Energetic, funny and passionate about making music, Oakland songwriter Pete Ahonen has been captivating audiences throughout the San Francisco Bay Area with his own brand of outlaw country/folk rock. Upon the completion his debut CD “In the Blood” (Lost Monkey Records), the East Bay native is poised to take his music to a wider audience. Ahonen recently answered a few questions about his influences, writing process and the making of “In the Blood.”
Q Who do you count as major influences?
PA: Mason Jennings, Tom Waits, Townes Van Zandt, [and] Shane Macgowen.
Q When did you write your first song? What's your writing process like?
PA: I learned to play guitar when I was 10. My neighbor was a church music leader and he taught me some stuff. Before I knew it, I was just spending a lot of time sitting in my room alone playing guitar and messing around with stuff to see what I could do. Around the age of 13, my musical cherry got popped, I guess you could say. I started listening to Freddy King and got really into it. I ended up writing a little blues shuffle about a girl who didn’t exist — and that was it. I was hooked. I was pretty self conscious about my voice at first, and then one day someone showed me Jimmy Hendrix. I learned that he was self conscious about his voice too, but I was so blown away, not only by his guitar playing — he was a killer songwriter, too.
|Pete Ahonen and bassist Andrew Gibson.|
I always enjoyed being creative and writing short stories and stuff. I could play guitar pretty well so I started turning those short stories into little ditties. My writing process is kind of like... I sit down, try and cultivate a mood... I’ll pull out a snippet of a line I wrote down while I was walking around somewhere, and try to channel a vibe or a feeling about it. If I sit down with the intention of writing a song, it’s bullshit. Nothing comes out. My muse is really about keeping myself fed with information and experience in order for something to come out. I spend a lot of time just sitting on my porch, and my neighborhood is kind of crazy so I get a lot of inspiration just from that. It could be a couple having a fight, or a drunk guy having a good ol time, or this a lady whose always looking for change in the gutters. At that point I’ll kind of hear the guitar or notes in my head, so I’ll try to hum a line and then it just sort of happens from there. And then other times, I’ll be trying to write a song for like two years and I just can’t get it. It never gets finished. You kind of just have to let it come naturally.
Q How did you go about selecting the songs for this CD?
PA: Kind of like the song writing process, it’s in the song itself. The song will tell me that it’s the one for the album. Before going into the studio, I had a lot of songs in the hole, or at least parts of songs. And I think a theme kind of presented itself during the recording process. We recorded the first song, for example, and we were all like, wow, this is a really special tune. And going in... I had no idea it would turn out like that. I really think the musicians I play with are a huge part of that too. Every song we recorded had a different theme and the content wasn’t really the same, but in the end the ones we picked felt like they were from the same tribe and they were meant to be together on the album.
Q Describe the recording process for you? Did songs take on different directions in the studio?
PA: I think the songs took on a bit of a different direction, especially musically. The lyrics, and the tone was basically pretty dialed in already, but musically we would sharpen different things to kind of add to that mood. But I think that’s what happens when you work on something creative, everyone has an idea of what something should look like in their head...and your songs can be shitty if you go into it with that approach. You have a general idea, but it doesn’t mean anything until you put your hands on it and start working on it, and the smallest thing can change everything. You have to be flexible and open to where it can take you. I think it depends on what you value, and what you’re after. When you’re singing with intent and emotion and you say ‘I want to play my song well’, and you do it with feeling - maybe there’s a squeak, or something’s out of tune, but it doesn’t really matter. To me, songs are more about the experience and not about it being perfect.
To buy "In the Blood" and find out about Ahonen's upcoming live shows, visit: http://peteahonen.com/