Panama Wedding – a Chicago Music Magazine Spotlight Artist for the Month of October 2016
I had the pleasure of talking with Peter Kirk, singer, songwriter, innovator of Panama Wedding over the phone following his Lollapalooza show in Chicago Sunday, July 31st. I had a great chat with Peter as he shared some deep thoughts and really got me thinking about how I choose to lead my life.
Hard-working, honest, down to earth, dedicated to his craft, Kirk is inspirational and enlightening. As an artist and opportunist, he explains how to honestly self-evaluate and focus on leading the life path one truly desires. It is a journey with fleeting moments, but he is fulfilled doing exactly what makes him happy: writing good music.
Perfectionistic in a way, by desiring to deliver his best. Music, he explains, touches so many because it is interpreted in so many different ways allowing different emotions to be felt.
Elizabeth Lauer: How was Lollapalooza and have you ever played this festival before?
Peter Kirk: I’ll answer the second question first. I have played other festivals, most have been pretty small relative to Lollapalooza. The biggest festival I had played prior, was Fire Fly Music Festival in Dover Delaware last summer. Lollapalooza was amazing. Growing up I always heard about it. It was always the festival that came to mind when I’d think of a big festival. It was definitely the biggest festival I’ve ever been, in terms of scale and size and the amount of artists. But it was amazing. It was surreal, overwhelming, but we’re really happy we got to play it.
Liz: What did you think about Chicago?
Peter: I’ve been to Chicago many times. I love Chicago. Some of my closest friends live out there. I go there at least twice a year. It’s a beautiful city, especially in the summertime. There’s a great vibe, great food, great music, great people. It’s always great to come to Chicago. So to play a festival there is sort of a bonus.
Liz: So did you hang out with your friends while you were there or eat at any restaurants that are mentionable?
Peter: We mostly grilled at my friend’s house – grilled up on the patio and yes my friends did come to the festival. I was able to get them passes and they were really excited to get golf-carted around and have access to some of the artist areas; it was really exciting for them.
Liz: What was your most memorable takeaway from the entire weekend? You had an Aftershow Thursday and a festival performance Sunday, so you had a nice long weekend.
Peter: We played a private show for Google on a boat that was sailing around Chicago on the lake which was beautiful. I don’t think we’ve ever played a show with that nice of a backdrop before. Probably the second most memorable was playing the festival itself. There was sort of a pinch-me moment when I was up on stage looking out at hundreds of people, if not thousands, thinking “Wow, I’m actually playing Lollapalooza”. It was pretty wild.
Liz: Ok, let’s dive into some personal stuff. I read that you traded your day job for the pursuit of your passion, which is music. And I can certainly relate to where you were. I am currently working full-time and music is my second life.
Peter: What do you do full time?
Liz: I work for Siemens medical. I basically teach people how to use cardiac ultrasound equipment – lots of traveling. I’m in the world of ultrasound, so knowing the physics of sound has made an easy transition in terms of the engineering and production of sound, hearing different things and being able to correctly describe what I am hearing. I love music and have been fortunate to have an incredible music industry veteran and great friend mentor me into this world, but music remains my free-time hobby, and my full-time job is way more than full-time…it takes up A LOT of time. So I see this really big decision that you made, trading your finance day job with so much seemingly at stake. What was that driving force that led you to make the decision to do music full-time?
Peter: It really wasn’t a big risky decision. I think like a lot of kids right out of college, I took a big corporate job. I just wanted to get out of my parent’s house and move to the city and be independent and I found myself working a very demanding job, which most of the time I enjoyed; I enjoyed the people. I think a few years in, I started thinking well hey, I’m an independent adult, what do I really want to do with my life? You’re lucky if you have that conversation with yourself early on, but I suspect a lot of people don’t, and I include myself in that. I had always been passionate and interested in music production and writing; the thought of making a career out of it or pursuing it in a professional context sort of bewildered me, but I thought at the same time I should at least invest some of my personal time in exploring and sort of growing my skill set in music. Luckily, I had a friend who was renting a studio in Midtown Manhattan to start his mixing and engineering business. He needed a partner to sort of subsidize the rent when he wasn’t using the studio. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity and started going to the studio after work at night trying to write and record, really just make something. Eventually I got better and better and better at it and I started the project Panama Wedding in the summer of 2013 where we created “All of the People” and the song exploded. A lot of people in the industry wanted to find out more, to meet me, which eventually turned into label offers and it really just snowballed to the point where I saw ‘ok, I can actually do this.’ I could leave my job and pursue this without it being too financially risky or too dramatic of a shift in my lifestyle and that’s really how it happened. I think the take away in my experience is that you don’t have to make this big binary leap of faith in your life to pursue something that you care about, you can grow it on the side and nurture it to the point where it actually might realistically evolve into something that you could jump into. I never said one day ‘that’s it I’m quitting. I’m going to pursue music full-time.’ It wasn’t like that for me. Everyone is different, everyone has a different personality and way of doing things. My story was one of just growing it slowly over time to the point where an opportunity presented itself and I couldn’t turn it down.
Liz: So, how much influence did having that day job have on your music at the time? In watching your videos and listening to your music, knowing your story, and relating to it, I feel there’s a lot…I don’t want to say animosity, but it seems to target those who go through their lives living the corporate world, traveling, becoming robots, and losing sight of themselves in determining what in life it is that would or does truly make them happy. I feel your songs attempt to touch a chord here.
Peter: There haven’t been any songs where I attempt to hit that head on…I don’t know my day job had, but living in New York City and experiencing how stuffy and crowded and hot Manhattan is, inspired a lot of the lyrics for “All of the People” which is essentially about people trying to escape the city and get out to a better place. I think Manhattan had more of an influence on the lyrics than my day job.
Liz: So I recently walked the streets you mention in your bio that inspired you between the Flatiron and the East Village, a mind can definitely wander on those streets. There seems to be so many creative outlets in the city, so it seems obvious how your creation of style takes place. It’s funny how much life a city actually breeds. Are you looking to get out of New York?
Peter: I have a lot of family and friends here. I don’t see myself leaving Manhattan anytime soon, but it’s something I think about every now and then. I’m sure at some point in the future I’ll probably live somewhere else. But I just don’t know when that time will be.
Liz: Something low key and off the beaten path? Foreign?
Peter: I don’t know, hopefully somewhere cheaper! New York City has gotten out of control.
Liz: So I first heard you on Sirius, on Alt Nation. What was it like when you started to see success?
Peter: At that time music was my focus, so I was able to absorb what was happening at the time. I don’t have Sirius or satellite radio so I probably didn’t hear the songs as frequently as others. I think I was in Houston, Texas the first time I heard it come on the radio in a bar and it was a pretty interesting experience hearing my voice on the radio for the first time. It was pretty surreal and I think subsequently…and I don’t want to sound jaded…but I’ve gotten used to it to a certain extent. But it’s not lost to me how big of a deal it is to have your song played on the radio for people in their cars, in bars and restaurants and stores and etcetera, etcetera.
Liz: Yeah, it’s pretty cool. So right after the release of that song, is when you signed with Glassnote Records?
Peter: Yeah, so I’d put out “All the People” and put together a makeshift live band of friends and friends of friends and we played CMJ and there were a number of labels that were interested in Panama Wedding and Glassnote just seemed to be the best fit for my vision of Panama Wedding and we started working together and we released the first Panama Wedding EP in the summer of June 2014, which was “Parallel Play”. “Parallel Play” did its thing for awhile on the internet, radio; we played some festivals and did this late night TV gig on the Jimmy Kimmel show and a whole lot of touring around. At the same time trying to work on a full-length record. We submitted a full-length record that was pretty good and our label liked it, but I thought I could do better and tour a little more on that and we decided we wanted to put out some music for our fans while our fanbase was growing and that’s what “Into Focus” was. We put that out in the fall of 2015 and did a whole lot of touring around “Into Focus” [he says with a chuckle]. We did a 2 month tour this past Spring with Magic Man and The Griswolds. Did a bunch of festivals in the summer, culminating with Lolla this past Sunday (July 31, 2016). We played our last gig of the summer out of Long Island, so now I just want to finish this record and get back into the studio and start moving things forward. It’s been a little bit tricky in switching gears between performing live and being in focused studio mode. So now I am 100% dedicated to studio mode and finishing the record.
Liz: It’s cool I caught you right in between phases. So is this something you always dreamed about?
Peter: Yeah, I think on a base level I really enjoy making music. It’s something about my brain or how I’m wired. I’m a very creative person and I enjoy creating songs and that is when I’m really happy. Being able to do it in a professional context and being able to support myself on any level makes me happy. Expectations of where the project goes or what opportunities arise…look, everything is relative. I realize there is not going to be any specific thing that’s going to happen to Panama Wedding big or small that will make me dramatically shift how happy and how fulfilled I feel. On a base level, as long as I am able to keep writing and keep creating songs and sustain myself, that will make me happy. There’s all these big things that come up from time to time: tours, or a tv spot, or certain festival bookings. Those are really exciting at the time, but they are all very fleeting moments that go by really quickly. The thing I am looking forward to is to just keep creating and save myself from having to go back to a job that I really didn’t like that much.
Liz: Your music has really allowed me to think. So I still on many levels like my “day-job”, I like the traveling and the craziness, but I do see the silliness in it all and I try not to let it define me. I think my music-side affords me the outlet, which I am super grateful for. This ‘second-life’ balances me. What is it about music? It affects so many people on so many different levels. How does music inspire you? Or how do you intend to inspire people through music?
Peter: That is a big question. I don’t think anyone really has the answer, but I think music is a language, it is a way of conveying emotions and feelings that aren’t readily available in the common vernacular of how we speak to each other. I don’t get too analytical about it. I’ve just always been someone who has had an idea in my head, someone with creative ideas, a big imagination, and really enjoys taking something that is a germ of an idea into a fully-fleshed idea that could be presented to the world. I really enjoy that process. What I enjoy about music, I think is a very difficult question to answer and I don’t think there is an answer that fits every person out there. But I think, like I said, it is a language. It is a way of communicating emotions and feelings that you can’t quite do through speech or dialogue. And for some people it’s a way of venting or feeling sadness or excitement or anger or frustration. It kind of runs the whole gamut of different feelings and I think that is what people are drawn to.
Liz: Just one more question, because I know you gotta get to producing some good music for the world.
Peter: Actually, I got to drive my van to Long Island. For all the things people think are glamorous for doing art or music for a living, there are an equal amount of shitty things that you have to do that most people do not see.
Liz: (laughing) I do see and get that. So how do you see your changing-life changing the direction of your music? Do you think your ultimate direction has changed with the success that you’ve seen, playing the different festivals, and becoming a popular name?
Peter: The one thing that I’ve learned in music or any form of entertainment, everything is just so relative. You have to start to make a decision at some point, what is the center of what is going to please you. What is the center that you’re going to rely on to keep driving you forward. I guess what I mean by that, if I link my happiness and sense of fulfillment based upon certain goals of metrics, numbers or statistics of opportunities that present themselves, I’m never going to be happy because there’s always a bigger band, there’s always someone who is going to get a bigger opportunity. There’s someone else who has more likes on Facebook or more likes on SoundCloud or whatever. Everything is completely relative. For me it’s not really about that. Like I said before, it’s about sustaining my ability to keep making music over the long haul. Really what I think for myself, what I do well is write songs that people like and care about. That is what drives Panama Wedding, what drives people to be attracted to it. I just try to stay focused on the songs themselves, and for me in terms of evolving forward, look, I’m always chasing the next song. I always feel like my best song is always 10 feet in front of me and I am constantly reaching for it. When I’m working on a song, especially in the final stages, it’s pretty frequent that I start thinking of the next song that I want to work on. I’m always just reaching for the next song and wanting to get better and better, and I really do think I’ve gotten better at it. Not necessarily like what’s the better song, a lot of that is subjective, the process of how do you take an idea through the creative process – I’ve gotten better and better at managing that process. So for me, it’s just getting better at that and constantly staying hungry to write a better song. That’s really what motivates me every day. It’s not the “hey, are we going to be able to play Coachella next year”, or the song that I get 5 million spins off of. There are things that I care about, like are one of these songs gonna get on Alt Nation or are they gonna get on the radio because those are the opportunities that will allow me to keep doing it financially, but I don’t feed on that I don’t focus on those things. I am very dialed into the music. Because it is the music that is going to drive things forward.
Liz: I have been reading a lot on success, and people who have lived their life with the goal of reaching their defined success and actually do reach that goal, kind of become stuck…like now what; they’ve reached their defined point, but it doesn’t make them happy. People talk how it’s actually depressing because there is nothing to look forward to or a rush to reach a goal. So I like the idea of having your next best song always 10 feet in front of you. Thank you so much. It was wonderful talking with you.
Peter: Thank you.
View the music video for “All of the People” by Panama Wedding on YouTube here
View the music video for “Into Focus” by Panama Wedding on YouTube here
View the music video for “A Brand New Life” by Panama Wedding on YouTube here