One of the best parts of this job is chatting with folks for the first time. Last month I was able to do that for all four Thursdays and I’m continuing here in June in a similar vein with this week’s artist, Peter Mulvey. This singer/songwriter/guitarist will perform at Slates in Hallowell supporting a new CD, “Are You Listening?” The concert is Monday night, June 5, so I arranged for a telephone interview to his home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a week or so ago to find out a little more about this talented gentleman.

Q: To begin with, I want to respond to the question you posed with your new album: “Yes, and I’m enjoying every minute of it!”

Mulvey: Well, thank you — we had a lot of fun making it.

Q: I got that impression listening to it and your producer, Ani DiFranco, did a fine job capturing that feeling as well as making it sound so clean; she has a great ear, too.

Mulvey: Yeah, she’s a peach.

Q: Will this show in Hallowell be your first time in Maine?

Mulvey: No, I’ve played all kinds of times in Maine. I’ve played at One Longfellow (Square) on a semi-regular basis and I’ve even played the old Left Bank Café (in Blue Hill) back when Arnold Greenburg ran it.

Q: That’s so cool. It was one of my favorite venues of all time. It’s funny, but what you do musically reminds me a lot of another performer who used to play there a lot, Bill Morrissey.

Mulvey: Well, thank you! You know, I’m not hugely well-listened to Bill Morrissey. I played a couple of gigs with him and I liked him very much, but I don’t know his records all that well. I kind of know his counterpart, Greg Brown, way better. I know Greg’s records inside and out — it’s probably a mid-western thing. Gregory Brown is my cup of tea.

Q: Yeah, he’s another artist that was a regular up at Arnold’s place. Oh, I should ask this, too: Will this be your first time at Slates?

Mulvey: Ah, no, I was there four or five years ago with some friends of mine, Pogo. I was doing a little run of shows in the Northeast with Pogo so we played there on a Monday night. It was raining, that I remember, and I remember that I liked the place very much.

Q: What number album is this “Righteous Babe” release of yours?

Mulvey: They tell me it’s the 17th. I’m going to assume that that’s right — it’s kind of hard to count sometimes because I was part of Redbird, so those two records, I think, get counted. I did an instrumental duets record with my friend David Goodrich and I guess I must have made 13 or 14 solo records. I lose track and I don’t think about it all that much. What I mostly think about is trying to keep writing songs and keep playing shows — that’s been my life’s work.

Q: Well, with so many songs written over the two decades you’ve been doing this, one could assume that the making of set lists for shows is either wonderfully easy or tremendously hard.

Mulvey: (Chuckle) Yeah, well in my case it’s really easy because I just don’t use them. That’s my secret; I basically get on-stage and just start with something and then move to something else. I love doing that solo, and I think that’s the way it’s going to be when I get up to Slates — a solo show.

Q: I think that’s the case, as well. Doing it that way, with no set list, you can go where the audience takes you, correct?

Mulvey: Oh, absolutely! I mean, yes solo shows are intensely collaborative because the music actually happens in the audience’s — I don’t want to get too technical — but in their field of awareness. What I’m doing is just moving my hands and my throat and making sounds in the air. The music is made by the people. That’s something I’ve noticed over the years: you pretty much just have to put yourself in their — ‘hands’ is the wrong word — you just reach out and trust them. When I was young a lot of my songwriting heroes would say that and I would kind of know what they meant, and now I still kind of know what they meant (chuckle).

Q: Does songwriting come easy to you?

Mulvey: No, I mean yes and no. When it’s happening it’s generally pretty easy, it’s just tricky to put yourself in the path of songs. The thing that’s worked best for me is just to make it a regular practice. I went through a stretch for two or three years where I was writing a song, front to back, every Tuesday and had an assignment to send that to friends of mine. That was a really productive time and part of the reason, I think, is something Tchaikovsky said: “I sit down at the writing desk every morning and the muse has learned to be on time.”

Q: I love it! And that works for you, too?

Mulvey: I just know that when I show up every week, the songs show up and they get better.

Q: That’s something Bill Morrissey said to me once when I told him that his new album was the best one he’s ever done — he said, “Lucky, that’s the whole point!”

Mulvey: Yup, he’s right. My mentor was Chris Smither and he would often say, “You’d better be getting better at this!” And art is not like throwing a fast ball — you’re never going to throw a better fast ball in your 50s than you did in your 40s. But with art? Sure! It’s one of the only things you can get better at.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to pass on to the folks reading this article about the show you have coming up at Slates?

Mulvey: I guess the only thing that I would say to that is that it’s been a turbulent few years in my home — which is to say ‘America’ — and I have felt lately galvanized in what I do. Weirdly, at the same time, what I do has never felt more ephemeral. I just need to do this now more than I have ever needed to do it; which is to go into a room with people and sing my songs and other people’s songs to try to get at the heart of things. I feel like, especially after the election, like we’re all living in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and we’re all Frodo. Seriously? We’re supposed to win this thing just by being nice and having lunch?

Lucky Clark has spent more than 45 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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