10Qs with Peter Squires of Farthest Forests and The Landladys

PeterSquires-photoThis month, Peter Squires released his sophomore solo album “Where the Bunny Meets the Bear.”  Whereas his solo debut, 2009’s “Woe is Me,” was acoustic, “Where the Bunny Meets the Bear” goes back to his electric roots.  Both are available from Bandcamp, AmazoniTunes, and many Bull Moose locations.  When he’s not performing solo material, he can also be found as a member of The Farthest Forests and The Landladys (of Burst & Bloom Records).

Where were you born?
I was born in Manhattan, grew up on Long Island, and spent my early adulthood in Brooklyn. I moved to Maine when I was 29.

What brought you to Portland?
I actually live about 45 minutes South of Portland in Eliot (near the New Hampshire border). After spending a year on tour around the country in support of my first solo album (‘Woe is Me’, 2009), I landed for the Summer out on Star Island (off the coast of Portsmouth). When the Summer ended I didn’t want to go back to New York, but didn’t really have anywhere else to go…so I just stayed in Maine. I’m glad I did – I really like it here.

Do you have a day job, and if so, what is it?
Yes, I work in the Development Office at The Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH. It allows me to have a “grown-up” job while keeping close contact with the arts…and I get to see lots of great shows for free!

What was your most memorable gig?
My most memorable gig was in Jackson, Mississippi. I was on that national tour, and had a gap in my schedule between Austin, TX and Atlanta, GA. Just looking for a place to stay, I turned to the website couchsurfing.org. I got through to a couch surfing host named Lizzie Wright, who not only agreed to put me up for the night, but also booked a last minute show in her house. Lizzie herself is a great musician, who I ended up doing another short tour with a few months later. Probably 40 or 50 people ended up coming to her house for that show, and they were the most supportive, excited crowd I could have ever asked for. It wasn’t the most prestigious or best-paying show I’ve ever played, but the circumstances of the show and the way it turned out definitely made it the most memorable.

What was your worst gig?
My worst gig ever was in Philadelphia. There actually was no gig, because literally zero people came. I didn’t know that was mathematically possible, but it happened.

What album or artist has most influenced you as a musician?
In my formative years, my favorite bands were Nirvana, the Pixies, and Weezer, and later Neutral Milk Hotel definitely got added to that list. You can definitely hear those influences in my music now – but as I came to identify more as a singer-songwriter (as opposed to just a band member) I came to identify a lot with Billy Bragg. I just think he’s the coolest. I share a lot of his political beliefs, but I don’t sing about them like he does. Still, I like his style – a punk rock troubador who can play loud or soft and is not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve. I also really love Willie Nelson and think there are a lot of similarities between him and me, but on the surface we’re pretty different (in terms of genre and aesthetics).

What’s the one piece of musical equipment you can’t live without?
I guess it’s cliche to say my acoustic guitar, but that’s definitely it. It’s just the most versatile. You can play it by yourself or with others, and take it anywhere. That said, lately I’ve been really leaning on my ZVEX “Box of Rock” distortion pedal and my Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail reverb pedal.

Any advice for a musician starting out?
I guess it’s strange advice coming from me, because it’s not advice I’ve really heeded well myself – but my advice is to be great live. Putting on a well-rehearsed, perfectly executed, and fun to watch live show is the #1 thing that will get people to buy your CD, tell their friends about you, and feel like a fan. A great album is important, but the odds are slim that the people you want to hear it will get it in their hands. A great live show is the doorway to anyone’s heart.

What’s the origin behind your band name?
It’s my name. This project is me.   The album title is a reference to the lyrics in my song Two Bunnies, in which two bunnies carry Mama Bear’s soul away. There are lots of references to Heaven in the album, but I’m not religious. It’s more about thinking about where you’ve been and where you’re going, with the belief that there are brighter days ahead.

What’s your musical guilty pleasure?
“I Want it That Way” by the Backstreet Boys. It’s the ace up my sleeve at all sing-alongs, and ocassionally even at shows. When I play it, I think people assume I’m being ironic. I’m not – I truly love that song.