Pete Lawrie releases his debut album A Little Brighter in May. To celebrate, we got the Welsh blue-collar troubadour to talk us through each song and tell us how the album came together…
1. In The End
“Sit down and row, don’t tip it too and fro, for you may get what you asked for in the end”
In 2008 I worked in a Petrol Station in the small Village of Dinas Powys, South Wales. I had the six-in-the-morning, shivering, puffy-eyed, put-out-the-papers-in-the-morning shift. I would go home at 2pm and write songs. Writing songs was my way of believing that I had something other than my reality ahead of me. It would have been easy to write something bitter, but who wants to hear a petrol station attendant playing the world’s smallest violin? Also, I needed for my own sake to feel like I was headed somewhere else. To hear it played on the radio was it coming full circle – the song fulfilling its own destiny, achieving its ambition. This is the song I’m most proud of – it’s not my favourite musically or lyrically, but as its parent, it’s done good!
2. All That We Keep
“Love is all that we keep, in the box that you’re burnt in, when you lay down to sleep”
This song has had a funny little life. It has a friend of mine doing an impression of a robot in the middle eight and has been through many versions before it arrived in its own skin. For me lyrically, it’s one of the songs I’m most proud of. It’s about death and what you leave behind and if that sounds morbid, it’s not supposed to be. It’s about redemption and the realisation that life is fleeting and fragile and what you leave behind is the memory of you with other people. You cannot change or control people’s perceptions, but you can be kind and you can try to be better. The words that sound as if they are directed towards a partner are directed towards life – life as the romantic interest in a song about death.
3. How Could I Complain?
“I’ve not seen a death yet in my family and I’ve been offered coffee in the cold, so tell me how could I complain?”
I wrote this in Bangkok in the stifling heat with a hangover. It’s nice to look around sometimes, have a sharp intake of self awareness and realise that you’re complaining about a charmed life in comparison to others. Thailand is the perfect place to write a song that sums this up. The people work ludicrously long days, in humid, rancid air, have little money and are the happiest, most grounded and realistic people I’ve ever come across. I’d like to say I lived by the message in the song, but I’m British and it’s in our very bones – everybody likes a good grumble.
4. Half As Good
“The bottle’s empty, wild eyes, we’ve been talking, it’s the early light”
A bit like with River, I had a sound in my head before a song – I wanted to make kind of a soul record. Roomy drums, quite spare instrumentation and a simple lyric. I wrote this with a very dear friend of mine, Paddy, and it’s always interesting to have someone else in the room – they provide a different perspective on a song and the direction it should take. Not the most extravagant lyrics, but simple and direct and sometimes that’s all a song asks for and needs. Its message is as clear as the words themselves: “Say what you see when you see it.”
5. Fell Into The River
“Happiness don’t have a schedue, your time will come around”
Fun for fun’s sake. I grew up hearing Motown and have loved it ever since. This is not as personal as some of the other songs on the record, but purposefully so. This song was more about a sound for me – a clattering tambourine, some gospel backing vocals and it was a lot of fun to make and to sing. If you listen carefully you can hear the sound of a duck at some point – a single quack. I have no idea why there’s a quack solo, but it all adds to the fun.
6. Poor Man’s Game
“There’s food out in the kitchen, my clothes are drying just fine, but lovers can’t be lovers if you ain’t mine”
This is a love song hidden among everyday chores because I wanted to write a song about the mundane. The things that you quickly realise are just motions you go through, everyday habits, and that life is still and meaningless without someone to share it all with. I think that love songs can sometimes be a little over-egged and the grandiosity of the sentiment can have the reverse effect and make a song cold. I wanted to talk about washing and kitchens because that is the reality of life and love. It’s in the small things, hidden in the nooks and crannies of everyday living that love exists.
“Best friend living on the bedroom floor”
In 2006, Elliot (drums) and I lived in squalor. We had no shower, no money, a room full of debt collection threats and bailiffs breaking in whilst we hid behind a drum kit. Ironically the flat was called Royal Buildings and we were the peasants in the basement. We partied every night, held gigs in the flat on the weekends and adopted an entirely liberal open-door policy. One friend in particular took this literally and stayed for six months on Elliot’s ‘bedroom’ floor. It was the best time of my life. This is the song about it.
8. If Not For You
“I remember summers, the ones you can’t replace, going home too late for dinner, to my mother’s worried face”
I’m from Wales and it’s remarkably beautiful when the sun comes out. Whether it’s the mountains, the sea or the back garden, I have a lot of love for Wales on a summer’s day. Unfortunately, Wales isn’t known for its glorious climate. It’s known for rain, rugby and Barry Island. Nevertheless I wanted to write about childhood and Wales. Rose-tinted perhaps, but why not look back with fondness? Otherwise, don’t look back at all.
9. Just Dust
“I had a dream of you, but it wasn’t this”
This is about when something you thought was real and profound becomes nothing (just dust) – it’s about a relationship. Not the end of one and not the start, but one that never leaves the ground. It’s one-sided and from the perspective of the wounded. I wrote it a long time ago and it’s difficult sometimes to listen to words you meant so much at the time. Songs, if honest, are like diary entries for the writer and hopefully the listener. They can put a marker on a period of time. Listening again is two fold – sometimes it’s a bittersweet, looking out the train window kind of a feeling, but other times it can be bitter. It’s the oldest song on the record.
10. Dance On Your Own
“Love there’s the world, let me know how it goes, fuck it dance on your own”
The most bitter song I have ever written but I wanted to say these things. It’s how I felt at the time and in that circumstance, I see no need to sugar-coat your emotions. I wanted it to be almost conversational, so that the lines work as sentences – that’s what emphasises the honesty in a song to me. One of my songwriting heroes is Bob Dylan and of all of my songs, this is my attempt to tip a very humble hat to a way of writing that he commands. It is bitter and angry but hopefully somewhere in there is a wounded heart desperately trying not to show defeat.
11. Jimmy And The Birds On Fire
“I’ve been drunk, thought I knew best, I guess you push it all away, until you stand with no-one left, I miss my friends”
Perhaps the most true song on the album, it deals with the end of a friendship. The relationship that two men have when they are too proud to patch up their differences and admit that they were wrong. This song is my way of saying that for my part I was wrong and I’m sorry. It was difficult to write and the easiest song I have ever written at the same time, the words fell out, but I was unsure about recording or performing it. Luckily I got over that, as it seems to connect with people. Maybe we have all been too proud at some point. When I first heard the string arrangement by the amazing Jules Buckley, I was floored. My sister sings the harmonies and it was the only song on the record recorded in Wales.
Pete Lawrie’s album A Little Brighter in out on May 2nd. For more click here.