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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, July 30, 2014

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In Music

Peter Mulvey seems to always have an eye on the road. (PHOTO: Jonathan Ryder)

Chasing down Peter Mulvey


Kickstarter isn't exactly meant to be a popularity contest, but it can certainly serve as one. Witness Milwaukee singer and songwriter Peter Mulvey, who crowdfunded his new record, "Silver Ladder" through the site.

Fans raised more than $62,000 toward production of the disc, of which Mulvey said, "produced by Chuck Prophet, (it) is the best thing I've ever made." He asked folks, "help me give it a good shake in the world" and they responded by raising 270 percent of the initial goal.

On a break from one of his many bike tours of the country, I spoke (get it?) with Mulvey about touring on, quite literally, the open road, about his new record, which features a guest appearance by our own Paul Cebar and about coming home to play at Turner Hall on Thursday, May 8 with Vic & Gab.

Next month, Mulvey plays a three-night stint, June 5-7, at Cafe Carpe in Fort Atkinson.

OnMilwaukee.com: It's been a long time since we talked. Have you continued to tour by bike, weather permitting?

Peter Mulvey: I sure have, weather permitting and weather not permitting. Got rained on pretty hard this past bike tour – it was the seventh annual – and at one point had to shelter in a barn just off the bike path. Bicycle touring is the best, I hope to do it until I'm a geezer.

OMC: What is the best part of that experience for you? And, of course, the worst part?

PM: Best part is traveling in a pack of friends, bonding about food, griping about hills, seeing the world while traveling overland and not through a windshield. It's a deep, ancient human thing and we rarely get to experience it in our crazy, wonderful, awful, 21st century world of being whisked everywhere via internal combustion.

Worst part is the danger. I mean, everything involves risk, but sometimes I've seen motorists – thankfully this is rare – perfectly willing to put my life and the lives of my friends in jeopardy because of something as trivial as their impatience. It makes me think, when I'm late and in a car, it really reminds me to chill out. Nothing's worth endangering someone.

OMC: Tell me a bit about the new record. How did you come to work with Chuck Prophet on it?

PM: I opened a show for him in Florida a few years back and he tore my head off. He'll do that. I called him out of the blue and he said yes in like four hours. I told him my budget, and he said, "Well, we'll just have to be savvy, then!"

OMC: What was it like working with him?

PM: Fantastic. He's amazing, utterly contrary, like a crocodile on Ritalin. If you say to him "Choice A or B?" his aesthetic instinct is to say "Well, why does it have to be a letter? Couldn't it be a number, like seven? Or a color, like purple? Or a bird. Maybe this is a BIRD we're talking about!"

It was daunting the first night, I was crashing at a buddy's apartment in L.A. and I lay awake on his couch thinking, "What have I done? This guy's CRAZY!" But then I realized that my job was to drink a large cup of coffee and jump into the fray with Chuck.

All he cares about is art. He loves art, loves music. He's not trying to win arguments, he's trying to get lightning to strike. He put a tremendous band together and lightning struck. Regularly. Like, on the quarter-hour.

OMC: You've got a pretty crack band on the record, too, don't you? Can you tell us a bit about them?

PM: David Kemper, who drummed with Dylan, James DePrato from the Mission Express on guitar. Tom Freund on upright bass, he's in that crowd with Ben Harper and those Inland Empire guys. Aidan Hawken on keyboards and guitar and singing and pretty much being the string to Chuck's kite. And of course, Chuck rocked out on guitars, drums, singing, and generally being a dervish / ringmaster / instigator / matador / agent provocateur.

OMC: Will they gig with you, too?

PM: Alas, they all have other bands to gig with. I almost got James to do a run with me, that'll probably happen sometime. But I'm truly psyched that I've got a good band of Milwaukee guys for the release show at Turner.

Hayward Williams will be playing keys and guitar and singing, Nathan Kilen, from Panalure, will be drumming and Allen Cote will be playing bass. It's gonna be rad. The engineer and co-producer on the record, Dan Burns, used that term at one point to describe a surf guitar part Chuck had conjured from thin air. Dan's a Canadian living in L.A. married to a British lady, so I guess it's cool to say "rad" again.

OMC: And Cebar's on the record. That'll get the attention of a lot of folks here.

PM: Yeah, Paul and I co-wrote "Back in the Wind." He's such an inspiration. Such a good writer, great band leader, sage, mentor, friend. If you are ever at wit's end, casting about for a beautiful novel to read or a hip record to dig, Cebar's your man. He put me on to the band that will open the Turner show: Vic and Gab. He always has his ear to the ground.

OMC: Was it pretty rewarding to have your fans support the Kickstarter campaign the way they did?

PM: It was humbling and encouraging. Turns out, if you treat an audience kindly and take seriously that they're showing up night after night, if you treat that with respect for 20 years, and then you ask them for some momentum, they step up.

OMC: Your Turner Hall gig comes at the end of a pretty long stretch of gigs. I bet you'll be happy to be home. Where's the first place you're going when you get here?

PM: You're not just whistling "Dixie," pal. I'm working like a rented mule, like a red-headed stepchild, like a road musician in his 20s! I'm on pace to do a couple hundred shows this year.

First place I'll go? I'll get on my bike, and head down my driveway, onto the Hank Aaron Trail, out to the Oak Leaf Trail, out to the New Berlin Connector, out to the Drumlin Trail, and when I get out to Wales, I'll sit down and watch the birds fly around.


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