For an artist like Peter Himmelman who is celebrating over 40+ years of recording music, the modus operandi is not just the struggle for relevance in this ever-changing and ever-simplifying music world but also persistence. Thankfully for him, not only is he an ace songwriter with a healthy catalog of material, but he’s not ready to roll over and call it day either. The never ending search for purpose that’s coupled with a need for stamina is essentially the basis for his new single (and title track of his upcoming album) “Press On.”
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“I got a lucid feeling like something inside me is working up the courage to confront my own death / I step out into water that’s colder than anger, so cold it feels impossible to take my next breath,” he sings, facing mortality with a squinty-eyed grin and a gospel-fueled boogie in his step. For Himmelman, songwriting is like breathing: once you stop, you might as well shut your eyes and fade away.
“I think of writing songs like I do respiration. It’s about taking in, and giving out,” he says about the craft. “The things we see and feel are often too difficult to convey in normal conversation.”
To keep it interesting, Himmelman switches things up. From his songwriting that shifts from blues to rock to folk to this gospel/boogie blend of “Press On”, he morphs and evolves for variety’s sake. Likewise, having lived in Santa Monica, CA for a good chunk of time, he recently opted to pick up his roots, pack up his house, and move to the opposite coast to the Upper West Side of Manhattan “just to shake things up.”
But still, there’s a sense of nostalgia in his song “Press On,” as if change wasn’t what exactly he planned for, but he was forced to confront nevertheless. Now at 60 years old and looking back on his life, there’s a sense of sadness in his lyrics, a wish that it hadn’t taken him all this time to realize where he was headed. “The beauty and the folly, the insipid the enlightened, the sacred and insanely perverse / The flames start to crackle, sparks fly like devils. Sometimes I wish I were living in reverse,” he sings, his voice as clear as the window to his soul.
With this sense of mortality and need for existing in the here and now, a real carpe diem moment, it’s no wonder he recorded the album live in the studio, without the bells and whistles, and a notable lack of overdubs, with his corduroy-textured voice front, center and pronto.
He remembers fondly of the recording, which only took four days in total… the transient flashes, fleeting glimpses, as if trapped in sepia-toned amber. “There are lots of wonderful moments that occurred organically in the live take of this track,” he concludes, “the musical conversation between Chris Joyner’s rollicking piano and Greg Herzenach’s bluesy Telecaster, the deep swing of Jimi Englund’s drums meshing with the steady pulse of Matt Thompson’s upright bass, and some very strange whoops and hollers in the background vocals as the songs fades to a close.”
He ends the song, with an appeal to the sense…. and a reminder to keep on keepin’ on.
Praise God with me won’t you, let’s kneel in amazement, and shiver at what there is to behold
Take these wool blankets and warm yourself, let’s sing to the heavens just to ward off the cold…
Keep your head raised up and Press on