EMOL Music Interview

Pete Droge

by Tina Alvarez

Just as Arizona may be wrongfully tagged "Jingle-Jangle Capitol Of the World" due to so many bands wanting to sound Gin Blossom-y, and the haste of record labels to sign anything that sounds like the same old, same old, Seattle too was a victim of musical pigeon holing. Singer/songwriter Pete Droge, however, was not one to fall prey to fads, especially at a time when the Seattle grunge scene was exploding. While his peers were riding the gravy train, Droge continued to plow his own rock-folk troubadour style of music. But, as Droge pointed out, not all of Seattle was wrapped up in that commotion.

"It appears that way," Droge explained in a recent phone interview from his Seattle home. "At the same time in Seattle where bands like Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Nirvana were getting internationally renown, there was a small group of bands around doing stuff more along the lines of what I'm doing."

From '90 through '92 he had a band called Ramadillo that played locally, and for a portion of '93 Droge performed solo with various musicians backing him before he relocated to Portland.

"That was the time that, you know, just about every band in town got a record deal. After that first wave Nirvana really exploded," he recalled. "I think the A&R people came to Seattle and just signed up almost practically everybody except me and some other folks."

"I was working real hard at it, but it wasn't the right time," he continued, "and plus for me to make the step toward a major label when I realized later, after making that step, was thank God it didn't happen a couple of years ago because I don't think I was really ready at that point."

Moving to Portland was perhaps the best decision Droge could have ever made. Almost magically,.things began to snowball. First came Austin's South by Southwest Music Conference where Droge performed in March '93. Next, in June, he opened a few shows for Neil Young in San Francisco. And then his buddy, Pearl Jam's Michael McCready, produced his demo tape and gave a copy to Brendan O'Brien, who happened to be producing Pearl Jam's "Vs." album at the time. And by the year's end, Droge and O'Brien were in the studio producing what was to be his American Recordings debut, "Necktie Second." Now, American Recordings has released his second album, "Find A Door."

"'Necktie Second' was designed as a very personal record, very introspective and melancholy," Droge said of the difference between the two albums. "I wanted to follow-up with another record that was more light-hearted, more up-tempo, more exciting, and kind toe tapping music." That was the result of being out on tour a lot, playing in clubs and arenas as an opening act for people like Tom Petty, we were forced to kind of adrenalize and charge up and speed up our music a little bit to keep up with the energy in the rooms. So naturally, musically, that's the progression. his new record is the result of that and it was a conscious effort on our part."

Droge was constantly on the road after "Necktie Second" was released. He opened for three legs of Tom Petty's "Wildflowers" tour as well as appearing with Melissa Etheridge and Sheryl Crow on their jaunts.

Besides the change in moods, one of the other differences between this album and the first concerns his band members. Droge said that at the time he was first signed to American, he didn't have a band. Both he and O'Brien figured they could piece a group together, make the record and go on tour.

"The band just of metamorphisized over time," he recounted. "Members left and new members came in, one at a time, over the course of 1995 as we were touring."

Now with "Find A Door" Droge has his official band, The Sinners, consisting of guitarist Peter Stroud, bassist Dave Hull, drummer Dan McCarroll and singer/percussionist Elaine Summers.

"I'm kinda making the effort to not play the role of conductor anymore," Droge explained. "I've found this group of people;e whose musical sensibilities are right in line with my music sensibilities. These people are really, really good musicians."

"It's alot more fun now for me to just do my role, which is to sing and play the guitar," he elaborated, "rather than to act as a leader that much. hat's been a very liberating role change for me."

Like with the first album, Droge and the Sinners wasted no time in getting on the road. The LP hit the stores in late June and their first show was June 30th in Milwaukee, then they went on to headline clubs for three weeks and are currently on the H.O.R.D.E. tour for several dates. Plans are in the works for a European tour in August.

True to Droge's word, "Find A Door" is more upbeat. The majority of "Necktie Second" envelopes you in seas of tenderness and regret, with wistful introspective ballads done in soothing, tasteful musical arrangements. And while those characteristics still can be unearthed on "Find A Door," Droge and his crew go for the gusto on this one. "Mr. Jade," the opening number, includes horns that jazz it up whereas "Brakeman touts more of a country feel and "Dear Diane" has a casual, loping musical gait.

As a songwriter, Droge pens meditative musings on the world and its ways, arranging them with a flair for impact and enthusiasm. His style often has people comparing him along the same lines of Tom Petty.

"I think fortunately for me, all the people that people have compared me to are ones that I appreciate and like," he said modestly. "If people were comparing me to music that I absolutely abhorred, it would be a different story."

Droge, who grew up in Seattle, knew Mike McCready when he was 19 when the two were working in a pizza restaurant. He said they both were really passionate about music and often turned each other on to different recording artists. Although their styles are different, Droge said he and McCready have similar tastes. In fact, Droge feels there's a lot of music he appreciates but it doesn't surface in his music.

"There's a lot of heavier, louder, more aggressive rock music that I really love that just isn't the kind of stuff that I choose to play because it doesn't come natural to me," he admitted.

Besides having two albums to his credit, Droge has branched out into the movie circuit. "If You Don't Love Me (I'll Kill Myself)" off of his first album was included in Jim Carrey's "Dumb and Dumber" and also in "Outbreak."

His most recent contribution is "Beautiful Girls" for the Ted Demme film of the same name. urns out that Droge received a call from former Eurythmic Dave Stewart who asked him for his assistance. Stewart originally wrote the song with Bob Dylan in mind and asked Dylan to finish it, but he was unable to do it. Next, Stewart approached Tom Petty (three legs -- remember?) who said he was exhausted. Along the way, Droge's name was brought up. With the rough version in hand, Droge, McCready and Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron (another friend) bunkered down in the studio and cut the demo. Stewart later went to Seattle to record the number with Droge and the Sinners.

Perhaps one of the most refreshing aspects of Pete Droge is that yes, you can be different (in the fucking middle of six-figure record contract bedlam, for God's sake) and still not sell out. In closing, what advice would Droge give to other musicians that "go against the grain?"

"I had a real queer idea in my head where I wanted my music to be, a long time ago when I was pretty young," he reflected. "As far as how did I stick with it? It was just because I had such a strong desire to get good at playing this kind of music and writing these kinds of songs."

"I listen to people like Bob Dylan and Neil Young all the time because these are the standards to which I'm aspiring to. It's the kind of thing where I always feel like I got more work to do. I've got to learn more and I gotta get better," he concluded. "So that's wheat made it easy for me, that quest, trying to get good enough. I never really could stop working at it long enough to be too discouraged."

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