ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, SEPT. 12, 1996
When you think Seattle rock, you picture plaid shirts, baggy shorts, vein-bulging vocals, and propulsive guitar noise comin’ at you in heavily amplified blasts. You don’t necessarily envision a guy like Pete Droge, whose rootsy, laid-back style has more in common with Tom Petty’s breezy, melodic manner than with Pearl Jam’s roiling, abrasive bent. Droge spent most of his formative musical years in the Emerald City, and according to him its prevailing grunge scene only aided his career efforts.
“I think it was a very healthy place for me to cut my teeth musically,” says Droge, on the line from a hotel in Portland, Oregon. “Due to the thriving music scene there, it made it possible for me to have places to play, regardless of the fact that my music didn’t really fit in with what was popular at the time. And through my friend, who had success in Pearl Jam, I was able to hook up with a great record producer and get a record deal. So that’s a very direct result of being in the right place.”
Droge made a demo tape with buddy Mike McCready a few years back, which the Pearl Jam guitarist financed and played on. Soon after that McCready was working on Pearl Jam’s Versus record, and passed the demo tape on to producer Brendan O’Brien, who was a staff producer at American Recordings at the time. He liked it, signed Droge to American, and shortly thereafter produced Droge’s 1994 debut album, Necktie Second.
“He’s a fantastic engineer,” says Droge of O’Brien, whose golden ears have enhanced recordings by the likes of Neil Young and Bob Dylan. “I really like the kinda sounds that he gets in a studio. And secondly, he’s an extremely talented musician—plays guitar really well, and keyboards, and sings. And he’s got good ideas of how to treat songs in ways that aren’t the most obvious way at times.”
As well as making superior albums like the new, O’Brien-produced Find a Door, Droge has proven capable at writing music for films, including a collaboration with ex-Eurythmic Dave Stewart on the title track of Ted Demme’s Beautiful Girls. Droge says he gets a different kind of thrill, as a songwriter, from hearing his music on the big screen. He experienced it the first time he saw Dumb and Dumber, which featured his song “If You Don’t Love Me (I’ll Kill Myself)” during the comical snowball fight between Jeff Daniels and Lauren Holly.
“I went and saw it opening week in New York and the theatre was absolutely packed full of people,” says Droge. “It was a big change to be in an environment like that and hear my music—and just the reactions I got for it. I got tons of letters from people saying it was the first time they ever heard my music.”
Droge enjoys writing tunes for the screen so much that, under the proper circumstances, he’d even attempt what his former tour mate Tom Petty did recently with She’s the One—recording an entire album around a film. “If the situation was right, I would love to do something like that,” he says. “In order to be inspired musically, it would have to be a movie that struck a chord with me, but I’ve always enjoyed music’s role in motion pictures. Especially like Cat Stevens’s music in Harold and Maude, and Simon and Garfunkel’s music in The Graduate. I think it works amazingly well.
“I don’t feel at this point in my musical life I need any kinda change of routine,” adds the 27-year-old rocker, “ ’cause I’ve only made two records, and there’s lots of new things that I can try. But at a point when I was maybe getting a bit stuck in just makin’ a record, that would seem like an interesting kind of slant to put on the whole equation.”
Until that special soundtrack project comes along, Droge is content just to work on the occasional movie tune and spend the rest of his time making music without pictures. For the up-and-coming tunesmith—who opens for Sheryl Crow at the Vogue on Wednesday (September 18)—it’s a calling he’s pursued ever since first hearing Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”.
“One day in the fifth grade I was home sick from school with the flu, and had heard a Bob Dylan song on the radio the night before, and was pilfering my dad’s Dylan collection trying to find the song that I heard. It was ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’, the song that goes, ‘Everybody must get stoned,’ but it didn’t have the same title, so I listened to all these different songs trying to find that song, and in the process I heard ‘Like a Rolling Stone’.
“That song just like resonated within me,” recalls Droge. “I didn’t really understand what the song was about, but I think it just sort of planted in me the seed of wanderlust, and I grew up with the desire to travel and to experience the life of a rolling stone. That song, probably more than any other song, really, had a powerful impact on my life.”