Interview: Pete Roe

This interview was originally published in Issue #12, August 2010.

While other members of Laura Marling’s backing band have gone on to find independent fame, it’s fair to say Pete Roe is still known as the singer-songwriter’s piano player and occasional support act. The truth is, he’s a wonderful musician in his own right – in the early 2000’s he collaborated with Bristol’s Beth Rowley and played a lending role in the local jazz scene. Having moved to London in 2008, in the past year not only has he toured internationally alongside Marling to promote her sophomore album I Speak Because I Can, on which he performs, he’s also recorded and released his own debut The Merry-Go-Round to critical success: opening track “Bellina” has been awarded Song of the Day status by Q Magazine, and Roe named an up-and-coming star by The Guardian’s influential music section.

In celebration of his own uprising, DrunkenWerewolf’s Tiffany Daniels talks to the musician about being compared to one of Britain’s most infamous “nu” folk stars, juggling his responsibilities and not having a grand master plan.

How’s the tour going?It’s going good, all going well; I’m really pleased, we’ve got a nice band together.

You haven’t finished it yet, have you, there’s Bristol to go still?Yeah Bristol tomorrow, which is a bit of a home coming gig, I lived here for a long time. I didn’t grow up here, I was a student here and then stayed on. You know what it’s like - home. It’s a great place; cosy, sometimes too cosy.

Has it influenced your music do you think?Yeah, I mean people are always talking about Massive Attack. There’s not a load of that in [my music]. I do wonder – maybe local bands have [influenced me], but there’s not a lot of that in there, I haven’t noticed it. I don’t think anyone has.

You’re quite involved in the jazz scene – didn’t you work in the Old Duke at some point?I’m standing outside it right now actually! I worked behind the bar, played gigs there, lived upstairs…

You’ve probably seen me very drunk at some point then.I’ve seen it all around here! It was great; the Old Duke’s like a hub of activity - right in the middle of Thekla and Louie, and all that’s around there.

Do you keep up with the local scene in Bristol?Yeah definitely – although I moved to London about two and a half years ago - there’s a great Bristol band that’s supporting us tomorrow called Pepino – they’re pretty new and they’re working on their first record at the moment. They’re so new they haven’t really got anything up on their MySpace – don’t judge them on that!

Would you ever move back to Bristol or are you London bound now?I think I’ll probably do my time in London. Things happen [in London] that don’t happen anywhere else, but it’s too big for me!

What made you move there in the first place?I wasn’t really getting anywhere [in Bristol]. I’d played every venue in town and I found myself playing the same gigs, and it was going fine but I got very comfortable and I wanted a change. It was a risk, but I moved up there and I got really lucky falling in with Laura [Marling] straight away.

How did that come about?Through a chap I used to work with in the Old Duke, a friend of mine called Jesse Quinn [of the Mets fame]. He’d been playing with Laura and he went off to do other things and she needed a piano player figure.

Do you mind being referred to as someone who’s in Laura Marling’s band?No not at all, I love it.

Is there quite a community aspect in London?We try!

Do you think it’s important to the folk uprising?[A lot of umming and ahhing] I guess so.

Because to me there’s always been a folk and acoustic scene in the South West, but it seems in the media a lot of the new acts are coming out of London. Do you think it’s fair to say the uprising revolves around London in your experience?I think there’s a lot more going for it; there’s a lot more business generated out of London, so it’s easier to get help from labels. People go there to really work. There’s some great stuff in Bristol but it ticks along, and the really good stuff is the kind of things you see in little pubs on a Sunday afternoon. Gigs that aren’t in proper venues – there’s so many musicians [in Bristol] doing a lot of good stuff.

Did you record your new EP The Merry-Go-Round in London?Yes, a chap called Ian Grimble produced it; he’s a great engineer. Really easy going, I sat in his room and he put a load of mics up and I just played the songs, my guitar and me.

What made you step away from the more traditional ‘one step at a time’ recording technique?There’s no one else on [the record] other than me…all the gigs that I had been doing at the time happened to be solo gigs and all the arrangements on the guitar I’d really worked on as a one man band. It made sense to document that rather than getting a band together.

Would you ever get a band together in the future?This tour’s with a band, but in the recording studio I think so. I’m kind of in two minds about it, because I really love playing with a band and I also really like playing on my own. Also, the records that I like are quite minimal – it’s always temping to make it as big as possible.

I know it’s a clichéd question but what records are you talking about; what’s influenced you in terms of recording?Gillian Welch, her stuff is brilliant. She does so much with so little. John Martyn’s stuff I really like with just him and a bass player, or just him on his own. Nick Drake has obviously got some beautiful arrangements. It’s all the oldies really, from the 60’s and 70’s.

How do you think the 60’s and 70’s folk reflects on the new folk that’s coming out at the moment?It’s different, but the same ideas are behind it; it’s driven by a similar cause, there’s a good energy in it of people wanting to play with each other - that doesn’t often happen with other sorts of music. In indie land things can be quite insular and musicians not very forthcoming over collaborations; you definitely don’t ask someone from another band to come and record with you because it’s like cheating on your girlfriend!

Are you happy with the over-all outcome of The Merry-Go-Round? Is there anything you’d change in retrospect?I don’t think there is, I’m really happy with it. It’s a really good start and I’m glad to have done it as a solo thing and built on it from there.

Would you take a similar direction in the future if it’s come out well?Perhaps.

That’s very ominous![laughs] I really don’t know! I haven’t planned that far ahead – there’s no master plan for my music, I’m just going to bumble on and see what happens.

Have you got any album plans?I’m going to do some writing, that’s the plan for the summer. I have festivals with Laura at the weekend but during the week I’m going to sit down and do some writing and some recording in the autumn for an album, or maybe another EP.

There are no solo performances at the festivals?It’s all Laura’s stuff. I agreed with her that I’d see her record through for the duration…

Are you going to record on her September album?I’ll probably be on that, that’s the plan so far. I think she starts [recording] pretty soon, I’m not sure when, I think that’s all up in the air! We’re all bumblers.

You played in a Church in Manchester recently – what’s the strangest venue you’ve ever played?The strangest venue I’ve played was probably my last gig before I left Bristol, and it was in a Scout hut on big stilts in the middle of a boat yard, and I hired it out to do a last gig. We dragged a piano from Ebay up the stairs and I did a totally acoustic gig. It was a great room, there were sixty people in this little shed. It was really specially, I really like totally acoustic gigs but they’re really rare, there aren’t many places you can get away with it.

Where would you want to play in the future? What’s the weirdest place you can think of?Oh, I really don’t know! You’re making me think about the future an awful lot Tiffany; I’m just trying to get through the next week!

Do you find touring a labour of love or do you enjoy it?I love it, it’s great – I’ve been at home for about five days since March, I’ve been squeezing my own tours and gigs in the middle of Laura’s stuff, and it’s gone great, this is what I want to be doing. I don’t want to be sat on my hands!

What’s your least favourite part of having a career in music?I can’t think of a single thing! I like all of it. Ah, I miss cooking! The first thing I do when I get home is cook a big meal, it’s tough on the road but I do have a stove. You can’t do much on that though.

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