Since the Canadian indie-rock band Peach Pit released their first studio album Being so Normal, they’ve amassed hundreds of thousands of fans with their sun-kissed melodies, guitar riffs, and pensive lyrics. A lot has changed in the last few years, the tour for their second album You and Your Friends got derailed by the pandemic, and the stages they perform on keep getting bigger but the normality that inspired the title of their first album is ever-present. “I think people forget people making music, movies, or any sort of art they’re real people too so reading that stuff sucks and I do try my best to stay away from it because it hurts my feelings,” lead singer Neil Smith says to me over Zoom on the topic of social media and the inevitable discovery of negative comments amongst hundreds of positive ones before laughing at his honest admission of feelings. Having penned many Peach Pit songs from his personal experiences, Smith extends the same openness to our conversation.
Peach Pit recently released their third album From 2 to 3 and the 11-song compilation showcases the band in their purest form. Initially inspired by Paul McCartney’s Ram, Smith admits he was drawn to the live aspect of albums from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Coupled with stay-at-home orders, there was less opportunity for practice and perfection before recording in-studio and the result is a live-sounding album of a group of friends who really enjoy playing together and are musically gifted. As the band is embarking on their first North American and European tour in two years, Smith is excited and grateful for how far they’ve come but introspectively compares the “trying to make it” phase with the “we’ve made it” era they’re currently in. The secret is that no one ever truly feels like they’ve “made it” and the euphoria of small victories diminishes over time as the mountain you’re climbing seemingly gets higher and higher. Not to be confused with complaining but rather a truth that’s relatable for any creative: your firsts always feel like your best wins and you only get to experience the sensation of your first tour once until it becomes a memory you cherish.
Below, Smith chats about his newfound sobriety, his songwriting muses and why the first cut is the deepest, and the random phrase that inspired the song “Pepsi on the House”.
Were there any challenges or welcome surprises to conceptualizing this album while being separated from each other?
No, it was cool because I wrote a lot of the songs alone at home—which is normal—then I would send out the little demos that I would make to the rest of the guys, and they could think about what they wanted to add or what direction we were gonna take [the song] which again is pretty normal for us. The one difference was that we didn’t rehearse too many times before we got into the studio, a lot of the songs we wrote in [the] studio as far as arrangement and what sound we wanted out of the tunes. That was really cool cause it allowed us to try to play the song the best we could for the first time, sometimes when we go into our rehearsal space and work on songs over and over again they get a bit stale so this record was fun because we were trying to capture the first time we ever played the song well.
The song “Give Up Baby Go” is about how you realized drinking wasn’t a positive thing for you, has sobriety changed your perspective on music or songwriting at all?
I don’t think it’s changed it too much but before I quit drinking, something that held me back from wanting to quit was that I was worried if I didn’t drink anymore maybe I would lose my edge or I would be boring. Before I would often write songs post hangover [type] thing like you had a rough weekend, drank too much and you’re feeling down in the dumps. I wrote a lot of songs in that mood and I was afraid that if I didn’t have that I wouldn’t be able to write songs that I liked anymore but that was obviously just some mental block that I had to find a reason why I shouldn’t quit drinking. For anybody who’s gonna read this interview if you feel that way or it’s a total lie any positive changes that you can make for your life are only going to affect other things in your life positively as well.
What’s the craziest phrase, word, or interaction that’s inspired you to write a song?
I don’t know if they’re necessarily crazy but they come from really normal things for example on From 2 to 3 we have a song called “Pepsi On The House” and the story behind that title was when we first were a band we would rehearse three or four times a week and if we rehearsed on Friday or Saturday night we would go to this Chinese restaurant on Hastings street called On Lok. There was this server there called Soo-Yung, she grew to like us so she would see us come in the front door, rush over and give us a table and if some other server tried to serve us she’d shoo them away. She’d always ask us if we wanted anything to drink and we’d usually say oh nothing water is fine and she’d go okay Pepsi on the house! So it’s a random thing but we always thought it was funny she’d say Pepsi on the house and give us free Pepsi and that’s an example of the randomness of where the songs come out of.
How do you come up with the visuals for your songs?
Ever since we started we’ve been working with our friend Lester Lyons-Hookham he’s directed all of our music videos and in some cases, he directed them, filmed them, and edited them as well. Lester and I met working at MEC. We were both working nights there stocking shelves and he was the only [other] younger dude so we became good buddies. I told him we were trying to make music videos, he had gone to art school and made videos and he was like okay I’ll make a video for you guys. Ever since then he’s made all of our videos and he went from being a guy working at an outdoor store to now he’s a full-time director who directs all sorts of music videos. Usually, we hang out and have a few meetings before being able to come up with the finished concept. We shoot around ideas and then we always know we found something good when Lester laughs really hard. We came up at the same time [and] we owe a lot to him, he’s always made us look really cool on video and he’s helped us design all of our [album] covers.
Each Peach Pit member plays multiple instruments on this album, what did experimentation look like in your recording sessions and how did you know when an instrument needed to be part of the album?
A lot of that was headed by Chris mostly because over the past couple of years he’s been adding things to his repertoire. He bought a Rhodes keyboard so he’s been learning how to play that more and he bought a slide guitar which definitely dictated the sound of a few songs. He’s been learning more of a country-style picking thing and he bought a cool Gretsch Hollow Body so a lot of those things were dependent on him being able to play them. Outside of that, we tried a lot of different stuff, Mikey is our drummer but he played the lead guitar on “Look Out” which is this whimsical country-style guitar he’s playing. There’s not necessarily a lot of intention behind all of those things, we’re just copying things that we like and it forces us to try new instruments that we haven’t before.
In an era where bands are few and far between, how do you guys balance work and personal relationships with each other?
I would say we’re pretty lucky because first, we’re friends, we would be friends without the band [and] we don’t hang out because of the band. It’s also been something we’ve had to learn over time, how to navigate band dynamics, business portions of the band, writing, recording, and touring. I think we’re all pretty good at keeping it light and fun, and even if things are getting stressful we can joke around a lot.
Many Peach Pit songs have been inspired by exes and the song “From 2 to 3” was inspired by a dream you had about your ex, so in the spirit of TikTok what is a muse when it comes to songwriting?
For me the first real heartbreak that I experienced when I was 21 it’s like that Cat Stevens song “the first cut is the deepest” [it] definitely hit the hardest and left a lasting mark. I think because of where we were at as a band at the time that person kind of stuck with me for more years than is probably normal [laughs] I definitely feel embarrassed sometimes still writing songs about her and it’s been years and years but that’s probably one of the things that causes someone to stay in your mind, young love it’s very powerful.
Do you ever have doubts about putting personal experiences in your music and the people who inspired you having their feelings hurt? How do you overcome that?
Oh my god, all the time. I don’t know how I get past that. I guess I try not to write things that are overly harsh [and] I always try to write things from a perspective of humor as well. At the same time, I also try to write honestly about myself and my own critiques on things that I’ve done so it’s not like I’m pointing the finger at somebody. Even in songs that are maybe about “somebody else” they’re really actually about me. I’ve definitely sent songs to people in the past after I’ve written them and at first they were okay with it and then maybe they were bummed—sometimes it takes a bit of explaining because my intention is never to hurt anybody’s feelings.
Have you ever had fans reach out to you and say a song is really relatable and that gives you a sense of fulfillment?
Definitely, that’s huge for us as a band getting feedback from people listening to our music telling us how they’re able to relate to it [or] how it’s given them comfort if they were in a similar situation. [It] definitely makes me want to keep writing from a personal perspective because a lot of us go through the same things whether that be heartbreak or addiction. Even for me as well, listening to music from the artists that I like and knowing it comes from a true place makes me feel less alone so I always hope people can relate to songs in that way.
‘From 2 to 3’ is inspired by a lot of ‘60s and ‘70s music you were listening to at the time, what is it about those eras of music that inspired you?
All four of us grew up listening to that music whether it be from older siblings or cousins or our parents and then we stepped away from that and started listening to more modern stuff. It all started when we were hanging out and Mikey put on Paul McCartney’s album Ram and I hadn’t heard it before and I was like woah this is so cool—we all got really obsessed with that record. From there [we tried] to find other records that sounded like that, I also love the live aspect of it. Back in the day that’s how they recorded—they would record live and I love the way that sounds, I love the mistakes that are in songs, I love the way the songs speed up and slow down because they weren’t recording to a click track.
How would you describe your relationship with social media?
Social media is very valuable for small businesses, bands, [or] people trying to get their art out into the world so it’s tough to navigate because it’s important but at the same time [for] me personally, I don’t like social media—it makes me anxious. We released this album last week and we’ve gotten overwhelmingly positive feedback from people who have listened to it which feels really good but even that is sometimes negative reading all of these comments and going back to see if there are more comments—it doesn’t feel super healthy. The one or two negative comments you read—even after you’ve read hundreds of positive ones—are the ones that stick with you. When someone says like oh this album is shit don’t bother listening to it even though it’s just [one] random person…[pause] I think people forget people making music, movies, or any sort of art they’re real people too so reading that stuff sucks and I do try my best to stay away from it because it hurts my feelings [laughs].
You’re going on tour for the first time in two years, what do you prefer about touring as a band on a major label and what do you miss about the early days from the beginning of your career?
I really am happy with where we’re at now. We get to play great venues all over the world and we have more fans coming to our shows than ever before and because of that, the shows are really fun. When I’m talking about things I miss [from] when we first started out it’s more [about] when you’re brand new to being in a band you’re working [really] hard to do anything—play a show, record a song—it’s all so new and exciting that even the smallest victories [feel] humongous. Whereas the sad thing about making art or the sad part about success, in general, is that the bar keeps getting lifted above your head [and] you’re never really happy. You can be content and of course, I’m happy with how things are going but I remember the first time we ever got to play a music festival—we got into Rifflandia 6 or 7 years ago. I was at work and I got an email that we got Rifflandia and I was jumping up and down. I called the guys immediately. I couldn’t believe that we got to play in a music festival. Now, we’re lucky [and] we get to play lots of music festivals in the summertime [but] it doesn’t do the same thing which is normal. So that’s something I miss is the small victories are really impactful when you’re first starting out and as you get further in your career the bar keeps getting set higher so it’s harder to get that same feeling.
How would you define a quintessential Peach Pit show?
We try to have fun on stage. We really like playing together and we like dancing it up on stage, headbanging, stage diving and really getting into it. We definitely don’t take ourselves too seriously we’re not some band that’s going to come out and play the whole show flawlessly you’re probably gonna see us make some mistakes but we try not to care and have a fun time.
What are your tour essentials?
The most important things are socks and underwear because you can basically wear the same pants and shirt for [a few] days in a row but as long as you have fresh socks and underwear then you’re feeling pretty good. We always gotta bring our Nintendo switches on the road so we can play some Mario party and then backstage we ask for some snacks before the show, I like to have red bulls back there [and] non-alcoholic beers, and if we’re lucky maybe they’ll even put a joint or two back there for us.
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