Peter Hadar Interview

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In 2008, Peter Hadar released his second album Well Dressed for the Art Show, a heady mix of splashy garage rock, drowsy soul anthems and more than a couple bedroom bangers. Abandoning the fashion world for the twinkly comfort of an MPC, he’s got the typical soul music pedigree (churchy upbringing with a penchant for good ol’ fashioned recklessness). His music sparks with glimmers of soul brethren like Kenna, Dwele and Rahsaan Patterson but he’s much more comfortable with the moniker “weirdo.”Giant Step talked to Hadar about his 400 other bands, ?uestlove, sex, T-Pain, sex, drum and bass and sex.

Tell me about your transition from fashion to music.
I have my associate’s degree in fashion marketing and I interned at [apparel company] AND1. I went to school in Philadelphia and I worked as a sales associate at a boutique. From there, I just started working for other lines, I interned at VIBE [magazine] and I managed a ton of clothing stores. Before that I did a lot of styling. I styled some artists like Raheem DeVaughn. I pretty much did it all. I would get hired by these companies and they would really be impressed with me but after like six months on the job I would get let go.

Really?
My work ethic is a lot different. I try to work smart not hard and I’m a great seller. I know my product. A lot of people in the retail world were like break-your-back stock workers. I was the manager that was a coach. I was kind of a cocky kid. I knew more than my superiors and I wasn’t afraid to show it.

How long were you in fashion and what initially attracted you?
At least 10 years. It was just the thing I knew how to do, I could always get a job. It pays the bills but I just wasn’t happy. I excelled quicker with fashion than anything because everyone knew I had the talent and the knowledge but I probably wasn’t the best people person at the time. I was the kid in college that would go to the fashion magazine stores and spend all my money and not be able to eat lunch for a week…just to study the designers and the brands and anything that had to do with entertainment. [I] would impress [employers] which would help me get better opportunities.

When did you start focusing on music?
I started [later] maybe four years ago, producing songs here and there and I just said this fashion thing is not really working for me. People really respond well to the music I do or the writing or whatever, let me try this. My last job they laid me off…the company wasn’t doing well. It was just at a time where I just said, I gotta do something else. Songs were coming to me in my sleep. It was that type of urgency.

Do you have an example of when people really encouraged you to do music?
I ignored it for a long time. I might sing at a birthday party and I had cousins and friends that were rappers and producers and I might write a song for them or do a hook for them. It would just be some random person that would hear it and they would say, “this is crazy!” But it was really raw and before I had any knowledge of how to record in a studio.

It sounds like it if wasn’t for other people’s feedback you wouldn’t have pursued music…
My father was a musician and I didn’t want to follow in his footsteps. His career…didn’t end up the best. My uncle designed for Yves Saint Laurent and I idolized him. I wanted to do that, I just cut the whole music thing off. Even though my father made me sing when I was younger, I didn’t want that responsibility to do better or worse.

I read in Essence that a lot of your family is well-educated and was not supportive at first. When did they start to come around?
I think after the first album was completed. Word gets around; people in my church bought the album or heard the album. My family is very much about church. I think my family gets it now. I was in Essence and my mom loves Essence.

What was process of making Well-Dressed for the Art Show?
I really wanted to do an album that I felt was no-holds barred. There’s such a box and such a ceiling to soul music. It’s like what happened to D’Angelo. Because he did Brown Sugar no one understood Voodoo at first. Voodoo is the thing that really propelled the whole neo-soul movement in the sense of the Bilals and Musiqs and all these neo-soul artists. We needed fresh air, we needed something new and all the greats experimented. Miles experimented, Prince experiments all the time.

If these doorkeepers and these critics and writers want to throw you in this box…it’s like, don’t you want to write about something different? It’s not all about, if it’s not A,B,C and D then it’s not correct. Music is not about being correct at all, it’s about…mistakes. Well Dressed… was an album that I put together [to] not to be about singing, not to be about soul but about art. And art can be a mess. It can be beautiful, it can be whatever. It depends on how it makes you feel, how it looks to you. It was a bunch of songs about my feelings about life, about energy and what’s fun to me and what’s grown up. Sex is grown up. It’s not a crime and you should be able to talk about it. Nothing on the album is crass. People can come up to me and say, “I make love to your music.” That is empowering. To do something with that much power because of my music…I’m honored.

I noticed your lyrics are not so obvious. There are a lot of metaphors and sex didn’t really pop into my mind when I was listening to it.
Exactly. I’m a writer and no one thought that I might be challenging myself to write about sex without writing about sex.

How many songs on the album are about sex?
Two. “Planets” and “Ocean Wet.” But I think the aesthetic of [the music] sounds sexy.

You were talking about how soul music is kind of dead right now…
I wouldn’t say it’s dead. I choose to progress. I might be a soul artist but I don’t think I’m just that. I believe I’m an artist first. You can try to call Miles Davis just a jazz artist [but] you would sound like an idiot. And not to compare myself to Miles but studying his mentality in experimenting…that’s what this thing is about. It’s not about can I make the perfect soul record. That’s not me. I push the envelope in fashion and music and whatever I just think things are brighter that way.

There’s definitely a lot rock and electro influences. What sort of artists influence you?
Groups like Autolux and Hanne Hukkelberg. I love J*Davey…and I love Jay-Z and I love [Fabolous.] I love The Roots, I love Coldplay and Simple Plan. I love Phoenix…I’m a big fan of Kanye [West] and a big fan of Pharrell. Pharrell and Kanye…might sound cliché because I’m on my pseudo-hipster business . [Pharrell] pushes into fashion and business and he’s made people buy into his whole movement and that’s what I love. And they study and this whole thing is about studying different music and being a complete musician.

How much would you say you’ve matured from your first album?
Greatly. I have fallen back from singing like a singer on this album. On the first album I think I just wanted to keep it in the pocket. Because everyone’s searching for that next, incredible, soon as you hear it, Jazmine Sullivan-type [voice]…that is not Peter Hadar. I like crooners. I like Bing Crosby, I love Sam Cooke, Nat King ColeChris Martin, Thom Yorke. And I’m a writer on some James Taylor and Paul McCartney [stuff]. I grew in the sense of this is what I want to do and I don’t have to sound like everyone else to pull a fanbase.

In business, I learned that even though you’re an artist and you have your passion…sometimes you have to pull back and draw it up a certain way. No one owes you anything. I’ve had mentors that haven’t helped me, I’ve had a lot of hate. I came out of nowhere but I’m a hustler and grinder and I pay attention. I learned that if they’re not hating then you’re not doing something good. I’m gonna continue to be real and speak my mind but there’s a way to do that.

I’ve heard from a few singers lately who are pulling back on their voice and making it more about the music. Do you think the voice can be distracting?
I definitely do. Stevie Wonder…didn’t start really being skillful with his voice until later on when we  [saw] him live on award shows. Musicians understand tricks and risks. The average ear just wants to hear the words and as long as it doesn’t sound bad and you can sing a little and they can hear the beat, they’re in. That’s why the T-Pains and The-Dreams are winning right now. I believe T-Pain and Dream are very talented. They might not be the greatest singers but that’s not why they’re here.

That’s why I’m so big on these rock/pop bands because the lyrics are the stars in their songs. You have something that’s attracting you which is the melody and you have something that’s speaking to you which is the lyrics. I would rather be called a great writer than a great singer any day. There’s a ton of singers out there. I’m really trying to stimulate your mind without going over your head. If you do something weird that you like and you can get other people to understand it, to me [that] is ingenious.

What’s in the future for you?
I would love a deal with my imprint. I would love an investor to come in and we pay them back their money. I’m not doing bad in the sense of making moves but definitely with a label you get on bigger shows, you get on bigger tours, you get more visibility. We’ve been blessed to get some of that but it’s kind of like a fraternity right now. If you’re in the fraternity you get on the big stages. It’s a catch-22: if you want that, it’s a quick fix. I would love to get funding for my label but I don’t think I want everything that comes with being signed to a label.

What are your concerns about a major label deal?
I do see a lot of artists that are getting signed to these indie labels that are getting backed by the bigger labels and they’re able to do their own music. You got the Santogolds and the Kid Sisters and The Cool Kids and they’re all backed by a big company. I would hate to go on a label and they throw me in an R&B box.

I was just talking to someone and they were just like you don’t even need to do your own video, it’s who’s video you’re in. I just think that’s terrible that I have to be co-signed by ?uestlove or whoever to be able to be on stage with cats that I know I can be on the stage with. If ?uestlove never says my name again it doesn’t mean my record’s not hot or I don’t have fans.

In your performances I’ve seen you start out rhyming over Lil Wayne’s “A Milli” then you go into your music and then your drum and bass stuff that’s not on the album. How does all that fit together?
My producers who are in my band are part of a group called The Mathematics. [Producer] Mike Genato started doing R&B with me and I started doing drum and bass with him. Basically my producer was a drum and bass producer before I met him so we decided to do a drum and bass album.

So you have a whole drum and bass album coming out?
It’s been playing on BBC Radio. [The band is called] Two Seconds From Being Committed. I have another band called Strange Men.

You have like five different projects going on…
You gotta keep it moving like the jazz heads. This is probably a better way to answer that question about a label: we want to be a part of a big machine to help us get our music out to the masses. But we want to make sense for the label to do so and we want the label to make sense for us as well. But first we gotta build our fanbase and the more we do that, the less we gotta worry about putting our albums out. Some of my fans are like, I don’t know why you’re [performing] out here but it’s like, you didn’t tell 10,000 of your friends to buy my CD!