Interview – The Waking Eyes’ Matt Peters
– by Shawn Conner
For a generation of Winnipeggers, Steinbach was “the automobile city”.
Thanks to a series of ubiquitous car dealership commercials, that was all most of us knew about the town (pop. 13,000, according to recent stats), which lies 50 kilometres southeast of the city. Oh, and also that it’s a community largely composed of Mennonites.
But in 2000 an album appeared: The Pets‘ Love and War was/is an ambitious, layered record equal parts Prairie earnestness and cheeky pop wit, and it put Steinbach on the indie-rock map. More or less…
Nowadays, Matt Peters and Steve Senkiw, two of the original Pets, live in Winnipeg, where they formed The Waking Eyes in 2001, along with Rusty Matyas and Joey Penner. Currently touring in support of Holding On to Whatever It Is, the group’s third record – not counting a triple-CD set, Operation Walter Prychodko – the quartet was in northern Ontario when I reached Peters to discuss pillars of the Winnipeg music community and the the pysche-pop madness of the Waking Eyes‘ latest album.
Matt Peters: You want to know who Walter Prychodko is? He owns the practice space we practice in. And I’d say about 15 other bands in Winnipeg practice in. Without him I think the Winnipeg music scene would take quite a hit.
The spaces are a little bit more expensive, so it’s mainly the serious bands using that space. But he’s such a great person. He’s been running a practice space for years. The Weakerthans have practiced in there, we’ve been in there. He’s really quite a character, and he’s been a good supporter of ours. We felt like we owed his something, so we thought we’d call that CD set after him. It’s three CDs’ worth of stuff that didn’t make the record. We still like it. There’s some funny stuff on there.
SC: What’s an example of something the Waking Eyes find funny?
MP: There are a couple of songs, like “Sinking Feeling” – right after we finished our last album we started writing, and at the time we thought it was the best stuff ever. In retrospect now, we think they’re the worst songs ever. But we needed to go through writing those songs to get to where we are now. It’s part of the progression. It just took awhile for us.
So some of those songs, you can see we’re pulling away from one song and going towards something else. At least, we get a kick out of it. And then, on the third disc of that set, there’s something we did called the four-hour challenge, where each member has four hours to write as many songs as they can. But nothing can be prepared and everything has to be recorded in that time period. We were each able to write two songs in that time-frame. Our friends come up with song titles, really horrible titles no one would ever want to write a song around, and we draw the names out of a hat. I had one called “Everything is a Satanism (For Randy Travis)”. It’s kind of stressful and intense, but I think we come up with some pretty decent songs.
SC: It seems like Winnipeg has a pretty happening scene.
MP: Yeah. It’s a cheap place to live, and it seems like everyone’s starting a new project. Right now, there’s a guy from Winnipeg who’s on tour with us, Bucky Driedger. He’s a really talented guy. We decided we needed a fifth member, and he’s in two really great bands from Winnipeg, The Liptonians and Flying Fox and the Hunter/Gatherers. And he’s from Steinbach, as well. Lots of Steinbachers – lots of Mennos.
SC: Is that what you [Mennonites] call yourselves?
MP: That’s such a huge Mennonite population. None of us are practicing Mennonites, or whatever you want to say. It’s such a weird thing. It’s not really an ethnic group, it’s barely an observed religion. I don’t know what it is anymore.
SC: It’s a Facebook group.
MP: Yeah, maybe that’s what it is.
SC: I was talking to someone from another band who’s also doing a co-headlining tour, and she said it just makes sense with the economy the way it is. Is that one of the reasons you guys are co-headlining with The Arkells?
MP: Oh yeah, one hundred per cent. Like, we didn’t know the guys, and they didn’t know us. It wasn’t like we were two bands that were old friends and wanted to hit the road together. Now it feels like it. But the idea from the get-go was that both bands were in a place where we could help each other out, so why not tour together? We both have just released a record, we both have a song on the radio, we want to play to as many people as possible. It just makes a lot of sense.
SC: The cover art…
MP: It’s funny, the guy who did it is also from Steinbach. And the guy who produced our record? Also from Steinbach.
SC: Maybe I’m from Steinbach and I don’t even know it.
MP: And both of those guys’ last name is Peters, just like myself. But I’m not related to either of them. Oh, and Chris used to be in the Pets, as well.
SC: The Pets have had kind of a long life for how long the band was around.
MP: We were together for maybe a year-and-a-half, if that. It still remains a special project for me, and always will be. Myron, who was in the band and Chris had been in other bands, but for Steve and I it was our first band. It was just sitting in our basements and garages in Steinbach and making a record we thought was the greatest thing of all time.
And we had a Soundblaster live with one input. It was a digital production, but with one input. And somehow we were able to make a record. Some songs had like 60 tracks. We just kept bouncing things down. The ethic of that project is something we’ve tried to carry over to other things, and whenever we have, our best work has resulted from it.