Local Current Blog

Digging deep: As a one-man band, Peter Campanelli looks inward for inspiration

Casey Carlson

Peter Campanelli is only beginning his music career, but he’s already decided that he doesn’t just want to be a member of the band. Campanelli, a St. Paul multi-instrumentalist who is in his first year at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, has decided that, at least sometimes, he wants to be the entire band.

That’s the case on his fourth album, Are you ever even there?, released last fall. Campanelli, whose work fuses modern jazz, experimental and progressive music, decided to play all of the instruments on the record, which includes conventional songs and melodies on one side and experimental and ambient sounds on the other.

“I actually didn’t have a second half so I just improvised on guitar for about nine minutes, which is like the first half of the second side,” he said. “And then I had these songs that I had written that didn’t connect, but I connected them using a tape machine to produce a coherent piece of music. It totally seemed like magic to me. It just sort of happened and I guess I just sort of impressed myself with what I could do.”

Campanelli builds the album on the theme of self-awareness, allowing himself to describe how he has grown to become aware of how his own actions affect his state of mind, no matter the circumstance. For him, being able to express his true self is key to relating to others, including those he loves. “If you ask me, alright I would tell you what’s going on with this,” he sings on “APE.”

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Campanelli, 19, has spent most of his life immersed in music. Like many, he started with with piano lessons at the age of six. After learning how to play the drums, he joined the music education program School of Rock, where he started taking guitar and vocal lessons.

“That’s where I started to really love and enjoy playing music because in an environment that I thought was interesting and fun, rather than being forced to do stuff,” he said.

Campanelli went to high school at the Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists, where he picked up the bass, performed in bands, and began creating his own music. For him, becoming a versatile musician was just something that came naturally.

“I want to say that there was some magical connecting force or something,” he says, “but it just was sort of the way it worked out was just kind of a coincidence. I was just like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m not really interested in spending my time doing this anymore. I might as well just move on to the next thing.’ It sort of happened in a nice way that I’m now able to play all of the instruments that are in a rock band.”

That’s exactly what Campanelli did on Are you ever even there? The album is inspired by a wide range of music — from the progressive psychedelic bands of the 1960s and ’70s to jazz and Brazilian music — but mostly, Campanelli is starting to figure out what he wants to say.

“It’s also about being aware when you make a mistake and when you’re in the wrong and just learning how to deal with that in a healthy way and hear both sides of the story,” he said of his album. “It’s just sort of like a how to for myself as to what I think I should work towards as a person and what I should do in my life to like make myself a better human being in this world.”

Simone Cazares is a sophomore at the University of St. Thomas, majoring in communication and journalism. Originally from Miami, Fla., she survives Minnesota’s cruel winters by immersing herself in the Twin Cities music scene.