10Qs with Peter McLaughlin of Pretty Purgatory

Peter has performed with or been a member of a wide range of Maine bands, including Family Planning, The Milkman’s Union, Jacob Augustine, Lisa/Liza, Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, and The Casco Bay Tummlers. He’s a composer and percussionist based in Portland and a graduate of Bowdoin College. It was at Bowdoin that he cut his teeth as a music programmer, booking acts like Broken Social Scene, Deerhunter, and Dr. Dog for WBOR’s concert series. He’s continued programming at SPACE Gallery and runs Pretty Purgatory, a record label and artist collective. As performer, he’s played in thirty one states and two Canadian provinces since 2011.

Where were you born?
Boston, MA. October 23, 1987. Dangerously close to the one year anniversary of the ball going through Buckner’s legs…

How long have you lived here?
Since fall 2006. Portland since fall 2010.

What was your most memorable non-musical job?
I’m very luck to have had basically no non-musical jobs as an adult, so I’d have to go with white-washing all the fences at a farm in high school. It was a real Tom Sawyer operation. We kept getting more and more kids working for us for less and less. We spent all the money on burritos and Bud Light Party Balls™ (RIP).


What’s the origin behind your project name?
The words Pretty Purgatory entered my head a couple years ago. Just liked the sound of the words together. I certainly didn’t plan on using it as the name for the label, but it kept just popping back into my brain. It seemed like it was meant to be at a certain point. It has no intentional meaning, but I’ve done plenty of analysis retroactively, which probably doesn’t need sharing.. I think it’s evocative and fits the aesthetic of what we do.

What was your most memorable gig?
That’s really tough. There’s been so many incredible shows over the years. Memorable though? Perhaps the Wesley Hartley & the Traveling Trees show in Russelville, Arkansas. It had all the makings of a great night. Reclaimed commercial space. Low ceilings. No windows. Underage punk kids. An all-out bloody fist-fight. Cops. Taco John’s burritos. And a totally rapt audience.

What was your worst gig?
There hasn’t been too many disaster gigs over the years, but a Boston variety show with a Byrds cover band and a bunch of amateur comedians opening up to an audience of three was certainly a low point in my performing career.

What album or artist has most influenced you as a musician?
Kate Bush. Anyone who knows me can answer that question. I’m quite vocal about my adoration for all things Kate. It’s hard to pick just one record. My favorites are the Sensual World, Hounds of Love, The Dreaming, and Never for Ever in no particular order, but I love so much of her catalog. We have a deep spiritual connection. She just doesn’t know it yet.

What’s the one piece of musical equipment you can’t live without?
Oof. I’m a gear hoarder for sure. I’ve got five guitar amps in my studio and I don’t even play guitar. I couldn’t whittle it down to a single item, but I sure do love my white upright piano that Mr. Over a Cardboard Sea, Timmy Findlen gifted me.

Any advice for a musician starting out?
I’ll paraphrase and add to some advice from the incredible pianist, Matthew Shipp (who I had the pleasure of recording with a few months ago). Sonny Rollins said the only business worse than the music business is boxing. You shouldn’t try to do this professionally unless you absolutely have to; you spiritually can’t not be a musician. It can be the most fulfilling, transcendent, and simultaneously soul-crushing of professions.

What’s your musical guilty pleasure?
Well, I don’t entirely believe in musical guilty pleasures, but I have listened to this several times in a row. Also, the Toby Keith album Shockin’ Y’all is a modern classic. No shame.

What was the first album/recording you owned?
I think it was the Polaris Pete & Pete soundtrack cassingle. I ordered it from the back of a cereal box. I got the I Believe I Can Fly cassingle around that same time, too.

What are you listening to at the moment?
I’m writing from the back of the car between shows in NYC and Philly. Last three songs on the Jacob-controlled playlist were Meshuggah, Nina Simone, and Death Grips. I whole-heartedly approve.

What was the best concert/musical performance you’ve attended?
There have been so many life-changing shows over the years. Ornette Coleman, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Josephine Foster, several Dylan shows, The Bad Plus, Battles, Charlemagne Palestine, Michael Hurley, Joanna Newsom, Dirty Projectors, Tim Berne’s Big Satan… I’m lucky to have a seen a lot of my heroes. The best of 2015 so far is no doubt Tal National at SPACE a couple weeks back. If you missed out, you might just get another chance before the year’s out. Stay tuned…