Peter Holsapple Suits Up for Game Day, His First Solo Record in Twenty Years | Music Feature | Indy Week
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Peter Holsapple Suits Up for Game Day, His First Solo Record in Twenty Years 

click to enlarge Peter Holsapple - PHOTO BY ALEX BOERNER
  • Photo by Alex Boerner
  • Peter Holsapple

"I'm not pop-star material anymore," allows Peter Holsapple, "But I sure can write a song, and I enjoy it more than ever." Holsapple has been known not only as a singer-songwriter with Winston-Salem émigrés The dB's and New Orleans-via-Los Angeles outfit Continental Drifters, but also as an auxiliary member of R.E.M. and Hootie & The Blowfish. But now, he's finally following up his 1997 solo debut Out of the Way with a new album, Game Day. And he's done it for the best of reasons: He simply had to.

Holsapple first turned heads as co-frontman for the eighties new wave/power-pop cult heroes The dB's. In the nineties, he joined then-wife Susan Cowsill, The Bangles' Vicki Peterson, and others in the stealth supergroup Continental Drifters. At various points, he's reunited with fellow dB's singer-songwriter Chris Stamey in a duo and with a full band. But Game Day is strictly Holsapple's show—the multi-instrumentalist sang, played, produced, engineered, and mixed virtually the whole album by himself at home.

"I enjoy playing with other musicians and singers," Holsapple explains, "but I also feel strongly that I have the best ideas for my songs." He played all the parts mostly out of expediency, he says, rather than endure the rigamarole of setting up time at a studio, or teaching someone else parts he'd written.

But Game Day doesn't have a hermetic feel at all. Quite the opposite, it bears a homey, organic, DIY charm. Whether Holsapple's hammering a guitar, blowing a reedy harmonica, or plunking on a piano, there's a scrappy, intimate quality that's immediately inviting and endearing. It's the sound of a man doing what he loves, a theme Holsapple acknowledges. He took about five years off from music and took an administrative role at the Durham Performing Arts Center. He realized that he'd be happier making music again, but on his own terms.

"My feeling was, if I don't do this just for the love of it and the need to do it, then I'm gonna be grossly disappointed for whatever time I have left. So why not just enjoy it? Why not just do it?" Holsapple says. "I think about friends who've passed away whom I would love to hear records by today, and I won't be able to do that, so I feel a little bit of compunction simply by being on this side of the sod."

Some Game Day songs are edgy rockers that sound like they could have come off a classic dB's album, like the offbeat thumper "She Handed Him a Pencil," which Holsapple describes as "trying to imagine myself or someone like me in a number of unwinnable situations." But others underline the evolution of his songwriting, like the moody, minor-key "Not Right Now," whose inventive melodic and harmonic turns originated with an unexpected association.

"The first couple of demos of that song were labeled 'F. Mac,' as in Fleetwood," Holsapple says. "I sort of thought it was more a Stevie Nicks knockoff, almost."

Holsapple pays tribute to a key part of his past with the song "Continental Drifters," a wistful salute to his time with that band. He colors the tender (but never mawkish) ballad with gentle mandolin and rolling organ, evoking the softer side of Mott the Hoople—a comparison that might not be too far off the mark considering his love of sixties- and seventies-era Britrock. Susan Cowsill's harmonies provide the perfect finishing touch.

"Who better to do it?" asks Holsapple. "She lived it with me. So I was really grateful to have her talents on there; she's one of my very favorite singers ever."

Amid the appealingly oblong alt-rockers and reflective, folk-rock-tinged tunes, Holsapple finds time to honor his influences with a blaring, stomping cover of onetime Hendrix drummer Buddy Miles's 1970 psychedelic blues-rocker "Them Changes." Ever the dutiful record geek, he makes sure to co-credit Michael Kamen of sixties band The New York Rock & Roll Ensemble, whose "Sing Lady Sing" was notoriously plagiarized for Miles's song. You can take the boy out of the early-seventies garage, but you can't take the early-seventies garage out of the boy, and thank goodness for that.

music@indyweek.com

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