Peter Matthew Bauer on Flowers' newfound lead fluidity, and transmogrifying hardcore into ska
Photo by Charlie Anastasis
BY GREGORY ADAMS
Peter Matthew Bauer has entered his guitar hero phase. For proof, take the onetime Walkmen bassist/organist’s upcoming third solo album, Flowers, which finds him embracing the freeing, fleet-fingered approach of Tuareg blues players like Mdou Moctar. The move even surprised Pete, who hadn’t previously considered getting this expressively extravagant on a project.
“Somewhere along the way, I realized I had never really taken a guitar solo in all the years I’ve played music,” Peter had previously said in a press statement. “I became obsessed with figuring out a way to do so while also still moving the songs along. Now that I’ve started, I’m not sure how I’ll stop.”
It’s fair to say, then, that Flowers is overflowing with a previously unheard fluidity. Tracks like “Knife Fighter,” “Flowers,” and “East” are fit with hypnotically billowing hammer-on leads, but “Skulls,” in particular, goes hard with a pair of minute-plus solos. Blessedly, those extended sections come across as overjoyed, not overdone.
“What defined the songs was the ability to have fun guitar parts,” he tells Gut Feeling of making Flowers, adding of how lead flourishes shook up his guitar style, “It’s a lot less utilitarian.”
Speaking with Gut Feeling from his basement studio in L.A., Peter further explained his swerve to soloing, an equally awe-inspiring pivot to rocksteady rhythms on the album’s latest single, “21st Century Station,” and how his songbook could get extra metal further down the line.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
It’s not like Flowers is a shred guitar album, but there is a pronounced focus on this rippling, fluid lead style throughout the record.
Peter Matthew Bauer: I’m definitely trying to shred; it’s as close to shredding as I’ve ever gotten. It was the first time I even considered taking on a guitar solo, trying to make it hot shit versus just some notes.
What were your thoughts on guitar solos prior to discovering this part of yourself?
Well…there weren’t that many that I was in love with. [Royal Trux’s] Neil Hagerty has always been a huge influence, and he takes on a lot of guitar solos, but that wasn’t what I liked about him. I liked it, but that was more of an aside.
Did it take a while to figure out how to lay things down in a new style? Like, where did this all come from?
There were a bunch of different places. What you can hear the most is Mdou Moctar. Just hearing his latest record [2021’s Afrique Victime]…there’s something so great about the way he and his band play, very inspiring. It was one of several doorways to figuring this out. In the end, I don’t think I sound like him at all — at least I was trying not to — but the way he does the hammer-on style of Tuareg guitar playing stuck with me.
At the same time, [there was] Jimi Hendrix. You know, it’s 2022, and obviously everyone’s heard every Jimi Hendrix song a million times, but you sort of forget about it. It’s hard to be like “Ah, I can’t wait to listen to Jimi Hendrix,” but then you’ll go through a phase [and become inspired]. So that was also a big influence. I got it in my blood that I wanted to do guitar solos, and that’s why!
Can we get into the “Skulls” solo, in particular? The first of those solos is paradoxically both spacious and crammed, at least through the way you’re parsing out those compact hammer-on sequences.
I’m just trying to play as fast as I can. I have a ’57 Gretsch Corvette but it’s like driving a truck compared to most guitars, as far as speed goes. That’s the fastest I can play on that; [it’s] the only electric guitar I own.
In the lead up to “Skulls,” you made mention that this song was the first time you’d really used a distortion pedal. First off, what’s that fuzz coming from?
It was a fake Ibanez Tube Screamer, a plugin. All the guitar [tones] are fake; there’s no amps. I’m pretty good at using Universal Audio to make things sound like they’re not fake. It’s a Tube Screamer [plugin], and then sometimes I have a tape delay.
Being that you’re working behind the scenes as the manager of noisier bands like Starcrawler, did you get any tips from them on how to fuzz it up?
Not until a lot later. Henri [Cash] from Starcrawler is definitely an up-and-coming guitar god, and he plays in my band — both he and Tim [Franco] from Starcrawler, [and also] Charlie [Anastasis] and Maxx [Morando] from this other band, Liily. They’re all heavy pedal dudes, [but] I’ve never had a pedal in my whole life. I’ve only had a cord and a guitar amp, and I crank it up. Volume on ten; treble on 10; bass on 0…maybe reverb on 10.
Henri built me a pedal board, which was really sweet of him. I have a Tube Screamer, this JHS distortion pedal, [and] a delay pedal. The whole thing is mapped so I can do all these different things with acoustic and electric guitar. It’s infinitely more fun. You can turn two distortion pedals on at once and blow the doors off the place. It’s awesome!
What else is part of your live set-up?
I just play that Gretsch, and I have a Princeton Amp. I have a weird acoustic, a Harmony Sovereign that I used to play all the time, but I put a hole through it.
How did you do that?
Just general neglect, I think [laughs]. Everything I own has had a pretty hard life.
Different tangent, but the organ work at the front of “Skulls” has a bit of that swirling, Walkmen feel to the way it oscillates [ed. that band's Matthew Barrick also drums on much of Flowers]. I’d spoken with Walter [Martin] a couple of years ago about his old Walkmen/Jonathan Fire*Eater Vox Continental, which he said was held together with tape. You’re playing a Fafisa organ on this, though, right?
Walt has the best Continental ever. It’s the one with wooden keys. It’s a dream, that thing, but it looks like it was bombed in a war.
Continentals are so expensive now. It’s hard to be like, “Oh, I’m going to buy a really nice Continental for $3,500.” That’s a lot to ask of yourself, so I use a lot of fake Continental on this record. You can get a good sound with a synth. I can use a fake Farfisa; that’s fine.
But, also, I have a Farfisa FAST 3 here, and I also have this Hammond S6. I know this kid Desi in L.A. that got really into compact organs and transistor organs, and he started futzing around with them. This one is usually in a big cabinet, but he chopped it up. It still weighs 800 pounds, for some reason. It’s total immobile.
Can we get into “21st Century Station”? It’s a unique piece on the album, with that classic rocksteady feel…
It started out many years ago as a hardcore song. I got really into No Age and [their guitarist] Randy Randall. I was really into the way he plays: slightly hardcore, but with surprising changes. I had this demo of a song that sort of sounded like No Age. Maybe a little too much like No Age, so I scrapped it.
I was looking for a different way to do it [during the making of Flowers], and I really like old '60s ska music, so it was like, “OK, let’s fuck around until it’s fun to play [in this style].”
The idea for the song is to be the last song you hear on the radio. I was picturing a nightclub, people listening to a song and having a great time at the end of the world…but there’s a mob in the street, and everything is going horribly wrong. The song is [still] supposed to be a wonderful kind of club jam.
Going back to managing, earlier this month you were posting Instagram vids from Psycho Las Vegas, where Starcrawler were playing a metal & punk pool party in a casino. How did that go?
It was so hot; you just wouldn’t believe. They had a good time, though. They jumped in the pool mid-set. Eyehategod played at the pool, too. I didn’t really know them, but they were great. They were just these New Orleans weirdos; they were fantastic.
There were a bunch of bands I really liked. I saw Blood Incantation; I loved that. And I saw my friend Ryan’s band, Warthog — he plays drums. Warthog was just awesome. So cool.
Similar to how “21st Century Station” started out as a hardcore song, you think you’ll have some metal running through your blood for your next songwriting session?
I’m really into doom metal now. I think I can play Electric Wizard-style...I don’t know what I would do with it, but it sounds a lot more fun than, you know, indie rock. When you go to the Warthog show, it’s like...why can’t everything be like this? Like, life in general? Everyone’s smashing each other relentlessly. It's great!
I will say, you know what’s really interesting? You ever hear Këkht Aräkh? I think he’s Ukrainian, or from Poland. My son played me this blackgaze music — it’s black metal, but then there’s just a pile of reverb over the whole thing. [Everything sounds] so far away that it’s kind of ambiently nice. It’s not ambient music, though. There are drums going, but it’s a mile and a half away [in the mix].
I don’t know…there’s something fun about that idea; you can play guitar in a fun way in metal. I used to be able to do that when I was 13, like play Kirk Hammett-style riffs. I don’t remember how to do it, but I’m going to [figure it out] again and see what I can come up with.
You could shred when you were 13?
I went to a guitar camp when I was a kid. Back then I liked metal music, [but] then I met the Walkmen guys in high school and we [listened to] the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Nothing metal at all.
You’ve eased yourself back into a kind of soloing for Flowers. By album four you’re going to be Steve Vai-ing that shit.
Well, I know all these metal guys now. Let’s do this!
Peter Matthew Bauer's Flowers is out September 23 through his own Fortune Tellers imprint. You can pre-order here.
Dumb "Dropout"/"Sleep Like a Baby" (Bandcamp)
It truly is the summer of the unexpected ska jam. Just like Pete’s end-of-the-world rave-up, Vancouver quartet Dumb recently turned to the optimistic plink of a ska-style upstroke for a pair of recent singles. Both “Dropout” and “Sleep Like a Baby" vibe with a checkerboard palette, yet through the prism of Dumb they’re characteristically askew from the norm. With the latter track in mind, it’s just about the first time I’ve heard an anxiety-ridden panic chord — as vocalist/rhythm guitarist Franco Rossino tees up at the top of the phrase — given the two-tone treatment.
The last time I caught up with Dumb, guitarist Nick Short was running roughshod on his Strat’s whammy bar for their spicy “Pizza Slice” single. He’s still getting plenty wobbly on “Sleep Like a Baby,” bringing both western flair and spiked-gauntlet dives to the genre-splicing piece. After picking-it-up for a curt minute-and-forty-five-seconds, Dumb gracefully segue into a parlour piano reprieve of the tune’s main melody, transposed to a gentler key.
Both tracks are set to appear on Dumb's Pray 4 Tomorrow, which is out November 11 via Mint Records.
Swim Team “Innocent” (Bandcamp)
Well, shit…you want to keep things extra interconnected? Nick Short also just premiered new music with his other project, Swim Team (FWIW: Dumb bassist Shelby Vredik also plays in Sigh with Swim Team bassist-vocalist Dorothy Neufeld). "Innocent” is the first preview from the trio's upcoming full-length, Hurricane.
“Innocent” is a stylish thump made by folks who probably had a good dose of NYC dance-punk baked into their teenage DNA in the early ‘00s. The piece delivers a spacious give-and-take between Dorothy’s tightly-coiled P-Bass groove and Nick's staccato guitar shrapnel. Though primarily working a sleek four-on-the-floor beat, the outro sublimely swerves towards a minimal 5/4 rhythm replete with chilled-out finger chimes.
Swim Team’s Hurricane, which follows 2019’s V, is out digitally September 15. You can pre-order on Bandcamp.