Interview: singer/songwriter Peter Hostage
New Hampshire-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Peter Hostage has a wealth of talent, among the rare artists who can croon as coolly as Frank Sinatra while dropping a funk riff that could smoke the dance floor. His latest album, Uptown, is an homage to his undying affection for jazz and blues icons like Ray Charles and Nina Simone.
Q: You just released a new album, Uptown. How would you describe it?
A: I describe it as “jazzy blues, or bluesy jazz.” I think of it as a collection of songs, with a mid-20th century sensibility in songwriting approach and arranging. I tell people, half jokingly, that I'm firmly stuck in the last century.
Q: In terms of musical style, how would you categorize yourself?
A: I call it jazz/blues. If there's a better name, I'd be happy to use it!
Q: Where were you born?
A: I was born in Hartford, CT., though I was raised in Nashua, NH, and reside not far from there in Londonderry, NH.
Q: What was your introduction to music? How old were you, and how did it affect you?
A: Music was always around. I loved listening to the radio at a very young age. Then came February 1964, I was six, and the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan. My parents wouldn't let me watch the first Sunday night they were on (I'm the youngest), but I guess I wore them down enough so they let me watch on the following Sunday night. From that point, I was hooked. I couldn't get a guitar until I inherited my brother's paper route four years later, and saved up for months to buy my first guitar for $30. At that time, I also started to teach myself piano.
Q: Did you grow up in a musical environment?
A: One of my brothers and my sister were always playing guitar, and they still play. My parents were not musically inclined at all, but they encouraged music. They let my brother's band, and then my band rehearse in the basement, and never complained.
Q: What styles of music had the greatest impact on you creatively?
A: Rock and roll had the earliest impact on me, then the blues, then jazz. My evolution goes like this: the Beatles and Stones begat Cream, who begat B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and Paul Butterfield, who begat Ray Charles, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, and so on. Of course, there's many more influences along the way. Now it's all mixed together.
Q: What instruments do you play, and how did you learn?
A: My primary instrument is piano, but I also play guitar, electric bass, drums, organ, and dabble in harmonica, ukelele, mandolin and banjo. I was self-taught on guitar and piano until I went to the Berklee College of Music at age 21. With what I learned there, I was able to teach myself the other instruments, and now I make a living teaching those instruments.
Q: What was the first song you ever wrote?
A: Great question! The first song I ever wrote was called “Wake Up Jacob,” a title I borrowed from an old folk song. I had forgotten all about that song until about two years ago when an old band mate contacted me on Facebook. He asked me if I still play that song. I told him I'd forgotten it. He wrote back to me with the lyrics for the chorus.
Q: What songs on your album are most personal to you and why?
A: Also, a good question, but in this case not really applicable. I don't write songs to deal with my inner demons, or to lose some personal baggage. I write songs that I think could stand on their own, and be performed by other artists. I get into writing my songs on a personal level in that they are the kind of songs that I would like to hear. That is not to say that I haven't written songs that have a more personal meaning to them, but these songs I let develop as their own stories, much like a novelist follows the story wherever it takes them.
Q: What artists influenced you the most growing up?
A: As I said earlier, The Beatles, B.B. King, Paul Butterfield, and pianists Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Little Richard and Otis Spann.
Q: How have you evolved creatively?
A: Though I started by playing rock, folk and blues, to partially quote Ringo Starr, “I'm not a rocker.” I am most happy playing jazz, jazzy blues, standards, Latin grooves and funk. My first album in 1986 was what I called blue-eyed soul: rock with a funk/R&B flavor. My next album in 1999 was an all original jazz trio record, vocal and instrumental. In 2004 I released a swing/ jump blues original album featuring a 9 piece band. In 2008, I released American Standard Blue, standards and blues covers with my live band at the time. In 2012, I recorded The Wayback Machine, songs from the birth of jazz and blues, the first album on which I played all of the instruments. That set the stage for Uptown, similar in style, but all original.