Multi-instrumentalist Peter David Connelly began recording Without Love for college credit at the famously non-traditional Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. But like so many things, the project was interrupted in March 2020 by the pandemic. He had a decision to make—DIY or die. Okay, not literally die, but he would have had to abandon the project or do it on his own without access to the college’s state-of-the-art equipment. And so, with a portable Tascam in the back room of a used clothing store, he embraced the warm and intimate music he could create in solitude.
Check out the new video for “Someone To Hang On To” directed by Jolie Maya-Altshuler and the Q&A with Connelly below.
What was it like to have your recording sessions interrupted by the pandemic and what was the decision like to work on your own? What was that transition like?
I knew that I was going to be working on my own for the majority of the record anyway, but it was very frustrating that I wasn’t able to do more on campus. The only performances that I got at Evergreen were the drums on “Slow Goodbye” and the lead vocal on three songs, and everything else was done in my apartment or my rehearsal space. The other effect of the pandemic was that I had less guest appearances than I had initially planned, especially vocals. But hopefully that can be rectified next time around.
Did you have much experience with home recording and producing?
Oh definitely, although my skill set as an engineer is rather limited. Sometimes I think that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because so many modern records have this normalcy to the way they sound that I don’t care for. I want to improve my skills, but I don’t want to learn the rule book. I’m more interested in doing odd things like the end of “Thought Maybe I’d Place My Soul to the Devil,” with four distorted drum sets bashing away like crazy.
Which instruments are you most comfortable with? Did you learn to play a new instrument or did you try new techniques while recording this album?
For the most part I’m a drummer, and that’s always the instrument I’ve been the most comfortable with. I didn’t really learn a new instrument, but there are always unusual recording concepts that I try to achieve, like the two out-of-sync drum machines in “Fingerprinted,” or the twin guitar leads that close the record. Also if you listen really closely you can hear my cat meow at the very end—that was a happy accident.
Winona the cat
Was the pandemic a more creative time for you? I’ve heard mixed things from different artists about how they experienced the pandemic.
It certainly was—I haven’t written a song since I got vaccinated! I’ve noticed that I get a big burst of songwriting activity every time something shocking or frightening happens, and Covid was and remains very shocking and frightening. There were also several songs I wrote around the beginning of the pandemic that I didn’t put on the record, for one reason or another.
I understand what you mean! Can you tell me about the recording of “Someone to Hang On To?”
That one took forever! I must have done ten separate sessions over the course of the whole record just trying to get a rhythm track I liked, and “Someone To Hang On To” was one of the first songs attempted but one of the last completed. Every time I thought that I had a good take it ended up too fast, or I didn’t like the feel, or the drum sound wasn’t right. But I’m glad it took so long, because the final version sounds much better rehearsed than it would have been otherwise.
Did you play all the instruments on “Someone To Hang On To?” With backing vocals by Giselle Gabrielle?
Yes, that’s correct. I rehearsed it with an outside guitar player and bass player, but because of the pandemic I ended up playing those parts myself. That ended up being true of most of the album, actually.
Can you tell me a little about creating the music video?
That was really Jolie’s project more than mine—some of the footage I wasn’t even present for, and I haven’t even met the majority of the people in the video. My main contribution was that I wanted to be seen playing the Glockenspiel part in a variety of bizarre places, like those shots on the beach.
Do you have any performances planned?
I had a couple last month but there’s nothing else set up at the moment. I’m not comfortable inviting people to an indoor concert where they don’t have to show proof of vaccination, so touring isn’t really possible right now. I plan on doing at least a West Coast tour in Spring 2022.
How do you perform these songs live since you play most of the instruments on the recording?
I’ve played some of them at shows, but a few of the tracks were so spontaneous that I would have to relearn them—I would have no clue how to play “Before College,” for example. The plan is to get a rhythm section and I’ll play piano, but some of the songs wouldn’t work with drums at all. I never think about these things when I’m recording. I never see myself onstage delivering the material until it actually happens.
What are you studying in college and what do you hope to do with your degree?
That’s a good question. Although I’m enjoying my time at Evergreen, I have no idea how it’s going to prepare me for the job market (shudder). All I want to do is keep making pop records.
What is the scene in Olympia like these days? Do you have a close-knit group of people to collaborate with?
It’s taken a big hit due to the pandemic, like I’m sure most places have, but there are always a few cool bands around. There’s a band called Thin Veil whose record I play over and over. Cold Sweats is an exciting, New York Dolls-style rock ‘n’ roll band. Jessie Branch has the sickest set of pipes Olympia has ever heard. And Table Sugar was my absolute favorite, but I think they’re over now.
Did music venues and record shops in your area survive the pandemic?
The one record store survived. Maybe half of the venues did. But Olympia has always put on a lot of house shows, so proper venues aren’t really the only option. Hopefully there will be more of those once people start becoming more comfortable indoors.
What’s next for you creatively?
I really want to make a double record, since I was a teenager that’s been a real ambition of mine. Todd Rundgren’s Something/Anything? has always been a template for the double album I aspire to, but it would require an enormously prolific period for me songwriting-wise to make a record that could even potentially hold a listener’s interest for 80 or 90 minutes. I also want to make the process of songwriting more loose, and not think about verses and choruses as much. More instrumental passages, and more weirdness. Pop music is often so sterile these days, especially guitar-oriented bands. I don’t ever want to do anything that negates my identity as a fucking weirdo.
After the wild and excessive 1980s filled with loud clothing, crimped hair, and cheesy metal, things started going in an entirely different direction in the dawning of the ’90s. Suddenly from sleepy, rainy Seattle came this heavy music with a dismissive attitude and slacker aesthetic. People started wearing flannels and stopped washing their hair. Grunge had arrived.
On September 24, 1991, Nirvana’s second album, Nevermind, dropped which fully cemented grunge in mainstream culture. Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl, and Krist Novoselic recorded an album with producer Butch Vig that proved to be both commercially successful and an inspiration to multiple generations of musicians. As the band’s debut on a major label (Geffen Records subsidiary DGC), the album went on to “dethrone the King of Pop” in January 1992 when it reached number one on the Billboard charts taking the spot away from Michael Jackson’s Dangerous.
It seems every musician and fan I know had a Nirvana moment. Here’s mine: I was 13 and helping my best friend babysit. She pulled out this cassette with a baby floating in a very blue swimming pool. “You have to listen to this.” When she pressed play, my earholes were filled with the most perfect aural concoction that gave voice to my newly acquired teen angst.
Nevermind on cassette
For the thirty year anniversary of that groundbreaking album I spoke with a slew of musicians who also had their Nirvana moment.
Both the song and video captured the essence of Gen X life, I think
– Taína Cojoba
“My friend got the single of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and he played it for me over the phone. And even hearing it through the phone blew me away,” said Jason Caperton, guitarist in The Library.
As of today, thirty years later, the anthemic song has over a billion streams on Spotify, a platform that didn’t even exist in the ’90s.
Taína Cojoba, vocalist and bassist for Invading Species, remembers moshing to the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” with her brother back in Puerto Rico when it came out. “I likely would have never admitted this back then,” she laughed. “In the 1990s I was staunchly anti commercial music (DIY or die!), so Nirvana was more of a guilty pleasure for me. I liked it because it was dark and sarcastic—not your common commercial love song by pretty people. Both the song and video captured the essence of Gen X life, I think.”
Still frame from the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video
For those of us who felt like outsiders or misfits, music helped get us through it. Especially when that music was delivered in a delicious snarl with bouts of raspy screaming.
Something about the songs and Kurt’s tortured voice really resonated with me at a time when I felt like I really didn’t fit in with the world at all
– Tania Cross
“I’m so happy, ‘cause today I found my friends, they’re in my head. I’m so ugly, that’s okay, ‘cause so are you, we broke our mirrors,” Cobain sang in “Lithium.” And we listened. And listened. And…
“I think I was either in 7th or 8th grade when I first heard the Bleach record,” said Tania Cross, a Brooklyn-based artist and bass player. “Back then all we did was traffic in over-dubbed tapes and I have no clue who turned me on to it, but I never stopped listening. Something about the songs and Kurt’s tortured voice really resonated with me at a time when I felt like I really didn’t fit in with the world at all—this would have been 1990 or 1991. I was very much a pubescent teenage girl stuck in Catholic school and Nirvana was sort of my gateway drug into riot grrrl music, which got me through high school and the fuck out of my home town. I had a dual cassette recorder that I kept on my bed under my pillow and I would listen relentlessly with my ear on the speaker, trying to decipher lyrics and figure out this new music from the West coast and my mom would barge in my room and scream at me for it—very Twisted Sister style!”
Cross went on to say that she feels so lucky to have seen Nirvana live during the InUtero tour in 1993.
“The band were these regular humans in front of me playing in this wild fantasy world with all of their own vulnerabilities and torn sweaters, and directing the crowd to treat each other with respect and dignity. I’m pretty sure I probably cried—I was 14—but it definitely was a game changer of a performance,” Cross reminisced.
Steve Myers, vocalist for Mighty Fine, said he saw the hype build up over time. “In college I was working at a record store named Paradise in Baton Rouge the first time I heard of Nirvana. Around the time I was hired, the indie record snob kids were all about Bleach and the buzz was at a slow and steady build. I remember the record being sloppy but relatable and, dare I say, a little funky for a hard rock/punk record. The band stood out to me partly because you could see the changing of the guard coming. Nirvana was relatable, knew how to pay homage to what came before, all while making their music seem new, rebellious, melodic and cool all at the same time which is hard. Then sprinkle a little indie rock attitude and the world goes boom. It reminded me of when RUN DMC made dressing like Grandmaster Flash a thing of the past seemingly overnight.”
I respect Cobain’s courage in expressing the dissonances and conflicts that exist beneath our relationships and identities
– Amy Klein
Amy Klein, guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter, said Nirvana’s music helped her process deeper emotions she didn’t know how to express.
“I remember the first time I heard Nirvana on the boombox in my older sister’s room. I felt the wildness of the music, how it raged against conformity, without having any of those words. Still a kid, I felt the feelings within Cobain’s guttural snarl, heard him protest against the superficial surfaces of easy sentiments. I lived in suburbia, and Nirvana opened a door for me to an alternative understanding of that white picket-fence culture. Songs such as ‘Polly,’ ‘Rape Me,’ and ‘Heart Shaped Box’ gave voice to the violence and the trauma which lived within us. I was almost afraid to listen to those songs because I knew that darkness felt real—and was part of me. Today I respect Cobain’s courage in expressing the dissonances and conflicts that exist beneath our relationships and identities. Nothing about Nirvana is ever easy or expected,” Klein said.
We can’t talk about Nirvana without talking about that very sad day in April 1994 that Kurt Cobain passed away by suicide at the age of 27, leaving behind wife Courtney Love and their baby Frances Bean Cobain. Most Gen Xers and older millennials remember the moment they found out about his death. For me, I was in the backseat of my father’s car with two friends on the way to see a movie in Myrtle Beach. We had the radio tuned to the alternative rock station and that’s when the DJ broke the news. My friend Adam began sobbing and my other friend and I were just stunned. It felt like one of our own friends had died.
Jamie Frey, vocalist for NO ICE, said Cobain’s body was found on the day of his 8th birthday although he wasn’t entirely aware who Nirvana was at the time. It was later that he began listening to them, first on the radio, and later when he was able to buy his own CDs.
“I can safely say that you’d hear a song from Nevermind just about every hour of radio programming. In that alternative format, Nirvana was The Beatles or Pink Floyd. Totally ubiquitous. I started picking my own CDs and eventually I bought the one with the baby on the cover and listened to it 8,000 times,” Frey said. “I feel like I can recount every second of the album in my head perfectly, I’ve heard it so many times. It is the sound of a breakthrough of a young rock band to a young rock fan, and like most rockers my age, it is an essential part of their origin story. Now, at 35, I’ll take Hole’s Live Through This any day of the week, but as an adolescent boy it was a whole new universe to me.”
Kurt Cobain’s relationship with Hole’s front woman Courtney Love was also part of his mythos. I vividly remember staring for what felt like hours at the photo of Cobain and Love on the cover of Sassy Magazine. While Love has been vilified and even accused of murdering her husband, it seems to me that they were both people battling addiction and various physical and mental problems. The month before Cobain died, he had gotten out of rehab. He also suffered from depression, chronic bronchitis, and an undiagnosed stomach condition that caused him intense pain.
But in the short amount of time he had on Earth, he touched countless fans leaving a legacy that we’ll be talking about decades to come.
“To this day Nirvana has always stayed with me,” said Tania Cross. “I still listen to them regularly. I do wonder what records could have been made if Kurt hadn’t died, but I’ve never begrudged him for leaving when he did. I’m forever grateful for all the other bands he turned me on to through covers and interviews and his enthusiasm and love of music.”
“Don’t piss on the donut!” Lou Barlow said, to laughter from the people assembled in lawn chairs in front of him. I don’t know what prompted that comment as I had myself gone inside to take a piss (in a proper toilet, not on a pastry), but I am happy to report that during Barlow’s two-hour long set, no one pissed on the donut.
Barlow, the prolific bassist, guitarist, and singer/songwriter known for his work with Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh, and The Folk Implosion, is currently on a mini solo tour around the Northeast. In addition to some traditional spots, he will be playing in some decidedly very DIY locations as well. I was lucky to catch him in New Paltz for a sold out show in the parking lot of Ritualist, a store that sells “tools for healing and magic making.”
With the memory of an elephant, he played songs from his new album Reason to Live, mixed with songs going back through his decades-long career with suggestions shouted out from the audience. He even threw in a cover of Foreigner’s “Cold As Ice.”
“Foreigner were masters of tension,” he told us during soundcheck when he tested out the song.
My music really comes from my friendships. Musicians are my only friends. My life is too fucked up otherwise to hang out with, you know, normal people
Lou Barlow performing at Ritualist (photo by Rebecca DeRosa)
Throughout the set he switched it up between different guitars, including a ukulele and a twelve-string guitar with half the strings deliberately removed. One guitar had a sticker on it from a trolley museum that said “Get your jolly on the trolley.” An audience member asked “Do you get your jolly on the trolley?”
“No,” Barlow replied. “The trolley is the jolly.”That seemed to satisfy everyone.
This mini tour is a warm up for a huge, months-long tour with grunge trio Dinosaur Jr. When I asked him about how he planned to keep his shit together on this tour, he admitted he wasn’t sure yet. Being at home with his family during the pandemic had kept him grounded and he was able to immerse himself in playing and recording music.
“That’s where I’m most comfortable. That’s where my true spirit comes out. I go back through all the recordings and things I’ve done and like 90 percent of the stuff I did at home is better. It feels better, it sounds better. Even if it’s raw or fucked up sounding, it’s still the best,” Barlow said.
When it came to recording Reason to Live he embraced his old DIY methods such as recording to tape.
“I wanted to take a more casual, impulsive approach to recording that reflects more where—I think my best recordings are made in that kind of mindset,” he said.
Recently, Barlow announced that he’s collaborating with John Davis again, his partner in Folk Implosion. When I commented that he always seemed to find the best people to make music with, he explained how and why that is the case.
“It’s the history of my life. It’s the story of my friendships with these people. My music really comes from my friendships. Musicians are my only friends. My life is too fucked up otherwise to hang out with, you know, normal people…I only hang out with people I make music with, other than my family. These are the relationships that define my life. Having the chance to go back and revisit my friendship with John Davis is a gift.” I think many Folk Implosion fans would agree.
As the sun set in New Paltz and the fireflies came out, he talked to fans, sold some merch, and then got back into his “family van” headed to the next town.
Tickets to the remaining tour dates are available via Eventbrite.