by Scott Champion
The College Times
To understand the phenomenon of Peter Breinholt and his band, Big Parade, you would have to understand Breinholt himself. His first album, Songs About the Great Divide, made for a meager $1,600, one of the best selling local CDs of all time. On the brink of his newest release, Deep Summer, and just days before his annual concerts at Sundance, the folk singer spoke with The College Times about his beginnings, his albums, his concerts, his family, his…well, just read the interview.
COLLEGE TIMES: We’ll start off really basic: where were you born?
PETER BREINHOLT: Philadelphia.
CT: Did you grow up there?
PB: My family lived there until I was about ten, I think. Then my family moved to Utah, which is where my parents’ roots are. My dad’s from here, my mom’s from California, but our roots are here. My Dad taught in Pennsylvania for about ten years.
CT: What was your first exposure to music?
PB: We had an old piano in our house. Nobody in my family took piano lessons, although my older brothers and sisters could all play chopsticks and…(moves his fist back and forth as if playing the black keys with his knuckles.)
CT: It must be some inherent trait that every child knows how to play that.
PB: Yeah. So I learned all those at a pretty young age. My dad played guitar in college in kind of this Kingston Trio-esque group. Once in a while he’d play for us. I also remember going to Disney movies–I remember at a young age just noticing the music: “Little April Showers” in “Bambi”.
By the time I was six or seven I began my own record collection. I was really into the Beatles at a pretty young age. I remember taking The White Album to show and tell in second grade. I also remember arguing with another second grader over who was better, the Beatles or Elton John. So I wasn’t the only one out there.
And then around ten or eleven I took piano lessons, and that turned into guitar lessons–my older brother taught me guitar. And then that led into high school where a bunch of my friends formed a band in High School. That was really where my performing started. I was the guitarist–I didn’t sing anything. We were the Dobermans. We played a lot of 60′s covers.
CT: When did you start writing your own music?
PB: I remember playing melodies in sixth grade; that became my real hobby all throughout junior high and high school. When I was about sixteen or seventeen I started putting words to these melodies, but I couldn’t finish them. The words were my hangup.
CT: Are they still your hangup?
PB: Yeah. If I get slowed down, it’s usually because of the words. The music’s easy. Fortunately, by the time I was in college, I started collaborating with some friends and we started coming up with words that weren’t good, but we weren’t totally ashamed of them. They were good enough that we could perform them live. “You Wear Flowers” is one of the songs that came out of that collaboration.
CT: Speaking of “You Wear Flowers”, I was asked by a friend to ask you if the line We’ve been to Philly and to Chile/Tallahassee and the Kiwi Land refers to where everyone in the band went on their LDS missions.
PB: You got it. We were home from our missions and we were asked to play a wedding. During rehearsals I kind of brought forth this ska song I had started to write, and we started coming up with just nonsense words. And that’s where we got those lyrics–our missions.
CT: Were you the driving force behind Big Parade?
PB: Yeah. It started out at first as a trio. I had written all these songs, and one day we decided to record them. It was kind of my project because I was paying for it, but they were very involved and they were very helpful.
When we finished recording we needed a name for the album. I thought The Big Parade was a good title, but then we needed a name for the band. We couldn’t find one. So we decided to take out the “The” and name the band Big Parade. But eventually I started to expand and branch out and do stuff on my own. I’m all for doing the band thing as I am doing the troubadour-singer/songwriter thing. So there’s the “Peter Breinholt” thing and the “Big Parade” thing. We combined them: “Peter Breinholt & Big Parade”. I’ve never liked it. I’ve always thought bands with a person’s name and then the band’s was too long.
CT: The bulk of your fan base is here in Utah. Do you have any plans to branch out?
PB: Truthfully, right now we’re doing what we love. We’re doing shows in actual theaters, I’m making a living, and the guys in the band are able to have jobs and pretty normal lives, but they also get to have this hobby. We feel really lucky and we’ll be really lucky if it lasts this way. I don’t know how long it will last like this. I’m really just interested in making a living with my music but not having to go all over the place: living a normal life. I’m not into the fame.
CT: I listened to the songs you have on your website [www.peterbreinholt.com]. Can we expect some of those songs to be on the new album?
PB: I think there’s only three songs from the ones on the website that have made it onto the new album. “Boat To Rome” and “Grow Old With Me” [written by John Lennon] are on there.
CT: How many concerts do you do a year?
PB: About every two months we’ll perform at a theater–a big show where we charge admission. In between we’ll take smaller shows wherever we’re hired. We’ll play at Salt Lake Community College or at Weber State. Those are great because we just show up and have fun. We do those shows about every other week. I like both venues, though.
CT: How long have you been married?
PB: About a year and a half.
CT: And you just had a son?
CT: How do you like being a dad?
PB: It’s great. The timing was really funny. I’ve been working on this new album for quite some time; I thought it would have been out well before the baby comes. And the Sundance concerts are the same time every year. Now it turns out they’re all happening about within two weeks of each other.
CT: If you weren’t a musician, what would you do?
PB: If I were to change careers, I’d like to teach. It wouldn’t be teaching music, though.
CT: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
PB: I have no idea. Five years ago, somebody asked me that, and I didn’t know then…I just take it one day at a time.
This article was printed in The College Times at Utah Valley State College on September 1, 1999