On the Line with Pete RG

Pete RG is a thoughtful and gifted singer-songwriter who has been making a name for himself in the world of music with his chilling voice, truthful lyrics and intrigue. Having recently finished a run of dates across the U.S., we had a conversation about what he appreciates about New York City and Los Angeles, meeting fans, finding himself as a musician and more.

Alex Obert: You’ve been playing in New York City as of late, what did you take out of that whole experience? I sense that someone like you would really appreciate it.

Pete RG: As an individual, I love being in New York City. I’m fortunate to go there a lot, playing shows for our fans in New York. Building new fans too. It’s just always great. It’s a nice change of pace from not just LA, but pretty much any other city. The energy on the streets, the energy in the venues, the people just have a very unique approach. It’s special to play there and nice to get great feedback and great support. It really is the same for the band too, everyone loves being there. Spending time there is just really inspiring.

Alex Obert: What goes through your head while walking around New York City? What does it mean to you?

Pete RG: I first went as a little kid to tag along with my dad on business trips. We don’t have buildings like that in Los Angeles. It’s just like this epic feeling. My family, they’re Greek immigrants. When they first came to the U.S., my dad and his siblings were in their teens. They landed at the Port of Manhattan and that was their first experience in the U.S. It was their first experience in a major city because they had grown up in a small village in the mountains of Southern Greece. They had never really seen running water, electricity, cars, for the most part. They have these stories how they were walking down the street and they were looking at the buildings and they were like mountains to them. They all have the same story, so I know there’s not a lot of embellishment going on. I always reflect on that too.

Alex Obert: How do you feel growing up in California helped shape you?

Pete RG: Venice is an odd place. (laughs) It’s changing tremendously right now. It’s getting gentrified, as are a lot of other formerly run-down neighborhoods across the U.S. Cleveland is going through a major overhaul. Growing up in this artsy, beachy, hippie community, there’s nowhere else I’d really rather be. I love to visit other cities and spend time there, but this is where I like to be permanently. This is home because the people are very open here for the most part. They like to think outside the box. There’s all these pop-up shops up and down every street. People have little shops in their garages. They’re making different kinds of clothes and little accessories for your phone. It’s just really kind of an entrepreneurial spirit, man. I enjoy that.

Alex Obert: When finding yourself as musician, did you ever take the opportunity to set down your guitar case and perform in the beach area for those passing by?

Pete RG: Crazy enough, I never did that here. But I did do it back on the East Coast. I did it in Baltimore. I used to play Fell’s Point a lot. It’s an old waterfront in Baltimore and a lot of the old buildings that housed the different businesses and warehouses on the docks, they were converted to bars and restaurants. They’re pretty small fifteen foot wide storefronts and they all have a Minstrel or a small band in front. I’ve done some busking there. I did some in Washington D.C. as well. So that’s where I experienced it, but actually never in LA. When I was home, I would just play venues.

Alex Obert: Through playing different venues across the country, what do you take out of meeting fans from all over?

Pete RG: Going to different towns and meeting different fans, that is, hands down, the most rewarding experience of being on the road. We were recently in Mississippi and it was like going to a foreign country. It’s hard to understand what the people say. (laughs) They speak with such a heavy southern drawl. You get to see how they live and how their manners are. They’re just incredibly polite. They are really appreciative of the efforts of musicians. It’s great to meet so many people within our own country who have such different ways of life. There’s different cultures, different ways in which they dress, different ways in which they speak. It’s interesting because music really is something that bonds everyone. People come up to me and they’re like, “You remind me of Neil Diamond.” I’ll get that everywhere I go. But then someone in each town will throw an off-the-wall one, someone I’ve never even heard of. A local artist or something like that.

Alex Obert: When you first started experimenting with music, how did you determine the vocal style that fit you the best? There’s those who establish themselves with high-pitched screams and others who go way down low.

Pete RG: Funny you should mention high-pitched screams cause we recently played Tucson last week and Randall Dempsey from The Desert Beats, he had the most incredible screech I’ve ever heard in my life. The whole band was talking about it. We want to fly him in and sample some of his screams. Regarding me, it’s pretty simple. I have a deep voice. I’m pretty much a bass. I can sing higher; I can sing baritone. That is what I often do. I can get up into a low tenor range. The fact that I’m a bass determines what register I sing in. Within that, it determines what I do stylistically. For instance, if I push my voice, which a past record label actually tried to have me do, it will sound okay. It sounds a little nasally, a little harsh at times. Ultimately, the big downfall is that it’s nothing special. “Okay, yeah, he sounds like another rock guy pushing his voice hard.” When I stay more relaxed, I sing within myself. That’s where I’m best and it sets the tone of where I should always be trying to be.

Alex Obert: As a fan of music, have you ever listened to a song that was so powerful that it brought you to tears?

Pete RG: I think that would have to do with timing. There have been times where I’ve heard a song and it shook me because it hit at a particular moment. There’s the Bright Eyes song, First Day of My Life. It’s a melancholy reflective love song and how he misses someone and wanting to make sure he stays with that person. I can’t say there are songs that consistently move me to tears, but there are songs where they play at just the right time. And then there are other songs where I hear them and I’m like, “Wow, I can’t believe someone actually wrote that. That’s amazing.” It’s not even a matter of wishing I had written that; I just appreciate the sheer genius of the writing. Revealing and so touching.

Alex Obert: Where do you draw the inspiration for your own lyrics? Do you rely more on real-life situations and influences or ideas you make up in your head?

Pete RG: The lyrics, phrases and a melody will come out at the same time. It will be something that just hits home with me and I don’t often even know where it came from. That’s the majority of the time. Then I sit with it and I’ll work it over and over again and I’ll hunt for the rest of the melody. I’ll hunt for the rest of the music that’s beneath it and whatever’s missing. I’ll work on the chord progression and the rhythm. The lyrics come out of me and it’s like I’m searching for the right word that matches the spirit of that moment. That’s when the melody and the lyric and the music meet at just the right spot. It means something to me. That comes from a personal experience and I will usually fill in the gaps with stuff that’s in my head or just hyperbolize to make the point that I feel simply because I’m having so many feelings in such a short amount of space.

Alex Obert: It’s important to reach out to those who buy your records and come out to see you perform, but what’s equally as important is reaching out to your friends and family. When you released Reaching For the Moon, how was their reaction?

Pete RG: It was really good. I think the first person we gave it to was my dad on the day I got it back from mastering. My dad happens to be a musician. We were actually on a family vacation and so I gave it to him. He got up the next morning and he was like, “Hey, I listened to it like two or three times. It’s great! The songs are really good. The lyrics are strong. Musically, you went in a completely different direction than I expected.” I had played him the songs just on an acoustic guitar and a keyboard right before we recorded them. In his mind, he thought that they were going to be a batch folk songs because of the way I played them. The songs were really influenced by the drum machine that we had written the songs with, as well as the keyboard parts. And there was the poppy electric guitars. That took him back, but he really enjoyed it. Across the board, family and friends were really into it. That’s always nice.

Alex Obert: One year from now, how do you hope to evolve as a musician and as a person?

Pete RG: As a person, I want to continue to push myself and challenge myself to be a better person. That means something as simple as eating better, especially when you’re on the road. Exercising consistently. And I want to learn to understand myself better. I sometimes have a tendency to get a little frustrated with things and get a little whiny. I want to try to temper that a little bit. I want to relax a little bit because right now, I’m seeing it myself and with everyone I talk to, we’re just inundated on a moment by moment basis. We’ve got these blips and bleeps and phones ringing at us and computer screens and everything, let’s keep that at bay a little bit. Let’s just step back and relax; let’s close things down. How that translates to music is that I want to do the same thing there. We have a lot of things going on right now with having our own label we’re setting up. We’re basically managing ourselves out of choice, not a necessity. We’re booking a lot of our shows out of choice. I want to take that and evolve with the foundation we’ve developed. I want to really hone in on what’s important, simplify it so we can keep our lives a little less hectic. I think that will manifest itself in that we’re gonna just let things come at us a little bit more with the music. We’re gonna be focusing more on what the music means to be played live, as opposed to what it means to be played recorded. We’re going to relax on the recording and push things more a little bit with the live show.

Alex Obert: A live performance can make it a completely different song in the best way possible.

Pete RG: Exactly. It’s like the recording will be the template, some basic tools you use to pull it off. Then we’re just gonna run with it live. That’s where it’s at these days and I don’t think that’s gonna change anytime soon. And it’s really a lot of fun.

Alex Obert: It makes you look forward to a live show every time because you never know what’s gonna happen. It can really be something different every time and each song can take on a new life.

Pete RG: A hundred percent.

Alex Obert: On that note, I’d love to thank you so much for your time and sharing a piece of your story with me.

Pete RG: Definitely. I really appreciate it, Alex.

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