It begins like a warm summer evening: the chirping, a simple solid baseline, a soft, kind voice. Then the song erupts and and opens into a cabana-meets-Harry Nilsson. It’s a pretty fabulous experience the first time you hear it, and the next, next, and so on. A lot of the songs off Sweeney’s new Peace Meal album have a smorgasbord of influence: there’s Kinks and T. Rex, there’s Mungo Jerry and the smallest touch of Latin vibes; waltzy beats. Above all, the lyrics are clever, kooky and funny and god bless him, they’re interesting.
Sweeney, who also plays with Tim Cohen, Healing Potpourri, writes songs with a connective energy about them. This Sweeney has soul. There’s a story behind a lot of the songs and humility that we don’t stumble upon as often as we’d like. I sat down with the San Francisco artist, who told me a little about the forming of Peace Meal, of its long delay into the world, some of the stories behind these songs and of course, what’s coming up down the line.
The Bay Bridged: So Peace Meal came out in May, and you’ve been playing some shows around. Your last album, Adventure: Us, came out back in 2014. Feels like a while ago!
Luke Sweeney: Peace Meal was actually done for me about three years ago. I basically had lost a few members of my band at the time…I stopped actively touring at the end of 2016 and around that time we took a little family trip to India. My wife, who traveled there a lot as a kid (she grew up in Tehran), one night woke me up in the middle of the night and was like ‘Hey, tickets to India are real cheap. Should we go?’ And I was like, ‘No.’ And went back to sleep. But then for a half-hour I just couldn’t go back to sleep and that never happens for me so I got up and said, ‘Yes. Let’s go.’
TBB: Did Peace Meal‘s delay have something to do with India?
The Peace Meal Group
LS: We kind of have this impromptu spiritual journey that threw us into this whole crazy astrological loop and we hadn’t been planning on having another child but when we came back from India after this astrological reading, we decided to have one. Our daughter was born last year in February and she passed away at two months. So, we went back to India and spread her ashes and to figure out what it was all about. So with that, of course — I couldn’t think of anything. My head and heart weren’t into getting this record out, until this year. And actually, Robin (MacMillan, at Faraway Sound) who produced this and our last record, sent me the last mixes the night she passed away.
TBB: Wow, it feels like all of that is really connected in some way. Do you feel like any of this will influence your next album in some way? Or are you still making music right now?
LS: Yeah, definitely. For example, “Great Wide Ocean.” That one actually, after I’d written it I had my grandmother in mind because she’d just passed away at the time. I was out in New York recording it but I didn’t really grasp it until she died….now this is going to sound crazy, to a lot of people think it will and that’s okay, but I think it was actually my daughter, Rishi, coming to me at that time to give me these lyrics as a way of comforting me and helping me to cope and grasp a bigger picture.
TBB: What would you say the song is about?
LS: That everything we get attached to fades and dies and goes away. So, it’s in a way there’s a comfort in that. Just serenading the vastness of experience.
TBB: A different tone, but can you tell us a little about “Moondreamer (I Could Pass for Nobody)”?
LS: That one, I wrote in the first van that I ever bought. I wrote it in 2014 in the van I’d just bought, this ‘91 Ford Econoline giant red van. I bought it from this guy in Sonoma for like $1,000 bucks, and when I was driving the van back to San Francisco and maybe there were some old ghosts in the van or something like that but I just sang out most of the song right there and then went and put a guitar to what I was singing and cut a demo of it.
TBB: What was the choice to heighten the song after that first verse?
LS: That was just Robin’s magic touch. He does that without even trying, it’s just like his natural thing that he just does. We recorded that one in New York and he said he was hearing kind of a Mungo Jerry thing going on so he kind of did a combination beat that sounds like that through half the measure then kind of changes up. It’s kind of a simple baseline throughout.
(Incredibly pleasing video performance here, all around)
TBB: What about some of your sound effects? Where are those crickets coming from?
LS: The last time we were on a really big tour, we were playing on night in Norman, Oklahoma, and I was outside out hotel smoking a little weed and I heard all these crickets, like really loud crickets chirping. So I recorded them and sent it to Robin to use in “Moondreamer.”
TBB: I was wondering if those were real crickets on that song!
LS: I don’t think those are the same crickets, though. He got ringers. Got professional crickets. You know, he went to a pretty boutique pet shop for those guys.
TBB: Do you have any upcoming albums in the works?
LS: I do. I can’t say much, though. I think it’ll come out this same time next year.
TBB: One question, though: are there any Indian influences in there?
LS: There’s definitely some influence in there for sure. A lot, actually. One of the old demos that I made, the original recording I did I sampled something I heard on the radio of this woman singing…Making it (the album) is a long and slow process, very different than how I used to do it…I’m more productive and a better musician than I used to be, I think. It’s like, chiseling away at something with a finer brush.
Here is our very own exclusive view of Sweeney’s video for “Already Yours.” There may or may not be a couple new albums in the works and though we can’t share what they’re about or what they’re called, we can say rather confidently that we’re excited. Give a listen, support your local artists and keep the purity vibes high.
Michelle Kicherer is a fiction writer and music journalist living in Oakland. She writes for several local and national outlets, enjoys long walks and her second novel is in the works. Instagram @michellekicherer