?He has a wonderfully soulful voice and a great sense of melody that makes me want to write and sing better and try harder.? That's Ron Sexsmith's endorsement of Peter Elkas in advance of the Toronto musician's sophomore album, Wall of Fire, produced by Charlie Sexton. Peter describes the record as ?soulful and smooth, but with a rough edge? and says listeners can hear his love affair with the 1970s sound on the tracks. Bill Withers, Bruce Springsteen, Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye were his musical heroes during the writing process for Wall of Fire. Their influence served him well.
Peter describes the record as ?soulful and smooth, but with a rough edge? and says listeners can hear his love affair with the 1970s sound on the tracks. Bill Withers, Bruce Springsteen, Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye were his musical heroes during the writing process for Wall of Fire. Their influence served him well.
?It is inspiring music for songwriters, romantics and fans of honest soul,? says Joel Plaskett, fellow Canadian songwriter and musician. ?Aspiring soul men must take note: Wall of Fire causes jealousy and then inspiration,? he continues. The first time Peter heard the final master of the album, he was actually driving to Ottawa to play a show with Plaskett. ?I've never been so excited,? he remembers. Using the last few minutes on his pay-as-you-go phone, he called Charlie Sexton, who helped mold the record. ?I told him it sounded killer.?
Peter's Wall of Fire odyssey began as he was promoting his first solo album ? Party of One ? in 2004. Before going it alone, he'd spent 12 years with the Montreal band Local Rabbits. He started making music with them in high school, but after three albums it was time for the group to part ways. Peter's path took him to Party of One and gigs opening for Sexsmith, Plaskett, Feist, and k-os.
On tour Peter often found himself working solo on stage, thrilled to be getting his music out, but longing to be performing with the full band he'd assembled. ?It's one of the reasons I continue to play, the interaction with others. I'll never grow out of that feeling of camaraderie. The fastest and best friendships I have are with other musicians,? he explains.
His band, jokingly referred to as ?The Elkaholics,? is Doug Friesen on bass, Gavin Maguire on drums and Jeff Heisholt on keyboards. ?I feel that strength-in-numbers thing is something I was missing on the last record,? says Peter. Having The Elkaholics on board was a new beginning, but there were others who joined Peter's team and formed the foundation of Wall of Fire. In December of 2004, Peter met manager Larry Wanagas. Then the ball really started rolling. Wanagas encouraged Peter to record some demos as the first step in making a follow-up to Party of One. Armed with tracks written in a Toronto apartment while he was feeling ?hopeful and revitalized,? Peter hit the studio to put together a four-song demo. Shortly after Wanagas mailed the demos out to potential producers, his phone rang. It was agent Jim Phelan on the line, calling on behalf of Charlie Sexton. Phelan thought Sexton and Peter would be a perfect match. Peter ?started to get very excited about the possibilities,? when he heard the news.
Making an album with Sexton was an incredible opportunity. As a musician, Austin, Texas based Sexton has recorded with Ron Wood, Keith Richards and Bob Dylan. His producing credits include Lucinda Williams' ?Essence? and Edie Brickell's ?Volcano?. In the summer of 2006 Sexton pulled Peter and his band into a Toronto studio and pressed ?record'. ?I was really awkward and nervous. All I could do was start with our tightest song,? says Peter. ?And to my relief, Charlie walked in and was like ?You guys sound killer'.? That track was Wall of Fire.
?Choosing that song as the title track for the record made sense because it's about transition, the transition from one relationship to the next,? Peter says. ?And going from the last album to this one has been a real transition from being alone and self-managed, to getting the right people around me and the right friends who are as excited as I am about the project.?
As proof of their dedication, The Elkaholics and Sexton put in long hours with Peter in the studio perfecting each track.
The producer threw himself into the project. He had no desire to sit behind a glass wall in the studio, removed from the music. Instead, he joined the musicians, setting up his own makeshift drum kit and playing alongside the band. ?I ran out of sounds and equipment and went to Canadian Tire and got a trash can,? remembers Sexton about the experience. Peter says by the end of the session, his kit was as big as Gavin's.
Sexton says he felt like a true band member for the two weeks The Elkaholics made music in Toronto. ?And I was glad to be in the band ?cause they're a great band,? he says. The admiration was mutual. ?Whether recording or simply playing into the atmosphere, Charlie is more than a force with which to be reckoned,? says Peter. ?His ability to seize the moment is what creates great music. I dare say he has left me and my band with a great record.?
Most of the tracks were recorded live off the floor, with everyone playing together. ?We had fun,? remembers Sexton fondly of the Toronto sessions. ?There's a camaraderie that the guys in the band have with Peter that comes through on the album. It's a good feeling record even in its darker moments.? In July 2006, Peter flew to Austin on his own to finish mixing and recording Wall of Fire on Sexton's home turf. Their final days together were fruitful, with Peter penning the last of the lyrics of one song ? Paid Back ? on the producer's patio in five minutes. When the dust settled, Wall of Fire was done.
Now Peter is handing it over to music lovers. ?I want people to feel romantic about it,? he says. ?It is a romantic record in the sense of romance between a man and a woman, but there's also a friendship vibe going on. There's a hopeful tone about it.? As Wall of Fire draws to a close, you can hear that hope. ?And yeah it might be horror/Like a burning fiery wall/But then it might be glory/Where guys like us stand ten feet tall,? Peter sings in a verse of See It With Me, the last track on the album.
To that end Wall of Fire is an album about people getting together, taking a leap of faith and accomplishing something.