THROUGH THE WIRE: Reimagining the Art of PETER GABRIEL

Jeremy Nesse_Stick_Alex Potemkin

This year marks four decades of Peter Gabriel‘s solo career. The former Genesis vocalist has left a huge impact on rock and pop scenes. Coinciding with the 40th anniversary of his career, NYC-based musician Jeremy Nesse and Columbus, OH producer Deane Arnold teamed up for an extensive homage of Gabriel‘s work. The duo work with over 140 musicians from all over the world on reinterpreting the music of Peter Gabriel, launching the series of digital releases under the name of Through the Wire.

The project took a part on Prog Sphere‘s Progotronics 38 compilation, and here is what Nesse had to say about their work.

It is very obvious that the work of Peter Gabriel was the starting point for Through the Wire, but where does the idea of creating Through the Wire stem from? How did you go about kicking off the project?

Since my childhood, Peter Gabriel’s music has been at the epicenter of my musical journey. Through his work I discovered Genesis, Tony Levin, Steve Reich, King Crimson and many other international artists who have shaped my musical DNA. Through The Wire served as a means to remain creatively healthy throughout the pandemic while bringing together numerous artists from around the world to celebrate PGs musical legacy.

Early on in the pandemic, I had been splitting my time between NYC and Bearsville, NY. Although I finally had the time to create, it felt like an impossible task to focus on anything creative. Fortunately, my time in the Catskills afforded me the space and inspiration that wouldn’t have manifested had I remained in Manhattan.

Deane Arnold

Deane Arnold

Deane Arnold, my TTW co-producer, had begun a series of remote ‘Quarantine Sessions’ with members of our musical community. 10 years prior, he had produced a CD of faithful PG covers and I asked him to share the tracks with me with the idea that I would deconstruct them and invite others to re-record parts. Many of those initial covers established the basis for what would become a monster of a project.

Robert Frazza, our mix engineer and cheerleader, has also played a key role in helping us make sense of the many contributions we have received while rigorously mixing and keeping us on schedule for releases. His sense of taste and sonic expertise has been indispensable.

‘Mercy Street’, the song that kicked off TTW production, was actually part of a group of PG covers that I had produced for an LA band that I was in years ago but never used. It had laid dormant on a hard drive for 10 years before I rediscovered it. After Tony Levin contributed NS Cello to ‘Mercy Street’, I reached out to Jerry Marotta to see if he was interested in playing drums on “I Have the Touch’. Then Pat Mastelotto and Pete Levin agreed to contribute to ‘Only Us’.

Everything grew rapidly from there…

What sort of guideline did you have when choosing which of Gabriel’s songs you want to cover?

I wanted to stay away from the obvious ‘hits’ but that’s often hard to do especially when you have collaborators who are enthusiastic about reimagining their favorite PG song. Deane and I share the same vision but sometimes one of us has to get out of the way and follow the other’s inspiration when it hits.

As I did research, I found unreleased demos and versions of songs that were only played live. Some of these demos have bits that made their way on to more well-known songs and I felt that some of them were worthy to include since they shed light on PGs solo career beginnings.

Most pieces were approached as a reimagining while others took on more of a tribute feel. And yes – there have been other PG cover projects but this was meant to be a celebration and ultimately a cathartic exercise. The contributions from Tony Levin, Jerry Marotta, Larry Fast, Angie Pollock and David Sancious added an additional depth and legitimacy to the project.

Most of all, it had to be fun.

The core of Through the Wire is Deane and yourself. What about the guest musicians who appear on these songs? How did those collaborations come about?

TTW embodies the creative spirit of our musical community. That was the most important aspect to this project. Many of the contributing artists were processing their own emotions and I wanted to reflect that in the work, wherever possible. TTW offered a creative outlet that didn’t have any creative consequences. This could simply serve as something fun to do. Something that was purely for the sake of doing it.

Every summer, I attend the Three of a Perfect Pair camp hosted by Tony Levin, Adrian Belew and Pat Mastelotto. It’s essentially a weeklong band camp attended by a 100 or so like-minded ‘campers’ who all share a love for King Crimson and Peter Gabriel. There are a number of campers that appear in the project.

In April 2020, Pat & Deb Mastelotto were producing their ‘A Romantic’s Guide to King Crimson’ project and they had asked me to contribute NS Upright, Chapman Stick and keyboard parts to a few of their tracks. That experience opened up additional opportunities.

After Tony, Jerry and Pat agreed to participate, I became more emboldened and started to reach out to many more artists that I admired.

Here are some of the many contributors (140+ contributors, spanning 5 continents): Tony Levin, Jerry Marotta, Larry Fast, David Sancious, Angie Pollock, Pat Mastelotto, Pete Levin, Jeremy Nesse, Deane Arnold, Julie Slick, Marco Machera, Stephan Thelan, Tim Motzer, Jon Durant, Tim Bowness, Peter Chilvers, Jakko Jakszyk, Camille Bigeault, Mark Cook, Tobias Ralph, Yoyoka Soma, Gail Ann Dorsey, Ian Boddy, Dewa Budjana, Theo Travis, Famoro Dioubaté, Patrick Grant, Aralee Dorough, Paul Richards, Nigel Gavin & Sofia Wilson, Celine Du Terte, Steve Ball, Anthony Garone, Bele Beledo, David Jameson, Arsen Petrosyan, Peter Stavrum Nielsen, Dean Pascarella, Ritchie DeCarlo, Samantha Preis, Brian Cummins, Christina Ruf, Dutch Rall, Dominique Vantomme, Elliott Sharp and many others.

The main take away for me for this project was that as musicians, we all share a common creative thread that’s reflected in the music we create, no matter how far apart we are located. It’s simply a matter connecting us together.

Considering that you have collaborated with musicians coming from all around the world, how challenging was to put all the different pieces together?

Producing from afar is not an easy task. It’s a lot of cat-wrangling, actually. Time zones, language barriers, technical know-how and differing ideas are constant production hurdles but none are entirely insurmountable. As with any production, finding a solution is what’s most important. TTW would not have been possible had it not been for the pandemic and its contributors’ enthusiasm.

TTW was intended as a remote-only project, not a studio project. Certainly, the advantages of a studio project would allow for everyone to be in the same room to work out parts and arrangements. It’s definitely a reason why I stayed away from more complex, proggy arrangements. But by having everyone work remotely in their own space, artists could work at their own pace and feel that they had more creative control. Fortunately for the project, everyone was homebound and tools like Zoom, Skype, Dropbox and WeTransfer made it incredibly easy to collaborate internationally.

What period of Peter Gabriel’s career is your favorite? If you are to pick one PG album that has it all, which one would that be and why?

Now that’s a tough one…

I’m a child of the 80’s and missed out on PGs late 70s art-rock/punk excursions. Apart from my father’s vinyl collection, MTV and NYC radio formed my musical foundation. Anything in rotation (1982-83) offered up an array of textures and sounds that continue to permeate my creative output to this day.

‘Security’ was my first real exposure to non-western textures as well as keyboard sampling. It also led me to my discovery of Tony Levin and the Chapman Stick, a touchstyle/tapping instrument with both guitar and bass strings.

‘So’ is a perfect album, top to bottom. It demonstrates impeccable songcraft and the blending of pop music with both ambient and world music textures.

I would offer that ‘Security’ was the most influential for me while ‘So’ is my absolute favorite album of all time.

According to a press release, there are still a few more volumes to be released. What can you tell me about the upcoming releases in terms of material they will feature?

The original goal was to produce maybe 10 songs or so and be done with it. But as the list of contributors grew, so did the number of songs.

The pandemic offered a tremendous amount of downtime and I spent much of it demoing over 70 PG songs. Jerry Marotta had once asked me “Does Peter even have 60 songs??”. Yes – he does. In addition to his studio and live releases, a number of songs were only played live and never released on an album. Between 1974-76, PG was demoing a number of songs with Phil Collins and other collaborators. A few of those demos found their way onto PG1 and PG2 (Here comes the Flood, Slowburn and Flotsam & Jetsam). Much of these early demos can be found on YouTube which is where I spent a lot of time mining ideas for TTW.

So apart from well known pieces that we have included in this project, there are B-sides and unreleased songs that will appear on future volumes.

Peter Gabriel in 2020 (Photo credits: Dave J. Hogan/Getty Images)

Peter Gabriel in 2020 (Photo credits: Dave J. Hogan/Getty Images)

What do you find is the most important thing when reinterpreting somebody else’s work?

It’s always a challenge to tamper with music that is so incredibly personalized. And while PGs music and lyrics can mean different things to many people, universal themes like love, self-discovery, dreams, loss, alienation, doubt, hope – they are all a part of the human experience.

Changing the feel, key, time, tempo, genre, arrangement – these are many of the tools that we’ve used. It was also very exciting to translate certain pieces into different languages (Italian, Portuguese, Spanish).

Some highlights – Larry Fast’s arrangement of ‘On The Air’ included an alternative intro (in 3) that was performed only live; Bele Beledo & Boris Savoldelli arranged ‘Solsbury Hill’ not only in Italian but also in 6; an a cappella version of ‘The Tower That Ate People’ by Tammy Scheffer; ‘Slow Marimbas’ features performances by Karina Garrett (NS Violin), Christina Ruf (NS Cello) and Jeremy Nesse (NS Upright); David Sancious’ organ arrangement of ‘Oh But!’, a piece that was performed live during the 2016 Sting/Peter Gabriel tour

The underlying theme to this project was to ensure that it was done out of love and respect for Peter Gabriel.

Would you say that Through the Wire is just a one-off thing for you? Are there any plans for the project in the future?

This project has been very gratifying on so many levels. We’ve released 5 volumes so far and we plan to release another 7 or so (1st Friday of each month on Bandcamp). It’s a collaborative process but it has also been an undeniably satisfying experience to work with so many incredibly talented artists, especially my musical heroes, who share a love for Peter Gabriel’s music.

Apart from an upcoming CD compilation featuring highlights from the project (JAN 2023?), I’ll probably be offering up packs of stems for those who might wish to do remixes. I have also had numerous requests to tour this project and Deane and I are considering options for 2023. You never know…

Check out Through the Wire releases on Bandcamp here.

On the cover photo: Jeremy Nesse (Photo credits: Alex Potemkin)

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