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PETER BALDWIN: Dream Chaser

When all that seems to matter is whether or not you’ll achieve your dreams, you will give your all to get there. For Peter Baldwin, moving to New York was just a part of a process that started way back when.

Interview: Kristie Bertucci
Images: Courtesy of Peter Baldwin

Peter Baldwin is an amalgamation of his upbringing, the environments in which he honed his art, his experiences coming up in the game—a true testament to his relentless, over-achieving work ethic. And while you may not be familiar with this Alternative Soul crooner who grew up singing in the church choir (his mom was the choir director) to later, forming a band with his friends at age eight or nine (going from church to church singing songs they wrote and covered), and now as a New Yorker chasing his dream of making music, Baldwin is slowly moving up the ranks in a way that you will never forget him.

So what sparked you building a career around music? What was the turning point?

Pharrell [Williams] was a turning point. I was on a basketball trip, I think maybe in junior high and I heard that [Lord Willin’] Clipse album, the very first one. What were the songs on it—”Grindin'”…that album. I forget the name of it. I was just listening to what Pharrell was doing and like the album he did with Justin Timberlake and all that. I was like, started wearing comic book shirts and trucker hats and I was convinced that I wanted to be a producer. That was it for me from there and I would save up all my money and buy beat machines with it. That’s pretty much where that comes from. Definitely Pharrell.

You actually went to school for sound engineering. Where you still doing your own music? And how did that help you become the musician that you are now?

I mean, I was pretty much a loner at Full Sail. And I met this kid Antonio—I don’t even know how we started talking, I’m not sure. [But] He had a studio setup in his apartment, so I just started going over there and listening to his beats and all that. I started writing to some of them, recording to some of them, just hanging out with Antonio a lot. That kind of got me out of my shell and wanting to do music for myself again. That was pretty much that. It wasn’t until this producer’s showcase—that you have to do in your next to last month at Full Sail in the Recording Arts program, or it used to be when it was an Associate’s program—which just meant the class was divided into groups and each group would find an artist, record them and shop them to a panel of teachers that was like Full Sail [record] Label. I ended up winning maybe three or four of those, like straight, as an artist and kind of getting a reputation that way. And that’s how I met my manager was through a producer’s showcase. So it was meeting him and then always working with Antonio and just recording a lot, and kind of getting a reputation of like someone that could be a good recording artist. That helped me realized that that was the career path that I was on.

How do you classify your music? I know others say Neo-Soul, but how do you see it?

Right now I just call it Alternative Soul. That’s kind of something I came up with just to I guess relieve myself of like being in any kind of box. Because I really like a lot of different types of music. I am really influenced by Folk music and Jazz, and like Americana—just a broad range of different sounds. A lot of like Disney theme music—pretty much everything. So I’m sure that as time progresses, my sound will kind of cover a lot of different areas so I just classify it as Alternative Soul so I can pretty much do what I want to do.

Who inspires you, both past and present?

There is this old, old Folk artist named John Jacob Niles, Miles Davis, Otis Redding, Feist, Prince. Marvin Gaye definitely. Pharrell like I said earlier. Danger Mouse is probably like my favorite artist, period, all around. I said Beck, but then there’s also Jeff Beck, cause I play a stratocaster and he’s pretty much the strat player of all strat players. A lot of different people….Outkast definitely and the list goes on and on.

Can you describe that first experience performing as a professional artist, doing something that you love in front of a live audience?

It wasn’t as scary because the way they had it set up—I was playing at this place called Tinker A’s. It’s in Downtown Orlando and they had an open mic there every Sunday called Blow Sundays. They don’t do it anymore, but that was kind of a community that I started getting involve with and I played there a couple times or so. I was playing on a Sunday, so I was basically play Blow Sunday, but I was like a feature artist. So yeah, it was playing in front of a lot of people that I knew and we promoted to the Full Sail campus, so it brought in a lot of things that I was familiar with. Also I had been gigging as a drummer with my friend Arel out in Coco Beach a lot, so playing in front of people, I’m playing in bars and in front of intoxicated people, which I was getting used to. It was awesome. I don’t know what their capacity was but it was like shoulder to shoulder. I don’t think we were that great, but it was really a great night.

How many releases have you had and what was the build up?

Well this is the first studio album and it’s really interesting because it’s like I was a working musician, meaning I was working full time in a restaurant and delivering pizzas. So I was working like 45 hours a week and recording in between that time so it was a lot of late nights. All of the songs were already written—I think just trying to balance so many hours kind of elongates the process. We were in the studio for seven songs, but it took about eight months just because it being the first studio album, the organization of things wasn’t as on point as it should be. Like we could have done a little more pre-production. We definitely could have moved faster with it. A lot of late nights, a lot of redoing things—redoing entire songs just until it felt right. It was something that me and my guys, Vaudeville, we kind of stuck with each other through the whole thing.

My end of it was more so arranging. I sat in on probably all but two sessions out of eight months. Like all of the sessions I sat in on and it was just arranging everything. I look for the song to feel like a song, and the sounds and everything like that came from the musicians that were playing it. They were really, really good. That was the process for this album I was kind of in the seat as far as overseeing what was going on and sticking to a certain arrangement. When it was time to do vocals, those were interesting sessions just cause it’s pretty easy for me to get frustrated with [myself] cause I wanna like just kind of go through—I do all the background vocals too—and I just kind of go through them one after another. I like to be done with an entire song inside of an hour. There were a couple of times when I had to storm out of the room. I don’t know, the whole process was really cool. The first studio thing feels like a painting afterwards.

You’ve had the opportunity to open for acts like Earth Wind and Fire, Joss Stone, Mayer Hawthorne and more. What’s it been like to open up for such legendary and incredible acts? Which has been your favorite so far?

It’s been a lot of fun, a little bit surreal at times cause opening for Earth Wind and Fire was awesome. We went to Miami to do it. Theophilus London was cool, we flew out to Tampa to do it. Sharon Jones [and The Dap Kings], I opened for once in Tampa and once in Orlando. But a lot those opening slots with K’Naan or Aloe Blacc or whatever, were right inside of Orlando, so it’s kind of like surreal to wake up at my house or get off of work from my job, 10 minutes away from the place where I was going to be playing. It’s definitely been a lot of fun and pretty much every act was really gracious.

I think Joss Stone is probably the most memorable just cause that was our first big gig and it was at Hard Rock and the capacity was pretty large. We submitted for it way ahead of time. We didn’t get the call until the morning of. So it was just comical cause I just remember people banging—because I live with some of my band mates and so I hear like people banging on each other’s doors. I hear a lot screaming. Someone just busts into my room like, ‘Oh, we’re opening for Joss Stone.’ So everything was in a hurry. We had to hurry up and get into a practice space. Practice a set. Drive out to Hard Rock. Didn’t really have time to put on any real clothes. So I don’t know, the whole thing was just amazing. I kind of went silent as soon as we got to the back lot of Universal Studios. And then we walk into the back of Hard Rock and there’s like a crew that picks up all your gear—No one ever did that. We load our own gear. They take all your gear and they load it up for you. And then we walked up and we hear Joss Stone rehearsing. That whole entire thing was just amazing. I was pretty much dead silent the whole time until it was time to go on stage. I just kind of broke out of it. I remember at some point in that concert, I asked for them to turn up the lights just to see like what the crowd looked like. I would say there were about 1500 people there. It was really a lot of fun, really memorable. We waited all night for Joss Stone to come out. She was really sweet and took photos with us and everything. It was cool.

So what’s the plan now that you’ve moved from Florida to New York?

I’ve been working on some new material and it’s finding its way into my dreams even. I’ll be half asleep and half awake, and just hearing new material. So I’ve been really, really excited to get back in the studio when it’s time. That’s really been where I’ve wanted to spend most of my time, in the studio.

Follow @PeterBaldwin on Twitter.

Images courtesy of Peter Baldwin.

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