Music Profile | Peter Matthew Bauer

Life comes crashing through, though the undulations hit at different times. For Peter Matthew Bauer, it's been a particularly hectic few years. The onetime Walkmen bassist/organist has come out of the 2014 break-up/hiatus of the esteemed indie rock band focusing on not only a solo career, but on current day jobs as both an astrologer and the head of his own management company, Fortune Tellers Music. The journey to making his latest collection, Mount Qaf (Divine Love), came as he and his family packed up from Philadelphia to start a new life in California. In many ways, the folky offering stands as a tangible expression of his recent round of discoveries. But he also lost his voice at one point, specifically while getting sick on tour this past spring. Thankfully, a professional with some cortisone pills helped Bauer plug through his laryngitis during a Vancouver concert performance.

"There was this rock doctor guy [telling me] 'It's not going to work right away,' so I got onstage and I literally couldn't make a sound out of my mouth. I was playing solo with a guitar--If you can't sing, that's really 50 per cent of what you have. So I was just going along and kind of figuring out the very late Leonard Cohen ways of getting through a song with only the four lowest notes you have. All of a sudden, I felt this stuff kick in," he tells ION over the phone from Los Angeles of eventually getting his act back on track, recalling both his surprise at how the medicine worked and a feeling that he could "rip the guitar in half".

Mount Qaf (Divine Love) has its fair share of sonically powerful moments, from the all-heart rumble of the War on Drugs-esque "Full Moon in the Sky" to the galloping drum patterns that propel the book of changes-celebratingI Ching (Àlam al Mithal)”, but its most quiet compositions are likewise deeply stirring. Bauer describes the album as "very change-oriented," a 10-song collection contemplated and composed while the artist was trying to redefine his life. It wasn't always easy. While 2014 solo debut Liberation! was written and recorded across three weeks, Bauer and co-producer Nick Stumpf (formerly of French Kicks) worked together over many months to complete Mount Qaf. Writing sessions first took place in Philly, while most recording sessions took place on the West Coast in recording studios and Bauer's new living room.

Throughout, "Hold on to Someone" modernizes the first wave rock ballads of the '50s with its slow dance sway. Like the spirituality-exploring Liberation! album from 2014, which referenced youthful summers spent at an upstate New York ashram, the shuffled acoustic strums of "Khidr - American Drifter Music" sound as much informed by classic folk structures as they do meditative ragas.  

And then there's "Divine Love to Kill Facism". An opus in and of itself, the song first presents a incandescent wash of synth and the cracked maple echo of upright piano before easing into an acoustic mid-section and an explosive full band finale. Thematically, Bauer notes that the song touches on "the idea of relating to another person, or searching for love in yourself" and how that could lead to "the only real path to awareness, or god, or whatever you want to call that. " Having mixed the track on the day of the U.S. Election, and considering the continued divisionary actions of the Trump administration, the title has now taken on both sadder and stronger meanings to Bauer.

"You're not in control of these things, when you write songs," he says as he ruminates on the implications of the title. "I always think of it as you're trying to intuit a symbol or an image that's already there. So you're trying to create the human version of something that exists on the other side; You're trying to commune with it and try to get it across."

However Bauer interprets and identifies with his music may well be in constant flux for years to come. At the end of the day, the root of Mount Qaf , if not experience, is love.

He explains: "Love is basically the creative impulse of the world, and it's everything--It is a whole world; It can defeat everything else. It's kind of a hokey, John Lennon sentiment at the same time, but it is."

Mount Qaf is out November 10 through Fortune Tellers Music/Kobalt.

Photo: Marisa Brown

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