Seattle's Peter Michel has formed a band and is now on the road with music he made in his bedroom at his parents' house.
Hibou’s Peter Michel works best on his own. He recorded his 2013 EP Dunes on his own, and his recently finished his first full length album—titled Hibou—in his bedroom and walk-in closet in parents’ house in Seattle where he still lives. He plays all the instruments and sings all the parts on the album, which will be out September 18, though he waits until the family is gone before he records vocals.
“I need to know that there’s no one around or I’ll get super self-conscious,” he says.
Michel has a full touring band, and they’ll play Gasa Gasa Thursday night opening for Cayucas. This won’t be his first time playing with a band, though. Michel began his music career as the drummer in the San Francisco-based rock band Craft Spells—a gig that was more of a lark than a commitment.
“My friends needed someone to drum and I said I’d do it for a show, which became two shows,” he says. “Then it was playing a tour, then it was going to Europe. It snowballed, and then I had to back away and start doing my own thing.”
Michel’s talking while driving from Toronto to Albany. He and his band crossed the U.S./Canada border at Niagara Falls and did what they could to see the falls.
“We very slowly drove back and forth because it’s insanely expensive to park,” he says. “We did what we could, but I’d never seen them before. They were crazy.”
That’s as close to tourism as Hibou’s schedule generally allows these days. An open date in New York City had everybody excited, but it filled in.
“We got to hang out in Denver for a day and that was fun,” Michel says. “We did some hiking on the red rocks. You never really know when some free time will head your way.”
“Dissolve” from Hibou is typical of his sound. Its lightness and hushed, breathy vocals come from dream pop. That weightlessness is furthered by chimed guitars inspired by Michel’s affection for The Smiths, The Cure and Joy Division—few chords, but a lot of interlaced guitar lines that create a lovely, melodic mesh, particularly when paired with equally airy synths. His bass is insistent in its push, but neither it nor the drums plant Hibou’s roots too deeply. Still, the songs are in no danger of blowing away. The atmospheric textures border on tangible and give the tracks a contained quality.
Michel builds songs as much as he writes them, starting with bass and drum patterns and layering parts after that. As the song takes shape and the melody and vocal fall into place, sometimes it’s clear that a bedrock element isn’t right anymore. Or, there’s something musical to be gained by changing those early elements. “One of my favorite things to do is changing the bass,” he says. “You can throw so many different bass lines on and change the feel of a song, and I thought that was superfun to experiment with. Songs that are on the album were totally different songs before.”
Michel says he works better by himself, away from the pressures created by studio costs. “If I am on a clock or know that money’s ticking away—I couldn’t do that.” He can’t explain why he needs to play all of Hibou’s music on the recordings, but he feels like he does.
“Whenever I’ve brought in people, it’s hard for me not to have creative differences. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and am very particular about the way things need to be recorded and the way they need to sound. It’s a little nerve-wracking to even go mix it with someone else.”
That approach doesn’t compromise the music, he says. Michel doesn’t imagine parts he can’t play, and he builds them from his weakest instrument—ironically, the drums..
“That’s the instrument that’s chopped up the most and played around with in post-production.”
Live, the band isn’t bound his limitations, and part of the excitement for Michel is hearing what others do with his ideas.
“Our touring drummer, Jay [Clancy], is the best drummer I’ve ever known,” he says. “He can put his spin on the songs that brings a new element to the music, which is awesome—to be there and hear what others do with songs that I’ve written.”
Because he works at home, he can record all night, and because he’s on his own he can tinker with tracks until they’re truly done. Some of the songs on Hibou date back to the Dunes sessions, while others took six or so months. “I feel like that’s the most organic approach.”
Michel chuckles when asked about living at home. He records by sending all the instruments directly into the computer, partly because he can’t afford the gear he might need to mic parts played through amps, but also because that would make a lot of noise. Recording at home allows him freedom though, and he’s comfortable living with his parents.
“I like having them around, honestly,” he says. “Sometimes my dad will even have a good idea because he’s an awesome musician as well.”
Michel doesn’t plan to live at home forever, but he’s waiting to see how touring goes before he commits to anything. He doesn’t want to get an apartment and pay rent if he’s going to be on the road much of the year, nor does he want to pay to put his stuff in storage.
“But yeah, I know in the next couple of years I need to get my own space and get a studio going,” he says. “That’s the dream.”