Oh you know, same old same old, just treading enough water to stick around for another day or two.
Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Hollywood Lights“?
Sure. I wrote it a few years ago, after an unusually long period of writer’s block. I think I was at a point where I was fed up with writing in the first person. My own personal narrative wasn’t appealing to me as worthwhile subject matter at that time. So I invented a character, a protagonist who’s based on a few different girls I know or knew. I didn’t go into too much detail, I just wanted to give the sense of somebody who’s scared that their best days might be behind them. Like they’ve missed their chance to do something important with their life. It’s a feeling I imagine a lot of us get. Pretty catchy chorus in this one too.
Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?
Not an event or anything. I was just working in a bank at the time it was written. It was a very monotonous job but I loved the people I worked with and made some very good friends. I always knew I wouldn’t stay there, though, and I looked at the whole operation from an observer’s point of view.
I always thought of myself as Jack Nicholson in the insane asylum from “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. I was there but I didn’t quite belong. I saw a lot of people who worked there and who would be there for the rest of their lives and I just always wondered how many of them would rather be somewhere else. I think the song was born from that sense I had, that at some point most people have to sacrifice their dreams to pay the rent. In other words, most people have to grow up, and that’s a shame.
How was the film experience?
Well I certainly enjoyed working with Pol Brennan and his wife Tara on the movie song. It was a completely different way of writing because Pol had a specific vision in mind for how the film would end and my lyrical contribution had to live within the confines of that vision. So I had a lot less freedom. I enjoyed the challenge. Writing for movies would be a dream job for me so it was nice to get a little glimpse into that world.
The single comes off your new album Ashtray Black – what’s the story behind the title?
The album is named after the song Ashtray Black. I wrote the lyrics a decade ago and I was thinking of a woman who lived next door who’s son was tragically killed in a car accident one afternoon. When I heard what happened I was compelled to write something. I knew I’d barely be able to scratch the surface of how the woman must have felt but I gave it a shot. I was very careful with it. I didn’t go into details about the incident so the meaning of the song is ambiguous to anyone who doesn’t know the story. I think that song influenced the type of writer I’d be from then on. I don’t generally have story arcs or A to B narratives. I’m more interested in what’s behind the story and underneath the facts. The title comes from the last line of the song:
“you can’t move on, you can’t look back, through blue eyes turned, to ashtray black”
How was the recording and writing process?
A lot of these songs have been around for a long time. Before moving to London, I released a string of EPs independently and I’m always writing, whether I’m working towards a release or not. Finding material isn’t usually an issue. The bulk of the recording was done in the space of 2 weeks. We used musicians from the band Villagers and they made the recording process very smooth.
What was it like to work with Tommy McLaughlin and how did that relationship develop?
We were put in touch by a previous associate of mine who knew Tommy. He was interesting to work with. Quite a quirky character. Very talented.
How much did he influence the album?
The songs were all written from start to finish before I went in to his studio so there wasn’t a lot of need for influence on that side of things. But he certainly put his stamp on it in terms of production.
What role does Ireland plays in your music?
I’ve got a song called Doorstep Riots that has a lot of Belfast in it. But generally the locations are irrelevant because I sing about people and the people I sing about could live anywhere, on any street and they’d still be going through the same things.
How have Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen influenced your writing?
They’ve certainly opened up a lot of doors. But the funny thing is I didn’t start to write the way I do because I listen to Dylan. It was more that I was drawn to Dylan because of the types of songs I was writing. When I was 17 I wrote a song called Tuesday Blues. It sounds like a guy trying to write a modern day “subterranean homesick blues”. But when I wrote it, I’d no interest in Dylan, I was trying to copy Steven Tyler from Aerosmith back then.
I got into Dylan and Cohen when I turned 21 and I never looked back. That’s when I discovered just how powerful a sentence can be when the words are arranged in a certain order. I’d always had a good time expressing myself in songs, and I think I always did it pretty well. But when you really get into Dylan and Cohen it’s like getting the keys the amusement park. They’ve both taken it as far as anyone possibly could and in the process they’ve created a world for people like me to operate in.
Where do you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?
There are little moments that come and go in your life when you really feel something, you really feel alive and connected to the world. Like you’re a part of some grand production. A song tries to capture one of those moments so you can keep it and feel it again. I’m like a photographer trying to get a picture of the Bride and Groom before the marriage breaks down.
Any plans to hit the road?
I’d like to, but the right tour is hard to come by. Ideally I’d love to find an artist like Foy Vance to support but that’s easier said than done. For now I’m mostly playing clubs in London.
What else is happening next in Pete Gardiner‘s world?
Well I’d like to branch out into writing for other people. I’m sure I could be of assistance to some singers out there with a better vocal range than I’ve been blessed with. I’m also trying to write some country songs as a side project right now and i’m sending them to Nashville with the hope of someone over there recording one. So I’m just trying to keep busy enough to keep my mind of the weather. Oh….. And I was thinking of maybe getting a cat…