11 Questions: Peter Hilleary
Peter Hilleary is awesome. Seriously. Between recording bands (Torerro, Dog Shredder) and playing in bands (NavigatorCommunicator, Apartment Kids, ex-Todos Somos Lee), he’s been a part of some of Bellingham’s best and most interesting music. Peter’s incredibly humble (it took him nine months to put the Apartment Kids album up on bandcamp) and one of the nicest guys you’ll meet.
Tell us a lot about yourself? What’s your background?
I’m usually trying to fight the white trash in me. It’s like having a cold; you just have to stay on top of it: drink lots of teas and juices, and hide it from potential employers. I moved around a lot as a kid, I think I counted 24 houses/apartments by the time I was 16. I bounced around Skagit and Whatcom counties, Lummi Island, and a few parts of Alaska, and wound up going to middle school and high school here in Bellingham. My mom’s probably my favorite person in the world, and undoubtedly a true nomad. She’s a nurse up in the most northern town in Alaska right now; I bet she’ll be a respected diesel mechanic in Mexico City in a year from now.
I had a lot of rad friends growing up in all these different neighborhoods, most of which I lost contact with after moving to a new town, but nonetheless all helped me form ideas about culture, people, and what to strive for creatively. My first real homie in Bellingham was Garth Shillington (Wilson Project, Haunted Authors). He was into some pretty heady music, old blue-note jazz, Thelonius Monk, Nomeansno, Tool (I think before Undertow came out); we would play and listen to music, skate, hang out with girls, sneak out and get into trouble. We had a close friend, Travis, who was into martial arts, hip hop, just a really interesting, confident and intelligent kid. He passed away from a blood disease before we made it out of middle school, but his energy definitely stuck with us. I’ve always connected best with people who share that ‘I’m gonna do this, if you don’t like it go fuck yourself’ attitude; people that don’t give into the status quo and give up on their own convictions to pursue some fake idea of happiness, illustrated in an ad or on TV. They always end up being the people soccer moms hope their kids don’t end up like, but in reality are usually having an infinitely more positive impact on the people around them.
Musically, I started getting into Soundgarden and Nirvana when I was around 12 or 13; Matt Cameron and Dave Grohl became huge influences drum-wise. I remember becoming really conscious of how rock drums were recorded around that time, particularly on In Utero. That album ended up being a big reason I started recording music. Having to schmooze and hang out with “successful” musicians has always been kind of a turn-off, almost a deterrent to pursuing a career engineering, but trying to figure how the fuck Steve Albini got those drum sounds will give me enough inspiration to record music for a long time.
At what age did you first pick up an instrument? What was it and how did it make you feel?
My old man played guitar around me since I was born. He was in a few local bands back in the 80s, so on the weekends I would pick up his Les Paul and try to shred with my miniature fingers. One of his shady friends lived in a single-wide, I think up in Blaine, and he had this huge 80’s-metal wrap around drum kit. They’d let me beat the shit out of those things for hours, and I’m sure that’s where I decided to be a drummer. Music was always around growing up, there was never a first-kiss moment. I finally got my own electric guitar when I was 12, I think.
Along with being a musician and recording bands, you are also a skilled woodworker. Do you find any connection to the artistry of woodworking and music?
I think this is probably true with anyone creatively driven, but just having a moving, mechanical outlet for all of the things bouncing around in the brain that can’t be absorbed or relieved by social interaction, or staring at a computer, seems really important to me. Both woodworking and music have that kinetic element, keeping the mind connected and engaged. I see a lot of benefits in this type of physical relationship between humans and their creative outlets, along with some form of problem solving. I’d rather be daunted by some impossible hidden joint on a piece of furniture, or trying to mix a wall of intertwined guitar patterns without covering up the stereo imaging of an apposing drums riff, than sitting on a couch playing video games or watching Seinfeld reruns.
I think for me, spending time and energy on a recording for a band that I respect, or on a piece of furniture for someone who actually gives a fuck, will lead to some type of meaningful outcome. They have similar outcomes. Also, music and woodworking were handed down to me by my dad, and I think that fact will inevitably assure both will remain uncompromised parts of my life. I’ll never have to join a band because they might “get signed”, or for some bullshit pursuit of an increase in popularity amongst the 18-25 demographic. Thank god.
Tell us about your dog. What is your favorite story with your pooch?
His name is Bobby Digital, he’s an American Bulldog/English Mastiff/Great Dane. He’s tiny. Probably the funniest public interaction he’s had was early on. I was living on C Street, and he was around 14 or 16 weeks old. It was a warm spring day, and walking down the street was what appeared to be a nice, patient woman with her toddler, slowly making their way down the block. The neighborhood was quiet, and Bobby Digital was inside chewing on a bone or a decapitated zebra toy or something. Out of nowhere, Bobby spots the two dangerous people, runs out to the sidewalk and starts awkwardly barking and flailing around like a banshee. The nice lady suddenly transformed into a psychopath, and proceeded to threaten the life of little robert if he touched her child. I started laughing (because Bobby couldn’t hurt a jellyfish at that point, and because he had fallen asleep with his head in his water bowl earlier that day), and things escalated. It was by far the most intense exchange between a tiny – scared of his own pee stream – puppy, and a kind, soft-spoken mother I’ve ever seen.
What initially brought you to Bellingham and why have you stayed?
After high school I moved to Seattle, and spent five years apprenticing as a woodworker. I started playing music with Josh Kiener a few years in, and began taking recording more seriously. At some point I realized my goal of building a small recording studio was much more attainable in Bellingham. Keeping Todos Somos Lee based here, and having some really fortunate construction jobs develop with my Dad, gave me a pretty solid case for moving back and staying.
Your Apartment Kids recording was a hidden gem of music released last year. What’s the motivation behind the project and why did it take you so long to make it readily available?
The songwriting just sort of happened in between all the other things I was doing at the time. Most of the songs developed from fucking around on an acoustic guitar, and would eventually take on some sort of meaning for me and I’d write parts around that. I’m kind of obsessed with recording too. Audio recording has perplexed me since I was eleven or twelve. It seems like this mysterious, untouchable dimension, where individually compelling performances exists in this very mathematically provable electro-inductive exchange between a few magnets and coils of wire attached to paper speaker cones. It’s simple physics. And somehow it can be one of the most sacred rituals for a person- just listening to those two speakers move back and forth. Writing and performing is probably the most fulfilling aspect of music, but recording has this unique ability to hide all of the props, all of the windmills and high kicks, all of the clothes that formulate a band’s image, and let the listener form ideas and images based on the actual music. For me, this project is just a notepad; it lets me get my recording-nerd fix without any outside expectations. A few of my favorite musicians (Dan Rude, Josh, Ryan Wapnowski, Chris Scherer), guys I think of as brothers, were able to come add electronic noises, horns, extra drums and guitars on that album. They’ve always been a huge source of inspiration, and being able to have that experience was really meaningful. After spending three or four months recording and mixing, it felt really good to set it aside and focus on other projects. That’s probably why it wasn’t released right away.
What is your favorite musical moment – either playing or recording?
That’s tough. Every recording I’ve been a part of has been fun on some level. One of the first projects in my studio was recording a demo for Torero. They brought a variety-pack of Mike’s hard lemonade to the studio, and Seth played the most amazing drums riffs I’ve ever recorded. That was the first of many meaningful sessions. I actually had a pretty amazing musical moment with my 5-year-old niece, Jordan, a few days ago. She’s already a natural musician, just amazing tone and pitch, and has this incredible natural rhythm. I started beat-boxing this slow ghetto-tech beat while she was sitting on my lap, and she started singing this Maria Carey-type freestyle about clouds in the sky and all this other random shit she was thinking about. I would throw in these syncopated-triplet fills at odd spots and leading up to the next measure, and she felt it and hit the next one-beat every time. She’s five, it was amazing.
What is your all time favorite movie? What makes it so special?
No Country for Old Men, Buffalo 66, or The Godfather I. Toss up, but all three move really slow, dialog is sparse, and the cinematography is rich and creamy. Johnny Tsunami is right up there, but way too violent.
How do you think you’d fair in a zombie apocalypse?
I’d loot Bed Bath and Beyond, and finally get that matching washcloth and bath towel set.
If you could have a beer with any musician, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Keanu Reeves, so I could ask him for some pointers on bass.
What’s next for Peter Hilleary?
I’m working on a few new recordings right now: a new Apartment Kids EP and a NavigatorCommunicator EP. Both should be mixed and mastered in the next few months. I’ve had a pretty strong urge to skip town for a minute, come back and open a more permanent studio. I’m hoping after I’m out of school that happens…så