Peter Kleinhans is a New York-based singer and songwriter. His first album, Something’s Not Right, was released in 2018 and was produced by acclaimed producer Tony Conniff. The album was hailed as “one of the best debut albums we have reviewed” by LA Music Critic. He’s working on a second album, to be released in late 2019 or early 2020.
Where are you based?
I’m based in New York City- where I was born and raised, and to which I have returned to raise my kids. But I spent most of my adult years living an itinerant lifestyle, working at different horse racing tracks across the country, either announcing the races, training horses, or both. I think those experiences play into my music because I met so many people from different backgrounds in places like Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, L.A., Detroit, and Lexington, Kentucky, among others, and am still trying to voice the outlook of all these different people.
How long have you been making music?
I guess I would say for six years. I got most of the way out of the horse business in 2010, because I already had kids in school in New York, I couldn’t move, and the Meadowlands- where I’d been training my horses- closed their barn area. While trying to figure out my next move, I spent a lot of the next couple of years (2011-2012) just reading and trying to fully understand the world. I read an enormous amount of non-fiction: economics, geopolitics, energy, esoteric things like NYC Subway graffiti history, – and I resumed my interest in poetry, as I’d been a creative writing major as an undergraduate. I decided, on a whim, to take up guitar in 2012- at age 46. My teacher, Matt Detro, remains a friend as has played and co- written on a couple of my songs. and found that I could actually play it decently enough to write a song. I discovered Garage Band on my computer, began playing around with it, got my piano-playing (untouched since I was 16) back up to speed, and started combining it with my old poetry background, and was pretty proud of the first couple things I came up with. I went to an all-day songwriting workshop, taught by Tony Conniff, and the experience was very fortuitous. Tony and I also have aremained friends, and we have teamed up in a bigger way- he plays bass on my music, produces my songs, and is also the musical director for my live gigs. He connected me to a great group of musicians whose work ended up on my album But I still hadn’t felt serious about music until three years ago- when I turned 50. In 2016 I realized I had enough songs to contemplate putting together an album. I finished it bt the end of 2017 and instantly got to work on a second. I finished the songs for that one this February and we’re in the process of finishing up the production now. I’ve already got new songs going for the third, I’ve got a few videos in the work, and I’m just racing. I’m 53 now, so I feel like I’ve got to go five times as fast now as if I were younger to get a good chunk of work done, and that alone is very motivating. I never thought I could find something to replace my love of horse racing… but somehow I have, and it’s thrilling.
What genre would you consider your music to be?
Other people have described my music as folk rock, classic rock, pop, and even country.
What inspired you to pursue a career in music?
After getting away from racing, and spending all those couple years of reading and studying, I finally felt I had something to say. I had also uncovered a trove of stories about people I would never had known, and I had plenty to say about the ones I knew, too. I’d pursued poetry and other creative writing as an undergraduate, but I now felt that music was the most logical way of putting my sense of the world, and the characters in that world, out to the public. I had realized after a year of learning guitar decently enough to record a workable guitar part on a song, that I could put a number of parts down, and I knack for coming up with tunes that sounded good to my ear. I could only hope they’d sound to others, but they seemed to be, from early feedback. I had that sudden moment that artists- especially those who have strarted later in life- often have, of the fog lifting, and of “wow- I can do this”. Before I knew it, I had ten of eleven songs done and I went back to Tony Conniff and asked what he recommend doing with the songs. He suggested keeping the good parts I had done (often the piano, occasionally the guitar, and replacing everything else, note by note, with session musicians and with backing vocals and live drums. I think the second I heard what one if these songs could sound like when professionally produced, I was left with the feeling: wow, this amazing, This is going to be the main thing I focus my life around from here on out. My songs often sound depressing, but I’m not a pessimist by nature. If I were born in 1880, I’d see an almost unlimited future out there, not for an individual, necessarily, but for the world as a whole; great ideas were being played out, and great ideas involving the newest technology of the day were exciting to follow. Now there seems to me to be much less to be sanguine about, but I’m actually an optimist at heart. And so in general, while my lyrics may be sad or depressing, the music won’t define itself by that action.
What are your biggest musical influences?
I’m certainly not thinking about specific influences when I write my music, but I’m sure they’re there nonetheless. I often hear from people that I remind them of Lou Reed or occasionally Leonard Cohen, and those are certainly artists I admire, so if some of their influence is seeping through, I’m quite happy with that!
Are you signed to a label or are you an independent artist?
I’m completely independent at this point. I wouldn’t be averse to hearing what a label might have to say, but so far I’ve gotten tremendous enjoyment from my freedom to explore music without outside expectations.
What have been the biggest challenges in your music career?
The attempt to gain listeners in the first place, and the timing of my releases. My publicist has done a terrific job of upping my number of followers, but so far, my music hasn’t broken out of relatively small band of loyal fans. I’m playing at a gala for Urban Upbound later this month (October 22); they’re an organization based out of Queens and specifically based in the Queenbridge Houses, the largest housing development in New York City. Their mission is to train and find jobs for those living at the projects and they’ve been largely successful. Aside from being for a great cause, this gala should be a great opportunity to get heard by a whole different audience.. It’s getting that critical mass of an audience that is the key in this business, so hopefully some new years for my songs can get some ears buzzing. As for the ablum(s), I’ve only got one actually out and the second one is percolating near the finish line. It’s been quite a slog, because I’m a perfectionist, we don’t have tremendous time bandwidth, and every step of the process- between the writing, the decision on musicians/song, the timing of getting our session players in, the mixing, and the mastering- all take a while. I’m hoping to have the second out, and completed by the end of the year. I’m hoping to get things a little more streamlined for the third album, for which most of the songs have already been written.
How many songs or albums have you released to date?
I have one album, “Something’s Not Right.” There are a couple videos based on songs from that album (ideally I’d like to have a video for every song, but realize that’s probably cost-prohibitive. I released one single (“Fake News”) from the second, and I have a couple more, like “FOMO,” possibly my favorite song yet, right behind it. But the entire second album will be a very interesting mix of songs and ideas, and I can’t wait to get it out into the world.
Can you tell us a few things about your latest release?
In very oblique ways, I try to put myself in other people’s shoes, to get at issues that really affect people in daily life. I did that in my debut, and I’m doing it again here- although I do have a couple songs that are more personal. But, for example, I take on the endless feedback loop that comprise many people’s relationship with the news, I imagine what it must be like to be a citizen of Malagesy (now Madagascar) back in the 1940s. I try to address homelessness from the personal perspective of the homeless person themselves and from a passerby aware and concerned by the inequities of the situation. I have a song about a racehorse, from birth to death, and an homage to the New York Subway System. So, a lot of subject matter, but hopefully it will cohere through my voice and through my attempt to explore new worlds.
Any plans for new music or upcoming projects we should know about?
Aside from the Urban Upbound gala on October 22, I don’t have any live gigs scheduled, but I hope to have another one in either December or January. That should coincide with the release of the second album. We’re hoping to extend our venues next year. Once we have two full albums of songs to choose from, I think we can play some really interesting sets. Of course, I’m already willing to add some of my new (third album) songs to the mix. 2020 should really be a fun year for us!