The Write Stuff: Chris Peck the Town Crier on Cultivating Personal Language and Being Part of a Continuum
The Write Stuff is a series of interview profiles conducted by Litseen, where authors give exclusive readings from their work.
Chris Peck The Town Crier has been recording and performing "hist-hop" and "song-rap" since his first cassette in 1994. His music has been featured on MTV UK, Current TV, the Wall Street Journal.com, and in his own purple videos. Projects include Ancient Baby, a homemade album to be released on vinyl; I Wish the King, his first novel; and LOAN, a band just getting started. Peck teaches guitar in San Rafael and can often be found crying a capella on the corner of 16th & Mission.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them... ?
I am a Town Crier, so I engage with the public by making albums, performing indoors and out, teaching guitar, putting my heart down in written form and, lastly -- most important -- being there to observe when something's happening!
What's your biggest struggle -- work or otherwise?
My biggest struggle comes with changing gears. To succeed*, there are several modes of being that we artists need to switch between, on a moment to moment basis. I struggle with those transitions. But lock me in a studio for 20 hours, or put me on stage alone for an hour, and then I'm at ease because I'm mono-tasking like a hunter/gatherer.
* Tied for #1 greatest struggle: absorbing other folks' concepts of success. "Success at what?" I'm very impressionable, and need to remind myself often of my own core values:
- Self-Mastery: To be as dope at being myself as Miles Davis was at being himself for instance...mastering and developing this Peck language I've been cultivating all my life.
- To be part of a Human Continuum. I had good teachers, now I've got to be one. Older people showed up for me, as a musician and a person, so I'm scanning for opportunities to do the same.
- Live long and get the most out of this life.
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
If you're going to be an artist, prioritize study over career. It's more fulfilling, and you have more control over your learning muscles than you do over other people's response to your work. I read an interview with Fred Frith, and they asked him the same question. He said "Have fun and don't waste your time." Dang, Fred! That's like a Zen koan!
When you're sad/grumpy/pissed off, what internet video makes you feel better?
This one is a gosh darn miracle, called "Working Title" by Irina Arnaut. Don't watch this unless you're prepared to take the whole 15-minute journey, in a sacred, mono-tasking way. The piece has a satisfying arc to it. That's a kind of maturity that I haven't developed yet as an artist: working in long-form. My songs are usually two to three minutes long!
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?
In a hereditary/rootsy sense, I connect especially with the Peck side of my family, which is my father's side. They look and act like me, and many of them have been in Kansas for a long time.
Richard Peck, known in town as Dick Peck, was my grandpa, who passed away in 2002. The man could tell a story, and was always pulling strangers into the mischief, creating his next story to tell.
A LOT of people came to his memorial a year after his death because he was a community man. Whenever I hung out with him, he was converting strangers into friends with his wit. I'm pretty convinced that he added some slang to the Kansas lexicon. So, when I really take a step back, I owe my rapping and story-telling to him. He's the O.G. "Peck the Town Crier". One of my first raps is written in his voice, it's on my Groundhog's Day album.
Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?
Jimi Hendrix. My mom bought me "Band of Gypsies" for Valentine's Day when I was 10. A few days later, the whole family flew to Phoenix and I listened to it on my walkman. It's still the most sacred album on my shelf.
What's wrong with society today?
As my man Cello Joe says: we've got to simplify.
Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?
Ginger tea, wheat grass, quinoa, kale, garlic, seaweed, oil of oregano, I have a prescription of Adderall that I take when I am scattered and not getting anything done. I used to treat coffee as medicine, but it's crossed over into something that's not really serving me anymore... Gotta quit that stuff.
What is your fondest memory?
I'm a body person. I remember an energy experience I had while playing the drums with my band in eighth grade. Basically, the music sounded and felt so good that my entire body had waves moving through it. There were two drummers in the band, and I remember looking over at the other drummer, and he was just smiling and looking at me. Sometimes I see him around my old hometown, Novato. We've never really talked about that day, but I feel like we have some kind of understanding that's rooted in the musical moments we shared.
What is art? Is it necessary? Why?
Brecht said "art is not a mirror, it's a hammer to smash it with", but I think it's both those things and more. People come to art for a lot of reasons. I love politically engaged art, but I also love an opportunity for pure escape, or art that's just about peace, or transcendence, or rage, or something that's in us, but usually unexpressed in daily life. As a consumer of art, I love to be surprised ... that feeling keeps me alive and happy from day-to-day.
What are you working on right now?
In a couple weeks, I'll be starting work on "Ancient Baby", the next Peck album. It's all singing songs, no raps this time, and dedicated to the planet Earth, with a feeling of gentleness for it. Me and a great engineer named Brian Bers will be tracking the album entirely to tape, with no computer screens involved. I've finally pulled together an analog recording rig of my own, and a great room to put it in... that's been a dream of mine for more than a decade, and it's finally a reality!
I'm writing a novel right now. I'm not too worried about it being deep or good, I just hope it'll be entertaining. The first draft should be done by the end of April!
I've also started a new band, called LOAN. We haven't published anything yet. The music's a bit moodier than what I've made in the past, with lyrics and vocals created and performed by people other than me. I'm really excited about this band, but it's still just a little baby monster right now.
What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?
I want to work in long form and create something satisfying. Writing this novel has been good practice for building that muscle.
What are some of your favorite smells?
Redwood forest after rain, patchouli in the distance, armpit of lady, artisanal coffee, gasoline, puppy breath, vintage guitar case.
If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?
In 2011, I did a Kickstarter to fund the production of my album HOME/GHOST, and the pressing of it to vinyl. That was a revelation for me; I felt so supported by my community, and for my 10th album, I was able to release the record without any credit card debt and this old feeling that I probably wouldn't break even, which I hadn't on my previous nine albums. So my answer is that I've already had the blessing that you describe here. I was able to make a record by pre-selling everything else I had to offer. What a joy! I might try it again when it's time to release Ancient Baby.
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