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A Conversation with Peg Simone

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Stormy weather: Peg Simone
  • Stormy weather: Peg Simone

On her haunting new album, Peg Simone artfully, alchemically melds her raspy voice and near-whispered storytelling with droning guitar atmospheres at once bluesy, gothic and avant-garde. Since 2000, Simone's released several albums and EPs; her latest, Secrets From the Storm, was released by the experimental-leaning Radium label, and includes collaborations with Jonathan Kane (Simone also plays guitar in his band, February) and writer Holly Anderson. 

While Simone has lived in New York City for a dozen years, she's a Pittsburgh native (real name: Deb Catanzaro) with plenty of local-scene cred. While in college in the late 1980s, she played in The Pleasure Heads with Smith Hutchings (also formerly of The Cynics), and formed Wormhole in the mid-1990s. She plays a hometown show this Fri., Oct. 29, at Garfield Artworks, presented by frequent City Paper contributor Manny Theiner.

 

From Pittsburgh, you first moved to San Francisco through Wormhole and your record label?
Actually, Wormhole didn't move out there -- I was the only one who did. I went out to work for the label a little bit, and as usually happens, the record comes out and the band falls apart, so that's what happened. It was called Red Devil Records. I'm being very liberal with that, it was a really, really small label. If I didn't go out there, the record probably wouldn't come out; the girl who was really good, who was really working the record, quit. And I think I was also at a point where I just wanted a change. I think I was also looking for ...

... an exit?
Yeah!

For Secrets from the Storm, you collaborated with a writer -- why?
My collaboration with Holly [Anderson] started a few years ago when I was having writer's block, I couldn't write lyrics to one of these songs. (Holly is Jonathan's wife; that's where that connection is.) So she sent me over some lyrics, and I used those. Then she sent me a story of hers, which is actually "Boilermakers" on [the album]. It just resonated with me, I just wanted to dig into it. And it turned into that narrative piece -- I don't know what to call those. I wouldn't call them songs; maybe they're soundscapes around stories. I enjoyed the process of doing that more than I've enjoyed doing anything.

I love her writing, so we've come to work together a lot -- I did a slew of other stuff with her in the same vein. She's got a very visceral, very raw grasp on the English language. It's almost like her words are chewy; you like to have them in your mouth. 

The narrative pieces suggest early radio dramas, Tom Waits, even Sonic Youth's spoken-word pieces. What were you inspired by?
If I listened to anything, I listened to a lot of classic rock. I also like Philip Glass and Arvo Pärt and things that are very atmospheric. And I think that's where I get a lot of my inspiration; Steve Reich, Erik Satie -- stuff that creates an atmosphere without words. And I've always liked what Nick Cave did in terms of storytelling. I've always been really inspired by the fact that he could tell a story and take you through four or five minutes and really grab you. 

I saw that Anderson is also performing at the show?
Yeah, we've been doing shows where she does a reading, and it works real nice. For the release show -- we did it at the Bowery Poetry Club -- Holly did a reading, and my friend Chris played a set, and then I did mine. I really like having her on the bill and having her read those pieces so people can hear them from their origin. "Boilermakers" and "Oh Holy Night" are loosely based on her mother as a little girl, growing up in Minnesota -- she had a whole slew of older brothers who were wild, drinking, gun-toting maniacs. 

Do you come back to Pittsburgh often? What emotions or memories does it stir?
I do come back to visit my family. But oddly enough, when I do come back, I find I never go out. So I don't really know much of what's going on -- I hang out with Smith [Hutchings], Smith's a really good friend of mine. It's very much family time when I go back there.

Maybe 10 years ago, I would go back and try to go out as much as possible. But people disperse, and you get older, and desire -- what you find relaxing -- changes, too. 

 

Peg Simone, Holly Anderson, Joshua Abrams, Tom Moran. 7 p.m. Fri., Oct. 29. Garfield Artworks, 4931 Penn Ave., Garfield. $10. All ages. 412-361-2262 or www.garfieldartworks.com

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