Nothing moves me like radical vulnerability does. I am drawn to artists who honor their truth by sharing it unapologetically and with devotion. I have never seen Carlisle Evans Peck perform live, but after listening to his music and getting to know him through this interview I can confidently express that I feel a strong connection to his words and his art. I think all music can have the ability to hold a mirror up to the listener, but I believe that to be even more true when an artist puts so much energy into creating and nurturing an actual sensory environment for the listener to explore in the way Carlisle so clearly has.
When speaking to Carlisle, it is clear that his music is much more than a talent, career, or escape- it is a state of being.
Join us on Saturday, September 7th when Carlisle Evans Peck comes to Gateway City Arts. Kimaya Diggs opens the night with her gorgeous and thoughtful sounds. Don't miss this chance to listen and be seen. Recently Carlisle took some time to chat with us and let us into his world.
GCA: Hi there Carlisle. We are so thrilled to have you perform at Gateway City Arts on September 7th during your upcoming tour- we are honored to be your last stop of that particular stretch! Why don't you start by telling our readers that are new to your music what they can expect from one of your performances.
CEP: Likewise! I'm very excited to finish up this tour with y'all! We're gonna feel some big feelings - think of if you took your emotions and lay them out like a landscape, or told their story like a great saga or epic. What would the land look like? What beings, real or imagined, would you face? I hope to transport you all there, to whatever place that may be. We'll be delving deep into the emotions that make us inextricably the most human - love, anger, grief, birth, mortality, heredity and ancestry, and hopefully some contentment and resolution. And some songs off of my most recent album Electric Porcelain, but much of the set will be newer material.
GCA: Throughout your albums it seems like you have gone through different periods of expression, self, and growth. Can you tell us a little bit about how "Electric Porcelain" differs from "Water | | Shed" and "Ekphrasis". Were there themes in this album that you hadn't explored prior?
CEP: Electric Porcelain feels very like the sequel to Ekphrasis. Ekphrasis is about becoming, specifically as it relates to coming-out, Electric Porcelain is what happens when that truth lives out in the world. It's about love, pain, being in relationship, and the transformation that occurs thereby. It's a lot about heartbreak - but more importantly I think it is about the growth, resilience, and self knowledge that (hopefully) come after. I think what I learned most from all the men who broke my heart was how much shit I had to work through within myself - specifically shame and internalized homophobia. "What we have known doesn't know me best" is the final line of the record - and I think that about sums it up. Let's leave all these old, tired ways behind and move on.
GCA: Can you tell us a little bit about how your art interacts with identity and the expression or experience of queerness?
CEP: My entire history of songwriting is inextricably connected with my identity as a queer man. I really didn't start writing lyrics and poetry until I came out (when I was 18, nine years ago). Not everything I write is queer in content, by a long shot, but I think before I could be honest with the world about anything, I had to learn how to live honestly within myself, and that opened the floodgates. Then my songwriting became the way I could process and build my sense of self - the two flow into one another. The way I dress and perform are also integral pieces of my creative and personal expression, as well as important ways I can push against norms of gender and sexuality. In fact, I feel that wardrobe and style has been an equally significant medium to songwriting for coming to understand who I am.
GCA: Your main instruments are piano and voice- do you feel that these two mediums impact the way you are able to share in a certain way?
CEP: Someone once told me that a big reason pianos became so popular in the home is because of the instrument's breadth - you can play an entire orchestral score or choral piece yourself on a single instrument. That's astounding - and there are very few other instruments that allow for something like that. I love the piano, I love it's capacity for harmony, the possibilities for rhythmic counterpoint and melodic layers. The piano lends itself really well to the grandiose and the theatrical, which of course are aesthetics I am very much attracted to (ha). I'm now trying to explore the piano's ability to create space, to be quiet and spare. I love playing instruments I don't know as well (like guitar) because my sheer ignorance of the instrument is a neat constraint that opens up totally new areas of creativity. Different emotions and forms of expression can find their way to the fore when the instrumentation is simplified or quieted. I'm trying to bring that constraint to this instrument I know like the back of my hand, and it's hard honestly.
As for my voice - I've had a complicated relationship with it for much of my life. I naturally have a high tenor voice, and to boot my voice changed pretty late in high school which is a nightmare for a teenage boy, so for all of my adolescence I hated and was super embarrassed by my voice. I insisted I sing baritone my junior year in high school. What a joke! But I hated singing high, and I would force my speaking voice lower and flatten its affect. When I started writing songs I slowly learned to love my voice. I take so much delight in my voice now, and love exploring all the expressive timbres that are possible. I can have many different voices - which feels so liberating.
GCA: Who are some of your influences and favorite artists?
CEP: My parents' taste in music deeply influenced me. When I was a kid, they would play cassettes of English folk revival bands on our way to Renaissance Fairs (yep) like Steeleye Span and Pentangle. Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac were always huge favorites - there's a photo somewhere of my sister and I at like 5 or 6 with blanket wigs on our heads and a little fisher-price boombox - we were pretending to be Stevie and Christine McVie. Jesus Christ Superstar was a staple record in my house. The Lord of the Rings soundtrack absolutely floored me when I was little - and actually trying to emulate the epic cinematic music from those movies might be the reason I started writing music.
More recently though, Joanna Newsom and Sufjan Stevens are big influences - I love how they take the intricate, sweeping, and epic quality of the music I loved as a kid and meld it with the realm of indie music. Perfume Genius and serpentwithfeet are two contemporary queer artists that inspire me in how they express their queerness in their art. My artists of the year are Adrianne Lenker, Aldous Harding, and Jamila Woods.
GCA: One of our local favorites, Kimaya Diggs, will be opening up the night for you on September 7th. What are you looking forward to about sharing the night with Kimaya?
CEP: I met Kimaya a couple years ago when I observed her music classroom (we both worked at Waldorf Schools) and I'm so excited to be connecting with her again in our performative lives. This is how the web grows and grows! We spoke a lot about the hustle to make life as a singer-songwriter work, but didn't get to hear each other's music. I've been listening since then, and am blown away by Kimaya's versatility as a songwriter and performer. I've been grooving to "Breastfed" and I can't wait to hear her live.
GCA: Do you feel that there is one of your songs that is the closest representation of who you are as a person and artist?
CEP: Which song - hmmm...what a great question. I think "Icarus" from Electric Porcelain is a good one. It's got the drama, the references to mythology, the passion and heartbreak - all the things that figure heavily into my worldview. I'm a Cancer, and "Icarus" is certainly the epitome of a Cancer ballad. (Link to Icarus)
GCA: What is your writing process like? How did you come to be a writer and musician?
CEP: I like to start by creating a world within which a story can be set. What season is it? What does the landscape look like? Is it the country or the city? What smells, tastes, sounds, feelings are there in this world? I'll start thinking on symbols and characters that could appear, I often look to animals and plants for this role. A crane - a fawn - a peony - Icarus. It's like I'm making a world for whatever I'm processing to work itself out. And then the song will start to come. It's not clear whether music or lyrics are first - sometimes it's one, then the other. Usually, lyrics and melody come together though. Words influence melody and vice-versa for me, they're pretty inseparable. And I'm much more concerned with the sound of words and the feelings they evoke as compositional elements than their actual content.
Usually I'm confused or surprised by my songs at first, but have learned to recognize when something is truthful and to accept it, and to reject it when it's not. Eventually, and inevitably, I will realize what the song is about. Sometimes it's two minutes later, sometimes it's two years. Always, it illuminates something. Something within me, something out in the world, makes sense. It strikes me they're kind of like dreams. I've learned to never force a song - in fact I need to get my ego and rationality out of the way entirely, and that's when the truth dances in.
GCA: What are you most excited for in regards to this tour?
CEP: This is the longest and most intensive touring I've embarked on, and it's all been DIY. I'm excited for the serendipity that will justify the hours I spent pulling my hair out at the computer, haha. But truly - I find myself dreaming about the new people I'll get the chance to commune with in music - the new landscapes I'll be driving through - the rad new musical inspirations - the favorite diners - the lovey dogs. When I take a leap like this I always believe folks will catch me; in my experience I'm endlessly astounded by the reactions this vulnerability elicits. Like - what wild and personal stories am I going to hear from strangers? What doodles and trinkets will I be gifted? How many beets will someone give me for a song? Maybe none of the above! Maybe something completely different! That's the exciting part - stuff like that, that can never be predicted by spreadsheets and email chains. These small moments of connection - of true love - of weaving the web wider and tighter - they are treasures I feel the tetherlessness of travel and the intimacy of music uniquely allow space for. And we all need more of that in the world.
GCA: Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
CEP: Anything? Well a four year old at the summer camp I work has recently begun calling me, without an ounce of humor, "Mr. Crocodile".
Don't miss Carlisle Evans Peck and Kimaya Diggs on September 7th at 8PM at Gateway City Arts. Tickets are on sale now for $10. They will be $12 at the door.
To learn more about Carlisle Evans Peck visit his website.
To learn more about Kimaya Diggs visit her website.
To purchase tickets to the concert click here.
To RSVP on Facebook to see Carlisle Evans Peck and Kimaya Diggs on September 7th click here.