Saddle Creek | Broken Spindles | Reviews



Author: Joel Dunham
08/01/2005 | | | Feature
Joel Peterson is the bassist for both the Faint and Beep Beep, two bands on Saddle Creek Records. He is currently releasing the third album, Inside/Absent, from his solo project Broken Spindles. I got a chance to talk with Joel about how we share the same first name, about his new album, about his desire to become a music producer, and about his turn to atheism. As an evangelical Christian and as a former atheist, I found this last topic to be the most interesting.

Joel Dunham: Where are you from?

Joel Peterson: Omaha. My parents moved here when I was about 11.

JD: Is Omaha a big city? I always think about it as a smaller city, but it seems like it's bigger than I thought it was.

JP: Well, where are you from?

JD: I grew up in Carbondale, Illinois and now live in Corvallis, Oregon. Both of them are college towns.

JP: Omaha is not a college town. There are maybe a half million people in the city area. The skyline is not very impressive, but it takes only 15 or 20 minutes to get pretty much anywhere. It's small enough that I'm not going to get lost driving around. I don't know, it's Omaha, it feels like home.

JD: So you're now releasing your third album of your Broken Spindles solo project. It's kind of interesting, though, with that first song [actually the second song] "This Is An Introduction" it felt like with those first lyrics "I'd like to introduce me, I'd like to explain me" that this felt kind of like a debut. Do you feel like you're venturing into new territory with this album?

JP: Yeah, I'd say I'm venturing into new territory. I put that song there because I wanted it to explain the album. Everything I talk about in that song is touched on later in the album. It's a sort of introduction to the album from a lyrical standpoint.

JD: How was it like producing an album from start to finish all by yourself without any collaborators?

JP: It's fun sometimes, and sometimes it's frustrating. If you're not having a great creative day, then there's nobody else to rely on. You can't just say to somebody else, 'Hey why don't you take the reins on this?' But for the most part I enjoy working by myself. Having my own time schedule. If I feel like sitting in front of the computer screen for 12 hours, then so be it.

JD: Did you decide from the outset to make an album all by yourself, or did the songs just lend themselves to that method of writing?

JP: It all just started happening as the songs were happening. When the first note was written, I wasn't like 'I'm not going to let anybody else hear it.' I was just writing it on tour when I wanted to be away from people on my computer. But then when it came time to actually finish the songs and mix them, I'd worked on so much stuff by myself that I said, well, I'm just going to keep with that. At that point I was the only person who knew what kind of an album I wanted to make. I thought it will help better represent the songs if it's all just about me. [Laughs] Me in seclusion.

JD: So I noticed that you're going to take the Broken Spindles project on tour. How is that going to work since you've done everything yourself so far?

JP: I'm still working through that. I want ideally to work with other people. I want a band. I think I've learned everything I'm going to learn from these songs. It will feel good to share them with other musicians and find new interpretations with them.

JD: I'm going to guess that you're tired of all of the posturing and fakeness in today's music.

JP: To a certain extent yeah, just on a strictly business industry level, I've gone through the mill of that. A lot of people wanted me to sign with them or be their manager. I always tried to keep my mind as open as I could, but it all felt like somebody's trying to sell you a used car. It got really disheartening and bummed me out on music for a little while. I think that's partly why I started taking a little more personal approach to music with this album. As opposed to trying to get a hit on MTV.

JD: I don't know if you're going to like this or not, but I thought your album had a certain affinity with some of Trent Reznor's stuff. Would you say that you've been influenced by him for this record?

JP: In production for sure. I constantly listen to his records, and think about things like his drum sounds. I saw him live about a month ago for the first time. That was fun. As far as a songwriter, though, probably not so much.

JD: Really?

JP: Yeah, I don't like a lot of his lyrics. He kind of deals with, from my standpoint, more clichéd language. Kind of like high school writing. I still listen to him, though.

JD: Yeah, I'm not a huge fan of Trent Reznor or anything, but I thought there was some similarity of purpose for Inside/Absent and some of Reznor's work.

JP: He makes use of metaphors, which I don't really like. I pretty much steer clear of metaphors and prefer to say things directly.

JD: Would you say that you're a pessimist? I say that because the album seemed pretty pessimistic.

JP: No. I actually think I'm an optimist. I agree that the album is pretty dark and kind of sounding like a bit of a downer. I didn't intend that at all. You know, the first guy who heard the album, he mastered it, and I know him fairly well, [Doug Van Sloun] and as he was listening to it the first time, he turned around and said to me 'You know, you made a real downer of a record,' and I was like 'Huh, I guess you're right.' That was really shocking to me. I thought I had made this liberated, expressive record, not that a downer of a record couldn't be that too, but I never really thought it was so dark until he told me that.

JD: Yeah, I find that really interesting. Because the only way you could have had that big realization about it was because no one had heard it but yourself…Do you mind if I ask you a religious question?

JP: No, I don't mind.

JD: Are you an atheist?

JP: Yes. I think it's [Christianity] a fairy tale but nothing more than that.

JD: Do you think that that influences your music?

JP: At times I'll touch on that in my music, I talk a little more about that on my last record. It was right around the recording of the last record that I was probably actually coming up with those final decisions, you know, 'All right that is all bullshit.' It's a pretty huge decision. And what with being surrounded by people saying 'God bless' all the time, it's part of me, it's part of what's coming out in my songs.

JD: Is Omaha more of a religious city?

JP: I don't know; I can't compare it to other cities. It's an average white Anglo-Saxon Protestant city. So yeah, I was raised a Christian and went to church. That is, until one morning when I was like 15. That's when I stopped going.

JD: So at age 15, that's when you stopped believing?

JP: No, at 15, I just knew that I didn't believe in church. Church is great for people who need to be surrounded by a community. But at 15 I didn't need to hang out with a bunch of old people in their khakis and I wasn't even thinking about God or the Bible. All I knew at the time was that I didn't believe in church. Years and years later I get older and what not, and like everybody I came to a realization about what I really thought.

JD: So at 15 your parents just let you stop going?

JP: Yeah, my parents didn't make me go. I think that was the right decision, to not force religion on your child. They were letting me make up my own mind. Sure, my mom would absolutely love me to be a Christian and think Jesus Christ is great, but at this point it's probably never going to happen.

JD: Would you say that a kind of Christian imagery lives on in your music?

JP: That's tough to say. The last record I did, there were some lines pointed at church or at the Bible. [Laughs] I should actually look at the lyrics sometime and see what it is I wrote.

JD: So if your last album was about that turning point, the making of that decision, what would you say is the subject of Inside/Absent?

JP: It's in the title. It's about introspection. The last one was me looking out at society and saying that I've made these decisions about it and I can move beyond some things. This album is more about what have all these decisions…what does that look on the inside. I'm a pretty cold person at times. I'm not the most romantic person at times. So there's not a whole lot in there as far as feelings and emotions. It's an album about introspection.

JD: Do you feel like you have to face that every day, now that you've made that decision?

JP: I feel like I'm a lot happier. I'm not looking for great answers or mysteries anymore. Instead I look at things as if this is the time that we have and so I try to make it as fruitful as possible.

JD: So what have you been listening to lately that you've found worthwhile?

JP: Well, recently I got high-speed internet in my house.

JD: [Laughs]

JP: So the question really is what have I been downloading lately? Let's see, a lot of German minimalist techno. It all seems to come from Berlin. I could be wrong about that. Tarwater. Barbara Morgenstern, shit like that. I also, on the flip side of that, have been into this very human side of music. Like have you heard of John Fahey? He's this guitar guy who plays instrumental blues. It's really fun to listen to him. Hmmm, some Carpenters stuff. That's probably about it.

JD: What have you been reading lately that you've found worthwhile?

JP: Last tour I read a bunch. It was all technical stuff. Books about microphones, mixing, and stuff. Technical reading for me to get smarter at recording. Understanding the differences between 3 kinds of microphones, that kind of stuff.

JD: Would you be interested in being a producer for other people's stuff?

JP: I would love to. That's part of the reason why I'm trying to learn about studios and gear. I think it would be great to hear somebody else's ideas and interpret them.

JD: Would you say you're more interested in making electronic music rather than rock right now?

JP: I'm interested in it, but my heart is in rock and punk. That's where I came from, you know, basement shows and seeing Fugazi and all that kind of stuff. Those are some of my fondest musical memories. I have my download library playing randomly sometimes, and whenever one of those songs starts playing on my computer, it's always good for me. I just think 'that's some damned good stuff.'

JD: [Laughs] Well, I don't think I have any more questions. Did you have anything you wanted to talk about in particular?

JP: No, not that I know of. You actually went into more depth than I expected. Most of the time, interviews just talk about what music are you're influenced by and where you get your band name. You know, stuff that you can just read on other interviews.

JD: Well, thanks. I always try to do a good job interviewing people. I've really enjoyed it. You know it's really weird doing interviews. You have to pretend that you know somebody really well when you don't at all.

JP: I'd probably be terrible at it.

JD: That's O.K., it's probably not one of the most important skills in life. Well, I suppose I should let you get on with your day.

JP: Yeah, I think I'll eat some lunch now.


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