Pete Doherty’s been everything from junkie to libertine to Kate Boss’ boyfriend, but these days, he’s just plain ol’ Peter. And he’s finally got his sh*t together to birth his first solo project, Grace/Wastelands. We looked up the real Peter Doherty and got him to stand right up.
Text Min Chen
Image & Interview Courtesy of EMI
Ever since the beginning of Elvis, music and drugs have hardly been mutually exclusive. Keith Richards had his needles, the Stone Roses had their pills, Oasis had their blow and into that unholy hall stepped Peter Doherty. And like any musician with an unfortunate drug habit, dear old Pete’s been notorious more for his narcotic preferences, multiple drug busts and arrests than his primary functions as singer and songwriter.
But Pete is surprisingly lucid enough to insist: “Music ambition and drugs are completely separate. You don’t have to be a musician to have a good old knees-up. What was it someone said to me the other day? The girl I was trying to talk to, she said to me, ‘Oh, my daddy was the greatest musician there ever was.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ She said, ‘He was a hardcore junkie and he just let the drugs get the better of him and he never fulfilled his potential. But man, he was the best.’ And I’m thinking, ‘Well…'”
That’s far from explaining his habit, but at least the man’s not offering himself any excuses. And for someone that’s been demonised/romanticised in the media, Pete’s head remains somewhat level: “There’s nothing in my day-to-day life that I do that’s in any way aimed at changing how I’m perceived or how I’m presented”; while his other habit remains unchanged: “I’m still definitely finding my feet with the music.”
It is with music that Pete is re-emerging, flying solo under his own name but not without some qualms: “They kept telling me in rehab that I had self-esteem problems, so I went along with it, but it didn’t really register. But now, I can really see that, because I can’t … I don’t really believe people when they tell me that they love the record or the songs. Maybe I’m just warped, you know?” But boosted by a clan of class acts from producer Stephen Street to Graham Coxon, Grace/Wastelands sees Pete secure his footing in raw and acoustic ground.
Some songs on Pete’s solo debut have been around for eons, he’s just never got around to putting them on record. “They’ve just never been able to find their feet,” he explains, “but if Stephen Street turns around and says, ‘This is a great song and I wanna record it and it’s going on the album’, then bang, we’ll go along with it.” Elsewhere, Pete’s confidence and songs are given new life from Dot Allison (on ‘Sheepskin Tearaway’), John Robinson (on ‘I Am The Rain’), Graham Coxon (‘He was probably in the studio more than I was’) and even Carl BarÃ¢t (who contributes a line on ‘A Little Death Around The Eyes’).
Once again, the lyrical content owes much to Pete’s romantic and endearing idea of Olde England – Arcadie, vagabonds and all. Of course, the guy also can’t fail to remind us of his existential woes and drugs, as much as the fact that he got dumped by Kate Moss once upon a time. Compared to his rambling Babyshambles output, Grace/Wastelands positively sparkles with emotional and intellectual depth. It’s a solid comeback for the guy, as he returns to doing what he does best: “All I want to do really is sit down and record, twelve, thirteen, fourteen brand new songs that no one’s ever heard before and put them out.”
Still, with his kind of rep and rhythm, Pete’s not expecting the record to be greeted with open arms. “I just don’t see this as being a commercial venture really,” he tells us. “There’s this cynical part of me that refuses to accept that people are actually getting off on these songs. And if I let myself attach a great deal of importance to what people are gonna think of what I’m doing, and making it the be-all and end-all of my music, then yeah, it can lead to a bit of pressure.” “But when you just sit back and view things from a slightly different angle,” he goes on, “you see the pointlessness and selfishness of getting wrapped up in what certain people believe are owed by you just because they happen to understand you or have followed you for a while.” And sure enough, as half the world gets caught up in more of Doherty’s inebriated shenanigans (his latest arrest is for drink, drug and driving offences in Gloucester), it’s all too easy to forget that this guy can write a solid tune or two. Grace/Wastelands, thankfully, does much to set the record straight.
So just who is the new Peter Doherty that’s surfacing on record? “I hope it’s the Pete that’s just there for all the people who have been there for him, and that will stand up for himself and what he believes in… but that’s not always the case, you know?” Well, at least you can’t fault him for his honesty and candor which finds it’s way into his music. And that, ultimately, is probably what you can count on Pete for: “Whatever happens, and however I fumble through the next week or the next year or the next couple of albums, I’m afraid I am in it for the long haul, until the day I produce something completely satisfactory and have proved myself as a songwriter. I need it, because it’s all I’ve got now.”
Grace/Wastelands was released in March on EMI. Get it at your favourite record store. There’s more at www.frenchdogblues.com.