As the inaugural ‘Live at Left Bank’ approaches, Darren Mills talks to headline act Pete Greenwood to find out more about the singer-songwriter’s background, influences and successes.
Hello Pete, thanks for taking time out for the interview in the run up to the first ‘Live at Left Bank’ which you’ll be headlining on Friday 18th November. Here we go:
At what point in your life did you decide to pursue a career in music
I’d say around 15, I really fell for it after I found a few Nirvana bootlegs and went to see Megadeth live. I think that’s where it really took hold. I figured they were getting paid to make a lot of noise, so it was a very attractive idea.
How did your parents react when you decided to study music. Did they encourage it or suggest you should go and get a ‘proper’ job’?
I’d already sacked off my A levels, the plan was to study political journalism but I think they knew I was going to end up studying music at some point, plus I’d already done my dues working in offices and banks so they were very encouraging to be honest, which was lucky.
You studied at the renowned Goldsmith’s Music school in London; what was life like there in terms of the approach to teaching and the buzz around the place?
It was great, in essence it’s an art college, and those sort of values permeated the music faculty a lot. So in some colleges I would’ve been poring over Stravinsky charts and slowly going insane, but at Goldsmiths it was much more vibrant, more open to experimentation. One guy did an hour long avant garde piece with a chapman stick and footage of Auschwitz behind him. The next day, you could be writing a solo piece for a weird dance troupe, or something for the art installations. Very varied. And there’s loads of nasty pubs in New Cross that showed the Leeds games if I asked nicely enough.
Based in London for some time after finishing university, how did being in such a musical hub affect your direction and development as a performer?
I think you learn quickly in London. It’s important to do gigs where nobody’s listening, everyone nattering over you, at least early on. London’s the perfect city to get a few dreadful gigs out of the way while you hone your craft. As for the direction, I naturally gravitated to other musicians, so before I knew it, I didn’t know anyone that wasn’t a musician. It’s impossible not to learn and develop in that sort of environment I think. Although it does get a bit incestuous.
Your first album ‘Sirens’ received some great reviews; Uncut magazine gave it 4 out of 5 and listed it as ‘Debut of the month’. How did this sort of recognition affect your early career as a solo artist and was there anything else which helped you progress at this time?
It happened too quickly for me to let it affect me. I’d only written 3 songs when I got the record deal, so I was too busy panicking about writing the album to rest and think about it. Plus once you start touring in earnest, you learn all sorts about how to soundcheck properly, how to get on with people, which service stations are the best, how the tube works in a different country etc. Sounds silly, but the logistical know how makes it easier to write.
You’ve played and toured with some big name bands as well as being a solo performer, how would you say the two compare?
The only difference really, is the lack of company. I like being on a posh tour bus acting daft with mates in the band, and I like doing it alone, ringing a mate back home after sound checks, and finding a pool hall. There’s pros and cons to both ways of doing it.
The Guardian newspaper featured you as ‘Band of the Week’, comparing you favourably with Nick Drake and there’s a hint of Elliot Smith in your work. Have these artists influenced your style and song-writing in any way and which other artists you’ve drawn from?
I was obsessed with Nick Drake when I started writing, especially his guitar work. Elliot Smith too, but more from a writing perspective. After I toured in America, I became obsessed with Gram Parsons and Ryan Adams, I reckon that’s really seeped in somewhere. Obviously Dylan too, I’m still always learning stuff from him now.
Your music has been praised as ‘timeless’; whilst not wishing to pigeon-hole it how would you describe your style or is that something you’re not particularly interested in doing?
It’s nice somebody’s said that. I’m not sure, it’s kind of what I expected it to be, given what I listen to. I’d call it singer-songwriter, maybe a bit Americana.
‘Beauceron’, your second album, was written quite a while ago but it took some time to release, why was that?
I was touring a lot with The See See and Starsailor at the time, which was brilliant, but obviously I couldn’t be in Europe and London at the same time, so it just took forever to record, plus I changed labels, so that always adds more time to the delay.
Adding to other incredibly positive reviews, single ‘The 88’ from Beauceron had Oasis’ song-writing engine, Noel Gallagher, giving it some strong support; he even went as far as to say he’d wished he’d written it. Is this sort of feedback important to you these days or do you just carry on regardless?
I’m not even sure he said that, it might be a case of Chinese whispers. I don’t really think about it much, it’s a nice compliment though. Any compliment is nice to hear, but for every compliment, there’s someone too polite to say they think you’re rubbish I reckon. Bit stoic, but keeps you from getting a big head.
Outside of your musical activities I hear you play a lot of Snooker and once said that given the choice of being a highly successful singer songwriter or a mediocre snooker player you’d opt for the snooker. Some might find that difficult to believe, is it true?
I honestly couldn’t choose. I’m better at music, so I’ll go with that.
The second and last non-music related question; what do you think of Ed Sheeran?
I haven’t heard a single song. No idea how I’ve managed that. I know he’s got a Nando’s gold card, so he must be a big deal.
Back on to the music, what do you tend to listen to yourself, is it mainly acoustic folky type stuff similar to your own music or do you have other tastes outside of that which people might not expect?
All the usual stuff, Dylan, Ryan Adams etc, but I’ve got a soft spot for Krautrock, Prog, Grime, Classical, basically anything that sticks out. My girlfriend keeps getting mad at me for sending her Kanye West songs, but there you go.
Left Bank is an amazing venue and the line-up looks fantastic; is there anything you’re particularly looking forward to when headlining the first ‘Live at Left Bank’
It’s always great to play with Lisa Glover, we may do a duet or two. Plus the acoustics should be brilliant, I’ve always loved the building.
What have you got planned for the months ahead, more shows, new music…?
I’ve nearly finished writing the new album, and i’m planning on doing a live album at some point. There’s a few gigs up north to round off the year, and vague talk of a U.S. Tour next year, so we’ll see I guess.
Thanks for taking the time out for the interview Pete and good luck with the show.
Live at Left Bank takes place on 18th November featuring Pete Greenwood, Fuzzy Jones, Steven Preacher and Lisa Marie Glover. Tickets and more info: https://www.facebook.com/events/1195615953810729/
Pete Greenwood’s albums are available on CD and all popular download and streaming services.