myriad of different ideas for others. I'm just pre-empting that! I didn't disguise things personal as such- it is ALL very personal to me. I see it as my own participation in the activity of all creative people, writers, painters & musicians, that is to deliberately set out to mystify in the construction of imaginative, magical worlds. The reference to nature is fascinating. In the 'actual' world I live in the countryside, in Sussex, England, a place which has often been idealized by writers and poets. The highlight of this is the Sussex Downs, the hills, which have this gentle idyllic quality that is aesthetically pleasing for many. So, I see myself as part of that tradition in some respects, as this is my native soil. It's about belonging. Interestingly, historically speaking, Sussex was the last county in England to be held by paganism against Christianity. There is still, nearby in the town of Lewes, many pagan cults thriving, quite a melting pot of beliefs. It's a refreshing place as it doesn't suffer from the uniformity imposed on most places, not only has it resisted Christianity,- there no McDonald's there either!! But the nature theme for me is more solitary.I get my best ideas walking in the woods that my house is perched on the edge of, or walking the Downs. There is always this sense of entering into history on the one hand, and escaping it on the other in the present time and place. I have a song written for the 2nd album on this very theme!

'The Cathedral of Trees' is essentially about trying to capture that feeling you can attain sometimes in a 'communion with nature', that sense of being part of something bigger, which for some has religious meaning, or for me, as the hallmark of aesthetic experience.

E.C.: Your bio mentions your session work. Were you ever a regular member of a band?

Peter: Yes, I've just finished sessions on the new Clifford T Ward album. Clifford was at his height in the 1970's with wonderful songs such as 'Gaye' 'Wherewithal' and 'Skullery' and albums such as 'Home Thoughts from Abroad' and Mantle Pieces'. Great music. It was great also to be involved in the songs of a wonderful and highly respected singer/songwriter. Yes, I've played in many bands, everything from Funk to folk- the gamut!. My favorite times though have been in the groups 'Wave' and 'Loose Covers' singing with my best friends in four parts! That another sense of communion!.

E.C.: What were the pros/cons of using a porta-studio? Did your session work come in handy?

Peter: The portastudio is wonderful in so far as it liberates you from the constraints that time and money impose on you in professional studios. But as all 'owners' know there are constraints involved in 4 tracks!. It was good for me to create BEAM! at home despite these parameters and lack of technological hardware, because, at least artistically, I had time, space and 'control' over everything. The session work always comes in handy, because you are forced to 'think on your toes'. If someone is paying you to come up with good ideas, you have to produce them, otherwise you don't get invited back!. Inventiveness on tap!! That pressure was absent during the recording of BEAM! - I think you can tell(?). What I missed was the sonic possibilities of 'State of the Art' studio technology. But I wouldn't take it back! If BEAM! makes adequate funds, I 'd like to utilize some superior recording resources for the "2nd album , whilst keeping the circumstances conducive to creativity!.

E.C.: How long has BEAM been in the planning stage? I was just curious as to how long you have been writing songs? Did you have a backlog of songs to choose from?

Peter: BEAM! as a project started 2 years ago, there was no backlog of songs as such. I wanted to create a conceptual whole, - a collection of songs that would capture something redolent of the music I love. The Beach Boys musical ethos comes easy to me, so I followed the muse, and soon had a clutch of 18 songs, quite naturally. In contrast if someone asked me to write a song for Britney Spears, it's not that I couldn't, but it would to my ears sound forced!

The nice thing about writing BEAM! was it was something of an organic process, whereby everything grew and developed well with a little tending. The songs emerged in easy succession, and on a roll, I could almost hear what the next one should be at the point of finishing the one before! The recording took longer than the writing. But I only saw it as part of an emerging idea. I thought I was making demos originally anyway, It was David Paramor's belief in the sound that makes it available to all on CD. But David was right, the majority of feedback is most positive, the use of the analogue portastudio gives this album a 'warmth' to some, a good feeling. It's a victory for all home recording buffs.

E.C.: What are your ultimate goals, musically? To be on a major label? To produce more solo albums?

Peter: My goal is to write and record the 2nd album, which I'm in the process of doing at present. I continue to follow the same muse. I don't have any ultimate goals as such, as the music business is fickle. My hope is that we can get the album out in early 2001 to all those people who have enjoyed BEAM! - that would be great. The thing is, it would be great to get a major deal of course, but it may never happen. I'm happy anyway, I have never measured success in term of 'outward recognition', of course its all very wonderful, but I think it's misguided to measure 'making it' in those terms, surely success is what happens in the writing of a good songs, and there are many out there we may never hear, but it doesn't make them any less wonderful and therefore successful in themselves. I'm just grateful to have had the belief of some good people at this time who have championed 'BEAM!', if we can do it all again, it will spell a double joy for me.

Click here to visit the official Peter Lacey website