INTERVIEW: Pete Krebs: Portland's Hardest Working Musician
By: Alex Steininger
When the Seattle/Sub Pop scene exploded, Portland's Hazel found themselves doing photo shoots for Rolling Stone, saw their videos on MTV, and began playing to sold out crowds across the nation. Then the hype went away, and in early 1998 Hazel called it quits after all the members of the band had various side projects going on.
Pete Krebs was busy with his solo stuff, including two full-length releases, as well as playing in numerous bands around town, including the bluegrass sounds of Golden Delicious.
Chatting at a local restaurant/bar called the Rabbit Hole, Pete and I sat down and discussed music, Portland, and the hardships of being in a band.
Alex: What does music mean to you?
Pete: I don't know, it's just what I do. It's my reason for doing what I do, and living my life the way I do. I don't know what else to say. It's pretty close to being a religion, in a sense.
Alex: On each solo album you've brought more and more instrumentation into the picture. Is it your goal to keep experimenting with instruments on your solo albums?
Pete: Well, not necessarily. I think my ability to write music is becoming different. With each record I learn more. I'm hearing more noises and instruments in my head, and as a result I'm adding different sounds.
Alex: To coincide with the addition of new instruments popping up on each new solo album, do you feel as if you're getting deeper and more intense musically with each album?
Pete: I don't about more intense and deeper, but I think I'm writing better now than I have been in the past. Or, at least, I'm writing differently and it's very satisfying. But, you know, I've always operated on the same level of intensity, musically.
Alex: "Tom Waits and the Attack of the Crab Monster" is a very unusual song for one of your solo albums, how did it come about?
Pete: That was the result of Elliott [Smith] and I sitting in the studio for a few days straight. It was one or two in the morning, and we were downstairs, smoking and drinking, trying to finish the record [Krebs' second solo album, WESTERN ELECTRIC]. The organ part that Elliott begins the song with is something he was fooling around with a lot, because there is a lot of organ on that record. I thought it was pretty hilarious, so I told him to just roll the tape and that's what came out of it.
Alex: Why did you decide not to add any words to "Luminous?"
Pete: Well, because originally it was an instrumental piece. I really liked the title 'luminous,' but I couldn't fit it into anything I was writing. I tried to write words to a song called "Luminous," and it just didn't happen. But you know how it goes when you get attached to a certain word or phrase.
Alex: Do you have demo versions of "Luminous" with words floating around your house?
Pete: Not of that song, but I have a couple of songs entitled "Luminous" that just didn't make the cut. I got a bunch of stuff like that laying around, and I never know where the tapes end up. They're around my house somewhere. I'm a pretty disorganized person though.
Alex: Back to the organs on the album...Kevin Richey [Golden Delicious] played organs on the album, correct?
Pete: No, actually Kevin sang back-up. He played one organ part, but Elliott played most of the keyboard parts on the album. He also played one drum part, but for the most part, whenever you hear a harmony that's Kevin.
Alex: Are you going to make an appearance on his upcoming solo album?
Pete: Probably not, but you never know. He hasn't asked me, but we'll just have to wait and see.
Alex: Why did you decide to call the new split CD "Cavity Search," in honor of your record label?
Pete: Actually the record label called it that. It wasn't even supposed to be called "Cavity Search," the name of the record label was just really large on the disc. Originally, the record was supposed to be a sampler. Richmond Fontaine was supposed to have four songs on it as well, so it was going to include all three of their artists: Golden Delicious, myself, and Richmond Fontaine. They had to back out of it at the last minute, so it ended up just being Golden Delicious and me. Then they wanted to release it as an actual release, so one thing lead to another and they made their decisions. They're the ones responsible for it.
Alex: Did you or Golden Delicious toss around any titles for the album?
Pete: No, because it was supposed to be just a sampler. Just the 'Cavity Search Sampler'. Then they took the sampler off of it, so it's kind of a drag. Everyone thinks our record is called "Cavity Search," and I would never name an album that. I think it's a horrible name. Too late now, though.
Alex: How did Thai food inspire the song "Ashes Back To Vegas" on the new split disc?
Pete: Well, the Thai food didn't really enter into it. I just went out with a friend I don't see that often, and she was relating a sad tale about this woman who's mother had died, and she had this great line, "Ashes back to Vegas." I thought that was a great line to use in a song, so I went home and the next day I wrote it. It came together really quick. But that's how the Thai food enters into it. It's more of an incidental thing.
Alex: How long does it usually take you to write a song? Do you like to whip them up and have them come together quickly, or do they usually take time?
Pete: Usually I don't like to spend that much time on them. I'm writing right now for a solo record I'm going to record next month, and I wrote a song today and started a second one. It usually takes me three to five hours a song. But I'm a workaholic, and I'll usually sit there until my legs are asleep and I'm half out of my mind because I haven't eaten all day, just to nail it. Then I'll record it and put it out of my mind for awhile, then I'll go back and listen to it and decide whether it's shitty or not. If you can't get it down quick and put it aside, unless you know there is something valuable there, get rid of it and work on something else.
Alex: When deciding whether a song is good or crap, do you pass tapes around to friends and ask their opinions, or do you make the sole judgement yourself?
Pete: Nah, it's usually me. Nobody really listens to my demos. I have one or two close friends I'll let listen to them, but for the most part, I make the call.
Alex: Back to your new album...Any idea of when it will be out or any information you would care to share about it?
Pete: It will be out near the first of the year. I'm recording it the first of this month, so it might be out late fall. I'm not really sure. I don't have a title for it yet, and I'm recording it at Elliott and Larry's studio, Jackpot Studios. John from the Maroons and the Dharma Bums is going to play drums, Billy Kennedy is going to play guitar, and Ben Shepherd is possibly going to play bass on it. I might have a petal steel guitar player come in and play on some of the country ones.
Alex: So it will lean more towards WESTERN ELECTRIC?
Pete: No, It's not going to be as much of a country and western record. Although, there are some country and western tracks I like a lot. There is one that is really honky tonk. But the songs I've been writing lately are really poppy. They could even be Hazel songs.
Alex: Really!?! So there is definitely going to be some more rock numbers on your next album?
Pete: Yeah. At least the last two songs I've wrote are definitely rockers. We'll just have to see how it goes. I'm also going to re-record "Ashes Back to Vegas" and "Dressed to the Nines" with a full band, so that should be interesting.
Alex: Any plans to convert from just Pete Krebs solo to 'The Pete Krebs Band,' or something like that?
Pete: I haven't really thought that far ahead. It would be nice to have a solid band and get people who would really want to play. But, you know, we'll see how this band does in the studio. I'm going to ask them to do a North By Northwest slot with me, and maybe a record release or something like that. But some of the people in the band have other obligations. I know John is very busy. Everybody is busy, and Ben Shepherd lives up in Seattle. So, I don't know if he'll be able to come down and do something like that.
Alex: Lyrically, are your songs autobiographical or do they portray what you see around you? Then again, are they just plain fiction that everyone can relate too?
Pete: I really like allegory a lot, so the sub-text of a song is different than the actual text of it. I like music that is open-ended enough that it can be taken literally or it can be taken otherwise. I've been really getting into lyrics lately, whereas before a lot of the stuff I was writing would just flow out and I didn't question things. I didn't try to necessarily tell a particular story or anything like that, words would just come out and I would then look at them and...a psychiatrist would love this because I would write them words down and then analyses them to see what they meant. So a lot of the Hazel stuff, although they may seem pretty literal, they aren't at all. That's just how they came out. I still do that sometimes, but I'm concentrating more on trying to write specific topics or at least have some kind of direction I'm going in. But the songs tend to have vague subjects attached to them. Particular people, particular situations, stuff like that.
Alex: Have you ever began to work on a song, and in your mind you sat down and wanted to write a solo song, but when you were done with it you knew it was more of a Golden Delicious song than a solo song?
Pete: There is a song called "Alabama Carmedy" that I wrote, and it ended up being a Golden Delicious song. There were also a couple of Hazel songs that were supposed to be solo material, but ended up on Hazel records. That's always kind of tough, because I want to make the best records I can. My solo stuff is very important to me, and Golden Delicious has the input of six different people, so I'm more inclined to write solo material than I am hillbilly music. I'll write hillbilly music with someone else, but as far as sitting down and bringing something in, I'd rather not.
Alex: So, when you sit down to write, you definitely prefer the solo material to writing Golden Delicious songs?
Pete: Totally. It's become really enjoyable to do. I went though a long period of time when I had writers block forever. Finally that stopped when the AIRIANA EP was recorded [Hazel's final album]. The songs ended up there that I wrote. Then I went though another period of time when I wasn't able to write anything, maybe one or two things here and there, but recently I've written five to six songs.
Alex: Is "Second Chance" one of the songs that was written as a solo song, and ended up being a Hazel track?
Pete: Yeah, that wasn't supposed to be a Hazel song. But it just seemed to make sense.
Alex: Besides stuff for Thrillhammer, Hazel, your solo material, Golden Delicious, and the Prairie Dogs, have you ever released anything with any other bands?
Pete: I played on other people's records. There's a band called 'Ain't' from San Francisco, and I played on a couple of their records. I've recorded some stuff with Elliott Smith. I also do a lot of pick-up work for musicians that play out of the Laurelthirst Public House bar, which I play at a lot. So, I've played in maybe ten different bands. Everything from drums to steel guitar to electric guitar.
Alex: Besides your solo stuff, Golden Delicious, and the Prairie Dogs, is there any other current projects you're involved in?
Pete: Well, I play with a women named Lisa Miller. She plays honky tonk/country & western music, and is really great. I play steel guitar with her, and sometimes lead guitar. Sean Croghan and I have been talking about putting together a Clash cover band for a long time, but...
Alex: I had that question for you later in the interview. Is the project still up in the air, or have you both given up on the notion that your schedule will ever open enough to make the band a reality?
Pete: Unfortunately, we haven't been able to put it together. it's still up in the air, but both of us are having a lot of trouble trying to put it together. It would be nice to do, and I'd love to do it, but unfortunately we've been having a lot of trouble getting it together. Also, Pete Miser [Five Fingers of Funk] asked me to lay some beats down on his new record, which will be pretty interesting. The more I progress, the more I'm interested in doing different stuff. I've always wanted to add whatever weird element I have to hip-hop music, or whatever. I also enjoy playing a lot of jazz, but I'll never be a good jazz musician. I don't read music, and I can't play it that well. But I do get a chance to play it every know and then, and I enjoy it.
Alex: I interviewed you last July as well, and one of your goals for 1998 was to learn how to read music. Have you been working on that?
Pete: (laughs) Not really, I've been too busy. I've got this big old book of jazz theory. It's a good book, but it is just sitting there waiting for me. I'll probably be about fifty-five by the time I get to it. I'm concentrating more on just writing music and becoming a better guitar player. I recently started an apprenticeship at a tattoo shop, so I'm concentrating on my visual art more now. Which is something I put aside a long time ago when I started doing music a lot. So, that's where I'm at now.
Alex: Do you think it's possible you'll be doing the artwork for any of your albums in the future?
Pete: Yeah, if I can find the time I'd love to do it. But it all comes down to finding the time to do it. I'm not very good at scheduling my time, and as a result I'm constantly running around. It's crazy. But I would love to sit down and do the artwork. Who knows?
Alex: Besides Pete Miser, is there any other bands or artists you're setting up dates to go into the studio with?
Pete: Right now I don't have anything lined up. I'm excited about the Pete Miser thing. I'm just going to wait and see what happens with my next solo record, because I really feel like the songs are really strong, and the people I'm playing with are all top-notch. That might become more of a focus, if the record turns out as well as I think it's going to.
Alex: Have you ever had any major labels offer you recording contracts?
Pete: No, not any offers recently. However, during the heyday of Hazel there was people talking to me about it, but I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that I was in Hazel, and they wanted to double up the contract. The whole record business has changed a lot in the past five to six years. Except for a few glaring exceptions, everyone I know who's dealt with a major label had a bad experience. It's not even worth getting involved in. It would be great if someone came along and said I was really good at writing songs and that they wanted to support me somewhat, and help me do this. Let me write some songs and give them first crack at them or something like that. I would be interested in doing something like that. But that's a loaded gun. It really is.
Alex: Do you ever see yourself touring with Elliott in the future for major label exposure?
Pete: Yeah, I mean, I've toured with him before. But who knows what will happen in the future. That's more his call then mine. He and I have known each other for a long time now, and it's always fun to hang out, but I know his life is pretty crazy. He may or may not have a say in that anymore. Who knows?
Alex: Now that there are a few rock songs appearing on your next solo album, do you ever see yourself getting back into a rock band?
Pete: I've thought about it. Who knows what kind of band that would be. I'm always inspired by bands I've listened to for a long time, Minutemen and Husker Du, that type of stuff. When I was into post-punk music, that is what I'd listen to. I'd also listen to Crackerbash and Snakepit, and all these bands from around here. I'm pretty firmly routed in that. I couldn't even tell you about the new bands any more. So, if I were to start up another band like that, it would probably come from that type of place, because I don't understand how to do anything else.
Alex: Maybe mix a bit of Thrillhammer and Hazel?
Pete: Thrillhammer was a tough band, it was a pretty volatile period of time for the people involved in that band. I think it is reflected in the music, it's pretty violent music. The record didn't even do the music justice, in my opinion. It was a pretty scary kind of energy, and I was in a bad place when I wrote a lot of that stuff. I would never really want to go back there, but Hazel on the other hand, there was a lot of things I really love a lot. A lot of the songs I wrote for the band I think have a lot of integrity to them. I would love to write that kind of stuff again. It might turn into a thing with these solo records that I take a band with me on the road to support them, but it really depends on if I can afford to do it, or find people who are willing to travel for free.
Alex: I was a big fan of Hazel, but at your last show you guys seemed very loose as a band, as well as tired. Do you ever look back on that and wish you would have gone out sooner, instead of dragging the inevitable along for so long?
Pete: We hadn't seen each other in awhile. We didn't even practice together before that show. Brady and I got together and tried to remember all the chords and words, but something happened and Jody didn't make the practice. So that show was the first time we played together in months. The show in Portland, I thought it was pretty good. I felt it captured a lot of the old energy and what the band was about. But the Seattle show, which was the night after, was fucking horrible. It was terrible, we just sucked. That was our actual last show.
Alex: Do you ever foresee a Hazel rarities or b-side album?
Pete: You know, Jody was actually kind of joking about that six months ago. We have a lot of stuff that a lot of people don't have, or weren't able to get a hold of. There seems to be enough people interested in something like that, but it is also a lot of work. I just came from Brady's house, and he was joking around about writing a few songs and releasing a single. Not play, but put out a new single for kicks. But that would start the whole ball rolling once again, and I'm actually pretty happy to let the thing die.
Alex: Do you think your next solo album will be the one you concentrate and put a lot of time and effort into promoting?
Pete: Yeah, I would like to see how the record turns out. But the quality of songs are really high, in my opinion. Not that the songs I did before are lacking in quality, but I didn't play a lot of those songs before I recorded them. I didn't play those live that much, but now I'm doing a lot of solo shows. I'm not playing that many all-ages shows, but like bars and stuff, I'm doing it twice a week. In fact, I play here [at the Rabbit Hole] every Wednesday. I would definitely love to do more solo shows, so if there is someone who wants me to play their town, just get a hold of me and I'd be happy to do it. The best way to do that is through my manager Michele, and her number is (206) 322-8569. She handles all my shit for me now, thank god, so now my phone doesn't ring off the hook anymore. I'm in to putting time and effort into that, and if I can get something up and running, I'll put a band together. That would be great. Up to this point though, I've been pretty low key with it, because I've been so swamped. I always have other things like Hazel or Golden Delicious going on, or I don't have the money to go on tour. I'm generally pretty poor. I'm also not particularly driven to go out and kill myself on the road anymore. After awhile it becomes a drag sleeping on floors and shit.
Alex: You've outgrown that phase then?
Pete: I don't know if I've outgrown it. I would do it again. I've toured a fair amount. I mean, there are a lot of people who have toured a lot harder and had worse things happen to them, but I would say that I had some fairly bad experiences on the road.
Alex: Any you'd care to share?
Pete: No, it's just typical, whiny bullshit. Hazel killed probably six vans. Cars breaking down in the middle of nowhere, weird, bizarre illnesses that leave you half blind, and shit like that. Inter-band tension that you wouldn't believe. Being in a band with someone and not speaking with them for days at a time, while your in a confined space, and then having to play music with them that night. Shit like that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. But it's always fun to go to different parts of the country and meet different people and things like that. I'm pretty out of that loop right now, but I could see myself doing it again.
Alex: Is there any Portland musicians you would love to work with, but you haven't had the opportunity too yet?
Pete: Well, I've always wanted to work with Sean Croghan. ALWAYS! I would love to do any kind of musical project with him. We've bounced it back and forth, but we're both very busy people and fairly disorganized too. Not disorganized, but it's hard to get us in the same place at the same time. Definitely Sean Croghan. I'm also excited to be working with John from The Maroons on this new record. This kind of goes back to one of your earlier questions, but I've done some recordings with John and Jimmy from the Maroons and Dharma Bums. We backed up Eric Berg, who is the guy from 44 Long, on his album. There is a track on the disc that is John and Jimmy on bass and drums, respectively, and I play lead guitar. I forgot all about that. So, I'm excited to work with him. Janet Weiss [Quasi/Sleater-Kinney] and I have talked about doing stuff in the past, but it never happened. Matter of fact, I asked her to play drums on my album, but she's touring like crazy. So, I'd like to do something with her. And Sam Coomes [Quasi], for that matter. He's amazing and I love the way he writes music. I like Gilly Hanner a lot, and I would love to play music with Gilly Hanner. She plays in Semi-Sweet, and played in Calamity Jane and a million other bands. I'm excited to do stuff with Pete Miser, but I think it would be really great to hook into more hip-hop and rap artists to mess thing up a bit. Have us subtract from each other and come up with some stuff. Or jazz musicians, whatever. Another person I would be interested in doing some musical stuff with is a guy by the name of Dan Higgs, who plays in a band called Lungfish, from Baltimore. I would really like to collaborate with him, musically, at some point. He's an amazing poet and writer. He does some amazing stuff.
Alex: Is there anything I left out that you would like to cover?
Pete: Oh boy, that's always the last question. No, I can't really think of anything. Like I said, this is kind of a pitch, but I started an apprenticeship at Medusa Tattoo.
Alex: Where is that located?
Pete: It's located at 310 SW 4th, downtown Portland. It's upstairs in the Board of Trade building. The number there is (503) 228-1008. So, if anyone is interested in tattooing, they should at least come check it out. There are a lot of people working there, I might add. Three amazing tattoo artists currently work there, so if I'm not around, they should check out their work as well. Also, like I said, if anyone wants me to play their town, and have a solo show, get a hold of me and we'll set something out.