Hot Press - Courtney Rock - April 12 2001

Fiona Reid meets Mullingar singer/songwriter Pete Courtney

Pete Courtney is getting down to business. After five years doing the steadfast singer/songwriter thing around Dublin and New York, with his guitar on his back and a gleam in his eye, the Mullingar minstrel is now finally ready to deliver his debut album. Just about.

When I meet him in Molloys of a wet Wednesday, Pete still has a couple of weeks to put the finishing touches on the home-recorded, self-released album before launching it in Whelan’s on April 25th. One Of These Kids… (so-called after that catchy little number from Sesame Street) will feature the profound and comic musings he has been developing over the past year.

The album is being recorded with the help of Ray Beggan of epic electronica duo Operation Seesaw.

“Ray has a very organic set-up in his bedsit, with mixing desks, computers, and lots of technical stuff that, er, he knows about.” Pete explains “He’s pretty much producing the album for me.”

It has proved to be a fruitful friendship.

“Ray and I tend to stay out on the beer together, but we’re finding that the hangovers put us in the right mood to work on the album. We’re recording as close to the live sound as possible for the most part, with the emphasis on voice and guitar, although a few tracks have full sound with bass and drum machine etc. It’s a very old and straightforward way of recording, and we’ll keep all the little idiosyncrasies in it, you know, those moments where it’s slightly off technically-speaking, but I think that just adds something.”

Pete runs a featured singer/songwriter session in Slattery’s of Rathmines showcasing new talent every Tuesday night, but that’s just one of his enterprises. Last year, he set up his own independent music company Tonal Music under the Business Expansion Scheme. “All I had to do was register the company, knock up a three-year business plan and send it off to the Department of Arts. They said ‘Very good. We approve’ and gave me a certificate to show investors. I’m releasing the album under my own company name, so I’m in complete control. After the release, I should be in a good position to attract potential investors, if I need to. For the time being, I’m just concentrating on doing my own stuff, but in five years when the scheme expires, I hope to develop the company into a more mature independent label, incorporating other people in a kind of collective thing.”

Pete spent eight months plying his trade in New York.

“Initially, I was waiting tables to make money, but after a month or two I said ‘To hell with this!’ and played a gig in the Village. Some people saw me and said, ‘We like what you’re doing - come and live with us.’ So I ended up living in the East Village for six months, playing loads of gigs at Arlene’s Grocery, CBGB’s Gallery and all these places.”

It was on one such occasion that he encountered the late Jeff Buckley.

“It was a singer/songwriters night in the Sidewalk Café with about eight people playing. After my set, the next guy to get up stopped me with “Hey Irish Guy!” and we were yapping for about twenty minutes before it clicked who he was. I’d never really heard his stuff before, but I copped on when he mentioned people like Glen Hansard. He was well-oiled, but really humble and sincere. I don’t think he played much of his own stuff that night, but was jamming a sort of bluesy-jazz thing. He was ad-libbing most of it, just having fun. He was hilarious and brilliant with a great spontaneity. Unfortunately, that was only about two or three weeks before he took that famous final swim.”

Most of Courtney’s songs are light-hearted but with underlying themes of a philosophical nature.

“I think they’re kind of funny and truthful. Someone said to me recently that my main thing is enlightenment. The songs are affirmations toward the more spiritual side of life, while incorporating the human side, of course. ‘Jesus’ Sweat’ off the album was written in a halfway house in New York, lying in bed. There were some very strange people there – and I’m not the most conventional meself – but it was real David Lynch territory. It’s about waiting for true love, and how you get tormented by ideas and temptations. It starts off dark and sparse, but turns into something very bright.”

After his New York experiences, Pete came back to home soil and formed the band, Peaces, before going solo in 1999. Since then he has been doing solid support slots in Dublin and Mullingar, with the likes of Juliet Turner, The Handsome Family, and David Kitt.

“I also had Damien Rice supporting me in Whelan’s recently, which was a great boost in confidence ‘cause it takes a lot of it to get up and follow someone like Damien.”

The album launch in Whelan’s will also feature some very special musician friends as guests, including a singer/songwriter, very hot on the scene at present, who must remain anonymous due to promotional entanglements. There are more big things on the horizon for Pete Courtney and, mark my words, you’ll be certainly be hearing a lot more about him this summer.

Pete Courtney launches his album One Of These Kids in Whelans on 25th April. He also plays the Mullingar Arts Centre with Juliet Turner on 14th April, The Stables, Mullingar on 18th May and appears in The Lobby, Cork with Steve Fanagan on 31st May.

Fiona Reid