In Session: Christopher Peifer
NEW YORK – COVID was an unprecedented time for the world. While some sought refuge, trying to make sense of the world, Christopher Peifer put his nose to the grindstone, writing, recording, and releasing three albums over the course of two years. Now, with plenty of material to play, he’s assembled a pretty lean and mean band and is ready to show people what he has in store for them.
Planning on coming through Albany, a city he lived in and came to love, Peifer reached out for a conversation, and after hearing his music, I was more than thrilled to chat with him. What follows is our discussion.
Lucas Garrett: Christopher, thanks for taking some time tonight. How are you?
Christopher Peifer: Good! Just catching my breath from the long trip. I don’t know if I’m coming or going right now.
LG: I don’t think a lot of us know whether we’re coming or going.
CP: Hahaha. Ever since the pandemic, I’ve just been traveling. I don’t think I’ve fully unpacked a suitcase in three-and-a-half years now. I’m used to it.
LG: Speaking of the pandemic, you came out with a few of them over its course.
CP: Yep. I was never a solo artist until the pandemic, and it was really out of necessity that I pursued it in the first place; I’ve always been a collaborator and bandmate. Being forced apart—social distancing – being unable to play… necessitated that move.
LG: What was it like, making the shift from being in a band to doing it on your own?
CP: Totally different than band collaboration. For the record, I didn’t do this solo project entirely alone. I’m the songwriter and primary artistic force, but my musical partner, Todd Giudice, is the drummer in my band and owns a studio in Cold Spring, New York.
With the solo stuff, since I couldn’t work with other people, I’d write the songs basically in solitary. I left my apartment [in New York] during the pandemic, and I was either living with my parents in Indiana or my mother-in-law’s place in Massachusetts. I’d record them very rudimentarily with guitar and voice just to make sure things were syncing up with the chord progression and melody.
We go into this studio, which was a big converted barn where there was plenty of room to socially distance. I’d be able to spend a few days in the studio at a time, working on a song per day. The drummer, Todd, learned the songs on the spot. I’d start playing the songs… as soon as he locked in the beat, I said “That’s it,” and we’d rehearse it a bit and [record]. We’d build from there with overdubs.
LG: Did you enjoy that process?
CP: I got used to it. I always enjoy studio time, but actually, playing live is my passion. Studio life is a totally different dynamic being on stage. I love both, but the pandemic forced me to approach recording in a different manner. Todd was playing drums, and I played every other instrument. We wanted it to sound as much as a band playing live together in a room as possible. That was the aesthetic we were going for; it was an interesting way to approach it from that angle. I’d say more than being problematic it was challenging.
LG: Challenges make you grow as an artist.
CP: Right! You can live up to the challenges, develop strategies, and come up with solutions. Over the course of three records… it became commonplace.
LG: I’d love to talk about your guitar tone. How did you achieve the sound on your records?
CP: I’ve always been primarily a bass player. I’m lucky that in Todd’s studio, he’s fully equipped – I didn’t have to travel with guitars. I have this cheap Epiphone Casino; I love it. It’s the cheapest instrument I own, but I’m not embarrassed. I love the weight of it; I love the way the neck feels; I love the chime-y tone. That’s what I write on. It’s louder than a solid body – you don’t have to plug it into an amp to hear it – but it’s not as loud as a full-on acoustic guitar. I can play at home and not bother people, so it’s just become a fit-in-my-hand guitar.
At Todd’s studio, he has all the gear I need. I’m using his Fender Stratocaster for the rhythm tracks; I’m using a Gibson Les Paul for the leads. I’m playing through a Fender Twin for rhythm and a Gibson amp for the leads. The main part about that studio is that the room is so big – this is a luxury these days. Usually, you’re in a studio, and it’s a small little box, and you add in the space after the fact.
Working in his room, we’re hearing how it’ll sound once it’s recorded. You get a good guitar, a good tube amp, a good sound, and a good microphone on it. And it’s just like magic to me. That was really the trick to the tone, where it was just being as direct and no effects or tricks-in-the-box as possible. Having it sound good in the room and then transferring it to the recording.
LG: With these three albums out, you’ve put together a live band. I was wondering what that process was like and how you found the members for that project.
CP: The drum position was easy because Todd was the drummer on the record. That was a no-brainer. Todd is very tasteful, and musical and thoughtful as a player. [He’s] multi-instrumentalist: he plays guitar; he’s a singer-songwriter in his own right; he plays drums. I like his sensibilities. We’ve known each other for about ten years. We played in Stephen Clair’s band. Stephen is based in Beacon, New York.
Nick Bisanz, who’s playing bass with my band… We were in Albany around the same time in the mid-nineties. We just missed each other; we didn’t know each other when we both lived there. Around a dozen years ago, we both played in Sandy McKnight’s band, and the joke about that was we were three bass players. Only Nick and I were playing guitar in Sandy’s band. Even though guitar is my first instrument, I’m known mainly as a bass player… When that folded with Sandy, we promised each other that we’d do something later down the road. I was delighted Nick agreed to play, even though we’re long distance.
LG: I want to hear about how it all started for you as a musician.
CP: It started in northern Indiana. I grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Not a musical family, per se, but a family that always had music and a variety of music, from classical to rock to jazz. I was always a music appreciator as a kid. As a kid, I decided this is what I wanted to do. I can’t remember a time when music wasn’t something that I had my mind, and my heart, and my goals set on.
I played in several bands as a teenager. I remember my parents, how trusting is this? We were good enough, and they knew we wouldn’t get in trouble, but they’d drop us off at a bar that we’d play at, as sixteen-year-olds that were entertaining adult drinkers at a bar! That’s how we cut our teeth, doing covers of the day, which would’ve been mid-eighties hair metal.
After graduating high school, I was lucky enough to join my then-drummer’s brother’s band, Tempest. We toured Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois. His brother’s claim to fame is he was asked to join the band, Poison… they were so cheesy in the video that he said no. I guess that’s regrettable for him, but it was lucky for me that I got to play with him in that touring band. I learned a lot doing that. It wasn’t long after that that I made the move to New York and went to college in Albany a couple of years after that.
LG: You moved to Albany from New York City, right?
SM: Yes, I moved there from Indiana and played with a couple of bands. Most importantly at that time was the band Francis Farmer, My Hero. I guess it’d be if you crossed Nina Hagen with The Clash. For that time, it was pretty crazy and cool. A decade later, after the band disbanded, we got an offer to play in Europe, which would be my first European tour. They paid for our trip to come play this big arts festival. My first gig with that band was in New York City, opening for Soundgarden. This was before anyone knew who they were.
It was because of a girl that I moved to Albany. It was because of her that I went to college. I sat in on a couple of her classes and thought, “This isn’t high school. This is cool.” That’s how haphazardly I decided to go to college. I really loved it and was successful at it.
I’m no longer with this girl, although I wrote several songs across these three records about her, so I got mileage out of the relationship. Maybe without her, I would not have gone to college. People can change your life in amazing ways without being in your life for long.
CP: [Albany] was my home for five years. I have a real soft spot for it and a strong connection to it; a lot of friends there. Every band I’ve been in since leaving there has come up to play there since. Those great Howe Glassman clubs: Bogie’s, Valentine’s, later on, The Low Beat. All those are gone now.
LG: It’s a shame how they’re all gone now.
LG: Are you planning a tour?
CP: Yeah! I’m getting stuff together. My plan for this band is to play out of the City first. I don’t want to be pegged as a New York hometown band. I want to start regionally; places where I have connections: Hudson Valley; Capital Region; Boston; debut in the City later. It seems counterintuitive, but it feels right for me. We’re vying for gigs starting in October.
LG: Who are some of your creative influences?
CP: For songwriters, it’s Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe. Paul Westerberg from The Replacements. Graham Parker. The band, The Figgs, which I’m sure you’re familiar with from Saratoga Springs. Those are my songwriting and rock and roll heroes. I love bands like The Jam and Husker Du. The Figgs, to me, are phenomenal. How they never became wildly famous, I’ll never understand because they should be. I’m lucky to know them. Those are my high bars to ascend to.
LG: Alright, well, thank you very much, Chris!
CP: Thank you, Lucas. I really appreciate it!