Whether he’s frenetically strumming his guitar, or crossing the country by bicycle and train, singer-songwriter Peter Mulvey gives off the impression of an artist in perpetual motion.
A closer listen to his music, however, reveals his songs are built both lyrically and musically upon a bedrock structure from which he takes flight. This balance of motion atop something more deeply rooted creates a potent blend from which Peter’s fashioned a 17 album (and counting) career.
He released his latest album, There Is Another World, earlier this year. The album mixes themes of regret and self discovery against an impressive collage of sounds that emulate the natural world. In its review, Making A Scene praised the album, saying “Conventional instruments unconventionally create mood and the lyrics fall to an unorthodox cadence. There Is Another World is unique and refreshing.”
We caught up with Peter via email ahead of his June 14 concert in Tuft Theatre with John Statz to discuss his previous visits to Colorado, touring by bicycle and train, his latest album, and more.
What can the audience expect from your concert with John Statz in Tuft Theatre on June 14?
Every night I try to show up, pay attention, tell the truth, and see what happens. That’s the basis of my show. I have a raft of songs, and I’m a person, going through a day, like everyone else, so I try to draw on that, and just be present, and (hopefully) entertaining.
On a good night, I’m funny. Like, Unitarian funny. On a great night, I’m almost Catholic funny. Some nights it feels like I can sing really well- some nights I feel fluid and effortless on the guitar. But mostly I just try to take the room, the audience, and my given state of being as it comes, and be present and open.
Your latest album There Is Another World is lyrically a deeply personal album filled with turmoil, but also moments of grace and optimism. As a songwriter, how conscious are you of that balancing act – tackling hard moments and raw emotions head on, but then lifting them with hope?
I just try to be honest. It’s hard to know how it’s going to be received, but I hope I’m listener-focused. I think I am: many times, people have come up to me and told me that they felt I was singing about their lives. That’s what I’m shooting for. To be unflinching, but generous, so that people recognize themselves in my songs.
Musically There Is Another World is built off the musical bulwark of your voice and guitar, but the additional instrumentation is often impressionistic and fleeting, as if emulating sounds from nature. What inspired you to take that direction?
That’s all the work of Todd Sickafoose, who produced the record. And it’s funny: when I wrote the songs, I was living alone in a house near some woods, and I would go walking all day. Dead of winter. And Todd’s instrumentation had mostly to do with his aesthetic, and the cadre of great players he knows. But it turned out, by happenstance or kismet, to evoke perfectly the environment I had been living in.
A song off your 2017 album Are You Listening? called “D.I.A.” recounts some time you spent in Colorado. When did you first start playing shows in Colorado? Do any memories from those times beyond what’s in the song stick out?
I first started playing in CO right around ’99 or so. And I have a song called “Denver, 6 a.m.” on an earlier record, which takes place entirely inside DIA. So I’ve got two songs about the same airport. Obviously, though, Colorado means a great deal more to me than the airport. I like the Front Range, and I have couple friends among the Denver songwriter community: John Statz and Megan Burtt. Good people.
You’re on tour with John Statz, and you’re both traveling by train and by bicycle. Is this the first time you’ve toured this way? What have you learned about our country traveling this way?
I’ve done a baker’s dozen tours exclusively by bicycle, mostly without a support vehicle. It’s a journey back into some deep human currents: to travel, overland, with a small group, getting rained on, getting hungry, being satisfied and exhausted at the end of a long day. It really makes you feel alive. As for the train/bicycle trip, this is my first, so I don’t really know what to expect. I’m guessing it will be all kinds of things: exciting, frustrating, liberating, maybe even boring at times. Certainly it’ll be another decent attempt to break out of the ordinary way of doing things.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Sure: “The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man. Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart.”