Interview – Pete Miser

March 28, 2005

Pete Miser - Camouflage is Relative
Pete Miser’s new album, ‘Camouflage is Relative’ is out now.

How’s your day going?

My day is going pretty cool. I broke out the skill saw, drill and orbital sander and made a new desk for my home office. I’ve been meaning to do that for about a year now. Finally got around to it today so I’m feeling accomplished!

How do you feel about the music industry at the moment, is it evil?

Funny you should ask, I’m especially disgusted with the music industry right now. This industry is full of flakes and incompetent idiots who are in it for all of the wrong reasons. I mean, not everyone is a flake or incompetent but the music industry has a disproportionately high number of scrubs. I think it’s because of the perception that there’s a lot of money to be made in this industry. That can be true sometimes but I’m positive that the average plumber makes more than the music industry schmuck. People need to be involved in the music industry because they are passionate about the music not ’cause they see it as a quick path to pussy and fame.

You have a big web presence, with audio and video, do you see this as an important way to publicise music now?

Definitely. A web site is probably the most fundamental business tool these days. If you took the time to get a site together it probably means that you are serious about what you do and plan to be around for a minute. Plus it’s the most accessible way to way to let people check out what you do.

Do you think that file sharing is harming sales, or is it helping artists reach a wider audience?

I used to blow off the file sharing issue with the argument that “file sharing might hurt bigger artists but it doesn’t affect me much. I would be lucky if a million people downloaded my music.”

In real life, it is harming me in many ways. The most important is people’s attitude toward music (and intellectual property in general.) A lot of kids under the age of fifteen don’t give much thought to the concept of paying for music. Music and entertainment is perceived as being free to a lot of people these days. That wouldn’t be a big issue if it didn’t cost anything to make music but it does. Studio equipment, instruments, engineers, mastering costs, time the list goes on an on. File sharing basically cheapens the music. Not only in terms of money but in terms of value. People often take things for granted when they get them for free. So music is looked at like some disposable commodity. That’s a little depressing for someone who puts everything they have into the music that he or she makes.

On an economic level, file sharing is hurting everyone. I mean, it hurts big labels most directly but it trickles down to everyone else. Here’s an example: I produce tracks for a lot of artists who are trying to get a record deal. Less income for the big labels means less chances they’ll take on new artists (new artists represent bigger financial risks.) That means the artist I’m producing today is a lot less likely to get a record deal than he or she would have in the nineties. Fewer record deals = less bread for producers = less bread for Pete. Less bread for Pete = more non-music work to pay the bills = less time to devote to music = less music.

I’m not expecting file sharing to go away and I’m not being critical of people who download music illegally. I mean, what do you expect people to do? But people should be aware that downloading is definitely going to be the reason that some of our favorite new artists don’t release a second record.

One of your songs, Scent of a Robot, includes a quote from Blade Runner, are you into sci-fi?

I’m not a big Sci-Fi guy but when I realized that Scent Of A Robot was essentially a song written from the point of view of Rachel (one of the characters from Blade Runner) I had to tip my hat to the movie and not front like I invented the whole concept.

Do you like where hip-hop is going today?

Over all? Generally no. Now that hip-hop is mainstream it is afraid to take risks and innovate. That’s not to say that there isn’t dope shit still coming out but many young artists I see these days make efforts to sound exactly like some established artist. What originally attracted me to hip hop was it’s innovative spirit. Very few artists are really rocking new styles now days. I used to be inspired by nine out of ten new records I heard. Now I’m lucky if I’m inspired by one in thirty. Seriously! Funny thing is, there is still the same amount of dope music coming out, it’s just that, in proportion to all the bullshit, it’s a tiny minority of new releases and it’s hard to dig through the haystack to find it.

What sort of effect is copyright having on hip-hop, especially in respect to sampling?

Copyright laws are high-jacking one of my favorite aspects of hip hop music; sampling. It’s kind of like graffiti: it can be the most brilliant art form but, in the hands of someone wack, not only does the product suck but it pisses people off to the point of making it illegal!

So, yeah, the new rulings on copyright laws are making it hard for minor league artists to use samples (major leaguers can afford to clear the samples, no-names don’t have to worry about getting sued since they aren’t selling many, if any records anyway.)

On the other hand, parameters and restrictions don’t hold art back, they stimulate interesting responses. If anyone thinks that they can dead hip hop by prosecuting sampling producers, they’re completely wrong. Hip hop is a culture of survival and innovation. The game will adjust and keep on moving.

What sort of set-up do you use for producing?

I have a few vintage pieces of gear, Roland 808, Fender Rhodes and an MPC 60 but I use Logic Audio software more than anything else these days. I’m doing the exact same thing I used to do on my MPC, I’m just doing it faster now.

What’s your favourite gadget, the one you couldn’t live without?

Uh, my toothbrush.

If you asked my DJ, Blowout, he’d probably say my melodica. For those who don’t know, a melodica is a little keyboard that you blow through to play. It sounds like a harmonica or an accordion. (It’s the most prominent instrument on “Scent Of A Robot.”) Every time Blowout and I are working on a track, I pull out the melodica to help me find the key and figure out some chords for the track. He rolls his eyes when he sees me pull that thing out! I don’t really play it on many songs but it’s a handy little instrument for working things out. It’s a little goofy for a hip-hop producer to be rocking the melodica so much but it’s useful.

What’s your all time favourite album?

Hip-hop album or album?

Hip-hop album:
Public Enemy, “It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back” Pure genius!

Albums in General:
Maybe Miles Davis “In A Silent Way” Try as I might, I can’t get sick of it.

Who have you most enjoyed working/playing with?

My current band and Dido.

My current band is helping me realize my music in ways that I never would have thought of. They’re amazing musicians who challenge me to get better every time we make music together.

My experience with Dido taught me a lot and I’m a better musician for it, plus I got to see the world and play in front of hundreds of thousands of people at a time. (Millions if you count TV.)

If you could collaborate with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?

I had to walk away and think about this. There aren’t many artists I wouldn’t want to collaborate given the right circumstances. I’d love to have the Neptunes, Questlove and DJ Premiere produce some Pete Miser songs. I’d love to work with Outkast on some of their songs. I’d kill to work with Emiliana Torrini. I’d love to have Fred Wesley arrange horn parts for a live album. I’d like to hear Redman rhyme over some of my beats. I’d be scared but excited to work with Miles Davis. I’d like to talk lyrics with Bob Dylan. I learn from everything I do and learning is what attracts me to music. It would be easier to come up with a list of people I wouldn’t like to collaborate with!

You’re also into graffiti aren’t you?

I’m not at liberty to say.

How do you think that ties into Hip-Hop and why have they always been linked?

If you subscribe to the philosophy-in-a-box of many keep-it-realer type hip hop heads, you would say that hip hop is a culture that is manifested in four artistic elements; graffiti, mcing, b-boying and djing. To keep things simple, maybe that should provide you with your answer but that’s not quite historically correct. Early graffiti wasn’t inextricably linked to hip-hop. In fact, a lot of graff pioneers have talked about how they were never into hip hop music and still don’t dig it that much! On the other hand, I think that both the worlds of Graffiti and hip-hop enjoyed a kinship in their countercultural agenda such that they became associated with each other and, eventually linked in the eighties.

Do you like what UK graffiti artists are doing with stencils, like Banksy?

I do. I like stencil work a lot but I like it for different reasons than why I like tags, throw ups and pieces. Traditional graff is about hand styles, ups and fame within the culture and it’s so exclusive in nature that you don’t even get to know the rules of the game unless you’re official (which I’m not.) Stencils are dope but they’re more of an art student medium. In terms of revolutionary politics, I tend to think that the art form that doesn’t even speak the language of the establishment (and seeks to literally destroy it) is a lot more powerful than that of art students who are, VERY generally speaking, students of the establishment.

Do you have any plans/projects in the pipeline for the future?

I have tons of projects floating around in my head, it’s just a matter of finding the way to get them out there. I’m working on a record with my live band. I’ve started writing songs for another Pete Miser album. I’m collaborating with several different artists for their future releases and I’d like to do an instrumental album sometime in the near future. I’ve also been doing some writing for a magazine called THEME and I did an illustration for the February issue of Mass Appeal Magazine. I’d like to do a gallery show of my paintings some time as well.


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