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Interview with PT Walkley
Master Seven Interview by Tom Beninate
Copy Editor: Susan Castellano
New York City, Nashville, and Los Angeles are the three big centers of music in the United States. How has living in New York City enabled your music career to flourish?

Well, aside from the college years in Boston, I haven't lived anywhere other than NYC, so I don't have much of a reference point. However, I do always say I’ll never leave this town because of how much it means to me in so many ways, and how much it keeps me inspired. [There are] so many great artists in this town – the creative energy is palpable. It is my personal and professional home base and as the roots grow deeper and my little circuit keeps widening, the harder it would ever be to leave. A major turning point in my career was my chance meeting of fellow New Yorker Ed Burns in a down-town guitar shop. We became fast friends, shared an interest in music, and I became his go-to music guy. You can imagine the doors that have opened for me over the years. So, yeah, that experience probably wouldn't have happened anywhere else.
When arranging, do you know in your mind exactly what you want to add into the basic song structure or do you experiment with different riffs or sounds until you find the perfect ones?  

[There is] definitely lots of experimenting. I usually have an idea of what I want, then I try it and it morphs into something else which then affects everything else around it. If you're too married to certain ideas, it can become a house of cards. I am usually pretty firm on the final melody and lyrics; those I try not to budge on.

The cover shot to The Ghost of Chivalry is zoomed to pixel level but you can clearly see someone. What are your thoughts on this image?

The picture was taken on New Year’s Eve by my friend (and bassist in my other band The Blue Jackets) Chris Cereda. He does most of the artwork for my stuff. Given the title, I wanted it to be someone hidden and unidentifiable underneath something amplified and beautiful. There is something so perfect about anonymity.

PT, you mentioned that you “have been on a bit of an EP kick lately.” Is each EP that you release a sort of “conceptual island” or do you attempt to progress or “move on” from one to another in some sort of order? How is planning for an EP different than planning for a full-length CD?

My styles range quite widely. I am in love with all genres, as long as it's a good specimen…. So whenever I tend to write a large batch, they wind up feeling a bit schizophrenic, although Mr. Macy felt pretty cohesive since there was a lyrical thread there. Overall, smaller batches are a bit more manageable when trying to maintain a theme. Also, when you record a few in the same stint, they are just bound to sound connected.
As a top, independent recording artist, PT Walkley has released several critically acclaimed records. He has performed live at Madison Square Garden and composed for independent filmmaker and actor/director Ed Burns.
His music has also been featured in TV commercials for MasterCard, GE, and Campbell’s soup, to name just a few.
You have written music for many commercials. What are some of your more memorable moments in writing for this market?

[The] first big one I did was an orchestral piece for the MasterCard "priceless" campaign. My friend who was an art director at the agency convinced them to give me a shot and I guess I hit it out of the park. It's a really fun business because it's short form, I get assignments in all different genres, and it pays well. Some other fun commercials were a cover of "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" for a GE spot, and one for Campbell’s soup.

Tell us about being a core member of Frisbie and the benefits of working with Mary Wood.

I happened to stumble in there years ago looking to record with The Blue Jackets. They asked me to try my hand at a commercial…. I've been there almost everyday since, either working on a project that has come through my channels or theirs. It's a wonderful relationship and a perfect environment for me.

How are you progressing on your new album?

The new album is going great. I recorded it all at home because I wanted it to have a hand drawn, bedroom quality that is hard to achieve in a studio environment. We are in the mixing stage now. It's a nice collection of songs and instrumentals. I have a title but that's a surprise for now. So excited about it all!

What projects can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?

I am working on the score for a documentary about the history of blue jeans, and possibly another feature that just reached out to me. I wrote a song for a new Bruce Willis movie and continue with the commercials on a regular basis as well as writing songs for team Umizoomi and Sesame Street.

Thanks for your time PT.

Thanks.


Go to PT Walkley's Store:
www.ptwalkley.bigcartel.com
Sept 24, 2011

PT Walkley's website:
ptwalkley.com

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What background and schooling prepared you to become one of the top, independent artists of today?

I never had any formal training as a kid. When my parents heard me picking out little ditties on the family piano, they asked if I wanted lessons and I said, “No! I want a guitar!” They got me a guitar for my 15th birthday. I sucked at it for a while, got a couple lessons, got frustrated, and put the guitar under my bed for the next few years. I think the lessons, combined with the sucking, made it feel like a chore. It wasn't until I went away to college [at] Boston University that I started to excel. My passion for music hit an all-time high and I felt the need to learn every song on every record I had. So I played along and figured out a thing or two. By junior year, I was playing guitar in my first band, Crackpipe, Wisconsin but it wasn't until years later that I started singing and recording my own solo stuff. I do think that my studying film and TV in college has helped me in my career as a composer – I was exposed to all different techniques and developed somewhat of a cinematic style.

What different approaches do you take when writing music for film or TV versus for a record?

Whenever I sit down to write a piece of music, whether it's a song or a score, there is always a visual attached – a mental music video, or if someone else has been kind enough to supply video, I work to that. If there's an assignment that says what mood, what arrangement, genre, tempo, etc (as is often the case in film/TV projects), things tend to move a lot quicker. When writing a song, I am starting with infinite options, so it can literally take forever to write a song – but usually something pops in there, a spark in the form of a lyric or hook that gives birth to more little-related ideas. Then it's just about weaving together the pieces. I always carry a Dictaphone around to capture these pieces before they escape. Every couple months I will go through the hundreds of snippets and have a nice handful of songs worthy of material. They just need to be fused together in the right way, in the right order.
How much autonomy do you have when writing an original soundtrack for an Ed Burns film? Is there a lot of collaboration or direction from key personnel?

At this point, we have such a good working relationship and chemistry that I'll read the script, see an early cut, bounce one or two themes [off] of Ed, then take it all from there.

What changes have you seen in the New York City music experience since you first started your craft?

As a band NYC has always felt daunting as it's kind of every man for himself. I think that's just due to sheer volume. There are SO many bands and SO many shows going on in one night, there almost isn't any one solidified scene or sound, at least not since that first Strokes record happened. In a way it's cool because there's so much variety, but there definitely is not that camaraderie you might find in Indie rock bands from another town – there are just too many. As for physical changes, Ludlow Street is a good microcosm- for about 10 or 15 years, this was THE hip street name to drop. There was a venue called Luna Lounge that allowed cool up-and-coming bands to play free shows There were rehearsal spaces, boutiques, and guitar shops. Ludlow Guitars is actually still there, but otherwise it's all high rent spaces and high-rises. [I] can't really complain – it marches on and the artists scatter, still alive and well just harder to find.

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As a songwriter and arranger I can appreciate the effort that went into The Ghost of Chivalry . I find it interesting that many songwriters are unfamiliar with arranging or outsource it to a professional. Why is arranging important to music? Take us through your thought process as you arranged your song, “Love You Dearly.”

Arrangements are so important. You draw the lines with lyrics and chords and the general structure. Then you color it in with instrumentation. This is where the magic happens. There was a great deal of push and pull involved with the “Love You Dearly” arrangement. I knew I wanted to blend classic sounds (string quartet, horns, etc.) with some modern tricks (loops, electronics, etc.). So finding the balance was the key. I have a version of just quartet and vocals which is quite nice, but it just didn't lift off without the rock band behind it in the choruses. To create a hyper-real dynamic, I let the verses drop way down to a drum machine sound and a few string stabs. The outro is my favorite part, where everything culminates. I'm not usually a big guitar solo guy, but I'm proud of the one I did on this song. Underneath, it needed something heavy that really ripped, so we double-tracked a baritone saxophone to hit the pads. [It] gave it a “Suffragette City” flavor. I am a big believer in keeping a surprise around every corner in a song, so that return listeners have something to look forward to in that 3rd or 4th minute rather than getting the gist and skipping to the next song.
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What software do you use for recording and what are a few of your favorite plug-ins?

I use ProTools and while there are so many great plug-ins out there, I'm just not the best guy to ask. For my home recording I just make sure to have a good mic and preamp.


What recommendations would you offer to someone who wanted to begin a songwriting career in New York City?

There is really not one answer for this. [The] truth is the music industry seems to be the Wild West right now…. Based on my fairly unique path I've cobbled together, I don't think I could give any sweeping [advice] other than be good at it, put yourself in situations where you might catch a break, make the most of those breaks, and cultivate them. Rinse and repeat.
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How has the Internet augmented that experience?

[The] Internet [is the] best and worst invention for music. [It] destroyed the big music industry model, but made it possible for millions of great otherwise voiceless artists to be heard and seen. [The] problem is, the pipes are clogged with so many people trying to be heard that even if you have a 'hit' song, it seems you could cool off again in 2 weeks. [There are] too many things for people to get to. The mentality of many die-hard music fans is to find out what's new and hot before their friends do, so unfortunately this leads to most bands having a one-and-a-half-minute moment of heat, if they're lucky! But the argument is: Is that better than nothing?

In one sense New York City and the Internet are so big that within their own domains only the best rise to the top. Do you think that the Internet demands that musicians hone their songwriting skills to a higher level and that one day a better quality or different genre of music will emerge?

Yes, I do believe that slowly, the best music has gotten better... production-wise…. But it's so subjective. You can't just say, “Oh, nothing will ever beat the music from the 60s or any given era.” The best ideas are always out there and up for grabs; that's the beauty of it all.

Congratulations on your The Ghost of Chivalry EP. You usually don’t hear three excellent tracks on a full length CD let alone on an EP. Besides songwriting and performing, what roles were you involved with in this release? Is there anyone you would like to mention that was a key player in its production?

First of all, thanks for listening! [I’m] glad you enjoyed the songs. I have been on a bit of an EP kick lately. Three songs at a time means more frequent releases. And let's face it, most people listen to music on shuffle and won't sit through an entire record these days even if it's Ziggy Stardust. So I pace myself and try to keep a high level of quality control. My roles in this were the songwriting, arranging, singing, and guitar playing. [I] also added some synths and electronics in post [production]. I'd put together a great live band, and we'd played the songs live a bunch before laying them down. It's so important to hear the songs in the open air before recording. For one thing, you know right away if something doesn't work. It … also allows you to hear little ghost melodies that can later become overdubs. Don't ask why that is, maybe it's just me. [The other musicians are] Nicky Kulund [on] drums, David Kulund [on] bass, Eric barlow [on] guitar, and Guy Licata [on] electronics and extra drums. Eli Janney [is the recording and mixing] engineer….
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