Peter Searcy
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Peter Searcy

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Music

The best kept secret in music

Press


By Jeffrey Lee Puckett
jpuckett@courier-journal.com
The Courier-Journal


The look on Peter Searcy's face said it all last Saturday at Headliners Music Hall. He was on stage, again, a place he could never abandon even if he wanted to, a place he's been thousands of times in his 20 years as a musician.

But to see him, you might have thought he was new to all of this. There was an excitement in his face, a real joy, as he attacked each song, banging his guitar and nearly levitating out of his Chuck Taylors as his clear, powerful voice cut through the noise:


"Let's put the summer behind us and sing only happy, happy songs," he sang, and you believed every word because he did.

"I just want to say what a thrill it is to be up here, playing this music with these people," he said between songs, "and especially to be playing it in Louisville for all of you guys."

Coming from someone else, that might have qualified as sucking up. But one of the defining things about Searcy and his music is that you can always trust that it comes from the heart. He doesn't know any other way.

"All I want to do is make music," he said. "It's just become a part of my life."

And Searcy, 39, has become an integral part of Louisville music, starting with his first serious band, post-punk pioneers Squirrel Bait, and continuing through a solo career that has resulted in four albums.

His latest and best is "Spark," released two weeks ago in a joint venture between California's Toucan Cove Records, Louisville's Label X and Universal Records, the world's largest label. He's come a long way from making up new lyrics for Captain & Tennille songs while listening to the car radio with his grandmother.

Searcy is now at an interesting spot in his career. The compulsion to be a featured artist on a major label has diminished with time, but his desire to make music for a living hasn't. He took his share of rides on the music industry roller coaster and came out of it with a few bruises and a new perspective about what's important and what isn't.

"I guess the carrot for me has always been that I think what I do stacks up with anything, so why wouldn't I want to get these songs out there?" he said. "Who wouldn't want to make music for a living, on their own terms, and I think that's what I've been able to do for a long time."

"There's a professionalism that comes with Peter," said Toucan Cove's Rob Evanoff, the label's senior vice president of artist relations and development. "He's done it for 20 years now and knows what needs to be done to make a record successful.

"We're hitting the ground running with him rather than starting at a crawl like we would with a new artist."

Searcy's life changed at age 15, when he joined Squirrel Bait after befriending some of the cooler older kids at the Brown School. It was no ordinary band, with a cast of members who would impact not only Louisville music but an entire generation of indie-rockers.

Between them, David Grubbs, Brian McMahan, Britt Walford, Ben Daughtrey, Clark Johnson and Ethan Buckler went on to form a series of highly influential underground rock bands, including Slint, King Kong, Love Jones, Gastr del Sol and The For Carnation. Some also landed jobs with national acts such as The Breeders and The Lemonheads.

The band's 1985 debut, "Squirrel Bait," garnered lavish praise in the press and from established musicians. One of Searcy's heroes, Bob Mould of Husker Du, was quoted as saying that "Squirrel Bait" was as good as anything his band had recorded. Spin magazine said that Searcy "had the best voice in rock 'n' roll next to Paul Westerberg."

These were heady times for guys who barely qualified for driver's licenses.

"The whole thing snuck up on us," Searcy said. "If you don't know that you don't always get a good review in Spin, or that Bob Mould isn't always going to like you, it really doesn't register.

"I can't say that it was too much of a good thing too soon because it didn't really last that long. I know I loved getting a note from my mom to get out of school so we could go play a show in New York."

In some ways, Squirrel Bait kind of haunts Searcy. He had the time of his life, but more than 20 years later his music is frequently, and unfairly, compared to Squirrel Bait's. It makes little sense -- he was 15 and didn't even write the songs -- but some can't handle the fact that Searcy makes adult pop music and not raging punk rock.

Searcy's more about reflection than rage these days, but there's an undeniable energy in his music. His mature writing style -- which relies on big, ear-candy hooks -- was honed over the course of his next two bands, Big Wheel and Starbilly (before Big Wheel, he was briefly in the short-lived Fanci Pantz).

Big Wheel released three albums from 1988 through '93, two on a large regional label called Mammoth Records. It toured relentlessly, and Searcy was writing full time, trying to find the right blend - The Courier Journal


Album Review
Pop 'Spark'

By Jeffrey Lee Puckett
jpuckett@courier-journal.com
The Courier-Journal

Peter Searcy has never been afraid of pop music. Starting with his earliest songs, he has always been in search of the perfect hook — or at least one that lasts well beyond the fade-out. With "Spark," he's found nearly an entire album's worth.

Searcy has rarely sounded this comfortable, confident or invested. The songs are extremely well-crafted, which is typical of Searcy, but there's an extra layer or two of music, little flourishes of instrumentation or an unexpected turn in the arrangements that offers unexpected gifts.

There's also a far richer emotional foundation, an added weight, that past records had, but not at this level.

Even apparently light pop songs such as "The Summer Behind Us," "Someday Song" and "Sparks" have a greater depth born of experience. And the album's emotional highlight, "Truth Rises," couldn't have been written until the requisite heartaches were balanced by perspective and a real understanding of how the heart operates. It's a powerful song.

"Spark" sounds a bit different from Searcy's other records — there are far more keyboards thanks to producer Todd Smith, and some mild experimentation — but Searcy's distinctive, booming voice is still there, front and center, on the finest album of his career.

Jeffrey Lee Puckett is SCENE's pop music editor and oversees the music page.
- The Courier Journal


Peter Searcy:
Spark
Label: Toucan Cove
Released: 2007

Peter Searcy used to front the bands Squirrel Bait, Big Wheel and Starbilly. Haven’t heard of them? That’s okay, because even after flying under the radar for several years as a solo artist, Searcy continues to refine his pop hooks and deliver them with the precision you’d come to expect from a music industry veteran.

In addition, the Toucan Cove label has this knack for uncovering great artists from Louisville, Kentucky as if they’re removing the shrink-wrap from a surprisingly great sandwich. The Muckrakers and Digby signed to the label last year, and now they have found Searcy and teamed him with producer Todd Smith of business partner Label X. The result is Searcy’s first full-band studio album in seven years, the previous one being Time Bomb/Atlantic’s Could You Please and Thank You, which spawned a bunch of radio and video play but not nearly enough record sales to make him a household name.

Spark is full of post-H.O.R.D.E. songs that signify Searcy as being a bit cooler than the Gin Blossoms and Soul Asylum, but not quite the critic’s darling or household pop icon either. He’s entrenched somewhere in the middle, and if he keeps combining combustible melodies with his trademark tenor, his fans certainly won’t care.

Shuffling tracks with just enough distorted guitars and lush harmonies like “I Believe” and “Bird Songs” are the ones you’ll find yourself hitting “repeat” on. On “Let’s Put the Summer behind Us,” the end result is just a bit too formulaic, but this is the kind of song radio is going to likely feast on. The acoustic ballad “Don’t Let a Day Go By” is raw but somehow extremely compelling as Searcy uses falsetto the way it should be used – sparsely, and the triumphant “Sing Like It’s the Last Time” is a great closer.

Peter Searcy has done the acoustic thing before, as he did with 2004’s Couch Songs. But he shows with Spark that with a full band behind him is how he is best suited. And he keeps writing catchy pop/rock that is as accessible as anything on the radio should be, but never really is. Spark may not start a fire, but if you like this kind of music it will light up your music collection nicely.

~Mike Farley

mfarley@bullz-eye.com
- Bullz-eye.com


Peter Searcy: Spark

4 STARS

Sometimes you get a CD, put it in the player and think “Wait, I’ve heard this before.” There is something either in the melody or the song structure that lends itself to that feeling of familiarity. Such is the new work Spark by Peter Searcy. The first track “The Summer Behind Us” sounds like a tune played on the radio in the late August nights of 1995, a song of bright days and cool breezes that lifts one out of the dog days. It is so radio friendly that is feels as if it has been on the airwaves for years. “Let’s put the summer behind us and sing only happy, happy songs,” could have been around forever.

“I Believe” the second track, has a hook that digs into your brain like talons, the type of chorus that makes one sing for days. “Is it Enough (for you)” starts as a ballad but isn’t a story of undying love but a song of relationship greed. The background strings sing in contrast to the vocal. The opening lick of “Someday Song” is a reflection of late George Harrison’s Dark Horse guitar but the song is of getting on beyond life. “Someday you’ll be well,” Peter sings. “Bird Song” feels so close to “Someday Song” that they probably should not have been placed back to back on the disc. It isn’t a bad tune, but just a bit too similar.

“Truth Rises” keeps the same tempo but is a little bit heavier on the band than the vocal. “Don’t let the Day” go by is on Spark twice once as a more acoustic version and at the end a full band outing. The acoustic should have ended out the recording; it would make an easier knot to tie up the package. “Sparks” grooves with the smurfin of an old Steely Dan release then finds a solid downbeat. It is a song about learning this time of being in love. “In the Morning” could be a song to answer something off the first Hootie and the Blowfish recording. It keeps that same tempo and same sentiment. The weakest track is “Overcome and Underwhelmed” with a sub par lyric and beat. “Sing like the Last Time” saves the previous track by a pleading vocal and sharp arrangement.

The style of music of Spark is very much in the vein of Matchbook 20 and Sister Hazel. The lyrics have a simplicity that is refreshing. It doesn’t try to be anything more that a hearty pop/rock recording. It is a strong disc.

- POP SYNDICATE.com


Searcy shows no signs of slowing down

By Mat Herron

“Listen to this bridge,” an ecstatic Peter Searcy says as a snare drum break rattles the Mackie speakers inside his home studio.

There is no containing the man’s excitement as he mimes the beat. Searcy’s fourth album, Spark — his first for Label X — is a wonderful batch that emphasizes arrangement and not just the solid pop structure of his previous records.

The voice is still there, like always, but unlike Trust Falls, which put singer and guitar in the front row, Spark walks like a band — even if Searcy’s the only one appearing in the press pics.

“I wanted to make a ’70s rock album,” he says, noting that he sought inspiration from groups like Fleetwood Mac. “I wanted good musicians around me — minus the coke and adultery.”

Result: It’s lush central, peppered with harmonies and accents in the right places (“Summer Behind Us,” “Truth Rises”). Recorded at Tree Sounds in Atlanta, with some tracking done at Searcy’s home studio, the album shines thanks to Label X president Todd Smith’s production, which surrounds you without losing the special moments.

And there are many. “Don’t Let a Day,” recorded shortly after Searcy’s father died, is heartbreak wrapped in tiny messages of hope. The hypnotic “Overcome and Underwhelmed” feels more Middle Eastern than Midwestern, and signifies that Searcy is more courageous than ever, turning conventional singer-songwriter strategy upside down.

This time around, the man who once fronted Big Wheel and Squirrel Bait says he knows more about the nuts and bolts of record-making. “I used to defer a lot on instrumentation. This time, I had an understanding of what was going down.”

Searcy prefers to play with a band but occasionally performs solo, and he will do just that Tuesday night at Air Devil’s Inn with Brigid Kaelin and Jim Bianco. Bianco, who lives in Los Angeles and has been compared with the likes of Elvis Costello and Tom Waits, is touring behind his solo effort, Handsome Devil.

In April, Searcy and Kaelin, who plays piano in his backing band, head to L.A., where they will play part of the Hotel Café Tour and record four or five songs at Sony Music Studios to be available for exclusive download.
Spark is scheduled to drop in late May.

Contact the writer at
mherron@leoweekly.com
- LEO / Mat Herron


Searcy, Peter (Peter Searcy) – Spark

Location: Loua-ville (That's in Kentucky)

Initial Impression: Are we sure this isn't a Rob Thomas side project? I put the CD in, not looking at anything, just pressing play, and I heard Matchbox 20.

Notable Lyric: "Let's put the summer behind us… Put the past where it belongs… And sing only happy happy songs." – "The Summer Behind Us"

Factoid: Okay, let's read the press kit: Spin claims that Peter's voice is "the best voice in rock and roll next to Paul Westerberg." OH HEY! Hellooooo, he produced with Butch Walker! Not this disc, but the one before… Hmmm… I guess when he went with a label he ditched Butch? Not necessarily a good idea. Butch rocks! He also opened for Butch, and Butch generally finds some good opening acts – except for that one band…

Serve With: A lazy summer afternoon with your honey.

Comments: Nothing too technical here, just straightforward soulful pop. Lots of love, happy thoughts, and sunshine with a few dark moments. It's got a summer vibe and a very sing-along appeal. A personal favorite would be "The Summer Behind Us". Some of the songs are a little more upbeat than others but for the most part they're safely tucked in the singer/songwriter genre, which is fine, because it's what he does and he does it well.

Oh and be sure to hop over to his myspace and look at his top friends list and you'll see Posie, his little "Muggin" mini-pincher pug. Yes, that's right; Posie (named after that kick-ass band The Posies) has his own myspace page. You gotta love that. Animal adoration alone gives Peter a special place in the Sirens' hearts!

Written by: Siren Kimmie
14 Jun 2007

- scoremusicmagazine.com


For the past nine years, singer/songwriter and Kentucky native Peter Searcy has specialized in catchy rock 'n' roll. He previously played in such Louisville bands as late '80s college radio favorite Squirrel Bait, cutting his teeth on punk rock. He recently spent some time in Atlanta, signed to a label partnered with a major, and released a handful of top-quality albums, in particular his stunning debut Could You Please and Thank You. Several years later, he is fresh off the release of the beautiful Spark. Searcy has slowly but surely built a solid solo career for himself and his brand of melodic rock. He can't imagine himself doing anything else. "This is what I've always done," he says. "I don't know much more. It's in my blood. My grandmother was a musician. My mom's a great singer. It's kind of what I feel I was put here to do." New Orleans workhorses Cowboy Mouth, led by singing drummer Fred LeBlanc, share the stage with Searcy on Friday night — a kick-off for their three-night stint on the IOP

—Leah Weinberg - Charleston City Paper


Discography

SPARK - 2007
Trust Falls - 2005
Couch Songs - 2003
Could You Please and Thank You - 2000

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

It's not easy to compare the music of Peter Searcy's youth to what he creates today. As the lead singer of hooky hardcore band Squirrel Bait while he was in high school, Peter earned an amazing accolade: Spin magazine proclaimed Peter as "the best voice in rock and roll next to Paul Westerberg."

The aggressive energy subsided, but Peter's attentive and personal songwriting continued, coupled with a kinder, more melodic sound. Over the next few years, Peter matured into one of the most compellingly confessional singer-songwriters working today. He produced his first record with the enigmatic Tim Patalan (The Fags), and his next with Butch Walker.

In 2006, Peter entered the studio again with producer Todd Smith (Label X) to create his first record for Toucan Cove / Universal Republic. Looking for an organic sound to match the honesty of the music, Todd rehearsed the full band live, and recorded it the same way. A classically-trained cellist, Peter incorporates the beauty of a live string section as well.

Peter will be taking to the road, bringing his music to fans in the most personal and enjoyable way possible - on stage. He has performed with Bob Dylan, Train, 7 Mary 3, Evan Dando, Bob Mould and Cowboy Mouth. Along with Butch Walker, Imogen Heap and Cary Brothers, he was a fixture on 2005's successful Hotel Cafe tour.

As the troubadour reclaims significance in the modern music climate, Peter Searcy, guitar in hand, has stories to tell.