Pubblicato il Novembre 13th, 2017 | by DDG


Peter von Poehl: pocket symphonies for modern pop lovers

…tutto bene! Possiamo parlare inglese? I know a little Italian, you know I worked on an Italian movie, Pericle il Nero, at the beginning I was speaking with Riccardo Scamarcio, he knows English and music very well, then in order to better communicate with the director, Stefano Mordini, I took some Italian lessons, and I also can cook very well penne all’arrabbiata… but English is still easier for me!

Peter Von Poehl is as relaxed and friendly as you would imagine from the warmth of his modern pop records: as for his biography, he’s “…an outstanding singer-songwriter, a subtle arranger and an inventive guitarist”, moved to Paris as a foreign visiting student, and soon hired as session man and “resident arranger” of a studio, thanks to his talent as a “musical Zelig”, as he defines himself. After some years as professional musician, spent between Sweden, France and Germany, his future wife, the French songwriter Marie Modiano, led him back to Paris: and in 2006 Peter finally released Going to Where the Tea-Trees Are, starting a brilliant solo career that made him popular all around Europe.


It’s difficult to find definitions and coordinates for your warm “chamber pop”: Pet Sounds, maybe, Steely Dan and Blue Nile,  Bacharach…
I am very glad of all those references, you are naming the greats in music history! I think when it comes to my own soul, the song format is always based on this kind of influences – a 3 minutes format, orchestral arrangement, the way they approach sound… I read somewhere a definition like “pocket symphonies”, I think it is really cute, it is a good description, maybe! Pocket symphonies, like Field Music? I really like them, we did a gig together in London, they are great!

A friend in need is a friend indeed
I’ll be the lines and lips you read
In silence, I’ll keep you company
For nothing in return

(Pen friend)

You also deal with soundtracks for movies and ballets: working under pressure and deadlines seems to be easier than self judging our own art, if you look at the time between your solo records.
The approach is very different, expecially when you work on images things are easier, binary, either it works or it doesn’t, you see it straight away: when I write songs for myself, it is much more difficult to have a judgement, it is a slow process, I need to leave it and leave it and go back, until it rings a bell, not only the music, but emotionally… it is a less rational process, when I work on soundtracks I am very Scandinavian, I send the tapes when they are needed. Solo albums are a real luxury, I sped up my first solo album, after 10 years as songwriter and producer, then I embarqued on a tour that ended in 2010… then I realised that I am much more frustrated in not being able to collaborate, produce, do other kind of music.


When you moved to Paris as a student, you became a very popular session man and arranger very soon…
I am lucky to lack any sense of musical personality, I am a musical Zelig, a copycat, in a positive way! That’s something positive, I can go from contemporary music to the Italian 60’s pop song for Pericle il Nero: then at that time I concentrated on writing for other artists, and I thought I would have never done a song for myself, did I have anything to contribute? Then I started writing lyrics and songs that came from somewhere, in a conscient or inconscient way I was digging in my own children memories, sounds, like the Christmas songs we sang with the chorale, or the depressing woodwind and horns from the Salvation Army we heard from the streets… The whole first album, GOING TO WHERE THE TEA-TREES ARE, was putting out memories and sounds from within myself. 

So I sing about this great love,
I’d sure like to know,
but baby, I just have to go.
Because my train is calling
and it sounds just like applause

and I’m more into effects
than their cause.

GOING TO WHERE THE TEA-TREES ARE (2006) is a collection of beautiful songs, with pearls like Travellers; and The story of the impossibile became a success in France.
Actually we were reluctant to put that song in the record, it was a cheap demo, it was just me and the producer, who recorded a flute part… I like that song, you never know what will work. I’m more into effects than their cause… (Travellers)

Then it came MAYDAY (2010), with some soul music added, since the opening declaration of Parliament.
When back in the studio in Sweden, after years of touring, I was driven by the experiences and the influences I had playing with other musicians, like Marie Modiano, and also by the lyrics she wrote for half of the songs… then yes, it was a different feeling.

Nevertheless, also MAYDAY included some pocket symphonies – Carrier pidgeon, Silent as gold, paving the road to the next record, that arrived after 3 years of silence (…but a story needs to be told, and I prefer life silent as gold…), soundtracks and collaborations.
In 2010 I got to take a break from my own career, and come back to the collaboration and productions: then, I received a proposal for a summer festival for the following year regarding an orchestral concert in Bruxelles, and I thought – hmmm! An excellent excuse for writing new songs and for cooperating with my friend Martin Hederos, an orchestral arranger from Stockholm… During a two years period we developed the songs and finally recorded them with all musicians in the same room, it was the added value of involving an orchestra: it was like a Polaroid snapping, a different way to make an album, I was playing guitar and singing together with the orchestra…

Comes Inertia, my faithful friend
An idle wind, a jubilant grin
From ear to ear


And it worked, indeed: BIG ISSUES PRINTED SMALL (2013) is a full symphony divided in 10 great pop songs in a range between the energy of Lovers Leap and the irony of Twelve Twenty One, with the many colours of the orchestra mirrored in the beautiful cover painted by Charlotte, Peter’s sister. And the new record, SYMPATHETIC MAGIC (2017), is “a delicate set of songs with organs, clarinets, cellos, oboes and bassoons that gracefully envelop the crystalline voice”, as for its press release… 

With SYMPATHETIC MAGIC, your approach to songwriting came back to the origins?
I composed all songs on my guitar, or on the keyboards: I also found some old synths I was not playing from my youth, I took them to my tiny Paris studio, and it was like the Proust Madeleines episode, I found some old sounds that I left also on the record…

Another collection of strong songs, as the first singles, Inertia and The Go-Between, and the usual pocket symphonies as Tired retainers, with no fillers, and the unexpected electronic sounds of the old synths living new nuances to the usual orchestral scores.

And now, what’s next?
Making solo albums is a complete luxury for me, my time is spent 50% for collaborations, and 50% for my music, but I don’t want to record new songs under pressure or deadlines… Then, touring, and then cooperating again with other artists – musicians, directors, dance coreographers… – the more different they are from me, the better: the next one will be a score for a German production, music for orchestra and pinball machines!

Interview released on September 9, 2017


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