Tuesday , April 16 2024
The songs on the album range from the zany to the heart-felt to the philosophical.

Interview: Singer-Songwriter Peter Himmelman

Some albums aimed at children and families are lacking in originality and creativity. This, I am pleased to report, is not the case with My Green Kite, the new album by Peter Himmelman.

The songs on the album range from the zany ("Maybe Is A Bad Word") to the heart-felt, to the philosophical with all putting a smile on my face. Himmelman also scores television and movie projects including Judging Amy, Bones, and Men In Trees. 

What were you trying to accomplish with this project? Did you accomplish it?

It's funny how little, specific goals come into play when I finally get the will to make one of these – or any recordings. I have in mind a vague sense of how I want the shape to be. For example, on My Green Kite, I knew I wanted something very detailed but very free feeling at the same time. I actually have a small case of a condition called synesthesia wherein one hears colors and sees sounds etc. So, in that light, I always saw this as being a very lush summery green sounding record.

I do feel like I've accomplished what I set out to do. In some ways I think I've succeeded beyond my original expectations.

Has anyone compared your voice to Elvis Costello? If not may I be the first and I mean that in a good way.

I love Elvis and it's been said, mostly of the work I did with my band Sussman Lawrence back in the early eighties. Back then, I would study those records (This Year's Model, Armed Forces) for hours and in so doing, probably copped a fair amount of his phrasing.

 One of my favorite tracks is the one about Boris.

(Boris the bull had questioned the meaning of life
Why are some cows happy
and others full of strife?
Must we go through each day
Simply looking for another bite of hay?)

Can you explain how that song came about? Pretty heavy – no pun intended – material for a cow, which is just what I like about it.

Without trying to sound too much like an artiste (said with a bad French accent), these things just come to me in complete form or in large chunks — or oftentimes even in complete form and I just dictate what I hear going through my head. When this one came, I did say to myself, "Is this appropriate for kids?" and the answer was yes. I don't thinks it's ever too soon to consider one's purpose in life… to ponder the notion that there are people and places and causes beyond oneself.

 How did you get into scoring music for TV and movies? What do you like about it?

I've actually been doing it since 1982 when I did the soundtrack to a friend's student film. The worst possible thing for me as a musician — or even as a human being — is to wake up without anything to create, and by create, I include, cooking or conversing with friends (not only making music or other overtly artistic inventions). So, when these opportunities arise to score films or TV shows, I have historically always jumped at the chance to do them.

In a broad sense, the energy I have for scoring isn't the same as what I bring to making records or performing live. It's a bit slower and more methodical, more analytical perhaps. I think of it as puzzle solving in a way… very lucrative puzzle solving. I enjoy it immensely and a large part of what scoring causes me to do, is interact with people to help them accomplish their goals. It's nice to be a part of a team, rather than to constantly be pressing my own vision into place. I think the balance helps.

What do you like better – scoring music for TV and movies or writing albums like this?

Without a doubt, I like writing albums (and performing better) but maybe that's because I see it as a break from the scoring stuff. The albums are exhausting in a way and like I said, I think the balance between the two is important. One thing to note is that I'm always entirely consumed by whatever the challenge is at the time and that's what's so pleasing about what I do for a living. It doesn't escape me, that what I do (records, scoring… performing) is so fun, I would probably pay to do it. (Please don't tell my agent).

 What’s the best and worst part about making music for children and movies versus those for adults?

Great question.

Kids’ records best part: the feeling of freedom. not worrying about the consequences of a particular track finding no home at radio, etc. playing and writing from an innocent and childlike perspective, utilizing a sense of humor… a sense of limitless possibilities. Playing music and creating an intimate bond with my friends and fellow musicians, being part of something that brings joys to people.

Kids’ records worst part: none that I can think of

Adult records best part: having a place to express feelings and ideas that I don't feel comfortable expressing in conversation. Speaking an intimate truth that I would not otherwise have the courage to divulge. Feeling the hardness and softness of rhythm and motion. Loud angry guitar riffs.

Adult records worst part: not having the time or energy or motivation to take on the burden of finishing one.

 “My Father’s An Accountant” is one of the cutest, sweetest songs I’ve heard in months.

(My father’s an accountant and I used to think that he was boring
I’d tell my friends about his job and I could see them all start snoring
Maybe one day they’ll see what I see,
A man strong enough to be true
Dad I just want to tell you
I see the hero in you.) 

How did it come about and what does your dad think of it?

This is one song that came to me almost totally finished. It was written with my father in mind – though he was not an accountant. He died in 1983, the day after I turned 24. He was only 54 when he died and I know for sure that he wanted to accomplish so much more. One day when I was visiting him in the hospital, he told me he didn't necessarily think of himself as a success.

I think he was referring to himself as a business person. I told him at the time, that the pure unconditional love he gave my mother, my three other siblings, and me, was the greatest success anyone can achieve in a lifetime. I really meant it then and after having four kids of my own, I know for sure I was right. I suppose this song, (which incidentally, made me cry as I wrote it), is a simple innocent expression of all these thoughts.

What’s your favorite track on this album and why?

That's a hard question for me because each of these songs speaks to me in a special way. I suppose “My Father's an Accountant” seems like the most enduring piece to me.

What are you working on next?

I have a new adult (I hate the licentious connotations) CD called, The Pigeons Couldn't Sleep, which I'm trying to finish for an early summer release. I've also been touring with a spoken word show which I'm in the process of refining and finding a structure for, and in a few months I will be putting the finishing touches on a really exciting new kids CD as well.

About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been working in mental health for the last ten years. He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.

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