ĒIt would probably kill meĒ

An interview with Peter Piek

Sometimes Pollination goes a step further. Sometimes we get a real connection with the artists. One of them is undoubtedly Peter Piek. A singer-songwriter, and also a painter from Leipzig, Germany, who we first staged at Festival de Bestuiving back in 2010. Since then, he always tried to make a little detour and played several gigs for us over the years.

And then, almost five years after Peterís first gig I arrived in a grey and rainy Leipzig, early February 2015. I went with him to a few recording sessions for his upcoming album and was shown around in the area, where you can still see how history made this place to what it is today. A city with lots of abandoned houses, huge and simplistic communist buildings, empty spaces in the middle of the city and factory areas where a vibrant art community is on the rise. I talked with Peter about the GDR-times, his music, politics, colors and his extensive touring schedule all around the globe.

Peter showing me around in Leipzig. Here we go out for a snack at the Asia Imbiss, right around the corner of his home.

How did Leipzig inspire you and how did the east of Germany, where you grew up, made you who you are?
Very much, itís a huge part of who I am. I was born in Chemnitz, that back then in the GDR days was called Karl-Marx Stadt where I grew up in a dictatorship which I didnít realize so much as a child. And then the world completely changed after the fall of the wall. The feel, the whole idea of society, everything, really everything changed. This fact, that change is possible and that change can happen, changed me too.

I still live in the same region as where I grew up. It is so different now that I can say I believe in change. It is in my songs, and you can see freedom in my paintings too. I use bright colors and everything is floating around, it is not íattachedí. There is a third dimension, that likes to destroy rules.

In your music, you refer a lot to colors. Is that because you are also a painter?
A color is free to interpretation for me. It can be whatever, and yet it is attached to so many things. Take the song ĒGreenĒ. A lot pops up in your mind. Grass, the other grass, trees, nature,Ö it has a double meaning. The phrase ĄDo you think we can be green togetherĒ - its a stupid love song phrase, but its also a political statement

Your songs donít seem political?
I try to avoid to lay a finger on it and be positive, but most of my songs are also a political statement or about our environment. If you want change, you need to be involved and believe that things can be better.

Iíve been to Hong Kong last year and when I was there there was this big protest. A huge thing: they blocked this highway, it was crazy. I was trying to find an idea for a song, a political kind of protest song. Itís very hard.

Youíve been all around the world. How do you manage this?
It took me a long time. I never really had help, until 2 or 3 years ago when I started to get to know people who booked me, like Pollination. It was a really long way. Iíve been at a lot of points where one would think ďhey, letís stop it, letís do something else except for music and paintingĒ. But what should that be? My life doesn't make a lot of sense, but if I would do anything except what I'm doing it would be a lot worse and it would probably kill me. I need to be free. I try to make the most out of it and travel a lot, because I think time is so precious. Time is running so fast.

I reached a level of freedom that most people don't have. I have a lot of time and I donít consider my work to be work. Iím pretty much on holiday all through the year. But it is also hard sometimes. It can really be very hard.

Isnít it tiring to never be home?
Yes, sure. Sometimes it is. Iím at home in Leipzig, but iím also mostly at home in myself. My body is my home. When I did my first tour in the US (2008) I wrote this song ĒWhat about the ladiesĒ. With this song I kind of got over this ďhomeĒ thing. In the verses it says ĄI left my keys at home, I feel nakedĒ and its about finding my home in myself.

And what is the connection with the ladies?
Well, nothing really, it is the words that make sense. I was in this apartment with this friend of mine in The Lower East Side of Manhattan in one of these old brick houses. It was a free day, didnít have anything to do and I was working on this new song and didnít have lyrics for the chorus. Then this friend of mine wanted to go out and said, Ąhey what about the ladiesĒ and I thought íthats coolí and started playing it on this riff and it totally worked. Itís kinda stupid, and super random. But yet it isn't and it does make sense in a way. I like to be ambivalent. Itís basically two songs in one. Which is typical for my songs. I somehow always try to combine at least two things that have nothing to do with each other. Somehow it becomes one and becomes a true thing.
Thatís the problem nowadays, nothing is black and white, it always has a lot of shades. Things you don't know. Things you don't see.

The States, Europe, you even went to China.. youíve been pretty much everywhere on the globe?
Iím far from having seen everything. But yes, I have pretty much seen all of Europe, been to China a couple of times and seen a lot of states in the US. I think I've been to more than 25 US states. Iím interested in so many different places and cultures, it inspires me. I like to try and see all those places before I die, but iím not so sure if I can make it. In some areas you really need to travel a lot and I want to do shows on the road as well. I donít want to go as a tourist, I donít want to feel like that. I need to become part of where I am, maybe also to feel a bit home there.

Where do you really want to go?
(Öthinking..) I would like to become a bird!
I would love to go to South Africa. Because I also look for places to tour, I think SA can be realistic. I do not go there because people want to see me, they donít know me. I want to go there because iím interested in the country. Also I would love to go to Mongolia but I wonder if I could do a show there. But hey, maybe some other idea shows up in the future to make this possible. I basically go wherever I get the chance too.

So where are you going next?
Iím now at home a little more than a week and recording my new album, which will probably take longer to be finished. In the meantime I will tour Italy where I have shows for a month, then probably France, maybe a few shows in Spain and after that I hope to be able to come back to Holland. Time is always running so fast, so I hope it will work.

From there I donít have plans. I have a few ideas though. I would like to go back to the States and tour again in Alaska. Alaska is a really big state, around five times bigger then Germany with only 700.000 people. Itís a crazy and wild place Ö but there is a good live music scene, itís pretty much the only thing that happens there. Some sports and the other thing is music and the big artists donít go there. Last time it worked really well. There is a lot of musicians and there is a nice attending scene.

You are busy all the time. Just finished a tour, a new tour starting in a few days and now you are recording. How is the new recording coming to life?
It will be a next step for me. Maybe not as big as I hoped but it will definitely not sound like the last record. It will be faster, more dancy, it will be a little more creative in a sense that some things are new for me. For example I use a lot of synthesizers and drum machines. Nothing new at all, but for me itís new. I try to stay alive as an artist and donít want to repeat myself, although it will still sound as a Peter Piek record. It will still be me.

Your albums always sound different from what you do live, why is that?
I always have problems with this. I always try to get to this live feeling on a record. Somehow tho it seems impossible. When Iím working on a record I use the options I have, why shouldnít i, as long as I like it?

Itís maybe also about freedom. I like to be free when I am on tour, so I usually play solo shows or I play with my drummer when I am close to home. Performing solo gives so much freedom. You can play a new song, you donít need a setlist, you can play whatever you want and you are only responsible for yourself.

When I start recording a song I try to follow the song like I do with paintings. When you have an empty canvas you can do anything, but once you have the first line on it you are not so free anymore, while everything that you do from there is a reaction to that first idea.

Youíve also started to make live video recordings of songs that you just finished composing. We even did a recording at your house to go with this interview. Can you tell us something about why you started with this?
You know the song ĄElliĒ? Itís from my first record. I wrote it in Paderborn and it was on my first tour that I played in a bar named Skek in Amsterdam where I totally fell in love with a bartender, a girl named Elli. I was so much in love and I wrote the song the next day and it only took me half an hour. I remember I was in this place where I played and I was in the backstage still writing the song and I only had the verse when it was time to play and I thought, well lets just play the song. I never got closer to the essence of the song as I was on that day. Somehow I lost the feeling that I had with that first performance. Although the band recording is not bad, I can never bring back the moment that I was still in love with this girl.

When iím recording, I try to get to the essence. This live video recordings help me catch the original feel from when I composed the song, when it is still fresh. The first time I did this was with ĒWho are YouĒ, which will be on my new record. I wrote it in this place in Seward, a really tiny village in Alaska, right at the bay, and made a short videoclip at the place where I wrote the song.

A couple of days before you (Jeroen) came, I finished this new song that I named ĒChanson RougeĒ. The lyrics were written by my friend GuilhŲm Capmal and it is my first French song. Iím sure the pronunciation of the song is really terrible, but for me I think it shows the essence of the song. Itís a good idea and I want to continue this. I want to give the people an inside view, I hope everyone likes it.

Want to know more about Peter Piek? Here is a link to his website: www.peterpiek.com

On the Autobahn 2 in between Halle and Hannover.

Author: Jeroen van Beek
Date: 15 februari 2015
Time: 15.30 uur