In one year, Van­cou­ver in­die four­some Peach Pit went from vir­tual ob­scu­rity to fans over­seas singing along at their con­certs.

The Georgia Straight - - Contents - by Peach Pit plays the sold-out Vogue Theatre on Fri­day (Oc­to­ber 26).

Oc­to­ber 25 – Novem­ber 1 / 2018

By Mike Usinger

Cover photo by Lester Lyons-hookham

QMike Usinger

uite un­der­stand­ably, singer­gui­tarist Neil Smith sounds like a man liv­ing the dream when he’s tracked down in the ar­chi­tec­tural won­der­land known as Chicago. Along with his band­mates—gui­tarist Christo­pher Van­derkooy, bassist Peter Wil­ton, and drum­mer Mikey Pas­cuzzi—he’s on this third swing through the Windy City with Peach Pit, the dif­fer­ence from previous vis­its be­ing the show is sold-out. Packed rooms are some­thing the Van­cou­ver quar­tet has got­ten used to since blow­ing up on the In­ter­net in the spring of 2017.

“We’re spoiled be­cause we pretty much started tour­ing and im­me­di­ately had peo­ple com­ing to our shows, which was in­cred­i­bly lucky and rare,” Smith says grate­fully, reached on his cell­phone. “Now we’re at the point where we’ve al­ready sold out 10 shows on this tour.”

If Smith sounds blessed by the band’s good for­tune, it’s be­cause most acts don’t go from re­gional ob­scu­rity to in­ter­na­tional sen­sa­tion in the space of a year. The buzz was started by a Filip­ina mu­sic tastemaker named The­lazy­lazyme who spot­lighted the breezy early sin­gle “Peach Pit” on her Youtube chan­nel, where the song took off im­me­di­ately. It’s sit­ting at an in­sane 19 mil­lion lis­tens to­day—with fans from around the world leav­ing com­ments like “This song makes me nostal­gic for things that I haven’t even lived yet.”

“We didn’t even know about the place­ment on the playlist,” Smith says. “We just started get­ting a lot of fol­low­ers. We were just an in­die band from Van­cou­ver, and ev­ery day a cou­ple of peo­ple would like our page. Then sud­denly it was 100 a day, 200 a day, ev­ery sin­gle day. It was peo­ple with Chi­nese names, and peo­ple that didn’t seem like they were from Van­cou­ver. We were con­vinced that our page had been hacked by some sort of bot or some­thing—that it was fake ac­counts lik­ing our page. But it didn’t stop.”

A de­but EP, Sweet FA, ar­rived in the spring of 2017, po­si­tion­ing the group as a sun-soaked in­die-pop unit to watch. By the fall of last year, Smith and his band­mates had made it clear they had global am­bi­tions. The Septem­ber ar­rival of a darker, un­ex­pect­edly ma­ture full-length, Be­ing So Nor­mal, sug­gested Peach Pit had more on its mind than kick­ing back with a six-pack at Third Beach. The al­bum served as a spring­board to 12 months of steady tour­ing that’s in­cluded North Amer­ica, a cou­ple of swings through Europe, and jaunts to such ex­otic lo­cales as In­dia, Thai­land, Singapore, and In­done­sia.

“We’re at the point,” Smith mar­vels, “where we’re con­stantly pinch­ing our­selves.”

To truly un­der­stand his amaze­ment, you have to look at what Peach Pit has meant to the singer on a per­sonal level. Some­times there’s a re­ward for rid­ing out the rough stuff. AL­THOUGH IT SEEMS Peach Pit rock­eted out of nowhere last year, that wasn’t the case.

“Me and Chris knew each other from high school—he was a year younger than me, so we were sort of ac­quain­tances,” Smith re­calls. “When we were 21 or some­thing, Chris’s mom moved to Deep Cove—that’s where I grew up. In the sum­mer­time, me and a friend would go down to the beach or the dock for a swim—drink beers or smoke a joint. I kept run­ning into Chris at our usual hang­out spot, so it be­came ‘We keep see­ing each other, so we might as well be­come friends.’”

Van­derkooy not only knew how to play gui­tar, but was crazy good at it, as his con­sis­tently in­ven­tive work on Sweet FA and Be­ing So Nor­mal has proven. As a bonus, he was a musical blood brother of Wil­ton’s, who moved to bass when Peach Pit started to come to­gether as a band.

Rather than rush things with live shows, the group prac­tised for a year, dur­ing which Smith also played in an old-timey Amer­i­cana duo ti­tled Dog­wood and Dahlia. Con­fi­dent they were onto some­thing, the boys of Peach Pit fi­nally ex­ited the practice space for an ap­pear­ance at the CITR bat­tle-of-the-bands com­pe­ti­tion Shindig!. They not only lost, but were la­belled “too nor­mal” by the judges.

“We had this re­ally tight, re­hearsed set with these pop songs that we’d worked re­ally hard on,” Smith re­calls. “Then we lost in the first round to this band that brought a floor tom on-stage that it never even touched. No dis­re­spect to them—they won fair and square. But we got home and were like, ‘Oh my gosh—we need to reeval­u­ate this.’ One of the pos­i­tive things that came out of it was that we tried to change things up af­ter that cri­tique.”

Peach Pit to­day is in­deed known for do­ing things a bit dif­fer­ently, mak­ing it a rar­ity in the of­ten vanilla world of in­die rock. Each night the band takes the stage in the same thrift-store clothes (in­clud­ing Van­derkooy’s ’70s-or­ange turtle­neck). Fans are re­ferred to as “daddy”, an in-joke that dates back to the gui­tarist’s high-school years, and his byall-ac­counts-tragic at­tempts to grow grown-up fa­cial hair.

“We were a band of white boys wear­ing T-shirts and jeans or what­ever,” Smith says. “So we kind of went, ‘Okay, we need to spice this up a lit­tle bit.’ So we found the out­fits that we now wear ev­ery sin­gle show. And we tried to be a lit­tle bit more true to our per­son­al­i­ties, and a lit­tle less like ‘Okay, we’re go­ing to play our songs and act su­per se­ri­ous all the time.’”

Marked by ocean-sparkle gui­tars and mel­low-gold vo­cals, Sweet FA casts Peach Pit as a band made for mag­i­cal, endless sum­mers. Af­ter es­tab­lish­ing them­selves as the Van­cou­verites you’d most like to spend happy hour on a trop­i­cal is­land with, Van­derkooy, Wil­ton, Pas­cuzzi, and Smith then showed life isn’t al­ways sun­shine and piña co­ladas. Be­ing So Nor­mal sent a mes­sage that, while Peach Pit is al­most al­ways down for a good time, it’s also there for you when the cold Novem­ber rains roll in.

“I am def­i­nitely,” Smith says, “the kind of per­son—and my band­mates and my friends would agree—who can be pretty hard on my­self. And I am the kind of per­son who does dwell on things—maybe more so in pri­vate. I’m some­one who’s se­cretly in my bed­room wal­low­ing in my mis­takes.”

Be­ing So Nor­mal show­cases Peach Pit as a band with more range than any­one would have ex­pected af­ter Sweet FA. The easy­go­ing post-trop­icália gui­tars are well-rep­re­sented in tracks like “Techno Show” and “Ch­agu’s Side­turn”, but it’s the ad­ven­tur­ous mo­ments that might im­press the most. Wit­ness Van­derkooy’s su­per­fuzzed gui­tar hero­ics on “Be­ing So Nor­mal”, or the funeral-ser­vice strings that add an ex­tra layer of melan­choly to “Pri­vate Pres­ley”. Wil­ton and Pas­cuzzi are no­tice­ably more mus­cu­lar when re­quired, putting on a clinic in the du­bindebted “Mighty Aphrodite”.

The songs on Be­ing So Nor­mal were writ­ten over a num­ber of years, some of them—the bur­nished folk beauty “Hot Knifer”, for ex­am­ple—pulled from Smith’s days with Dog­wood and Dahlia and then re­worked.

“That’s kind of why there’s a su­per­poppy song, and then a re­ally sad song, a re­ally rock­ing song, and then a folky song,” Smith says.

Ask a cre­ative per­son why they’ve rolled the dice on the arts, and an answer you’ll of­ten get is that they’re hop­ing for some sort of out­side af­fir­ma­tion—proof that, de­spite nag­ging self-doubts, some­body ac­tu­ally likes them. Be­ing So Nor­mal finds Smith us­ing his some­times con­fus­ing ado­les­cence for in­spi­ra­tion. “Drop the Guil­lo­tine” will res­onate with any­one who never got the girl—or guy—in high school. And “Tommy’s Party” re­flects on rag­ingly out-of-con­trol teenage nights and the re­grets that come with the re­al­iza­tion that one day you have to ac­tu­ally grow up.

Ac­knowl­edg­ing that song­writ­ing has in some ways been a form of ther­apy, Smith says, “One of the rea­sons for start­ing Peach Pit, and writ­ing songs about high school, was that I was pretty small in high school and had bad acne and stuff. I was al­ways friends with girls that I liked, but they never re­ally liked me back. I also had friends that were hand­some and ath­letic, so I felt a lit­tle bit ne­glected.

“I don’t even know that I had a right to feel that way,” he con­tin­ues, “be­cause I ac­tu­ally had a pretty good high-school ex­pe­ri­ence. But it af­fected me in some way. I look back at the way I felt and I cringe a bit. But I also wish I could have known ‘It’s go­ing to get bet­ter, man.’ ”

And it did, as he re­al­ized he had an out­let that was more use­ful than reach­ing for ev­ery­thing ever recorded by the Smiths.

“The out­side-af­fir­ma­tion thing is big,” Smith con­firms. “When you’re feel­ing ne­glected or unloved, or what­ever—i think that’s a rea­son that a lot of peo­ple start bands.”

Wil­ton, Pas­cuzzi, Van­derkooy, and Smith are keenly aware that there are go­ing to be plenty of eyes and ears on the fol­low-up to Be­ing So Nor­mal. The band took an ini­tial stab at ses­sions for a new record dur­ing a brief lull in tour­ing this past sum­mer.

“I think it’s go­ing to be sim­i­lar in mood to this past al­bum,” Smith says, “with a lot of songs that are per­sonal sto­ries, whether it be drink­ing too much or feel­ing like no­body loves you. Or a lover in the back of your mind try­ing to get your at­ten­tion again. But it’s not go­ing to be about high school any­more be­cause I haven’t been in high school for many years now.”

And while that sounds like some of the sad­ness of ado­les­cence still lingers, the Peach Pit front­man is thrilled to re­port that things have most cer­tainly got bet­ter.

“The best part has been be­ing in a city far from home and hav­ing all these kids show up who are just so ex­cited to sing along,” he says. “I’ll be half­way through a song, and find­ing my­self go­ing ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t be­lieve these guys know all the words.’ That’s when you’re like, ‘This is so crazy.’ ”

PA­TIENCE IS AT THE CORE OF SUL­TANA’S FLOW STATE

MULTI-IN­STRU­MEN­TAL­IST Tash Sul­tana is a big pro­po­nent of pa­tience. Un­like most other ex­plo­sive head­line per­form­ers, the artist, who prefers the non­bi­nary pro­noun they,

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builds their show slowly. Their livelooped sam­ples—per­fected busk­ing on the streets of Mel­bourne—take many min­utes to stack up, as­sem­bling into ev­ery­thing from 10-minute jams to punchy, rhyth­mi­cally driven tracks. Now sell­ing out small sta­di­ums around the globe, Sul­tana is in­tro­duc­ing mil­len­ni­als to the art of de­layed grat­i­fi­ca­tion.

“No one was lis­ten­ing to me on the street, be­cause at the time I was only playing acous­tic gui­tar,” Sul­tana re­calls of their early solo days, reach­ing the Straight on the line from their Aus­tralian home. “As soon as I started playing elec­tric gui­tar and live-loop­ing, peo­ple thought I was a fuck­ing ma­gi­cian. But it’s not for ev­ery­one. Loop­ing is a per­for­mance that you need to have pa­tience for. Un­like most songs, it doesn’t kick in straight away; you’ve got to build ev­ery as­pect and ev­ery layer of the songs.”

Pa­tience is a virtue that Sul­tana learned the hard way. Rock­et­ing to suc­cess in 2016 af­ter videos of them jam­ming in their lounge went vi­ral, they found them­selves boosted into the Aussie charts and book­ing tours across three con­ti­nents. Sul­tana burned out af­ter two years of non­stop tour­ing. Ree­val­u­at­ing their gru­elling sched­ule, they chose to take a slower ap­proach to the road.

“I fig­ured out that I have to tour in a cer­tain way,” Sul­tana says. “If I go away for a month, that’s enough. I can’t do any more than a month on the road at a time. I need to come home af­ter that, chill the fuck out, get re­ally bored, and go out on tour again. It would be much cheaper if I could stay for a three­month stint over­seas, in­stead of fly­ing ev­ery­one back and forth and all that shit, but I just can’t. It doesn’t work that way for me. And you can’t put a price on your men­tal sta­bil­ity.”

Car­ry­ing that new­found ethos into the stu­dio, pa­tience be­came the core of Sul­tana’s first full-length al­bum. Re­leased in Septem­ber this year, Flow State is char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally var­ied, weav­ing in­die, reg­gae, acous­tic singer-song­writer, and psy­che­delic el­e­ments seam­lessly, each crowned by high-pitched, vel­vety vo­cals. Named for the state of mind Sul­tana locks into when jam­ming with their ped­als, the record is au­thored en­tirely by the mu­si­cian, who plays ev­ery in­stru­ment on it. Re­leas­ing songs that they’d been per­form­ing for years, Flow State was an ex­er­cise in wait­ing.

“I thought it was go­ing to be done re­ally quickly,” the artist says. It wasn’t. When you come into the stu­dio and how you fin­ish in the stu­dio are two dif­fer­ent points. Ev­ery­thing I did at the start I went back and did again.”

Learn­ing to pace them­selves in what will doubt­less be a long and sto­ried ca­reer, Sul­tana is look­ing for­ward to a time when they can take a step back from the stage.

“I don’t reckon I’ll be able to take a hia­tus un­til I’ve fin­ished my sec­ond al­bum,” the singer says, hop­ing to have a mo­ment out of the spot­light. “I’m pretty much in the process right now of pimp­ing out my stu­dio, and ren­o­vat­ing it so I can make it as com­fort­able as pos­si­ble to me. I’m go­ing to ded­i­cate as many hours as pos­si­ble in that time to learn the space, learn the sounds, learn the equip­ment, so that I get com­fort­able and make a great sec­ond record.”

Photo by Lester Lyons-hookham

Af­ter blow­ing up on Youtube—rack­ing up 19 mil­lion lis­tens for one song—van­cou­ver’s Peach Pit is sell­ing out gigs across North Amer­ica, from here to Chicago.

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