[27 September 2005]
Preamble: Somewhere down the line New York City got tagged with the honorific “The City That Never Sleeps” amongst torrents of other honorifics overused or forgotten. Chicago has what, wind? Big shoulders? Are we forever the gassy, stocky cousin of the lithe, caffeinated Apple? Screw that. Drummer/engineer/singer/dancer/guitarist Peter Andreadis is putting to shame the stereotype of the sleepy Midwesterner, running the table with a barrage of smart, distinct projects united by two key themes: energy and fun. Most prominently, he’s the drummer for the three-piece Baby Teeth, a rock/funk/soul/party group that defies genre expectations even as it embraces them. Then there’s his DJ work as DJ Hugsen Kissus, recently playing a set at the uber-successful Intonation Festival you might have heard about. Finally there’s his solo work with the project All City Affairs, which will meet your ears soon if there is any justice in the world whatsoever.
1. Onstage as All City Affairs, Andreadis uses only a microphone, his pre-recorded set on DAT, and his body. Whether to a crowd of 150 or 15 the energy is the same: rock poses to make Rod Stewart blush, microphone twirling, and direct eye contact with an understandably transfixed audience. The songs (from “How to Sell a Product” to “The Accidental Death of a High School Football Player”) are descended from new wave, rock opera, pop, reggae, and punk, and while the spectacle can make new audiences titter, there’s a deep sense of earnestness that undoubtedly signals love over self-parody.
2. Here are 10 songs you might hear at a Hugsen Kissus DJ set:
- “Girlfriend Is Better”—Talking Heads
- “I Can’t Go For That”—Hall & Oates
- “I Just Wanna Love You”—Jay-Z
- “Let Me Blow Your Mind”—Eve feat. Gwen Stefani
- “Peg”—Steely Dan
- “Ms. Fat Booty”—Mos Def
- “Forget Me Nots”—Patrice Rushen
- “Say, Say, Say”—Paul McCartney feat. Michael Jackson
- “Hypnotize”—Notorious B.I.G.
- “Get Down”—Nas
3. Baby Teeth are decked out all in white year round, Labor Day be damned. Their debut, The Baby Teeth Album is admittedly hard to process if you haven’t experienced a live set. Songs like “Loving Strokes” and “Big Trucks” are shag-carpeted by lead singer Pearly Sweets’s honking croon, and anchored by bassist Jim Cooper, the propulsive drumming of Andreadis, and the cooing harmonies of both. But the kinks of translating the spastic live show, which feeds on audience interaction, into the usually solo experience of headphones listening, are being worked out. Like All City Affairs, the songs are manic intersections of a variety of musical styles, often humorously presented, but never with the effete disdain of a group above its influences.
Now: Peter and I sat down side-by-side at separate computers and conducted an interview via e-mail, to try and perfect communication through the written word of course, but also to hear the sweet “ping!” of incoming mail as often as possible.
PopMatters: You are what laymen and laywomen call “a busy guy”. Do you see each separate project as satisfying a distinct creative goal, and if so, in what ways?
Peter Andreadis: Well, I’ve been a songwriter since I was in my teens and I satisfy that urge and exploration with All City Affairs. That’s a project that I am firmly at the helm in. If I don’t put anything towards it, All City Affairs doesn’t happen. Most of the time I’m playing all of the instruments. Playing drums in Baby Teeth is exciting because it’s the first time I’ve been in a band and not been the front-man. I find a lot of liberty in that. Plus, it’s a percussive, rhythmic role rather than a melodic one. The whole reason I picked up the drums was to learn what that perspective was like in a band. It’s helped me out amazingly in the arrangements of my own songs. I see them separately, because Baby Teeth is something I share with the other two guys in the band and All City Affairs is more internal, more personal. Baby Teeth is more celebratory for me.
PM: “Celebration” is a very interesting word here, because that’s an aspect I can hear in all three arenas of your work, DJing, Baby Teeth, and All City Affairs. And it’s also something I don’t think indie-rock audiences are used to experiencing at shows or on record, as opposed to jazz, R&B, and pop, which are very participatory. Is that something you’ve found to be true in your performing career?
PA: It is hard to convince the indie crowd that it is okay to have fun while experiencing music. I can’t say that’s true for everyone, but it’s the overall perception of indie rock. Baby Teeth naturally breaks through that wall, because the music is infectious and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Right from the start we’ve already laid down the point that it’s okay to enjoy it. The lyrics range from wordy, literary cadences to simple, honest lines like “I’m dreaming forever, baby.” We have gotten some different responses from people who’ve seen us live and those who’ve just heard the record. It may seem, just based upon listening to the CD, that we’re a band that’s ironic or trying hard to create inside jokes, almost in an exclusive way. There is tongue-in-cheek in the lyrics, but when we play live we’re including everyone in the fun. Baby Teeth has grown out of the indie scene as a response to the impression that you can’t smile and move while you’re at a show. With All City Affairs I’m trying to bridge a simple, radio friendly quality with some of the deeper music that inspires me. I’m into Squarepusher, Jay-Z, Prince, Blonde Redhead, Aphex Twin, R. Kelly—you know I like to listen to a wide range of stuff. I also used to work at a jazz and world music club and was hearing that four nights a week.
So I like to create music that’s fun to listen to, has a good beat and a couple of nice, fat melodies to sing to. Hopefully it appeals to at least one of your senses. I have fun making it and turning myself on and that’s important. When I DJ it’s either hit or miss. Mostly I spin hip-hop and I like tunes that you can dance to. Some nights it works, because the right people are there and they want to get into it. Other nights I’ll play the same records and get no effect. My goal is to get people dancing every time, though.
PM: One of the things I find most unique about Baby Teeth and All City Affairs, something that I think you share with Pearly Sweets, is a melodic sense that is fairly obscure. At least to me. The songs are danceable, catchy, but I find, especially with Baby Teeth, pretty hard to sing along to until you’ve really lived with the music for a long time. I can sing “Grease Up the Rod” all day long, it’s catchy and propulsive as hell, but I had to make a concerted effort at first. Are you attracted to certain types of melodic progressions as opposed to others? There’s definitely very little of the familiar I-IV-V variety.
PA: In my songwriting I’m definitely trying to come up with [a progression] that’s unique and memorable. There are so many songwriters out in the world and I am trying to distinguish myself from the pack. I like magical sounding things and that’s probably why I go major to minor and back a lot. I like that interplay. I also like major and minor 7th chords. Like the Willy Wonka song: “Come with me and we’ll be in a world of pure imagination.” I actually quite ripped that off for an earlier song of mine. I like a lot of movement in melodies. Sometimes when I’m writing I have to stop myself from coming up with lines that never end. I’m trying to draw something out. Even if I’m using a standard chord progression I’ll try to create a melody that starts on a note in the scale other than 1, 3, or 5. That starts me off on a different foot. It usually leads to some interesting vocal harmony ideas too. I’m personally a sucker for a really catchy pop song, no matter how base it is.