Indietracks interview #13: Pete Green

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Interview by Sam Metcalf

Pete Green is a Sheffield-based singer/songwriter, poet, ineffectual layabout and king of the impossible. His career highlights include a minor internet hit in Germany with a song about MySpace (ask your parents), and making the sound go funny when his debut solo single ‘Everything I Do is Gonna Be Sparkly’ received airplay on BBC Radio 1. Pete also fronts indiepop underachievers The Sweet Nothings and wishes he was Scottish. He writes about coasts and islands, walking, getting lost, underachievement, love, railways, whisky, and rubbish football. His second solo album, ‘We’re Never Going Home’, is now available via Bandcamp.

Ten years, eh? Did you ever think Indietracks would get this far?

Well, it defies all the logic of neoclassical economics. But then so do kisses, and snowflakes and dragonflies, and holding the door open for someone. We forget this too easily: we don’t think anything good can work, and when it works we don’t think it can last. Indietracks was only possible because when Stuart Mackay set it up, he hadn’t been around the indiepop scene long enough to absorb our defeatism. We didn’t get a chance to tell him it would never work. So he just went ahead and did it, and of course it worked magnificently.

And the very reason it works is that it shouldn’t. Its paradox is its perfection. You look around on Indietracks Monday and the whole world looks even more ultra-marketised, ultra-monetised and focus-grouped than before, and it leaves us raddled and jaded to despair. Indietracks is the perfect, diametric opposite to this, and this means its appeal reaches beyond indiepop fans. It’s the festival your cynical older brother didn’t know he needed. And it gets better every year.

How many times have you played, and what’s new this year?

This’ll be my third time as a solo act, after 2007 and 2013. But if you come and hear me in 2016, it’ll be pretty different from before. My new album includes field recordings and some different instruments, and I’m planning to work these into the live show somehow, using a cunning combination of backing tracks and actual real people. If it all works out then it should be quite exciting. I might shave my head as well.

I also played with The Pete Green Corporate Juggernaut in 2009 and The Sweet Nothings in 2011, and there’ve been various things at singalongs, and in the merch tent and on the platform (when that was still a thing). In fact the only thing that’s done the Indietracks rounds more than me is my guitar, which has been borrowed by almost everyone who’s ever played. Someone selling kaftans in the merch tent told me it acquired some kind of mystical Swedish indiepop mojo when the guy from Suburban Kids With Biblical Names cut his hand and bled on the scratchplate.

Tell me about the new album. What are the influences this time around?

The new album is called We’re Never Going Home. It’s about running away, maybe for real or maybe in your imagination. It’s about getting halfway through life and still not knowing. It’s about how places shape feelings and feelings shape places. It’s about getting leathered on single malt whisky the night the world ends. It’s got instrumentals, poetry, a session banjo player, Lincolnshire railway heritage, an a capella cover of ‘Homeless Club Kids’ by My Favorite, the piano at Chesterfield station, and the sound of the River Don in the middle of the night. And most importantly it’s got catchy, pretty pop tunes.

What’s influenced it? In general, reading psychogeography, and walking, and travelling north. The field recordings are inspired in part by the work of Sheffield’s Longbarrow Press, which uses similar techniques to create sound-enhanced poetry. I’ve also been very taken recently by The Magnetic North, whose two albums are both themed around particular places – it’s a really interesting approach with beautiful results.

More specifically, one track is influenced by Withered Hand and Donnie Darko (you should know it when you hear it). And ‘Dream of Firsby Station’ is a historical love song – an approach inspired pretty directly by the very wonderful Songs For Walter. Don’t miss ’em in the church on Saturday!

You’ve started to do more poetry. I know you’ve done this for a while now, but what are the differences between writing a poem and a song? And what about the performance – how does that differ?

As a songwriter, for the most part, your words take care of the sense, and your music takes care of the sound. But the words you choose for a poem have to do both jobs. They are their own music. So writing good poetry is much more demanding. But because sense and sound have the same origin, it can also be more powerful when you get it right and the two things sync and chime together.

And when you write a song, you’re more constrained by the past. You can’t escape the way your listeners’ expectations of form and structure have been shaped by 60 years of pop music. Obviously poetry has fixed forms and regular structures too, and a far longer history. But you can sort of reinvent poetry every time you write, in a way that’s not really possible for a songwriter.

So writing a poem and writing a song are very different – but performing the two can be quite similar. The challenges of engaging your audience are very alike with both. In fact they can work well right next to each other. I did my first 50:50 poetry and music set at a festival in Hillsborough Park the other day and it went OK. I suppose you can’t run poetry through a Marshall Jackhammer overdrive pedal, though it might be interesting to try.

Name me your top three Indietracks moments of the last ten years.

I underwent some kind of spiritual revelation during Withered Hand in 2014, though I can’t be certain whether this originated with God or the countless pints of strong pale ale. Possibly a bit of both. The memory of playing with Pocketbooks at the singalong on the train in 2007 still cheers me up. I don’t know if I’ll ever get past that. Being part of Helen Love’s glitter army is up there with all of these though. What a thrill. What a fantasy-made-real. Indietracks has made sure we’ll have a few glimmers of remembered pleasure when we’re all working as litter pickers at the age of 84.

Are you still looking for something as a performer? Are you still terrified on stage? Or has it all got easier as you’ve got older?

I’ve never felt blasé about playing live. It’s still as much of a thrill as when I was 17. If anything it’s become even more intense. A decade ago I was playing 30 shows a year; my lifestyle at the moment makes that impossible, so perhaps when I play live now, I pour more into it.

I guess the flipside of still having that intensity is that there’s still the occasional gig where I get a panic attack or the shakes and can’t play properly. But in general I feel more confident. And it feels like I’m making progress, or moving towards something. I dunno what, but I think I’m better at this now than ever before. That was a joke about shaving my head, by the way.

How are Grimsby Town looking for next season?

Ha, you rascal! We’ll get a second consecutive promotion, or immediate relegation back to non-League. That’s just how we roll in north-east Lincolnshire, isn’t it? Listen out for ‘Golden Goal’ on the new album, by the way – the sample is a snatch of commentary from Town beating Bournemouth in the 1998 final of the Auto Windscreens Shield. Our lives might never have surpassed that moment for joy and glamour if it weren’t for Indietracks.

Thanks Pete! Find out more at: petegreensolo.com