Social distancing and anticipating the release of his band’s second album ‘You and Your Friends,’ Neil Smith of Peach Pit does a deep dive into the dynamics of van life, in-studio shenanigans, and his view on organic deodorant.
It was one of my favorite memories of this band so far, and if that’s all we get from this, it’s still worth it – I just had the best time.
“We don’t take ourselves very seriously at all,” remarks Neil Smith of Peach Pit, and to long-time fans of the band, this comes as no news. The Vancouver-based four-piece, consisting of Neil Smith, Chris Vanderkooy, Peter Wilton, and Mikey Pascuzzi, owes much of their commercial success to the internet (see viral YouTube feature by user TheLazylazyme), and their online presence parallels the affable energy brought to shows.
Witty lyricism and satirical storytelling compliment themes of coping and loss, while soft vocals juxtapose electric guitar solos reminiscent of surf-rock nostalgia. This innovative yet classic take on the “summer bummer” indie-pop genre coupled with a healthy appreciation of memes has put Peach Pit at the cutting edge of the alternative music scene with a Spotify listener count pushing two million.
You and Your Friends is set to be released via Columbia Records on April 3rd, two and a half years subsequent to their debut LP, Being So Normal. Singles “Feelin’ Low (F*ckboy Blues),” “Shampoo Bottles,” and “Black Licorice” are currently available on all streaming platforms.
Following months of writing and recording, Neil now spends his days biking the streets of Vancouver while waiting out the quarantine but took a brief break to discuss the new record with Atwood Magazine!
We don’t take ourselves very seriously at all – even the songs that have more serious emotional themes have a tongue-in-cheek kind of sarcasm to them.
A CONVERSATION WITH PEACH PIT
Atwood Magazine: Presumably your first album, Being So Normal, was a compilation of songs written over the years whereas You and Your Friends is coming out just a year and a half or so later. What direction did you want this album to go in and how was the writing process different having more of a time crunch than the last time around?
Peach Pit: Basically Being So Normal was like how people say you have your whole life to write your first album and only a year to write your second one. The first album was written over like seven years or something. With You and Your Friends, there was way more pressure to meet deadlines in time to go into the studio and record. It was very challenging honestly. It was a big test but in the end, I really feel like there are some songs on here that are really moving in the direction me and the guys want.
I feel like we were able to figure out our sound a bit more and how to evolve into the band that we’re wanting to be. I spent a lot of time locked in my apartment last year trying to frantically write tunes and at first, it was hard but as time went on it became a lot easier. I realized I should just never stop writing because it gets pretty hard if you don’t do it all the time.
You said you and the rest of the guys had a joint idea of the direction you wanted the album to go in, but you do all the writing on the music - is that correct?
Peach Pit: I do all of the writing as far as figuring out a cool chord progression and then building a verse and chorus. On occasion, Peter or Chris will write something and send it to me and I’ll turn it into a song, and those guys write all of their own parts as well. Basically every song I write is on the acoustic guitar first, which is very stripped down from what it ends up being. Sometimes it takes on a new shape once you bring it to the band, but yeah. I generally write most of the songs.
So when it comes to your sound and the overall vibe it’s a pretty collaborative process between all of you.
Peach Pit: Yes, definitely for sure. From what the song sounds like when I write it to what it sounds like after we record it is very collaborative.
Watch: “Black Licorice” – Peach Pit
Overall, is it a different feeling to release a sophomore album versus a debut in terms of expectations and reactions from listeners now that you have established that sound for yourself?
Peach Pit: Oh, it’s easily different. It was a while ago that we released Being So Normal and a lot has happened since then so I can’t totally remember what it felt like, but I don’t remember being this anxious, to be honest. We had a lot less people waiting around to hear it and a lot less people messaging us every day being like, “When the hell is this thing coming out?”. Because of that, there’s some pressure there. This time around it’s been a lot scarier I would say. I’ve been trying to be like honestly, I like this album, I listen to it a lot right now I think it’s good, and if everyone else thinks it’s shit that’s fine.
I haven’t really had much else to do than to listen to it these past few days – I’ve been really entertained by that one line in “Camilla I’m Home” about not having left your room in a couple of days because of how relatable it is right now.
Peach Pit: It’s the perfect quarantine song!
What was it like getting to work with John Congleton as your producer?
Peach Pit: Oh my gosh, honestly it could not have worked out better. When we were trying to figure out who to record with we met with a few different producers – some really awesome guys who recorded albums that all of us have grown up loving and it was really cool to get to meet them and hear their perspectives. But when we met John we clicked with him right away – he has the darkest sense of humor of almost anyone I know and we also have a dark sense of humor so it was so easy for us to get along with him.
The best part of this whole thing was recording the album. We had so much fun recording with John and were just constantly laughing in the studio and being ridiculous. It was one of my favorite memories of this band so far and if that’s all we get from this, it’s still worth it – I just had the best time.
I feel like we were able to figure out our sound a bit more and how to evolve into the band that we’re wanting to be.
That’s awesome. I feel like you can have like the best producer in the world but if you don’t see eye to eye on a personal level it’s hard to relate in terms of what you want the music to sound like.
Peach Pit: Oh, definitely. I think it was easy for us because we all got along so well. We never took anything super seriously – it can get pretty monotonous in the studio sometimes if you’re just doing take after take and you’re arguing about this that and the other thing and we really didn’t have too many moments like that. That was a huge relief and it was just so fun. John would not say the same thing about us I don’t think.
What? Why not?
Peach Pit: ‘Cause he’s a dick.
Watch: “Feelin Low (F*ckboy Blues)” – Peach Pit
You’ve said that this album is based entirely on true stories, and as a running theme throughout your discography, a lot of your song titles or lyricism include peoples’ names. Could you speak a bit about who these characters are and how they found roles within your music?
Peach Pit: Honestly, all of the characters in my songs are just friends of mine – they’re people I hang out with. I first started including their names in songs a while ago and I don’t know if people really liked it at first – they were like “Who the fuck is this?”. In this album they’re just people that I know and friends – I talk about my sister in a lot of the songs. It’s easiest for me to write a song about my own struggles with alcohol and the people in my family that were around me during that time.
I can imagine there could be some difficulty in that sense - writing from the perspective of yourself and your own story is one thing but is there any pressure to do justice to the stories of people who you know are going to be listening to your songs and having opinions and feedback?
Peach Pit: Oh definitely – that’s something that’s always at the back of my mind like “Oh man, I hope that they like this or I hope they don’t think I’m an asshole for writing this”. At the end of the day, I look at it through the lens of like, this is my story too and I don’t want to put anyone on blast or anything. I wouldn’t go out and say something horrible about anyone, but all of these things are my stories too and I think it’s totally fair for me to want to share them. Basically everything I write is from a position of caring for my friends and my love for them, so I’m not too worried about it.
You tend to explore some darker themes in your music and that seems to be a bit of a contrast to how you and the rest of the band present yourselves, which is pretty quirky and lighthearted. Is that an intentional balance or is writing more of an emotional outlet?
Peach Pit: It’s not that intentional, we’re just like that in our everyday lives. We don’t take ourselves very seriously at all – even the songs that have more serious emotional themes have a tongue in cheek kind of sarcasm to them. We released “Shampoo Bottles” where I’m talking about stuff that my ex-girlfriend left at my house and maybe it sounds sad but the whole song is pretty sarcastic – like I’m poking fun at myself a bit. It’s definitely not intentional – music is a huge outlet for me and that’s how I work through stuff so if I’m feeling blue that’s when I tend to write the most.
We don’t take ourselves very seriously at all – even the songs that have more serious emotional themes have a tongue in cheek kind of sarcasm to them.
You brought up Shampoo Bottles - I wanted to touch on that song for a minute because I love how lyrically it focuses more on the everyday aspects of coping and loss that other breakup songs tend to overlook, can you elaborate a bit on the story that song is telling?
Peach Pit: So basically a relationship ended between me and somebody and there’s all this random stuff that gets left in your house after they leave. I was sitting at home one day and there were a few shampoo bottles just sitting in the bathroom – I was like, “Why am I not recycling these I need to get rid of them” but for some reason, it took me forever to do it. I feel like if you look at the whole song it feels like I’m making fun of my ex-girlfriend but honestly, it’s poking fun at myself. Like with the organic deodorant that was left in the medicine cabinet it’s poking fun at the fact that it doesn’t stick on that well and you have to reapply all the time. I’m the kind of person that’s always super skeptical about stuff like that. I’m like, “Aw man, we got some organic bullshit give me some chemicals baby.”
I love the music video that goes with that song - you’ve actually released music videos with all three of the singles out so far, correct?
Peach Pit: Yup, all three of them have music videos.
Watch: “Shampoo” – Peach Pit
Can you describe some of the inspiration behind those images?
Peach Pit: We work on our videos with our friend Lester Lyons-Hookham who is a video director living in Vancouver. It usually starts out with us meeting up with him and watching random music videos on Vimeo and we’ll be like, “That’s pretty cool, how could that inspire us”. A lot of times Lester has some sort of base idea of what he wants in a music video. In that last case for “Shampoo Bottles”
I was thinking about how can we show people grieving a relationship but putting it into a bit of a twist so it’s not what you would typically see. I feel like after someone breaks up with you everyone, like, parties too much, or maybe they eat too much food, or they stay inside and play too many video games or they gamble too much.
So we were like, how can we show this story without the stereotypical stuff. In Chris’s case, we were like, he’s going to start going to the gym and start working out to try to get his girl back – Mikey dyes his hair blonde and goes and gets a makeover. We just wanted to make something that would be a good companion to the song but didn’t do the most obvious thing.
I liked how it wasn’t one story - it showcased a bunch of different ways that people go through coping.
Peach Pit: Yeah, like my character had a My Strange Addiction thing where he drank shampoo straight from the bottle. Somebody has done that for sure.
Someone somewhere. So switching gears a little bit, one of your claims to fame and something that personally drew me to your music is the fact that you have these awesome guitar solos on every track. What can we expect from Chris and his writing on the guitar parts for this album?
It was one of my favorite memories of this band so far and if that’s all we get from this, it’s still worth it – I just had the best time.
Peach Pit: He has some freaking sick guitar parts for this album! Like, some of my favorites ever. When we first started the band we were like, songs go verse-chorus-verse-chorus and then it has to have a guitar solo. We just didn’t know – we thought every song had to have a guitar solo on it. So there might be less traditional guitar solos on this album but Chris has some guitar parts that are my favorite guitar parts he’s ever written. There’s a shit ton of Chris’s electric guitar on it.
In terms of your live show you’re known for having a pretty unique stage presence including wearing the same outfits for each date of the tour. I know you have a bunch of shows coming up and a lot of them are even sold out already, so what can we expect from you on stage this time around and will the outfits be changing?
Peach Pit: Oh, we got new outfits now! They’re not the same ones we’ve been wearing for two years.
You swapped them out?
Peach Pit: Yeah, you know after three years of wearing literally one outfit – we didn’t even have multiples of them, it was the exact same pants, sweater, and shirt at every show for years – they were disgusting. I had an orange polo shirt under a purple sweater, and the orange polo – you never saw it because I always wore the sweater on top – the pits were freaking black. They were so disgusting. After wearing the same thing for that long we were like this is getting disgusting and we’re pretty over it.
We also started the band in our early 20’s and now I’m 27 and look like I’m 12 in this outfit – I’m like this is weird…so we got some new clothes, which is really nice, we went shopping. I like our new look – it’s a little more mature. I’m really excited for people to see our live show. We’ve been working really hard on it.
You have some iconic tour diaries that have been entertaining me while I’m on lockdown here, can you describe what van life is like with the rest of the guys and the crew?
Peach Pit: Van life is the best. It’s so much fun. Our tour manager is usually driving and Chris is usually in the front seat being the DJ. Chris has got great music – he’ll be playing anything from Neil Young to Migos – and behind them, it’ll be me and Peter. Usually, we’ll be playing some cards back there – maybe some Cribbage, sharing some memes on Instagram with each other, playing our Nintendo Switches…And then in the very back is always Mikey – he loves sitting in the back away from everybody.
Honestly, that guy just looks at Instagram for 25 hours a day. He just goes through his feed all day and looks at memes. It gets pretty gross in the van though – I don’t know if you’ve ever been on a really long road trip but after you’ve been in a car with someone for 8 hours, the level of conversation and the crudeness of conversation just really ramps up because you’re so bored the only way to entertain yourself is to be absolutely disgusting. You just have to start talking about gross stuff and the shock value makes you not bored.
I don’t know if I could be friends with someone after being in such close quarters for that long – we’d probably have to not talk for like a month following that?
Peach Pit: When we go on tour it’s a great time and we see each other every day, and then after the tour, we get home and we don’t hang out at all for like, a while. We’re pretty done with each other.
I’m going to let you go but I do have one last question that I’ve been kind of curious about. It’s with relevance to everything happening in the music industry right now as a result of this pandemic because I know it’s affecting everyone involved in some shape or form. I wanted to know from an artist's perspective what our readers can be doing, what music listeners can be doing, and what your fans especially can be doing to keep momentum and excitement up in an industry that really relies on unity?
Peach Pit: I think the biggest thing people can do is really just follow what we’re being told to do – distance yourself from others don’t go out if you don’t have to, and that will actually be the biggest thing. The sooner people can get back on tour the sooner people can have their regular lives back – so many musicians rely on the gig economy that they have, and without shows, they can’t support themselves so the biggest thing people can do is figure out how to flatten this curve until it starts to plateau and we can go outside and go to shows.
In the meantime, just listen to music. Stream it all the time – go onto Bandcamp and buy your favorite band’s record, even if you can listen to it on Spotify. Buy people’s merch, be on Instagram and share the music you’re listening to and get the word out there.
Me and the guys feel like we’re in a pretty good position and people are listening to our music but I’ve got lots of friends who are definitely struggling right now and it’s really scary. So if people can do whatever they can to support them – whether if that’s with money or sharing the songs that you like so other people can listen too – every little bit counts honestly.
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