INTERVIEW: Peter Panyon of Big Tribe

How would you classify your music?

It’s rock with all kinds of influences, and lots of layers.  We aim for thoughtful lyrics, strong melodies and rich harmonies – we want to make songs that engage your mind, heart, and soul, and make you want to dance.

Who are some of your top 5 musical influences?

Bob Dylan, Eva Cassidy, Nick Lowe, Bonnie Raitt, Phil Lesh.

If artist X and artist Y (and artist Z?) had a love child, the baby would be Big Tribe.

We do not know our parentage.  Until the DNA tests come back, here are some guesses:  the Grateful Dead and the cast of “Glee”… Bob Dylan and Eva Cassidy… the Everly Brothers and Adele…

What do you want fans to take from your music?

To think, perchance to dance.

How’s the music scene in your locale?

Prolific – the Baltimore/Washington area has lots of great musicians, lots of original music, and tons of cool venues.

What is the best concert you have been to?

Little Feat’s “Waiting For Columbus” shows (Peter’s); Rolling Stones (Bonnie’s), Jason Mraz (Joe’s)

What do you like most about playing live?

We’ve been doing far more recording than gigging.  The venues we’ve liked the best are ones where the audience gets to focus on the music and the message, and where we get to interact with people who respond to the songs – even (or especially) parties or jams.

One of the best gigs ever was a program we played this past summer at a conference hosted by the Smithsonian.  The theme of the conference was ecology and communicating environmental science to a general audience, and one of the avenues it explored was artistic interpretation.   We played a set of our nature-themed songs – including “Can’t Work The River” and “Blood Moon Rising” from our first album and “The Final Boat Out” and “Muddy Creek” from the new one – and for each, we got to talk about the message, and about the craft of storytelling and songwriting.  (We also premiered the music video for “Can’t Work The River”, and used it as another example of using pop culture to make people think about environmental issues.)   We had a nice dialog with the audience at the end of the program, talking not only about the songs , but also the idea of collaborations between musicians and scientists.   (The gig led to a podcast produced by one of the Smithsonian’s science writers – an interview interspersed with three of our songs.)   So: cool!   We want people to listen and think, and judging by gigs like this one, they do.

Is there a song on your latest CD release here that stands out as your personal favorite, and why?

Peter: I like “Martha” a lot – there’s a lot going on in there, and plus there’s a locomotive.   Bonnie gravitates towards “Martha” because of its topic – as she sees it, humanity is like an out of control train, and the consequences are likely to be grave.   Joe also nominates “Martha” — he likes the allegory and the message, and is fond of the musical soundscape – in particular the train, and the waltz in the middle.   It’s a song whose time is now.

How have you evolved as an artist over the last year?

Everything seems to have evolved since we did our first album “From The Fringes”.  The songwriting seems to be even stronger, though we kind of thought the first album had the pick of the litter, song-wise.   The vocals have taken a quantum leap, with Bonnie and Joe fronting more and more of the tunes.

And we’re evolving as song chefs — the arrangements use whatever suits the song (from cowbells to choirs; crunchy guitars and/or 12-string guitar; sometimes a violin or a dobro or an organ or piano or a flute or an accordion; percussion and bass guitar  — all folded together with the three lead voices) and putting each song together is a lot like making a stew.  There’s artistry when a chef makes stew, and it gets better with time.  We’re pleased with our menu.

If you could meet, play a gig, co-write a song, have dinner, have a drink with any band or artist (dead or alive) who would it be?

Peter: John Lennon, and/or Hildegard of Bingen.

Bonnie: Ella Fitzgerald.

Joe: The Beatles.

What’s next for you?

More songwriting, more recording, and more pumpkin roll.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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