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Peter Eldridge: A Lot of Other Stuff

By Published: August 27, 2007
AAJ: Your lyrics have always had topical messages, but somehow the word "bitch" doesn't appear anywhere.

PE: (much laughter) That's so funny you should say that, because just last night, my new song, "You Stupid Bitch"—I'm so excited about it!

AAJ: In my notes for this interview, I wrote: "Peter's lyrics intelligent, psychologically astute—examine things like the nature of fame, anxiety, ambition, living in the moment, therapy..."

PE: Um. A lot of therapy tunes.

AAJ: Definitely.

PE: I would bring them in and read lyrics to her, and sometimes she'd be like "Yeah, congratulations!" And other times it's "Hmm. Gotta work on that a little more." But so much came out of therapy.

AAJ: You could do a whole collection of therapy songs.

PE: The Therapy Cycle.

AAJ: I always liked "Caught Me on a Good Day:" "to hell with self-improvement/I'm laughing in the face of every fear."

PE: Some days you wake up, and life feels just bigger than you'll ever be able to cope with, and other days it's like, wow, I'm in control today. There's no real rhyme or reason for it, but you want to leave well enough alone: enjoy it, and not make too much out of it.

AAJ: Another favorite is "Full Grown Man on the Playground," which is about adults who still play childish games.

PE: That's about never growing up, even though you might be the head of a corporation or whatever.

AAJ: Then of course there's depersonalization, or lack of connection, which you address in "Postcards and Messages." [Note: all of these songs are on Peter's first solo CD, Fool No More, (Rosebud Records, 2000)]

PE: That was written after I was home for three days. I was nesting, trying to catch up on life after being on the road for the better part of six months. And by the third day I came to the crazy realization that I had not had any interaction with one person. I'd been sending stuff out, just this one-way form of communication, leaving messages, not speaking to anyone. What a crazy, weird thing—and I live in New York, where I'm surrounded by a zillion people. How could this be? How could I go three days without a single communication with anybody that's reciprocal? That's where that song came from.

AAJ: Did you just sit down and write it?

PE: That's a good question. I never just sit down and just write the lyrics, but the music... Like with "Difficult," I was watching a Richard Rodgers special on PBS—that American Masters thing—I was just completely jonesed by it.

AAJ: Jonesed?

PE: Excited, captivated, inspired. I went over to my keyboard in my apartment. It doesn't sound anything like a Richard Rodgers song, but it was inspired by him nonetheless. It was pretty much sitting down, and then it was done.

AAJ: That's a great tune ["Difficult" appears on Peter's second solo CD, Decorum (Reuben's Tunes, 2005)].

PE: Yeah, that one seems to be getting a lot of response. It's showing up in a lot of different places. I don't know how it evolved—bits and pieces of the melodic form came first. "Interesting Person" was also a sit-down-and-write-it kind of song. Some take forever. There's no rhyme or reason for that either. But you can tell when you're in a good place: there's freedom there, no outside disturbances or pressure to create a certain kind of piece. That's what still keeps me so excited about teaching at the Manhattan School [of Music]. My students say, "I just wrote this song because I felt like writing a song." The world hasn't told them "no!" yet. That's inspiring to me.

AAJ: What a gift, yes.

PE: I started teaching because I needed to have a secondary income from what the Voices were doing. I don't need it that much now, but I just love it; it keeps me excited and energized to hear what they're doing. There's nothing like it.

AAJ: One question: all different styles you've done—the range of things between the Voices, and doing Fred's [pianist/composer Fred Hersch] songs [at Lincoln Center], and then the solo stuff like Fool No More---all this brings me to the "unbinnable" thing. [Singer] Kate [McGarry] and I talked about the day when Tower Records had bins. She's an unbinnable artist, as are you. Are you pop, funk, jazz? All of the above? And your influences are also all over the place. I read somewhere that the first album you bought with your own money was Sly Stone.

Peter Eldridge / New York Voices / Paquito D'Rivera

PE: Their Greatest Hits (Epic, 1970) LP. I saved up my allowance and it was the very first LP I bought when I was a kid. I wanted that album more than anything in the world. And my grandmother told me I was going to hell.

AAJ: For what?

PE: For buying that music, I guess. Or something. I remember I was like five years old. To me, it was just such freedom, and life, and all the layers of stuff going on. It was so beautifully put together. I was completely in love with that music.

AAJ: At five?

PE: Yeah, even then.

AAJ: You do draw from a lot of different sources.

PE: If I had to pick my trilogy, it's Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan, and Stevie Wonder. And The Beatles, too. It doesn't get much better than that. I go all over the place. There's something I love to do that I know you do, too: make mixes for people.

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