- June 2015 -
HAVE A BEER WITH LAWRENCE PETERS
For the eighth consecutive year, Lawrence Peters will be hosting A Day in the Country at The Hideout. The all-day festival will take place on Sunday, June 14, and will feature a dozen musical acts (including The Lawrence Peters Outfit) from the entire spectrum of country music, from bluegrass and honky tonk to Cajun music and singer-songwriters.
Lawrence is a country singer, songwriter, drummer and America’s preeminent electric washboard player, with a music career spanning 20-plus years. He is best known for his involvement in the watershed Songs: Ohia/ Magnolia Electric Company album, singing lead on the track "The Old Black Hen." He was a key player in the Lawrence, Kan., music scene before moving to Chicago in 1992.
We chatted with Lawrence about music as a passion, the country/roots scene in the Chicago and why he's excited about the upcoming festival.
Kristen from A Beer with the Band: What's your drink of choice or beer of choice?
Lawrence Peters: My favorite drink is Jeppson’s Malört and soda with a lemon slice, but I’m also a bourbon fan. When I’m in the mood for a beer I like stouts, porters and ambers, but sometimes a good ol’ cheap lager is the right thing. I like to keep it local, when possible. Lagunitas and Argus are at the top of that list.
Kristen: You’re at a bar. Which of the following are you most likely to do: (a.) Make the drinks (b.) Man the Jukebox (c.) Hit the dance floor (d.) Chug a beer (e.) Take a shot?
Lawrence: Make the drinks and man the jukebox.
Kristen: Why music as a passion?
Lawrence: Most of my earliest and best memories involve music, but I didn’t really start playing until I was around 20 years old. Once I got used to the idea that I could be a part of something that had always seemed so magical, I didn’t want to do anything else. Luckily I also love to bartend, so I don’t feel like my soul is dying while I’m paying the rent.
Kristen: What’s your creative process like?
Lawrence: Songs usually come to me in scraps, with a core lyric and an accompanying melody. After that, it’s largely about figuring out what the song has to say, and making it as strong as the foundation piece. Some songs will have place-holder lyrics, until I can find the language to do the story justice. I don’t want to use a word just because it rhymes or comes close to doing the job; I want the whole thing to balance out, and it can take a long time to finish a song that way. That said, I’ve had a good songwriting streak these last few months.
Kristen: What have you learned about yourself through music?
Lawrence: That’s a really good question. I could fill volumes with an answer to that. The shorthand version is that I’ve learned to honor the scars and armor I’ve accumulated over the years, and to value the tender spots they are there to protect. It’s applicable to everything, but writing and singing are microcosms of that. I wouldn’t be able to get to some of the places I write from if I didn’t have some protection.
Kristen: You moved to Chicago in 1992. What has kept you here?
Lawrence: Initially, it was being part of Improv Olympic, but since then it has been the great music scene. Musicians in Chicago are the hardest working of any I’ve come across, and there is a very high level of skill. I like that there’s a healthy amount of competition, but also a friendly and supportive vibe. I only know a few musicians who make a living from playing, and that’s frustrating, but I’ll take artistic expression over commerce, up to a point. Anyway, I don’t know that there is anyplace where that’s a reality, at this point.
Kristen: You’re most passionate about deep-rooted American country music, which isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “Chicago.” How have you found your place in the scene here?
Lawrence: Yeah, Chicago’s golden era as a country music town ended long before I got here, so it probably doesn’t come up when most folks think of that sound, but country has had a place here since at least the 1920s, with the early Southern migration. I came to Chicago with a whole lifetime of country music already in my marrow. Having strong opinions on how country music should be made has probably done me some good, as far as longevity goes. By doing my thang for so long, and so steadily, it’s like I’ve become an ol’ rock that a river has to flow around. Having Jason Molina include me on what came to be his breakout album has also given me some cred. I regularly have folks asking me about that recording experience. Very lucky to have that as part of my mysterious past.
Kristen: On June 14 you’ll be presenting “A Day In the Country” for the eighth consecutive year. Why did you start this festival?
Lawrence: I started the festival as a place for me and my buddies to play the kind of country music I like. After that I filled it with everything else that would make it a country music festival I’d want to go to: bbq, whiskey, cold beer, pie and all of my friends having a good time. It’s still my favorite day.
Kristen: How has the festival evolved or changed over the past few years?
Lawrence: The first few years were relatively easy to book, since it was mostly a matter of calling my friends and asking if they wanted to play. I did have Freakwater as headliner for the first one, so that was a solid start, and I’ve had some great players over the years, but it still takes some work to aim higher for each one. Last year’s standout was having Nora O’Connor agree to put together a country band for the festival. I’ve known her for a long time, but it’s gratifying to have someone I respect get excited about something that is important to me. This year I had to sign contracts and come up with a deposit for the headliner. It was a stretch, but it was totally worth the extra hustle.
Kristen: What excites you most about this year’s event?
Lawrence: I have my ol’ Lawrence, Kansas buddy Chuck Mead headlining with His Grassy Knoll Boys after many years of trying to get him on the bill. The rest of the lineup is also great, with Derek Hoke and Sarah Potenza, who are also headliner worthy, plus a really solid cross section of Chicago’s best roots music groups. Plenty of original music in the mix, too.
Kristen: What’s the boldest thing you’ve done in the past year?
Lawrence: I accepted a residency at The High-Hat Club. I’ve been using it as an opportunity to write new songs, and have my band try them out in front of an audience. It’s exciting to be playing new material, but singing some of those lyrics for the first time in a room full of people is scary as shit!
Kristen: What’s the least rock-‘n’-roll thing you’ve done in the past year?
Lawrence: I bought an iron… but I used it to kill a man, so I guess that’s still pretty rock and roll.
Kristen: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Lawrence: My mom wrote something like “If you’re going to do something, do it right” in my baby book. That was very Kansan of her, considering that the state motto translates as “To The Stars Through Difficulty." It’s good, old- school advice with lots of integrity, but I had to learn how to not be so literal about it. It took me years to realize that there are times when doing something right means getting some tasks done as efficiently as possible, to make room for the ones that really deserve the time and effort.