“Our dreams are a second life.” ~Gerard de Nerval
By Jami Mills, for rez magazine.
Pete Mroz was born a Hoosier. The Indiana historian, Jabob Piatt Dunn, Jr., found that the word “hoosier” originated in England, but it was originally applied in American culture to woodsmen and rough hill people “having an unruly or pugnacious nature.”
I don’t know Pete well enough to comment about his true nature, but I do know what my ears tell me. Maybe his Hoosier background explains why he’s drawn to blues and roots music, but there’s nothing unruly about his voice or his guitar playing. Pete is gifted with an enviable range, able to “hit the high ones” with purity and precision. And he doesn’t tiptoe around a song either — he belts it out. Maybe there is a connection to his Hoosier roots, for you see Pete speaks his heart, openly and honestly. Take it or leave it… up to you. Come to think of it, maybe there is a little pugnaciousness in Pete’s singing — in the best sense of the word.
Pete is a prolific singer/songwriter, appearing in Second Life (Pligrim75 Swashbuckler) and real life, wanting nothing more than to get his message out. When talking about his new album (his third), he says, “Honesty is the main thing. I was being honest with myself, and this record shows that. So when someone listens to it, they’re gonna hear that. I mean, they’re gonna hear Pete. It’s me.” He doesn’t seem to be much interested in the trappings of fame, but something much simpler and direct. He wants to get through to people. In a way, he wants to have a conversation with us. Well Pete, we’re listening and you’re gettin’ through.
JM: Thank you, Pete, for taking the time out of your busy weekend to meet with me. I know our readers will appreciate it just as much as I do. Let’s jump right into it. Others have commented on the honesty of your music, and surely that comes straight through. But I’d also like to draw attention to the sensitivity of your approach, both vocally and instrumentally. People often say “less is more,” with the spaces between sounds sometimes being as important as the notes themselves, if not more so. I was struck by your sparse and moving arrangement of the Christmas carol, “Oh Holy Night”, based upon the French poem “Minuit, Chretiens” (Midnight, Christians). Regardless of one’s religious affiliation (or lack thereof), there is something especially moving about Christmas carols that never fails to bring me to tears. When the song requires, your choirboy-like voice hits the high notes with an understated purity, backed by simple, tasteful guitar work. Have you covered any other Christmas carols? (As my high school English teacher would say, “and if not, why not?”) It seems like such a good fit for you.
PM: I was born in 1975 which makes my musical taste broad. I grew up listening to country music, rock ‘n roll, bad eighties, classical, and Christian music in my teens. I never gravitated to hard rock, metal or distorted sounds, but the opposite… very clean, clear sounds. Probably why I gravitate towards Paul McCartney versus John Lennon. As far as Christmas carols go, I was raised in church through my teenage years and learned a lot of hymns and carols through those years. I have always been attracted to clear, clean and precise music with soul. As for releasing any more Christmas songs, well… never say never!
JM: You don’t seem like one to back away from musical challenges. In fact, I would say you appear to relish them. There couldn’t be a better example than your willingness to cover Paul Simon’s (and Joseph Shambala’s) “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.” I’m sure many musicians would say, “no thanks… I’m not crazy”, but you dove right in and made it your own with stunning effect. Tell us about your process of choosing material and, although it’s not completely on point, please let our readers know a little bit about filming the music video in Nashville. (Please visit Pete’s website to see this charming video.)
PM: I pick songs that I love versus songs that are current Top 40. Recently I have been singing a couple Top 40 songs because I was getting ready for The Voice auditions. Didn’t make it, but was really fun going for it! As far as what songs I do, they usually are songs that are in my range, like Paul McCartney/Paul Simon (both of those legends have ranges in their voice I only dream of!) or songs that are good stories with beautiful melodies! I heard Eric Clapton say if he can’t add anything to a song he won’t cover it, so I have adapted that philosophy a bit.
“Diamonds” has always been a favorite song of mine because of the lyrics. They seem to confuse some people as to their meaning which is why I love the song. Causes the listener to listen and everyone hears something different, so I tried to put my spin on it. I usually don’t try to learn a song note for note … I look up the chords and I have an idea what the melody is so I go for it and that’s what you hear. A lot of people don’t know that I love to shoot video. I live a double life — one as a singer/songwriter and one as a novice video maker. It started with photography years ago and when I realized I needed content on the web for my music promotion, I thought “I can learn how to do that!” Fast forward three years and I have a small company called Lucky 55 Productions, where I shoot and edit videos for people. It allows me to be creative. Now back to the “Diamonds” video 🙂 … I live in Nashville and love this city, and I had an idea of telling a love story with the characters being the shoes of a boy and a girl. I asked my friend Stephanie if she would volunteer to be the girl and I was the boy. I shot that on an early Sunday morning in downtown Nashville and some footage on Broadway on a Saturday. It was really fun and exciting to make.
JM: At a recent performance at the wonderful inworld venue, Acoustic Garden, I was especially heartened by one thing: you were regularly tuning your guitar. While some musicians wouldn’t want the distraction, and others simply wouldn’t care, you took the time to tune up again and again. In fact, you told your audience, “The least I can do is tune my guitar.” As we have often mentioned in this magazine, playing in tune is a sign of respect. From the mirror-like finish on your guitar, to the precision of your vocals, to the crispness of your fingering, you bring a meticulous quality to your performances, and it shows. And the audience notices. Tell us more about this craftsmanship and attention to detail. Where did it come from?
PM: As a kid I loved putting together tiny models and I learned very early on that the detail is where it is!! You should see my car!! LOL I am a bit of a neat freak. My house isn’t spotless, but pretty clean for a dude. This reflects in all the things I do, so with my music, the one thing I always try to remember is to tune my guitar because I hate an out of tune one. If my guitar is in tune, my voice can be. I want to enjoy the music too when I am playing. One of my greatest music heroes is Eric Clapton and over the years I have realized it’s because he has soul and is clean, clear and precise!
JM: Blues tunes dominated some of the recent inworld performances that I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying. You cite Robert Johnson as an early influence (what self-respecting bluesman wouldn’t ). I particularly enjoyed your inworld rendition of “ Ain’t Nobody’s Business What I Do,” but you also have a really fun song called “Peaches and Cream” on your website that you recorded live at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. It seems to me that a lot of lesser musicians like the blues because it’s so forgiving, in terms of singing in tune and hitting the notes. You don’t have that rough and tumble, whiskey and cigarettes voice, but you can get down with the best of them. What is it about the blues that speaks to you?
PM: The blues are very sacred to me… the story of where the blues began is a HUGE blemish on American history. I identify with the longing, the machismo, humbleness, in your face, spirit, etc… of this music in a way that I can’t explain other than, I just do! I just recently started a band with some local Nashville musicians. We are gonna play all the greats like Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Albert King, Big Maceo, Howlin Wolf, Lowell Fulson and the list goes on. As for “Peaches and Cream,” I wrote that 10 years ago and still love playing that song to this day! It reminds me of an old Leroy Carr song. Maybe someday I will make a blues record! 🙂
JM: To underscore your versatility, the minute someone tries to pigeonhole you as a bluesman, you break into a classic rock cover. At the Acoustic Garden, you took an old blues tune “Outside Woman Blues,” but treated us to the Cream version from Disraeli Gears. Then you launched into a rousing version of Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” followed by a seldom covered Beatles tune, “Across the Universe.” You love mixing up genres, don’t you?
PM: Have to mix it up and that is what is great about Second Life live shows for me. I can do that… jump around genres without ridicule. In “RL,” people want to label you as a bluesman, adult contemporary, singer/songwriter, etc … they have a hard time hearing you sing just “good music.” SL is a blessing for me in many ways, but that one is very rewarding to me.
JM: A little while ago, you teamed up with the talented cellist, Eleanor Dubinsky, at the Rockwood Music Hall in New York City. Her accompaniment seemed particularly complementary to your style. Do you often perform with other musicians in real life? Have you done any dual-streaming in SL? Am I mistaken, or didn’t your manager, Lizzy Nightfire, say you teamed up with Twin Ghost (see my interview with Twin Ghost in rez’s November 2012 issue) for a RL performance in Philly?
PM: Eleanor Dubinsky is awesome and I love that girl. She is a dear friend that I met at a music conference a couple of years ago. She gave me one of her records and I instantly was taken by her sound, so I ask her if she wanted to do some shows and she agreed. Hopefully, we will do more in the future. Also Twin Ghost has become a bud of mine… talk about soul… that dude has it. “Who’s your baby bubba”! 🙂 I hope to make music with as many people as I can, but unfortunately life tends to get in the way, but… we will see. Not big on the dual stream because of the way it is set up, where only one of the two musicians hears what is going on… One day it will be seamless without latency issues or hiccups.
JM: On the home page of your website, you’re surrounded by 16 Martin guitars. I understand that you have recently been endorsed by the Martin company, which is quite an honor (I play a Martin HD28 myself). But I’ve noticed you playing a beautiful Taylor guitar in some of your videos. Do you have a favorite guitar that you prefer?
PM: Taylor makes a wonderful guitar and those guitars are from when I was endorsed by them. I recently moved to Martin not because Taylor is bad, but I just love the entire Martin story, where they are made, the folks there, and the sound that comes from a Martin sounds like… a Martin. All my heroes play them, so why wouldn’t I?!
JM: You’ve recorded three albums now, the last being “We’ll Rise Above,” which was funded by your fans through Kickstarter and produced by Warren Huart. You performed one of my favorite songs from the album, American Fable, at a recent concert at another wonderful Second Life venue, Key West.
We looked our fears in the eye
But they gave no reply
So we took a look around
To see what we found
Time slips away
Time moves on day by day
Without your love
Without your love
Where would I be?
This is such a beautiful love song, yet your music sometimes speaks of heartbreak too, and themes of overcoming pain and emerging stronger. That ties in very neatly with the title of the album, “We’ll Rise Above.” Is that part of your philosophy? Live, love and learn, but most of all, rise above?
PM: Thank you for the kind words… that song is about when I was 16 and ran away with my first love. “Live, love and learn, but most of all, rise above” that is totally my hope and practice… rise above… Doesn’t mean I always do, but I try to keep that thought at the forefront. Now when we all get together and rise above collectively, now that’s some cool juju!!
JM: You may have been born in Indiana, but you have lived all over this great country of ours, raised in some 13 different states. That gives you a unique perspective on this country. And even now, you tour it from coast to coast. What does the road teach that can’t be learned living in a single place?
PM: Variety of people and cultures … the common theme is we all want to love and be loved … I relish the road because I get to meet such interesting people and share my music. I feel like I am contributing in some way … the same way music helps me.
JM: You perform in real life as well as SL. How do you compare the experiences, in terms of the rapport with your audience that is so important for a performer? How do your performances in SL support your music career in real life, or are you just havin’ some fun connecting with people here inworld?
PM: SL shows have really helped me get my RL shows down. The rapport with online viewers is real just delayed by 6 seconds! 🙂 Amazing how the brain adapts! SL viewers have lifted me up and I am so grateful for them. And actually the “linden love” that people show me helps me get out and play RL gigs… it is truly a blessing!
JM: Our readers have a voracious appetite for technical information about your sound. If you would, walk us through your equipment — guitars, mics, outboard gear, etc. And don’t be shy about getting into model numbers and specifications.
PM: HAHA! Okay. I won’t geek out too much here. I am a Mac guy, so I run audio recording software program called Logic with several compressors and EQs with basic reverb. I use two mics, one for my guitar and one for vocals. For me, this is the only way to go and really gives the listener a nice experience (like tuning your guitar) and I play two different Martins which are both 000-28s — one is a 000-28EC Eric Clapton Model named “Olivia” and the other is a custom made for me 000-28PM with a 1930s Tobacco Finish. I couldn’t believe they painted it like that for me… that guitar’s name is “Lucky.” My onboard pickups are Fishman Matrix and I use Fishman Aura Spectrum to hone in my RL live sound with a Fishman Performer amp. Techy enough?! 🙂
JM: I love when you talk dirty. Pete, I can’t thank you enough for this wonderful interview and the opportunity you’ve given me to peek into your musical world. I’d like our readers to know how to contact you and I urge each and every one of them to keep a lookout for your upcoming SL performances and, if you’re in their town, perhaps even a live set. Before we sign off, is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
PM: Thank you for asking me these questions … and thank you to the readers for reading. SL has been very good to me and I look forward to seeing you at a show or seeing you in RL at a gig somewhere!! I try to update my website with where I will be, so check in or go to my Facebook page and we can be “friends”!!
Onward and upward!
Photographs by Jami Mills.