“Go home. Meditate. Write music,” instructs a hand-written note on Peter Pisano’s new website. “Do NOT make any decisions RE: label, PWC, music career. Before you allow yourself to make decisions, you must first write and lay down some tracks that you feel good about.”
The note was slipped to Pisano from a social worker friend shortly after Peter Wolf Crier’s latest tour wound down. With the promotion cycle for his band’s second album, Garden of Arms, winding down, Pisano found himself at a familiar crossroads, contemplating whether to return to his former “day job” as a high school teacher or forge ahead with his music career.
After tour he ended up moving back to his childhood home to spend a summer with his family in the suburbs of Chicago, while also traveling back and forth to visit his girlfriend in Toronto. And during that period of transition he also ended up following the instructions on that hand-written note and composing a small handful of songs that don’t sound quite like anything Pisano has done before.
Pisano is calling his new project Jake Westin, and he’s playing things loose is every sense of the word. The songs sound raw and almost unfinished, and he’s so intent on not making a big deal of it that he just released the whole thing today on Bandcamp.
I called up Pisano to talk about his new Jake Westin Wears His Heart on His Sleeve release and what’s happening in his new home of Toronto, where he moved this fall to take a new job teaching high schoolers.
Local Current: How long have you been in Toronto now?
I moved here at the end of August, because I had school starting right at the beginning of September. At the end of last winter, when we got off the road, right around the holidays I had decided that I was going to look for teaching jobs, and I spent a long time looking.
What’s it like to return to teaching after being on tour?
It doesn’t feel very different. For one thing, it’s just very exciting. There’s not really much downtime, which is kind of similar to touring. The school that I’m teaching at, there’s three dudes who used to play professional hockey, and so those guys toured, they know what that’s like. And there’s another guy who’s really close with the Wolf Parade guys and a bunch of other dudes from the Montreal scene, so when I’m hanging out with him I still kind of feel like I’m in indie rock culture a little bit. And with the rest of the guys who used to play hockey, it’s just a bunch of young people who were doing something similar to that or something related to that, not all that long ago. So I don’t really feel like I got out of that world entirely.
Have you played your music for your students?
No, but it did not take them very long to find it. It’s not a distraction, though. It’s nice when you’re working with a kid and their wallpaper on their computer is you. There’s something that’s cool and flattering to something like that. And a lot of kids are into “Crutch and Cane.” But because I just don’t identify with it while I’m doing my job at all, it’s just kind of like a weird part of your past that you know happened, but you don’t know much more than that about it. I feel like they’re just as much of an authority on it as I am, sometimes.
Tell me about returning to your childhood home after tour. What was it like to go back there?
Man. Now, I’ll tell you it was really beautiful. It was the first time that I had been home for longer than two weeks probably since a summer off of college. My sister has two kids, and she had her first baby pretty much when I started touring, so I didn’t really know him at all–now I’m a part of his life, and a part of his vocabulary. When he sees people who look like me he says ‘Petey’ to my sister. And I got way closer to my sister and her husband, because I would stay at their place for multiple days at a time. So the kids all became friends again, me, my little brother Paulie, and Olivia, and Dave, Olivia’s husband. We all became really close. Paulie just graduated college right when I came home, so the two of us were living at my parents’ house together.
Looking back on it now it’s this really beautiful thing that I wouldn’t have made time for. That time happened to me. But if you had asked me then, it was totally against my will and I felt like a pretty big loser. At the same time, I would go ride my bike around town, and I spent a lot of time at the public pool I used to swim at when I was kid, it was very emotional. There were a lot of feelings involved.
Tell me about the name Jake Westin. How did you decide to use a pseudonym?
So I brought Steve Lewis in at the very end of the entire thing to play a producer role, producing the mixes. We recorded the whole thing on a four-track tape cassette recorder, so it’s like you’re printing a mix, and then it’s over. There is no tweaking, there is just one f*cking pass and it’s all live. So when that was happening, it was kind of like the whole record was given birth to, because it just got shot out. Then we were kind of looking at it and making sense of it, and we were making sense of it by saying, ‘this sounds like this 18-year-old from the suburbs.’ And then it was just like almost a creative writing exercise, coming up with all of these different things, like, ‘Jake Westin listens to this band, but only these album.’ It just became more and more elaborate, the character of the story, and then that character got the name Jake Westin. So it’s not like I went into this like ‘I’m Jake Westin now.’ It wasn’t that kind of thing, it was just what we called it when it came out.
I read the note on your website, and the note you posted to Facebook earlier this year. It seems like you’re dealing with some big expectations. Are they expectations you have for yourself, or are you feeling pressure from the label or fans? I get the sense you’re grappling with what you’re supposed to be.
The note on the Jake Westin website, I went to go see–before I even made Inter-Be, while I was writing Inter-Be, I started seeing a social worker in St. Paul. This was someone that I have remained very close with, and I went to see him, and while I’m talking he’s just writing on a piece of paper, and then he just handed me that. I put that in my pocket, and then I went home and I started making what to me was just my solo record. So that’s his musings, and not mine. The thing for the Triple Rock was–I don’t really know, I think sometimes it’s kind of nice when an artist steps out and says ‘Hey, this is what’s happening right now.’ Because most of the time people are just speaking for you all the time, and sometimes it’s just refreshing to have someone go and say that. I feel like what Brian and I started doing on the last tour there spoke for itself, but not everyone got to go see those shows. So I wanted to let people who didn’t necessarily see the show see this is what was happening, and this is what this band is about at this moment. I can’t really say it was important to reclaim it, because I never really felt like I didn’t have control of it, but I guess I just didn’t really speak up for a while, and just felt like it was time to speak up.
Where are you at with Peter Wolf Crier?
We’re going to play a show in Eau Claire on the 14th of this month, and then we’re going to play a show in March at McNally, and then we’ve got recording dates set up. So where Peter Wolf Crier is at now is deciding how to make the next record. It’s writing that right now. That’s where that’s at.
Does it help, creatively, to have some time where you don’t have to think about it?
I don’t know if it really helps. I know it feels fresh–playing guitar in [Jake Westin] feels fresh. I don’t have to step into character — or at least I’m not stepping into the same character when I pick up the guitar. When you keep approaching your instrument as the same person, that’s when I think it can stand in the way. It’s nice to pick up the guitar as Mr. Pisano at the end of the day of teaching. It’s nice. But I don’t really know how that impacts me, I don’t know if it makes it better or worse.