Reviews

inside/absent

Author: Matt Schild
08/22/2005 | Aversion.com | www.aversion.com | Feature
You could say that Joel Peterson's a busy guy. He's the bassist for The Faint, and when not piling into the bus or studio to keep the band's new-wave infected indie rock going, he blows off a little steam with another Saddle Creek band, Beep Beep. After a long touring season, he needs time to relax and unwind, right? So what's he do? He makes more music.

Peterson's third musical outlet, Broken Spindles, is a much more personal affair than either the Faint's new wave hijinks or Beep Beep's art-rock manipulations. It's a flirtation with indietronica that makes the Faint's techno-heavy songs sound old fashioned and Beep Beep's art-rock side sound relatively normal. Written on his trusty laptop while crammed into the back of a tour van, hiding out backstage at dozens of shit-hole venues around the world and crashed out in hotel rooms, Broken Spindles' third effort, Inside/Absent (Saddle Creek) finds Peterson really stretching his legs.

Where most know Peterson as the nondescript dude on the side of the stage with the Faint banging away on funky bass lines, Inside/Absent presents a more human and personal side of Peterson. Despite the bleeps and bloops that come from its nearly entirely synthetic makeup, it's more akin to a singer/songwriter's efforts than the raging beats and deep headspaces electronic music usually explores. The beats and synthetic squelches are there, but they're not the centerpiece of the album. That spot's reserved for Peterson's lyrics. Pouring his bummed-out personal moments onto tape, Peterson is no longer the one-dimensional bass man in the background of your favorite band. He's a living, breathing person who shares all the urban neuroses and post-millennial hang-ups that you and your friends talk about in those moments of honesty while you're getting drunk and high.

After working full time with The Faint and moonlighting with Beep Beep, you may expect Peterson's inspirations would be stretched nearly too thin already. Not so, he says, as his solo work provides him a different direction with new concerns and new responsibilities to spark his interest.

Broken Spindles - The Unheard Music"It's totally different. It's kind of enjoyable to know you have to rely on yourself instead of hoping someone else can fix it or something like that," Peterson says. "Writing is so much more inclusive of every aspect of music percussion, bass, whatever. I'm the one in charge of all that. It's interesting to look at it in that way and think about it all, not like 'oh, the drummer will come up with a cool beat here, so I don't have to think about that. It's kind of nice to think about all the aspects."

Inside/Absent is a solo project in the truest sense of the word. Peterson wrote the effort single-handedly, laying down basic ideas and vocals on a laptop while on the road. Once back home in Omaha, he locked himself in a studio for a month or so to expand, fix and flesh out his laptop sketches. Those sort of creative conditions aren't too unusual for a solo artist, though the lengths Peterson went to keep his ideas intact and insulated certainly were from start to finish, he never revealed a note, a lyric or a beat to a soul. Inside/Absent was his baby, period, and its start-to-finish secrecy kept others' ideas from polluting Peterson's artistic vision. No artist exists in a vacuum, but Broken Spindles came remarkably close this time out.

In fact, the first set of ears outside of Peterson's to hear Inside/Absent were Doug Van Sloun while he sat down to master the project. It was only then that Peterson allowed others' impressions to hit him. To the reactions surprised him wouldn't be an exaggeration.

"(Van Sloun) was the first person that heard it. That was the first opinion I heard," Peterson remembers. "Basically what he said after he listened to it a few times and had been working on it was 'You really wrote a downer of a record here.' That never occurred to me. That just kind of took me back. I just thought about all the songs and I was like 'Yeah ' For me, I had the impression I was making a fun record. "

Remembering the times when he wrote the album, Peterson's not too surprised to hear it comes off sounding like a bigger bummer than he expected. Written while carting around from town to town to play shows, it's a monument to the isolation, exhaustion and loss of self that come with being a nomadic musician.

Despite the surprise reaction Inside/Absent elicited (which Peterson now fully understands), he wouldn't have written the album any other way. For a guy who's playing in two bands and dealing with fans and critics during the creative process, Broken Spindles affords Peterson an opportunity to make music solely for his own edification.

Broken Spindles - The Unheard Music"For me, it's sort of intriguing to do it that way," he says. "As I'm doing it, I'm not thinking 'Oh, I wonder what people are going to think.' I did it for me, and now when it's done, the rest of the world can have it. I was making a record for me. I am still very much interested in what people have to say about it."

After keeping the project under wraps for so long, Peterson's still somewhere in the isolationist headspace that created the album. A friendly and affable fellow, it's clear after chatting with him that he hasn't quite gotten used to the notion of people probing him about his solo work, nor has he really grown comfortable with the notion of talking about it. Perhaps, to Peterson, Inside/Absent will always be a personal and secretive project.

His succinct answers to interview questions aside, Peterson holds little back on Inside/Absent which was one of the largest advantages to keeping the album completely under wraps during its developmental stages.

"I can't speak for anybody else, but writing these songs for me made them more real," he says. "More open to thinking about things that maybe I wouldn't have had in my head if I would have thought 'Okay, my mom's going to be listening to this and my friends.'"

The secret's out of the box now. While Broken Spindles won't garner the same sort of attention as The Faint, it should help Peterson's already established indietronica personality earn a bit more respect from the underground's aurally obsessed.
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