Interview: Peter Mulvey on the Release of 'Silver Ladder'
Peter Mulvey fans may hardly have noticed the gap because the 20-year road veteran has maintained a relentless live show touring schedule, but the Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based singer/songwriter is releasing his first full-length album in five years.
Since the early 1990s, Mulvey has developed a strong national following in the indie folk/rock scene.
Not only does he tour almost non-stop, but he also has a string of critically acclaimed albums; 19 to be specific.
Mulvey began honing his wry songwriting and percussive guitar style while attending Marquette University, and later, performing while traveling in Dublin, Ireland.
He also spent several years in Boston, where he frequently performed in the city's subway system.
Mulvey has played more than 800 shows throughout the northeast and mid-western United States, and in Europe. Next month, his first full-length album in five years, “Silver Ladder” becomes available on Signature Sounds.
Songs in “Silver Ladder” come from Mulvey’s trip back from let down and disillusionment. The musical styles blend a genre assortment. From the jazz-touched opening track, “Lies You Forgot You Told,” to the rocking, zydeco-flavored “Sympathies,” to the heavy back-beat grove driving “What Else Was It,” Mulvey brings a broad mix of musical styles behind a collection of compelling, if not somewhat eclectic lyrical melodies.
Mulvey assembled an impressive array of talent to create “Silver Ladder.” Producer Chuck Prophet, he says, “kept the project real and made things work.” Other talents include drummer Dave Kemper (Bob Dylan’s former touring drummer), Nickel Creek’s Sara Watkins on violin and vocals, guitarist James DePrato, bassist Tom Freund, and engineer Dan Burns to name only some of the team.
Mulvey also returned to one of his favorite recording haunts, Signature Sound – a small studio in rural Connecticut - which he has used for numerous projects.
It is hard to put a label on Mulvey’s music. Officially, he is tagged as Indie/Folk/ Rock, but Mulvey prefers to ignore that. Here we sit down with Mulvey to talk about Silver Ladder due for release this April.
How do you describe your music?
My music is just ‘American’ music. I draw on the blues. I draw on old folk songs. I draw on Rock & Roll and from other genres. It’s just music, and it’s American music. If someone asks me in an airport, or somewhere, about what kind of music I play, that’s what I tell them. I just call it ‘American’ music.
Talk about what led up to your break from writing and recording and what brought you back.
Five years ago, I went through some big and some not so good changes. It really isn’t different from things everyone goes through - such as death, rearrangement of relationships, and things like that -- but three-or-four swift kicks kind of made me come unglued. Living through that helps put you back together. I woke up one morning and realized that I had reached a point where everything now looked simple to me. I found meaning. The songs just started flowing. I dedicated myself to writing a song each week, and before I knew it, I had more than enough songs to record a full-length album.
What were your musical influences on this album.
It is really a mix of a lot of different kinds and styles of music. Conway (Twitty) said it probably best when he equated covering a musical style to wearing a coat. It comes about through the way the coat fits you. Some is influenced by what I listen to and have listened to. Some is influenced by the other musicians that I play with – especially in the studio. When it all comes together, different ideas blend to find how the tunes want to be played and how it all comes through the lens that I look through.
What inspires your lyric writing?
Lyrics are the most mysterious part of songwriting. And for me, the lyrics almost always come last. They seem to come up out of a melody, almost like watching a photograph develop in a tray. At first you have a vague image, and then suddenly, there is something specific there
Tell us a bit about the recording process you followed in creating this album.
We cut the basic tracks over two-and-a-half days. We then went back in and overdubbed and cleaned up the tracks, but the backbone was cut just playing live.
What do yo love most about your live shows?
That is when you know that people get it. That is what I am trying to do, connect with people, to have my songs make sense to them, and in the process, have fun. I am having more fun now than I have ever had because I realize that life is short – let’s play some songs!
Give us a peek into what your go-to gear is.
I play a Martin OM-15. That is what I have played for years for its low-end and fullness. I use a Fishman Rare Earth pickup, Elixir strings, and to enhance the guitar’s tone, I tune down a full step below standard tuning. I run through a Boss EQ peddle and directly into the PA for live shows. Although on the record, I did play through a Fender Twin.
Mulvey’s heavy touring schedule will feature songs from Silver Ladder. He has some 35 show dates already scheduled in the northeast U.S., along the west coast, the upper mid-west and in Europe. For the first time, Mulvey will visit the southern U.S. with a show date planned for July in New Orleans.
Silver Ladder was released in Europe earlier this month. The official U.S. release is set for April. It will be available on Mulvey’s web site, www.petermulvey.com and on ITunes.
Mitch Emmons is a professional journalist and performing songwriter currently based in the Lake Martin area of East Alabama. Mitch has worked as a news reporter, in marketing and public relations and has been a musician most of his life. He also is an avid angler enjoying the “lake life.” You can follow Mitch and hear some of his songwriting at reverbnation.com/mitchemmonsmusic; and at facebook.com/MitchEmmonsMusic. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.