Laura Peek
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Laura Peek

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada | INDIE

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada | INDIE
Band Pop Singer/Songwriter

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"CD Review: Key"

3 STARS
The gracefully accurate indie-pop singer, songwriter and pianist Laura Peek from Halifax took three years to make this, her second album. And that seems about right. Her untangled songs, marked by somewhat informal lyrics and a nursing assurance, seem strikingly unforced – politely dancing melodies must come to her in dreams, complete with gentle but committed arrangements involving cellos and alto flutes. Where you and I may try at a frustrating deadbolt futilely with everything we have, Peek instead holds one key, waiting for the right lock to make its way to her.

--Brad Wheeler - The Globe & Mail - February 12, 2011


"A Peek Inside"

Sixties pop is the key to Laura Peek’s heart, and the lush-sounding orchestration on her new album, releasing Friday at 1313.

Halifax-based singer-song-writer Laura Peek wants to tour more across Canada in support of her sophomore record, Key, which releases at 1313 on February 4, but she has reservations about her success on the road.

"It's hard when no one knows who we are," Peek laughs.

Of course, Peek is being modest. After all, with her 2007 release From the Photographs, Peek and her backing band, The Winning Hearts, gained critical acclaim for her character-driven pop songs. Mixing bright storytelling and consistently catchy hits that Peek jokes she learned from the "Randy Newman school of thought," the young songwriter had constant radio play on community radio stations and even toured with Buck 65.

Key, although falling under 30 minutes in length, is a remarkably lush-sounding record, especially considering the limited number of instruments it employs. In the three years since Photographs, Peek has become more interested in orchestration, although she maintains a minimalist approach to the addition of new instruments. "I knew I wanted some other sounds," Peek says, "but I knew I had to be very specific with the instruments I chose."

Where some artists would follow up a well-received album with bigger and more complex songs, Peek stripped it down, focusing on three main accompanying instruments. Incorporating cello, flute and accordion into her milieu, as opposed to the bass, drum and piano combo of her previous album, Peek creates a a compact set of songs for Key that show off her love for '60s pop songwriters like Harry Nilsson and early Motown.

"I liked having that limitation because it allows you to make more interesting choices," Peek says.

-- Matthew Ritchie
- The Coast - February 3, 2011


"The Anti-Hit List"

3. LAURA PEEK “Stay Sharp”
It is to this Halifax singer-songwriter’s immense credit that the influences she says are at play on this elegantly melancholy pop song — she cites Motown and The Beatles — have been so deeply absorbed that any traces of the source material may well be figments of your imagination. The drum loop vaguely recalls “Nowhere to Run” and the plinking piano could be informed by “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” but the flute and cello are both more prominent and even more difficult to pin down. The result feels both fleetingly familiar and entirely original. Thanks to herohill.com for leading the charge. (From Key)

-- John Sakamoto - The Toronto Star - December 11, 2010


"CD Review: Key"

Laura Peek is an old-fashioned gal who tells stories from as far back as the 1800s while evoking 60s singer Judee Sill. It’s been three years since the Halifax-based singer/songwriter released her campus-radio-friendly debut, and she wears the time well. Key lacks some of that album’s pop-rock thrust and bite but gains a mature orchestral sound. It suits Peek’s increasingly confident, clear vocals and brings her piano playing to the fore.

Quiet domestic dramas unfold in whispered conversation over swelling strings, cello, flute and accordion parts arranged by Peek and David Christensen (Heavy Blinkers). Vocals by co-producer and former Inbred Mike O’Neill are a welcome touch whenever they appear. If the album is a bit too sad for you, try catchy Stay Sharp, with its lifts, layers and handclaps, or the rumba-rhythmed Go Slow.

-- Sarah Greene - NOW Magazine - February 3, 2011


"Essential Tracks"

Away from the Harbour, by Laura Peek
From the forthcoming Key (Just Friends)

You can take the girl from the ocean, but you can’t take the ocean away from the Haligonian girl. A salt-aired waltz laments and broods (in the manner of an early Neil Young), and yet is surprisingly lithe. - The Globe & Mail - January 17, 2011


"Mailbag Friday: Laura Peek"

Laura Peek is an understated, but vital member of the Halifax music community. Her contributions to other people’s records to acts like Brent Randall & The Pinecones were always impressive, but it’s been far too long since her last record.

After sitting down with her new record Key, it’s obvious Peek – along with co-arranger David Christensian and co-producers Charles Austin and Mike O’Neil – took the time to develop mature arrangements, tone and subject matter, certainly making the wait worth it.

Key is a concise 10-song, 28-minute affair but one that finds Peek exploring the history of Halifax and developing a time-appropriate soundtrack for the journey. Accordion, flute, occasional backing vocals and subtle bass lines help fill out her piano melodies, transforming Peek into a chanteuse that could have been discovered decades ago, charming the listener with songs that look back without forced nostalgia, tug and the heart strings without driving too far toward the melancholy and most importantly, keep the listener, provide the charisma and melody to help push Key to the top of your CD pile time after time. Peek’s quiet confidence helps her deliver serious emotions, interesting narratives and honest looks inside her soul with just the slightest smirk, forcing you to smile from ear-to-ear. - Herohill.com - December 3, 2010


"Critics' Picks 2010"

Laura Peek, Key (Just Friends)
There's an air of old-school confidence on Peek's latest, like a young Carole King, but she never loses that sweet, warbling charm. Bonus: Mike O'Neill produces and performs.

- Sue Carter Flinn - The Coast - December 16, 2010


"CD Review: "From the Photographs""

Laura Peek is very busy. Along with her job as music director at Halifax's CKDU and her solo work (with her band The Winning Hearts), she's also been involved with a number of other groups & side projects: The Maughams, Brent Randall & His Pinecones, Le Coque et les Phoques, and playing in Buck65's band. So all things considered, I suppose it's not surprising her debut album, From The Photographs, took 2 years to make. But make it she did, and that's a good thing, because it's really an enjoyable album.

Originally, I was planning to say that Laura's piano playing was the main focus of most of the songs found on From The Photographs, but after a few listens I had to rethink that. I think her songwriting shares top billing with her piano work. The songs are cleverly written and cover normally serious ground without feeling too serious, if that makes sense. There is an appealing, light-hearted quality to these songs, which is impressive considering most of the songs deal with some form of loss or regret. I think part of the appeal comes from the fact that very few of the songs feel dark or heavy. Peek's piano is used to craft peppy arrangements, and her voice is warm and friendly, so that helps draw you in, regardless of the subject matter.

With someone so involved in the Halifax music scene, you might guess Laura probably had some quality help making this album. Well you guess correct friend. Recorded by the omnipresent Charles Austin, Peek also tabbed Mike O'Neil to make his debut as a producer on From The Photographs. Thankfully for all, Mike is far more believable as a producer then he is as Tom Collins in the latest season of Trailer Park Boys. The Winning Hearts are comprised mainly of Dave Ewenson on drums and Joel Goguen on bass. Ewenson's drums are upfront with the piano on most tracks, with Goguen providing solid background work. Although the bassline on Stand Right There is rather excellent.

The album opens with A Name, a tale of a failed adolescent love. It's a sweet prelude to the kind of short-story songwriting Peek uses throughout the album. So Sorry opens with a piano breakdown that Dr. Dre would be envious of. It also has a jazzy chorus that is mighty catchy. I often find myself wishing there were more sunny piano-pop songs about landlords observing their surroundings in a disapproving manner. Oh Lenny helps satisfies that request, plus it opens with the line "Family out back don't care much for haircuts", which I enjoy.

Although the aforementioned Stand Right There has a bass & kickdrum combo that will keep your head nodding more than your average breakup song, it also uses a cello and some organ flourishes on the chorus to nice effect. Vermont is perhaps the sweetest song about summer camp romance I've heard this year. Well perhaps not just this year, perhaps ever. Last Thing You Deserved and The Verdict are enjoyable, uptempo songs about the various ways life can deliver a swift kick to the coin purse. I also enjoy the spacey piano breakdown on Last Thing You Deserved.

I heard someone describe Peek's songwriting style as literary, and this line from the Gatsby-esque Social Graces is a good example of that: When in the salons of elite patrons of art, spare a thought for all your colleagues who were not quite as smart". For some reason, I love that line. Quite a feat to drop that and not come off as super serious.

The more I listen to this album, the more nuances I pick up in both the lyrics and music. It could just be I'm too thick to pick them up on first listen, but I'm going to assume it's mainly a sign of a good album. If you've been looking for some quality, non-depressing piano-pop, I would suggest you check out this album. Well even if you haven't been looking for piano-pop at all, From The Photographs is well worth your time.
- Herohill.com - May 23, 2007


"CD Review: "From the Photographs""

It's not often you hear an indie band without a guitarist. It's even more unusual when the band happen to be a piano, bass and drums trio. But that's in part what makes the debut full-length from Halifax's Laura Peek And The Winning Hearts such a refreshing listen. Peek and her bandmates eschew the current trend in indie pop towards bigger lineups in favour of a more stripped-down sound. And, for the most part, it works. On tunes such as "So Sorry" and "Oh Lenny," Peek and the boys draw you in with their imaginative playing and clever pop hooks. Admittedly, though, the group sound even better when they add a little guitar here or a bit of cello there on songs such as "Vermont" and "Stand Right There," but it's all of the same less-is-more approach. Although Peek's intimate vocals and lyrics (reminiscent of Julie Doiron at times) may be too sweet for some, From The Photographs reveals a songwriter of considerable talent.

--Matt Reeder - Chartattack.com - May 29, 2007


"CD Review: "From the Photographs""

Recruiting Halifax pop geniuses Mike O’Neill and Charles Austin to collaborate on her first full-length album, Laura Peek guides the Winning Hearts through earnest and mysterious songs. Peek’s lyrics are vivid and almost conversational in numbers like “A Name” and “The General,” and she breezily recalls Julie Doiron in her strong but fragile vocals and phrasing. Peek’s piano playing is somewhat disarming, as it’s neither overwhelming nor plain but is bouncy enough to push pure pop songs like “Oh Lenny” and “Last Thing You Deserved” along at a reliably even clip. The major twists come with more adventurous arrangements, such as the odd time flourishes on “So Sorry” or the hauntingly sparse waltz of “This Big Drop.” A slight pun on the pop song predicament, “Where is the Chorus” is one of the most compelling songs here, thanks to Peek’s creepy vocals and the band’s stop-start shifts. It’s the unconventional fare that sustains so much of From the Photographs, a nonabrasive effort from Laura Peek and the Winning Hearts, which will please fans of mature pop music.

--Vish Khanna - Exclaim magazine - June 2007


"Her Winning Heart"

Laura Peek + piano + Kurt Cobain = From the Photographs. For real. Sue Carter Flinn gets to the core of the equation.


Laura Peek and The Winning Hearts' first full-length album, From the Photographs, took almost two years to complete, but as the saying goes, it's worth the wait: charming, smart, beautifully orchestrated, the kitten-loving, piano-pop singer's debut is a delight.

Accompanying other Just Friends label outfits such as Brent Randall & His Pinecones, playing a five-buck keyboard for Le Coque et les Phoques and touring last summer as a hired gun for Buck 65's band—it's a small miracle this album will be released on April 26. Over coffee at One World Cafe, Peek says she doesn't regret any of her musical diversions. "With The Maughams"—where Peek got her Halifax musical start— "I got to sing really nice harmonies and The Sweet Tenders is fun, I get to dance on stage. Le Coque et les Phoques, I get to write really ridiculous lyrics. It's all helpful. Maybe not in obvious ways but it all helps me as a musician."

Recorded by Charles Austin, backed by Winning Hearts Dave Ewenson (percussion) and Joel Goguen (bass), with help from Brian O'Reilly and Claire Gallant, Peek, a fan since high school, asked Mike O'Neill to produce.

"I never had a producer before and he was my first choice," she says. "It was great to work with him—he wasn't intrusive or tried to change the lyrics, just make the best recording of the song that we could. Lots of pep talks before vocal takes, he'd give me a hug and tell me what I needed to focus on for each song."

While the songs rise and descend in surprising and powerful arrangements, Peek's skilled piano and sweet voice remain the focus. "It's really a self-produced album," says O'Neill, a first-time producer who describes himself as a supportive golf caddy. "Sometimes she'd have a melody line that only made one appearance in a song so I'd suggest we put in again. Sometimes I'd say, "We need something extra here,' so she would go and write out a deadly new part on the piano and we'd overdub it, or she would translate it for someone to play on a different instrument. Her songs are so good that you can't stop them."

Peek composes music before lyrics. She writes about books, family, daily observations.

"Dave Ewenson says that a lot of songs are about dead people," Peek says, laughing. "They are dark, but I don't really think about it in that way. Maybe lyrically, but the songs are pretty poppy."

Her juxtaposition of sharp words and sweet melodies has the gothic sensibility of an Edward Gorey drawing. Eccentric characters with doomed futures dance, fight and sing through salons, typing schools and bohemian parties. In "Oh Lenny," an unsympathetic landlord observes the world from the attic window. "Vermont" laments a vacation with an unrequited childhood love: "I thought for the first time I'd get my foot through your screen door."

Peek says she tries to write playful lyrics. "I'm very self-conscious about being too earnest because there's some weird baggage about being a female singer-songwriter. I'd rather have fun with it, still say what I want to say, but not take myself too seriously."

Sadly still a dinosaur, gender matters in the image-obsessed music industry.

"Someone might see "woman singer-songwriter with piano' and think Tori Amos or Kate Bush," says O'Neill. "But this is more like Laura Peek plus piano equals Elvis Costello or Kurt Cobain. Seriously." Peek understands, but wishes she was judged differently. "If I am going to be compared to someone it would be on types of songs, the melodies or the arrangements." As music director for CKDU, she receives tonnes of CDs wrapped in marketing one-sheets. "A lot of "Sounds like Feist!.' It doesn't happen with male musicians as much, but it seems like there can only be one hot female vocal at a time, and everyone's looking for the next Feist or Amy Winehouse."

While Winehouse sports flying eyeliner, Peek swings more towards vintage uniform. Before each show, the band confers to decide what to wear. But she's most concerned about the music and admits to being a little nervous about response to From the Photographs. "As long as people treat the songs as real songs, and not pretty fluff," she says. "I'm really pleased with how simple the album is—I think we made good choices."


-- Sue Carter Flinn. - The Coast - April 19, 2007


"Piano popster Peek serves up fresh songs"

A lot of musicians like to talk about giving something back to the fans, but Halifax singer-songwriter Laura Peek really does go the extra mile.

Whenever the winsome piano popster headlines a show, or performs at an extra special event, chances are good she’ll be providing some tasty vegan baked goods for early fortunates.

Her CD launch tonight at the North Street Church will be no exception.

"My friends Jess and Lucia are going to help bake up a storm," says Peek during a break from her daytime duties as CKDU-FM’s music director. "The Church has a kitchen, so we can be baking onsite, for a change.

"I don’t know what we have planned yet, probably an assortment of delicious vegan cookies and cake and pie."

The main course however will be songs from Peek’s new Just Friends Records album From the Photographs, recorded with her backing duo the Winning Hearts (drummer Dave Ewenson and bassist Joel Goguen) and produced by local indie icon and former Inbreds member Mike O’Neill.

(Appetizers include sets by Fall Horsie, the Just Barelys and a rare solo appearance by O’Neill himself.)

For Peek, From the Photographs has taken some time to develop; the Winning Hearts started recording rhythm section tracks a year and a half ago at Charles Austin’s Mullet studio in the Khyber Building, with piano added, as Peek puts it, "two Christmases ago."

But there were delays, like Austin moving his studio from the Khyber Building to Kempt Road, plus O’Neill’s ongoing duties as a sound technician on Trailer Park Boys and Peek’s on-the-road adventures playing keyboards for Buck 65.

Thankfully, the mutual admiration society between producer and pianist—the Winning Hearts even got their name from an old Inbreds CD—kept things on track over the course of making From the Photographs.

"Mike had a pretty clear vision of what he wanted it to sound like from the start," says Peek. "It wasn’t anything crazy, so it was a pretty reasonable goal to attain. "I’d never worked with a producer before, but he never made any suggestions that made me feel uncomfortable or anything. It all totally made sense. At one point he loaned me his socks, because it was cold in the Khyber, and he didn’t want me to be cold doing vocal takes."

Peek and the Winning Hearts’ piano/bass/drums setup serve her gently flowing melodies and lyrical character studies well, and aside from playing with the drum sounds and a few touches like glockenspiel and melodica, it doesn’t differ widely from the trio’s live sound.

But there are a few special guests to make things a little more interesting.

"It turned out how we expected, with a few pleasant surprises," she says. "Getting Brian (O’Reilly, of Their Majesties) to do some electric guitar was really great, he came up with some awesome parts. And getting Charles to do some acoustic guitar was good and hilarious.

"He was like, ‘Oh, you want some sort of Byrds-y thing?’ and then play something that would be perfect, even though in a way he was only joking. But we recorded it that way."

A songwriter since playing high school coffee houses in Toronto, Peek first appeared solo around Halifax, when she wasn’t performing as a member of the art pop quintet the Maughaums or Brent Randall and His Pinecones. But playing with her Just Friends comrades Ewenson and Goguen has boosted her confidence as a musician and singer, and loaned her tunes some extra dramatic drive.

"Having a band makes things different. It’s a lot easier to play with a band, because there are more people onstage so you don’t feel as exposed," she confesses. "Especially when it’s these guys, because they’re a couple of my best friends and they’re just so ridiculous.

"I’ll look back, and they’re wearing matching outfits, and they both have beards and moustaches, and I think, ‘How can you not love them?’."

-- Stephen Cooke - The Halifax Chronicle-Herald - April 26, 2007


"Winning Hearts and Minds"

Laura Peek’s journey from Toronto teen music fan to noted Halifax musician has a certain fairytale grace that suits the whimsical sound of her music. If it sounds like a made-up story, that’s fitting, given Peek’s fictional inspirations.

She was born and raised in Scarborough, Ontario, the much-derided homogenous suburban sprawl on the east side of Toronto that produced Mike Myers and Barenaked Ladies. Falling in love with sounds of the east coast, she’d go downtown to check out Matt Murphy’s band The Flashing Lights and Sloan when they’d tour through Ontario, and was driven to write songs herself while still in high school.

Pursuing an English degree at Dalhousie brought her to Halifax (“School was secondary, I really liked Halifax,” she admits), where she played with alt-pop act The Maughams, and helped form the Just Friends collective/record label. The Winning Hearts blossomed a couple of years ago, and with an EP, Sneak Peek, under their belts, a full-length album is in the works.

The music? Sweet, literate pop, driven by Peek’s earnest vocals, playful keyboard signatures and songwriting inspired, largely, by the novels Peek is reading. Her website makes a case for her humanist, observational eye as well, and a fondness for cats.

When I speak with Peek, she’s about to run off to a rehearsal with her band (Joel Goguen on bass and Dave Ewenson on drums) at Charles Austin’s studio on Kempt Road. She says the band needs a bit of practice. They’re playing in Sackville, NB this week, and Peek is playing solo at St. Matthew’s Church on Barrington on February 3rd.

Austin, a member of the recently re-formed Superfriendz, is a local studio wizard and is engineering Peek’s new album, which is being produced by former Inbred and local songwriting mainstay Mike O’Neill. The tentatively titled From the Photographs will be released in the spring.


-- Carsten Knox
- Infomonkey.net - January 17, 2007


Discography

"Key" (February 2011, Just Friends Records)

"From the Photographs" (April 2007, Just Friends Records)

"Sneak Peek" EP (August 2004, Just Friends Records)

Photos

Bio

Laura Peek's sophomore album, Key, sees Peek going solo and adding more layers to the foundation on which she builds her conversational narratives.

Peek turned heads with her pop song prowess on From the Photographs (2007), her debut album. Her video for “Stand Right There,” directed by Juno-winning Ante Kovac garnered more than 300,000 views on YouTube. She also toured Canada and the United States as a vocalist/multi-instrumentalist with Buck 65.

Now with Key, Peek's songs attempt to dicipher clues about the past, reflect on hidden motivations, and make sense of personal choices and circumstance. “Laundry” explores the life of an elderly female veteran. "Stay Sharp" is a classic pop progression with memento mori lyrics.

Arrangements co-written by David Christensen include cello, alto flute, and accordion as well as Peek's unique piano playing. The result is a focused, intimate fullness that serves the songs well.

As well as collaborating on the arrangements, this album also marks the first time Peek has collaborated on songwriting: "Away from the Harbour" was cowritten with Mike O'Neill. “On the Shelf” features a collaboration of sorts, too. In an old library book, Peek found a traditional song collected by folklorist Helen Creighton, and wrote her own words for its haunting melody.

Three years in the making, Key opens one of many possible entryways into understanding who we are.