Nadeem Salaam – For people that don’t know your music how would you introduce what you’re doing as an artist?
Eddie Arjun Peters – Well, we are an instrumental rock band basically, with elements of jazz, groove, and jam. We actually just coined the term ‘groove jam rock.’ We say it has elements of jazz, but growing up in New York like I did, you’re exposed to so many different cultures, so many different sounds; that’s what ARJUN represents in music.
I discovered a vibrant downtown music scene here in New York; it consists of all of these great jazz guys that also blend with rock and avant garde. When I first came across that sound 15-20 years ago, I already had an idea of what I wanted to do in music, but when I heard [the music coming out of New York’s downtown music scene], I was like, ‘That’s everything right there!’ And New York has everything. It’s got classical, it’s got jazz, it’s got hip hop, it’s got orchestrated classical stuff – soundtrack stuff – it’s got anything you can think of.
N – I think in order to understand all these influences coming together, we need to hear your origin story. I would love to talk about your first experiences with music before we get to how the evolution began. Like adapting new sounds; being in New York you’re always exposed to them. What was the dynamic of your earliest memories of life in New York and your first experience with music?
“The music was always at the very tip top beginning. I was born in Toronto, Canada. My parents are from Guyana, which is in South America. They lived in Canada for a little bit, they had me, and left there shortly after. I think I was one year old. We ended up in Queens. Music probably was already in me from the time I was in my mother’s womb because my father is a very talented singer. He was trying to make music, trying to do his thing. He was also trying to survive in these new lands – the world he ended up in.” – Eddie Arjun Peters
E – My father went to Canada then America, and all the while he was taking care of my mother, taking care of me (his second kid), and then eventually three kids! By the time he had the third we were in Queens. We started out in Astoria, which used to be a very special place to me. I still go there and it’s way different now, but yet it’s not in certain areas. It’s very beautiful– the neighborhoods… architecture… I still see some of the buildings and it really brings me back.
But I wasn’t in Astoria for very long, because we went to Jamaica/Richmond Hill. It was an amazing experience growing up there on 125th street and Jamaica Avenue because our block was so massive. There were so many houses on it, so many families that lived there – every walk of life. That was like my first real experience interacting with people. We were basically the only West Indian/Indian or whatever-colored people (whatever you wanna refer to us as) on the block, then there was every other ethnic group. And all of those groups had kids, and what do you do when you have all those kids in one area like that? You play and you fight all day! And you constantly fight about who’s better: Michael Jackson or Prince?
That’s what was happening at the time. Pop music…the hip hop thing was new and fresh. We’d break out cardboard on the street and start break dancing – so many kids it was insane! But all of those new sounds that were happening… it was just everything. My father was a very Top 40 kinda guy, but I listened to and knew everything that was happening on the radio. It was exciting watching [what was happening in music]. It wasn’t like we had MTV back then, but there were speciality shows that came on and showed an hour of videos. I would always wait up to watch those shows, it would include a lot of the pop stuff that was happening, like the new hip hop.
N – Did you have any friends that had MTV? I would do that- I would go to my neighbor’s house to watch it.
E – Not in that neighborhood, because I didn’t know of anybody who had MTV. My family didn’t get MTV until a while later when we moved to Jersey for a little bit. We lived there for around two years and that’s when we got MTV, and that’s all I did in Jersey. I watched MTV and VH1 24/7.
N – How old were you by now?
E – I was like twelve or thirteen, and that was a huge music year for me because there was so much great music happening. This was when MTV and VH1 were showing music videos 24/7, and they didn’t have all these dumbass manufactured shows that mean nothing! They would show videos and live clips from all the best artists. There was such a variety. It feels like all of the artists that are out there now are not real- they’re all fake.
It’s like that shit with 50 Cent: I remember when he came out on the scene, he gained credibility because he was shot five or six times.
N – Yeah, I remember that.
E – And people were like ‘Yo, my man got shot five or six times, blah blah blah…’ What does that have to do with music? I’ve always loved hip hop, but it’s been exploited in such a massive way to the point where dudes on stage that were actually playing the music are not even on stage anymore. They aren’t even being employed. That’s when a lot of my outlook on the music industry started to change for me. It’s not gonna stop. It’s gonna get worse before it gets better.
N – Clearly at that young age you had already begun to form ideas of how corporations can also ruin the independent scene. You saw the rise and fall of MTV happen in a short amount of time. What was your first introduction to instrumental music? Was that happening at the same time your pop culture ideas were forming?
E – It was probably after I left Jersey. We went back to Queens but we went further out east into a town called Rosedale.
N – You’ve moved around a bit.
E – That was the other thing: moving from Canada to Queens; I was too young to really remember, so I have little memory of that. Moving from Queens to Jersey and then back, those were huge moves for me as a kid. I know that other people have moved to other countries, etc. but the cultural differences were definitely evident back in the day, even from Queens to Jersey.
N – Yeah, for sure.
E – Jersey was very uninviting to us because we were young teenagers and kids, and there was this bullshit rivalry thing happening like, ‘Oh you’re from New York? Oh yeah, fuck New York, I’m from New Jersey.’ It was like, ‘Dude we don’t even give a shit! I guess we are badass motherfuckers.’ But my family in particular was not trying to boast about it.
We only stayed there for two years and went back to Queens as I said, and that’s sort of where I came into being. That’s when I started hanging around with the rocker people and the metalheads and the guys that were all about guitars. One day I went over to my good friend Walter’s house after school and he plugged his guitar into his amp, and he just started playing. I heard it electrified. I just went home that day and said, ‘Dad, you gotta get me a guitar and you gotta get me guitar lessons.’ I didn’t think it was possible to plug a guitar into an amp and be able to play through it – have that sound come out of it. It just never occurred to me as a thing I could do. Dad said, ‘Okay.’ He didn’t question it, he just got me a guitar. He got me this cheap Dean Z.
N – There’s nothing like the first?
E – Yeah, I wish that I still had it. It had like one single coil pickup in it, it had a white neck, white fret board, and a black body. It was pretty cool looking.
N – Your first guitar (to me) is also where you learn that you have no other choice: it’s the guitar that you have, and it’s more about what you’re gonna learn versus the actual instrument you’re learning on.
E – Yeah, totally. It looked cool enough, it was just a total shit guitar. What did I know about what’s a good guitar and what’s not a good guitar? It was just like, ‘I’ve got this thing. I’m gonna play. I’m gonna learn it.’
N – So you started playing, and let’s assume by now you caught the guitar bug and I could imagine you started listening to a lot of guitar-driven music. How did the evolution from being committed to being a guitarist transition you towards writing music?
E – Right, I caught [the guitar bug] as soon as I learned to play guitar. I think I was writing music in my head. I was always humming out tunes as a kid before I even realized that I could write songs. I was always hearing sounds in my head. I was just internally beatboxing a beat and humming something because it was just sort of a natural thing for me do when I was walking by myself, or alone in a room and nobody was looking. I wasn’t trying to do it, it would just happen.
N – When did you realize that you really loved song writing and that it was something you wanted to do?
E – I was thirteen or fourteen when I started playing guitar. I used to go over to this guitar store in Valley Stream, New York called Valley Music, and I used to study with this guy Tommy who was a really cool dude. He would always say, ‘If you write something, you can come over to my house and record it.’ I wrote some songs that you could tell were influenced by hanging out with all my metalhead friends and listening to a lot of metal. It was just everywhere- during that time, it was nothing but metal bands. A lot of it sucked, but some of it was good. The beauty about it was that a lot of the bands had really good guitar players- metal shredders, that sort of thing.
I don’t know if that ever really appealed to me. I never really wanted to learn what those guys were doing. I knew from an early age, from the moment I picked up a guitar, that I wanted to find my own voice. I didn’t ever want try to play a Hendrix solo. I wanted to just figure it out, and I wanted the tools. I always wanted to play a lead- it was just my natural thing. I don’t really see it as ‘lead guitar.’ The guitar is the vocal, really.
I guess when I first started writing, they were songs that I had a vocal in mind for, so the songs that I wrote were instrumental, but they needed a vocal on top of it. That was very early on at age thirteen. I started to incorporate those melodies I was hearing in my head into my playing.
There was a couple of guys, I think Joe Satriani came out around that time, and he was the one guy that played instrumental music. I loved the fact that it was instrumental music and loved what he was doing, but I was still on a quest I guess and I wasn’t sure if I ever wanted to do what Satriani did. I wanted to do something else: a melodic-driven thing that wasn’t all shredding. Not too many notes. Why can’t you do music like that? There were times I would hear songs that existed before I was born, apparently instrumental songs were big on the radio in the 60’s and 70’s and as I came across those I thought, ‘Oh, that’s nice! There it is right there- that’s cool!’ In the interim of my ongoing quest, I finally figured out that I was gonna write songs this way.
Before I got to that, I was working in bands. I was playing guitar, and I even played bass in one band for six years. I was more of the mindset that if I played with bands that had the potential for commercial success, I could take that success and use it to funnel into my own projects and what I want to do. I spent many years doing that and ended up thinking, ‘This isn’t going anywhere, and I’m not fulfilling what I should be doing.’ There was just a point in time where I was like, ‘Fuck it, man. I’m just gonna do [my own music] no matter what, by any means necessary, and I’m not gonna stop.’ I’ve just been doing it ever since: putting out albums, making music.
It’s such a different musical climate to be in now because there’s an overabundance of so much music. The whole industry is completely shit now.
N – Before we segue into the climate of the music industry, let’s finish your origin story. You were in a bunch of bands and writing your own stuff, but at the same time you’re trying to learn the ropes of the industry. You’re doing what you think at the time to be the smart move by joining bands that take themselves seriously and also write good music. With that there comes a frustration of not being the one steering the ship. Now you’re in ARJUN and that’s your main ship that you steer, own, and run completely. Maybe we can talk about the earliest gigs that you were playing with ARJUN. What was the experience in New York like playing out?
E – The earliest experiences with ARJUN… it was a lot of fun, man. It was the first time that I wrote songs and had gotten guys on board to play them and contribute their writing to the songs. It was an exciting time. I do think I was definitely piling too much stuff on my plate. In ARJUN’s early stages, we didn’t reach the full potential of what those songs could’ve been live because the real way to do it is to take it out on tour and really push.
So, it was exciting, but it was really just me putting it all out there. I had a blank canvas and I was ready to jump on all the colors and just shake it around and figure it out and see what happened. That’s what it was in the early days, which was like 10 years ago.
N – So Arjun as the project has been around for more then 10 years then?
E – We started playing out in ’03, ’04.
N – That’s incredible I graduated high school in 2002.
E – (Laughs) Wow!
N – I was just beginning a lot of things you had already done. That’s why I’m calling you a veteran to the New York City music scene! What were some of the earliest gigs you remember playing?
E – We had a residency at the Alphabet Lounge when they just opened up.
N – Right on!
E – We played there a lot. ARJUN played at a bunch of other places, too. We did a little tour in the tri-state / metropolitan area. It was fun, but it’s hard setting up a tour on your own and going out there and doing it. The further south we got we would play some rooms and it made sense to me that it was a viable thing, because people really became engaged with the music. I always knew that there was an audience out there, so it was exciting at that early stage to have those experiences.
The first album Pieces that was released in ’06 had songs that were just all over the place with so many different parts- very prog. There’s still a part of me that wants to do [that conglomeration of styles and parts] and sometimes still does it, but it’s different now. It’s more controlled. I don’t know how to explain it, but it was those early shows that were exciting to see the reception that we were getting. I really felt like we were doing something that nobody else was doing.
N – Yeah, I think instrumental music especially – jazz and prog – all those genres have definitely declined over the years, and it’s become more… I guess the word is ‘niche’? So you guys put out that first record in ’06. How many have you put out from ’06 to now (2016)?
E – We went on hiatus in ’07. The album was still being worked worldwide; it was getting a lot of airplay. Then I started working on some other projects that took up a lot of my time, so we didn’t get back to it until a few years later like around 2011. We began recording again and we put out Space in 2013, followed by Core in 2014, and now we have Gravity that’s set to be released in a couple of months. We’ve been non-stop because there’s just too much music flowing out of us. I think there’s a part of me that wants to make up for lost time, but that isn’t the sole motivating factor. The music just keeps coming.
N – It’s still important to take a break sometimes. As far as your lineup, you’re still with your bass player, and have a new drummer? I’ve seen you guys play out a lot, and you definitely seem to have a different outlook that seems like you’re more -would you say- eager than you were before the hiatus?
E – Uhh, eager for what!
N – To have this project, have a platform. ‘A platform’ doesn’t mean Madison Square Garden; it means that people who enjoy instrumental music have a chance to hear it!
E – In that sense, I’m definitely very eager. I’m eager, I’m excited. There’s all this new music and it’s been well-received and that’s fine. I know the journey that we’re on, and I’m excited for [the journey] more than anything. The evolution of it, and what’s to come; all of the years, the intake of all the different sounds, all the different music, all the different people that I’ve encountered, and how that’s gonna manifest itself into the music. That’s what I’m excited about. That side of it makes me very eager to build a platform and to constantly be working on that platform to the point where it starts to work on its own and we just keep creating, keep playing. There’s so much to offer with our recordings and our live performances.
N – Why do you prefer writing instrumental music? Moving forward with all this great stuff, you’re also somehow going around with this thing that’s not as commonplace. There’s a huge indie rock / indie pop / electronica scene in New York right now. I guess I’m trying to ask: what’s important about instrumental music? What does it do that’s exciting and different, and what kind of experience does it offer?
E – I love all of those other things, and I want to be a part of those other things. And I hope that I will be able, at some point, to get involved with a side band again, because I think I make a really good side man. I like being a ‘leader,’ but I don’t really see it that way. With ARJUN, I’m creating a premise: I’m like the overseer, but Michael Vetter (drums) and Andre Lyles (bass) both express as individuals. They come from different musical backgrounds, and they have their own things that they express in their comfort zones. I just have to make sure that I pull them into the zone that I’m in, and that they find a level of comfort that’s within that zone. That’s all I’m doing.
The thing about [instrumental] music is that it’s the music I’ve always loved. I also love the things you described that are happening in Brooklyn – I pay close attention to what’s happening in indie rock and I follow all of that stuff, as I do with jazz. I don’t want to do what the norm is. There’s also a part of me that sees everybody doing too much of one thing, and a lot of it is good and interesting and people are writing cool songs, but after a while it sounds the same.
I love instrumental music. If you look at my music collection, more than 75% of it is instrumental. However, a lot of my favorite bands are vocal-fronted. I just wanna offer up something a little different, and I wanna offer it up in a way that people who go out and check out vocal-fronted indie rock bands can easily dig us. It’s not really a purpose, it just kinda worked itself out that way.
N – I was just playing devil’s advocate, because personally I love instrumental music too. It’s music that you can’t enjoy off of a silver spoon; you have to dive in and try to understand what’s happening without words. It demands more of the listener. It’s the music that you love, and that’s what you’re creating. Let’s talk about [your upcoming project] Gravity! You have a couple of special guests on the record that you mentioned to me…
“Once you stop evolving, it’s like, ‘Alright, I have to stop for a minute. I don’t want to put out another thing that sounds like the last.’ There has to be growth. That’s what art is.” – Eddie Arjun Peters
E – “I’m proud of Space, what it has done in a very organic way. Gravity is the final installment of a trilogy that we started in 2013 which started with Space, and was followed in 2014 with Core. The reason I did [a trilogy] is because I want to create a listening experience for people who want to hear growth and progression, and who are into listening to albums rather than just songs. I think these albums take you on a journey. You don’t have to love it, but I think you will if you sit down and listen. Gravity completes [the trilogy] and we’re very proud of it.
‘Space’ happened by accident. It was supposed to be just a video session. We got all set up to record so we could give the video some quality audio. Adam Cohen filmed the entire session. It took a while to actually execute the whole thing because of the cameras and setting everything up, but at the end of it all, I just remember hitting playback and listening to it and saying, ‘Woah, this sounds amazing!’
My good friend Andre Pilette from the band IMUNURI had recorded the session. I just remember sitting there, going through tracks, and listening to it. I looked over at Lamar, who was the drummer at the time, and said, ‘We’re gonna release this. This is good.’ It captured a spirit, an energy, a vibe. That’s the most important thing to me for an album: that it has a vibe. That’s the way it started; we didn’t have a concept or anything like that, then the trilogy idea was born.
I’m into the evolution of so many artists, so many jazz guys I listen to, and if you go to their discography you can break it up into 3’s! Like, ‘Oh they were doing this with these three albums, and then they switched it up and the personnel changed for a little bit.’ That appeals to me very much. I thought to myself, ‘Why don’t we just set out to do that? Let’s just do it.’ I don’t think these other artists planned on it – they just kept releasing stuff. I don’t think Miles Davis really planned all of his many different periods that were so different from one another. I’m huge fan of that and the idea of what that is. That’s what we set out to do. We were obviously thinking long term.
N – Three is a great number! I’m excited to be watching this unveiling process of the final installment of the series. It’s a chapter in your two decades as a songwriter, and it seems like it’s a pivotal part of your growth as a writer and artist as well.
E – And as a producer. The music produces itself, but there’s something special about Gravity because you start with Space, and then go to Core, and arrive at Gravity. You will definitely be taken on a journey and you will hear the evolution because this album is produced a certain way. We brought in Cory Henry from Snarky Puppy, (he plays some superb organ on the track ‘Ascent’), Jeff Coffin from Dave Matthews Band and Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, (he plays a killer flute solo on the track ‘Run’) and Molly Cherryholmes from Cherryholmes, (she plays the lovely strings on Gravity). On previous album Core, we had the great John Medeski (Medeski Martin & Wood) play organ on the title track.
So there’s all these different colors, tones, and shapes that the guest artists contributed. The first album in the trilogy, Space, had EJ Rodriguez (Marc Ribot Y Los Cubanos Postizos, Jazz Passengers, and Sean Lennon) playing percussion on the track ‘Orion’. For people that missed Space or Core, it’s all there for you to listen to and get into. Like I said, it’s a musical listening journey – a listening experience.
N – Your guest artists on this record are all heavy hitters. It’s really the icing on the cake after a long journey. Congratulations! Is there a set time that people can look out for it? Are you planning a record release show, or should people go to your website and socials to check out for it?
E – They should definitely stop by our website or social media pages (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter). It’s all taking shape. The album is probably gonna come out at the end of June or early July, and we’re gonna drop a single in June. As far as the release party goes, I wanna do something a little bit unconventional. I don’t know if I wanna play a show, cause we’re always gonna be playing. But I would like to do a listening / hang / record release. So it would be like a party where we can all just hang, you come and you listen to the album a few times. I just want it to be at a cool spot where we all just come out, chill, and listen.
N – Sounds like the after-after party without the after party!
“I want to put an emphasis on this release. I feel like ‘Gravity’ is an ALBUM. It has a beginning, it takes you on a journey, and it comes to an end. With the albums I used to listen to when I was younger, I went into my room, put it on side A, flipped it over, put it on side B, and I took a journey. It’s just you and the album. That’s what I wanna try and get with this album.” – Eddie Arjun Peters
E – I want people to just sit down and listen to it with no distractions. Just you and the music, listening to an album in this low-attention-span, hit single-driven world. I like to think that there are layers to this music; you may not necessarily get it on the first listen like you do when something on the radio comes on. Pop music is designed so that you get it on your first listen, then it fizzles out after a while, and then you get something else. This is different – there are layers, you just need to take your time with it, and it doesn’t have to be immediate. That’s how all the albums I love and cherish affect me. Everything in the way that I walk, talk, breathe… that’s what music is for. That’s where my head’s at with Gravity.