Home Interview Interview: Peter Case (@ Jammin’ Java, 4/12/23)

Interview: Peter Case (@ Jammin’ Java, 4/12/23)

Interview: Peter Case (@ Jammin’ Java, 4/12/23)
Peter Case (Photo by Ekevara Kitpowsong/ The Aperturist)

Peter Case has been writing and playing music for five decades, beginning with several power-pop bands in the ’70s and ’80s: The Nerves, The Breakaways, and The Plimsouls. Since the mid-’80s, he’s worked as a solo artist, moving to a more singer-songwriter/folk direction. His songs have appeared in TV shows like the HBO supernatural drama True Blood (“Spell of Wheels).”

Parklife DC’s Mark Engleson caught up with Peter to talk about his creative process, his new, piano-driven album Doctor Moan (his first collection of entirely new material in seven years), and a few other subjects surrounding the arts and creativity.

Peter Case performs at Jammin’ Java in the DC metro area on Wednesday, April 12.

A native of Buffalo, New York, Case has lived in San Francisco for most of his life, since he left home at “a very young age.” We began by talking about one of his early experiences in his adopted home city, reading his way through the science-fiction section at City Lights, the bookstore owned by beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, best known for his collection A Coney Island of the Mind.

We also share a mutual love of the great writer Harlan Ellison, who was among those Case read in that time. In addition to his achievements as a writer, Ellison is known for his intense, confrontational personality. Peter described him as “an outlaw,” and told me about how, once, from his balcony, Harlan got into a verbal confrontation with a group of bikers. There are, he noted, some similarly “very intense people in radio.” 

At the time, Peter was playing on the street, which led to a discussion about his new album, Doctor Moan, released at the very end of last month. It’s the first record he’s made where he primarily plays piano, although he played keyboards in The Plimsouls. He also played the clavinet, but he wasn’t always credited for this work. Growing up, he played the piano, and he’s “always loved the instrument,” but, when he left home, he focused on the guitar, because it was easily portable, only playing the piano when he came “came across one.”

Stream Doctor Moan by Peter Case on Spotify:

While the instrumental direction of the new album is somewhat novel, the songs on Doctor Moan are, lyrically, very much in keeping with what he’s been writing for a long time, starting out with the opener, the hard luck tale, “Have You Ever Been In Trouble?” “They’re the same kind of songs I’ve been writing,” Case said.

Peter and I talked about the creative process, and how it’s changed for him over the many years he’s been doing it. He echoed what many other songwriters have told me, that the process is ultimately a mystical one and can’t really be understood. As you do it longer and longer, you learn how to put yourself in a state to do it. And while those ultimate bursts of creativity may seem to be spontaneous, they are often the product of laying much groundwork to get there: Peter shared how he writes all the time, though not always songs. He fills journal after journal, he told me, with free writing and exercises meant to keep his mind in shape and help it go to the place where he can produce the work that he puts out to the world.

With age, as we discussed, come new strengths in one’s creative career. “You lose a million brain cells,” he said, “but most of those brain cells are the anxiety brain cells.” Anxiety, he added, “is the flip side of depression,” and “many artists struggle with mental health issues.”

We saw eye-to-eye on the difficulties of the creative life and the arts. Even after decades doing it, he said, the work remains challenging. And the realities of the marketplace, as we discussed don’t make it any easier. I mentioned that, in the field where I’m trying to break, short science-fiction writing, people like Peter Beagle, who wrote the absolutely classic novel The Last Unicorn, are still out there publishing, and it’s no shame to not make it to the same pages. “I love that guy,” Peter said, and asked me where’s he living, which I’m not sure of. 

We ended the conversation talking about what Case has been listening to lately. “A lot of jazz,” he said. “And every spring, I like to listen to the old country blues records,” which makes him feel connected. He also gave me some much appreciated words of encouragement on my own work, urging to me to keep working at it, “and it will eventually happen.”


Peter Case performs at Jammin’ Java on April 12!

Buy your tickets online now!

Peter Case
W/ Ben de la Cour
Jammin’ Java
Wednesday, April 12
Doors @ 5:30pm
All ages


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