By: Dr. Matt Warnock
One of the things we enjoy the most at Guitar Internatioanal, besides talking to big-names guitarist like Steve Vai, Jimmy Page, Van Halen and others, is meeting new and exciting artists from around the globe. One of these artists that was recently brought to our attention is Irish singer-songwriter Peter Doran, and after hearing his latest album Sleepless Street we knew what had to talk to this gifted performer and find out more about what makes him tick.
Peter Doran recently sat down with GI to talk about his early days as a shredder, his gear and live set up and how he sees the modern music industry.
If you haven’t checked out Peter’s music yet, you probably should. It’s creative, captivatingly catchy and is obviously music from the heart. We could go on, but we’ll let Peter take it from here.
Matt Warnock: You started off your guitar career as a shredder, before moving into the realm of singer songwriter, how did that transition take place?
Peter Doran: I’m not entirely sure really, it happened quite unexpectedly. I didn’t see it coming. I got into guitar in a very big way at a young age, 12 or 13 if I remember correctly. My first concert ever was Joe Satriani live in Dublin, on the Time Machine tour, an amazing gig which obviously had a major impact on me and set me off searching for more and more instrumental guitar music.
I was big into Satriani, and Vai. I even bought one of the white JS Ibanez signature model guitars. I remember I worked weekends on my uncle’s farm and saved every penny to put towards this guitar. I was taken aback with Yngwie Malmsteen for a while too, bit of Dream Theatre also.
So I was listening to a lot of heavier, Shreddy type stuff I guess for a long time, and of course practicing scales and exercises in an effort to sound even somewhat like these guys. Then I began to listen to slightly bluesier, tastier guitarists, I’m thinking SRV, Robben Ford, Eric Johnson these types of people. So, already there was a slight shift in my taste towards more mellow, tasteful stuff.
Although to say that Joe Satriani is not a tasteful guitarist is a grave injustice. I remember listening to Steve Morse at one point and thinking “Wow, what he’s doing is mind-boggling, but I don’t really like it…” When I reached 16 or 17 I started getting exposed to songwriters, both Classic and international, and up and coming Irish acts.
A good friend of mine introduced me to Dylan’s Blood on the tracks (The same friend had many years earlier handed me a cassette copy of Metallica’s Master Of Puppets) , I hadn’t really heard anything like that before. I was floored by the power of the thing, and how simple it was.
Around this time, there were a lot of great Irish acts coming through like The Frames (now Swell Season), Damien Rice, Bell X1 etc. Most of these artists passed through my town, and all had a big influence on me and helped my push me towards being a songwriter.
I just remember being so impressed at the power of a really good song and amazed that you could create such feelings and emotions with just a guitar and a voice, I guess I wanted access to some of that power.
Matt: Are you ever tempted to just let loose on stage some nights and revert back to your earlier days as a shredder, at least for a few bars here and there?
Pete: Sometimes, yeah at the back of my mind I think I would like to try it some time. I think I’m a little paranoid that if I just started witling away mid song that it would be a bit contrived or out of place or something. But I definitely wouldn’t rule it out as an option at some point.
Matt: What guitars are you using right now?
Pete: I’m mostly using a Martin, D15 for live shows and on the record. I also have a lovely Taylor 314 that I’m very fond of.
There’s a slight problem with the pickup on that though that I need to get fixed, I’ve been putting it off for a while because recording the album has eaten up most of the budget as you can imagine. Very soon I’ll have her fixed up and as good as new.
Matt: Since you play a lot of acoustic guitar, do you prefer to use an amp-preamp, or go direct into a house system?
Pete: At the moment I am just going direct into the house system, but I’m very curious about getting a nice preamp to sweeten up the sound.
Matt: How different is your studio rig from your live rig?
Pete: I almost only play acoustic live these days, so it’s pretty much the same set up for me. I like to keep things as uncomplicated and pure sounding as possible for acoustic guitar.
The only difference between live and studio set up would be that live I will just D.I. the guitar, but in the studio we have the pleasure of using high end microphones to capture the natural tones of the acoustic.
Matt: As a songwriter what comes first to you, the lyrics or the music?
Pete: It can go both ways, generally for me it’s the music that comes first, then maybe some work on vocal melody and phrasing. Sometimes you can have a song nearly ready to go, but no idea of subject matter or theme. That’s not always ideal really.
Sometimes, the lyrics or at least song idea will come first and then I’ll fit the music to the mood of the lyrical storyline. Like the title track from the album Sleepless Street, all the lyrics came first for that, very quickly.
I had a clear idea of the story for that song, and the music was secondary, and probably ended up as my most simple song musically, only about four chords in there. But the lyrics are quite detailed. There’s a balance you have to try and get right I think. Like if I’ve got a very busy or intricate song musically, I would try to be more sparse with the lyrics.
Matt: I get the feeling after listening to your music that rhythm is an important aspect of your songwriting process. Can you talk about your relationship to rhythm and how it fits into your songwriting?
Pete: There’s a great quote that comes to mind that a friend told me a while back:
“An artist cannot talk about his art any more than a plant can discuss horticulture.”
I thought that was pretty funny. Rhythm is not something I would think about specifically when I write. It’s more of a feeling thing. I just try to make the stuff move in a way that’s interesting to me.
It’s all tied in together, melody, rhythm, phrasing, they’re the big ones. I also love the smaller details, tone, feeling, mood etc, not as easy to track down but just as important. Everything has to make sense together for a song to work I think.
Matt: You feature strings in your writing, do you arrange all of those parts and if so how strict are you when you work with a string section, as far as what they can play and how they play it?
Pete: I’ve been playing with the same cellist for nearly ten years now. At this point I have so much faith in the guy that I just let him go for it really. When we’re working on stuff if I hear anything I will suggest it and he’ll try it out but mostly I just let him work his magic.
If it’s a song that has layered strings I’ll usually let him organize the other players and I would then try to help them as much as I could tap into the mood of the song. The producer on the new album, Filippo Gaetani, also handled some string arranging duties for a couple of tracks.
Matt: As an Irish artist, do you find that there’s still the pressure to “break America” in order to push your career to the next level, or is that an archaic way of thinking about the U.K. music scene?
Pete: In my mind, breaking America is something that people like Robbie Williams try to do, huge international acts with massive label and financial backing behind them. As an Indie artist it’s not something you can’t really even consider tackling on your own. In saying that though, I would love to visit the states at some point in the near future, play some shows, and maybe make a few little dents.