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Pete Molinari’s fourth album Theosophy sits at that point where, as Muddy Waters put it, the blues had a baby and they called it rock ‘n’ roll. Here soul, country, blues and rockabilly collide in perfect symbiosis. The songs tell tales of life, love, literature and compact the singer/songwriter’s many decades of musical influences and his globe-spanning, wandering lifestyle down into a collection that is as uplifting as it lush, as classic-sounding as it is contemporary-minded.
Simply put it is the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll distilled down and delivered in neat shots.
This spirit is there in the Southern fried spiritual of ‘What I Am I Am’ and the stomping, shimmying sounds of ‘Evangeline’, which conjures images of the Beatles reeling down the Reeperbahn at 3am, their heads full of purple hearts. It’s there in the fragile Roky Erickson-esque country of ‘Dear Marie’ and ‘Look To The Wind’, or the early Stones strut and warm sun-baked Cornershop-style melodies of ‘I Got It All Indeed’.
The evolution of Theosophy has taken in discussions and/or pre-production sessions throughout 2011 and 2012 with a variety of friends and cohorts including Vincent Gallo, Andrew Weatherall, The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach – with whom Pete has collaborated – Liam Watson, whose Toe Rag Studio has been home to previous recordings, and Grammy award winning producer/mixer Tchad Blake, whose roll call includes everyone from RZA to T-Bone Burnett to Tom Waits.
Working with the latter in Wales helped develop the songs before Pete decamped to the Isle Of Wight to record in an old water tower once belonging to Queen Victoria and which is rumoured to be haunted. Here producers Jim and Rob Homes and musicians Thomas Gardner, Rupert Brown, Antony Truckell and Joe Glossop helped make this Pete Molinari’s most collaborative effort to date.
“The recurring phrase while making the album was ‘a sense of abandon’,” explains Pete. “It was about relinquishing control , creating a vibe and letting the mood of the moment dictate the song. Because doing what I do, the music is worthless without feeling.”
“I don’t want to sound overly spiritual and would normally cringe when musicians talk about ‘the magic’,” he continues. “But – yeah – something happened when I got to the Isle Of Wight. Working with people like Billy Childish or Liam was great but we recorded really quickly. I mean, my first album was recorded live, in one day, in Billy’s kitchen. Whereas these songs were given space to breath and the guys brought in all sorts of ideas, which turned it into a group effort. No restrictions. That’s a first for me.”
Theosophy marks a break from Pete Molinari’s past in all ways. After three perfectly formed and critically acclaimed albums it sees him embracing new collaborations and new ideas. Inspiration has come from unexpected sources, including The Theosophical Society, an organisation formed in 1875 “to promote an understanding of the Esoteric Teachings”, and whose interest spans science, mysticism, religion and the arts.
“It’s an organisation whose purpose has possibly been misconstrued,” explains Pete. “People align it with the occult, but really it’s about the study of ancient wisdom. Two of my favourite works are by a founding member, Helena Blavatsky – Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine. I’ve not joined any group – I just attend lectures, in London or New York. I think as an artist you need to constantly take in new ideas.”
Ideas and songs are the anchor for Pete Molinari. Chatham born and bred, his Maltese, Italian and Egyptian blood, sartorially sharp style and early love for the work of Billie Holliday, Jack Kerouac, Coltrane and Leadbelly set him apart from his peers. After doing “hundreds” of menial jobs he gravitated to New York’s Greenwich Village where, like forefathers Dylan, Guthrie and Ochs before him he cut his teeth in the clubs and bars.
Recognising that music is measured not by Youtube hits or Tumblr followers but by road miles and friendships made – Pete’s steady rise has been one song, one gig at a time. Dues have been paid, though he baulks at the word ‘career’; this is more than that. This is a way of life.
His return to England saw him begin his recording career in earnest in 2006, with early reviews noting that if Jim Jarmusch and David Lynch conspired to create the perfect walk-on stranger in an imaginary cinematic collaboration, it would look and sound like Pete Molinari. In a time when “authentic” is an increasingly amorphous concept, and the epithet “troubadour” wrongly applied to any young pup with a travel card, Pete Molinari’s music inspires many. “I’m slightly uncomfortable with the term singer/songwriter,” he laughs. “Once it used to suggest a romantic, gypsy spirit or a wandering balladeer – music made by those with the souls of poets – but now it can mean anyone with a guitar. So now when people ask what type of music I play I say – only half joking – that I’m a singer of ballads and Neopolitan love songs.”
Those in the know know and without the fanfare of hype, Pete can count among his fans – amongst others – Bruce Springsteen, Paul Weller, Jools Holland, Bob Dylan, Richard Hawley, The Black Keys and Elvis Presley’s backing band The Jordanaires, with who Molinari recorded in Nashville in 2009. Simply put he has risen to become one of Britain’s finest country, blues and rock ‘n’ roll singer.
Now 2013 sees Pete back living in the Medway Delta – well, Rochester, Kent – after stints residing in Nashville, New York and London. With Theosophy his most assured, diverse and richest album yet the open road beckons once again.
“If it is about anything then this album is about just letting go in the best possible way,” says Pete. “It’s about abandonment in all ways – creatively, lyrically, musically. It’s about looking forward. It’s about letting things happen rather than making them. It’s a good way to work – and to live.”
Pete Molinari: a select discography
A Train Bound For Glory LP (Clarksville, 2010)
Today, Tomorrow and Forever EP (Damaged Goods, 2009)
A Virtual Landslide LP (Damaged Goods, 2008)
Walking Off The Map LP (Damaged Goods, 2006)
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