Vancouver indie-rockers Peach Pit have been on our radar for a bit now — when we chatted with them at last year’s Firefly Music Festival, they mentioned that their new album would be a tonal shift for them, and they weren’t far off. From 2 to 3, which was released earlier this month via Columbia, is a quiet, pared-down album that finds the band experimenting with acoustic sounds to make the modern equivalent of an oldies record. It’s a ways away from the hectic excitement of songs like “Drop The Guillotine” and “Figure 8”, but it’s an immensely enjoyable album that’s anchored by the incredible musicianship of the band and lead singer Neil Smith’s instantly recognizable croon. The band just kicked off a massive North American tour that will find them cris-crossing the country for the first time in nearly three years, and Smith sat down for a chat with us to talk about the new album’s creation, the benefits of road-tripping, and how to assemble a setlist after half a decade as a band:
One of the more fascinating aspects of this album to me is the sort of quiet nature about it. The press release described it as having been constructed “late at night in small rooms” that give it this soft nature. What caused you to write and create the songs in this style?
It partially had to do with the pandemic. I found myself locked down at home in my bachelor apartment in Vancouver, which was just an old building — I write best late at night, and I found myself adjusting to writing a little bit more quietly as a result. As I was writing, I was really just reminiscing on how good we had things before the pandemic; you know, we could go see friends freely, and be around people we loved all the time. I think that added to the somber, emo nature of these songs — on top of that, the guys and myself got really into oldies music. We were super into The Beatles again, really into Neil Young. One of the most formative albums that really fueled the recording was McCartney’s Ram, and I just got obsessed with it when I heard it for the first time. All of these factors spawned this desire to sound like the old days.
The oldies nature really carries through — I’ve been listening to a lot of Good Times-era Willie Nelson this week, and I had the realization that it sort of sounds like From 2 to 3. I think chilled out and relaxed is the vibe that you typically bring to the table, but it’s jarring to listen to and there are hardly any drums on the album.
You know, I don’t really think of it that way! I think there are drums on the album and glimpses of our older “more active” selves, but we really just wanted everything to sound like us in a room. There are drums on the album, but I wanted it to sound as if Mikey had to play them right next to you. The last album had a lot of effects and a studio feel to it, but this one required the instruments and the music needed to sound as it really was.
I love the use of character-based songwriting on the album and the other ways you’ve used it throughout your career. As a songwriter, why do you lean on that structure?
It mostly comes from the fact that I want to write about the things that I know really well, and that’s typically my friends and family around me. I think that when you write from a perspective of your day-to-day life and the things that you’re experiencing, it gets so much easier to actually produce a good song. I think there’s also a lot of interesting stuff in everyday lives of people that you know — it doesn’t always have to be this big, grand thing. In the case of “Vickie”, I was actually writing a song for my friend Vickie for her birthday, and it was really just this observation of daily life and how if she lived next to me, we’d never do anything because she’d always be over! The people in my life are fun to write about.
Being So Normal turns five years old this year.
(laughs) That’s crazy.
So, you have done this for a little while now and definitely taken some lumps — I remember at Firefly reflecting on how You and Your Friends came out immediately prior to the pandemic — what are some of the biggest things you’ve learned collectively as a band?
I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned personally is that getting to play live music is the best part of this job. The past couple of years of not getting to play has really put that in perspective; we toured a ton around Being So Normal and I just found myself taking it for granted and being bitchy and whiny all the time. But when that’s taken away from you, you really start to dwell on what it means to be in a band with that absence of touring. The other important thing is that it’s crucial to write music that you’re happy about at the time. When you first write a song, you want to feel like “I’m the best” even if as time goes on, you end up hating the song. Recently, we’ve been trying to focus on writing songs that we love right now, and not putting too much weight on them beyond that. You know, eventually we’ll play everything live, but by that point we’ll just move along to the next album and start the process over.
You bring up a good point about when you’re able to be done writing — what is your stopping point as you’re crafting a song?
I don’t know — I can just tell, if that makes sense? For me, songs start so barebones with nonsense melodies and lyrics, and as a result I really just build from the ground up. It’s generally a feeling more than anything.
The variety of answers I’ve received to that has been fun; I remember one artist saying that it’s never finished for them, because they hear it on the radio and think “that fucking snare is out of tune.” (laughs)
Oh man, I feel that. (laughs) When we first record a record or a song, before it’s released I listen to it SO much. But then you get super tired of it and never want to listen to it again, and you kind of couldn’t care less about it. Why would I care about a snare on a song I’m tired of? (laughs) Just letting people enjoy it for how it is becomes a much more peaceful way to take it your own music.
Something that caught my eye with the record rollout were the music videos. Almost all of them have you and the band outside in nature, and they’re just really beautiful works of art. I feel like that contradicts the “inside” element of the album — was that an intentional decision?
It wasn’t necessarily intentional, but a lot of these songs have a sort of longing in them for better times and spending time with friends. So, in response, we decided to take a literal road trip and film a lot of it — we were locked up for so long at home and we eventually got to do that. It lined up perfectly with summer in Vancouver, which is a really beautiful time to be outside. With the last record, it was our first record that we recorded and released on Columbia, so we had a bit more of a budget to make higher-quality music videos. We felt like with the first record, we were supposed to do that as a next step; with these, we realized that we liked having it a little bit more low-key with fewer people on set and a really refined idea of what we wanted to do. So it was also a response to the way we had done things prior.
It’s fascinating to think that you’re only three records in and you might’ve hit your “back-to-basics” record. I know that the tour is right around the corner, and I’m curious as to what your setlist creation looks like. Your band is unique in that I feel like each bit of fans really likes each record equally.
(laughs) That is entertaining, right? We just want to play the top six or seven songs from each record. It’s kind of nice knowing like, Spotify stats and all, but we also know which ones are gonna hit the best live. So I would just say to expect a little bit of truly everything, ordered into the best way possible. We just figured out the setlist last week, so I’m super excited to finally put it into action.