Puremusic: First of all, incredibly sporting of you to do this interview on very short notice.
Peter Mulvey: Oh, no problem, man. I'm home. I'm off the road, so I have pretty free days.
PM: I am truly remiss in not having interviewed you before, because I like your music a lot and reviewed both The Trouble With Poets and Kitchen Radio. Those are both great records.
PeterM: Well, thank you very much.
PM: And although we did not get to meet, I did see you play in that nice little pub at South by Southwest on that Signature Sounds evening.
PeterM: Oh, yeah, yeah. That was a fun time.
PM: That was cool. And I did get some video footage of Kris Delmhorst and Mark Erelli, but by the time you went on, I was chummin' up these women friends, and the post was in my way, and so--
PeterM: Oh, yeah. Yeah, the hazards of South by Southwest
PM: Indeed. But I think I did get a half of this song, and a half of that song, and so I think I might just stick them up in the context of this interview so people can see you do that cool thing you do.
PeterM: That'd be great.
[Unfortunately, I didn't get back to Nashville, where that tape is waiting, but wound up in Miami instead.]
PM: So I'm just going to act as if we've met, because we're both Irish Americans, I'm sure, and those kind of guys.
PeterM: Yeah, sure.
PM: Are you Irish all the way back? Or what's your background?
PeterM: Yeah, my great grandfather was a Leitrim farmer. And then he immigrated to upstate New York, and then settled in Northern Wisconsin. He's a dairy farmer. His kid was a dairy farmer. My dad grew up on that dairy farm.
PeterM: Yeah, just a few generations in, we are.
PM: Yeah, so you're breaking the dairy chain.
PeterM: Actually, my dad did. He became a seminarian, and that didn't work out, and he became a social worker.
PM: What does that mean for one's dad to have become a seminarian.
PeterM: Oh, he was studying to be a priest.
PM: Right. After he'd sired you, and whoever else was along?
PeterM: No, no, no, no, no. Long before.
PM: Oh, before he became a family man.
PeterM: Yeah. He was a seminarian, and that didn't work out for him.
PM: Right, as it so often does not.
PeterM: Yeah, no kidding.
PeterM: I think he was not cut out for it, because I'm his second of four sons, and he's a great dad.
PM: Yeah, and meant to be so, apparently. Well, good for him. So what kind of a family, then, did you grow up in, Peter, and what were you like as a youth?
PeterM: It was a big talkative brawl of a family. I mean, I've got an older brother and two younger brothers and a couple of parents who were--I guess I'd call them old school leftists, but not the pot-smoking, bead-wearing kind.
PeterM: But they were more sort of the--they dressed like nerds, but like wherever they go they form a block watch, and my mom runs tutoring programs. They still are this way. But we were kind of street Catholics, although that wound up not working out for us, either.
PM: Right. As it so often does not.
PeterM: Yeah. We all wound up leaving the church. So it's your basic sort of nerdy community-activist science-geek kind of family.
PM: Oh, science geeks, to boot.
PeterM: Yeah, we've always been pretty interested in just science and reality.
PM: For lack of a better term, indeed.
PM: So are you the only one, then, in the long run, who went an artsy route?
PeterM: I am. Everybody else is a schoolteacher, or has been a schoolteacher at one point. We got one engineer, got a couple of schoolteachers. And yeah, so I'm it as far as someone who went and did this for a living.
PM: Wow. But no surviving Catholics?
PeterM: No, not a surviving Catholic--well, in the greater family, my Uncle John and my Aunt Mary. But in my nuclear family, no, not a Catholic among us anymore.
PM: Yeah. Although us six kids all went to Catholic school, there were no surviving Catholics when the smoke cleared.
PeterM: Yeah, exactly.
PM: That's just how it goes.
PeterM: Yeah. I mean, culturally speaking, you'll always be Catholic.
PeterM: It's just like being Jewish, practically--I mean, it just sticks with you. It's like being Chinese American.
PM: [laughs] Which I'm, at the moment, surrounded by. So what were you like as a youth, what was your youthful personality?
PeterM: Oh, lord, I was your typical dreamer kid, probably a little sad, who kind of lived in his head. I played Dungeons and Dragons, did all this sort of nerd stuff. I just have always been introspective and probably a little down.
PM: Which makes the follow-up question all the more compelling--and how do you think your personality has changed over time?
PeterM: You know, not much.
PeterM: [laughs] Yeah. I mean, this is weird, but I tend to be kind of an introspective and down guy. But at the same time, I should say my coping mechanism has always been to talk with people, just talk.
PeterM: That's how I get along, that's how I get them to like me, that's how I learn whether I like people. I'm just a very talkative guy, but I'm not in that sense an outgoing gregarious dude.
PM: Not small-talkative.
PeterM: No. I always go for the end zone, and it's always been that way.
PM: Yeah, right. I mean, it's right there. You can see it from here. You might as well.
PeterM: Yeah. But then the only thing that's changed--I mean, my personality, I think, is much the same. It's just that you get older and you learn to deal with it. You learn not to get tossed around by it so much.
PM: And an odd thing that you find in this business, especially the singer/songwriter part of the business, is that so many of the very good people are deeply introspective types, for whom it would seem very unlikely that they spend their lives on stage, and yet it's what has occurred.
PeterM: Yeah. What you'll find is sort of the two types. And I probably fall into the type that pretty much--I like approval, I'm pretty allergic to disapproval.
PM: Oh, yeah.
PeterM: And then very rarely you'll find--I've got a friend, Jeff Foucault, and that guy is, well--he's a seriously private guy.
PM: Is he?
PeterM: Oh, yeah. I mean, I am, too, but our methods of defending our privacy are very different. Mine is to just talk a great gale of--you know, talk a whole shit storm of--
PM: Right. Find your way through it.PeterM: But it isn't actually hugely personal. And his is a little bit more pragmatic and direct. He just doesn't like to talk about things that he doesn't like to talk about, and he's perfectly comfortable letting people know that. continue