Pete Molinari is a folk-blues singer/songwriter of Egyptian/Italian/Maltese heritage. He was raised in Chatham, England, where he was discovered by Billy Childish. Playing solo, he became a fixture in his hometown and various London acoustic clubs.
During an 18-month stint in America, he honed his unique vocal style playing the bars and cafes of New York’s Greenwich Village. In 2009, Molinari released an EP of classic country covers, which was recorded in Nashville with The Jordinaires. He is currently recording his third album in Nashville. Be sure to check out Molinari’s profile on American SongSpace.
Having recently moved to Nashville, how has the transition been? How is the atmosphere different from back home in Kent?
Well, firstly, I have always been fond of America, American culture and its people. From being in the East Coast or the West, I have always been intrigued. The people have always been welcoming and warm and I grew up with American culture in my household as much as European. My folks are not from England. They moved there and I was born there, just like the people that migrated to America –the Italians and the Irish and so on. I was born, bred and buttered in a town called Chatham, in Kent, which in terms of culture and distance I guess, would be like saying London to Chatham is like New York City to Memphis. It’s a small, hard town. The atmosphere for me in Nashville is drenched in musical history and Southerners for me on the whole is where the heartland of America would be.
Growing up in the UK, which has its own rich musical heritage, what drew you to American folk, blues, and country music?
I grew up in a big family with many older brothers and sisters. My folks liked the tradition of things and were not much accustomed to the modern change in things when it came to music and art and food (wise people). I learnt much from my older brother’s record collection. Always getting a vinyl to spin from them on my little record player (that I still have), they were into rock and roll mainly –Sun Records, and Chess. Also country records that seemed to paint my childhood with bold colors.
Something happened to me listening to those Chet Atkins records and Owen Bradley recordings. I would stare into the vinyl spinning, like it was the portal to some other world (and it was). As a child, you don’t ask who wrote what, who produced what, who even sang what (that all comes later), you just listen to the sound. That voice of Billie Holiday’s or Patsy Cline’s. I was really lucky. I was only into drawing pictures and listening to music. The British music scene didn’t influence me as much, great as it is. It didn’t make an impact upon my spirit the way American music and literature did.
Has the British folk tradition influenced your music at all?
Not really. Not at first anyway. I may have listened to a lot of things now. I love many British artists and they have a way of doing things with integrity in some ways. I like honesty and sincerity in making music and art. Authenticity means everything to me. Performance to. Originality is something I do not think about. An artist who would be original would not think about being so. He or she would be passionate in cultivating the authentic and the rest takes care of itself. One becomes original by his personality that is brought to the table. Only in performance can one be that way. Not in subject matter.
Everyone has been in love or angry and bitter before and we express the same loneliness and feelings that other’s have. It’s only in our approach and authenticity that things become unique. Billy Childish was the strongest influence on me as far as a British artist. My real folk heroes were Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Hank Williams and others. Charlie Chaplin was my first childhood hero and still is my biggest –more than any other musician, writer or actor. I think his contribution to art has been one of the strongest in the last century, in my opinion. I know every film, score, written work he made by heart.
How did you choose the four covers that made it on your latest EP? Was it always those four songs, or did you pull from a bigger batch?
Well, that came about because many people that were coming to see me play were always asking if I was going to record a version of those songs. I said no for a while. I always like to add song or two that I love from the songs I grew up with to my own songs when I play a set. It makes it more interesting for me and the audience I would hope. Then I had to do one last EP for Damaged Goods [record label] and I am also recording a new album of my own songs. I was having a coffee with my friend Mark Rogers who also does radio work for my music and he said to me, ‘You know what, you should record those classic standards, not on B-sides but on a whole separate EP.’ Ian Ballard from Damaged Goods liked the idea and so it was done. There were a few other song ideas but when I had made up my mind to record it at Adam Landry’s place in Nashville, and with all those great musicians, it was an easy decision on the songs.
Although your whole body of work is influenced by country music, Today, Tomorrow and Forever feels like it gets back to that classic Nashville sound of the ’50s and ’60s. Was any of that sound informed by recording in Nashville?
Well, I would say a great part of my work is influenced by country music. I guess you are right in a way. But I am also influenced by blues and jazz and rock and roll, in the pure forms of that kind of music. I like the pure form to things in general. The natural vibration. But then I guess you are right. Country music has influenced all these types of music in some way, so it maybe is the biggest influence. Certainly in production. In my own opinion, I think that some of the best and most important music ever made was made in this place. Even before making the EP, my first two full-length albums were influenced by folk and country.
The first, Walking Off The Map, was made on an old two-track tape machine in Billy Childish’s house. Just like a field recording by Alan Lomax. The second, A Virtual Landslide, at Toerag Studios with Liam Watson. That record had many 50’s country-influenced production qualities and instrumentation on it. The Today, Tomorrow and Forever EP, recorded at Playground sound in Nashville with Adam Landry and Justin Collins, was taking it all the way down the line. Mainly because of the choice of the material. I just think (and this is only the way I see it), if you are going to do classic songs from that era then do them as authentic and real as possible. Justify the reason for doing them. New York City was a big influence on me and Nashville has certainly been the next huge step for me altogether as an artist. It’s made such a huge impact on me.
Having drawn comparisons to Bob Dylan throughout your career, he is a major influence, obviously. What other songwriters do you find yourself drawing inspiration from?
Well, someone as large and as great an artist as he has been has probably influenced everyone in some way in the field of being a songwriter. Just as Chaplin would have done at making film or Brando as an actor. I don’t deny the influence of anyone great like that. I am just as inspired by Hank and Woody and Billie Holiday and others though. Maybe even more so by country music I would say.
It’s just that all you have to do today is put a harmonica around your neck and that’s enough for a lazy journalist to say, ‘That’s it, I found the secret answer.’ They probably never heard a Jimmie Rodgers or Duke Ellington record in their life. It’s popular culture that does that though. It deceives people. They have to align you with something else. It makes the journalism a whole lot easier if they can put you into a box.
As far as songwriters, I like Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams, Leadbelly, Robert Johnson, Cole Porter, Irvin Berlin, Gershwin, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Fabritzio De Andre, Luicio Battisti, Jaques Brel, Paco De Lucia, Loretta, Dolly, Willie, many others. My contemporaries? I like Madeline Peyroux, The Sways, Carey Kotsionis, and Justin Collins….
Can we expect a proper full-length out in the near future?
Yes indeed sir. I am working on that in Nashville right now with my producer and a fine set of the best musicians around for my liking. It will be my third album. I can’t give you the album title or track listing as yet, or give away any secrets. All I will say is that it’s been the biggest and yet most natural work I have done so far. Let me make a bow to Nashville.