Peter Searcy leaves the Bait behind
by John Sewell
Having spent the sum of his teenage years and adult life in the music business, Louisville, Ky.-based singer/songwriter Peter Searcy has certainly been through the showbiz wringer. Since the mid '80s, the 33-year-old Searcy has lurked along the periphery of the limelightalways on the verge of some kind of crossover but never at the right place at the right time.
Searcy first came to the fore as the lead singer of Squirrel Bait, a critically lauded band of high schoolers playing rough and tumble punk pop in the tradition of Midwest heavyweights like Hüsker Dü, The Replacements and early Soul Asylum. Squirrel Bait's history was a quick solar flare: The band recorded a couple of albums for the then hip Homestead Records label, Searcy was proclaimed as "Having the best voice in rock 'n' roll since Paul Westerberg" by Spin magazine and Hüsker Dü's Bob Mould said the band's material was as good as anything Hüsker Dü had ever recorded. Mainstream success seemed imminent, but the band broke up.
Post-Squirrel Bait, Searcy soldiered on as a member of Big Wheel, and then Starbilly, a couple of bands that attained a degree of notoriety but weren't fated for any real success. Finally, Searcy emerged as a solo artist with his debut, Could You Please And Thank You (Time Bomb Recordings) coming out in early 2000. The album received a big push from the label and Searcy got some opening slots on a couple of high profile tours. But again, no big breakthrough.
So 15 years after Squirrel Bait's brief heyday, Searcy is still advertised as the "former Squirrel Bait singer." The seasoned music professional whose music has greatly evolved (and his vocal style is much smoother and more streamlined) is still known for the punk band he started as a teenager.
"I read the most scathing review today and it was so funny," says Searcy. "It was written by a guy who is part of the indie rock holier than thou crowda bunch of people I always found kind of funny, really.
"It's funny still being touted as 'the guy from Squirrel Bait' these days. It's weird. I mean, the majority of people have no idea what Squirrel Bait was. It's just a select few that ever even heard that band. And it just happens that those select few have all gone into music criticism.
"It just kind of bothers me that people never quite let me be what I want to be," Searcy continues. "It's as if I sold something out. And if you listen to anything the other Squirrel Bait guys have done, that has no resemblance to Squirrel Bait either." (Former Squirrel Bait member Dave Grubbs is a prime mover of the post-everything band, Gastr Del Sol.)
Searcy's new material is indeed differentall of his bands after Squirrel Bait have leaned further in the pop direction and Searcy's voice has mutated from a raspy if melodic howl to a smoother, more radio friendly timbre. A few of the tracks on Could You Please hearken back to the old sound. But, for the most part, the album has more in common with the more likable songs of mainstream pop/rock bands like Eve 6 or the Goo Goo Dolls.
Over 18 months since the CD's release, Searcy is still affiliated with the Time Bomb label. "The last record sold some copies," he says. "It didn't sell a million and it didn't sell two. So I'm still with the label. They're just going through some restructuring right now so it might be a while before I record again. I'm still in a better position than a lot of people, so I'm not complaining.
"I can still live with the last record," Searcy continues. "Most of the time with records, the shelf life is really short. Once you get over the initial excitement of the album coming out, then you have to deal with the question of is it really good? I mean, I haven't listened to the last album in a while. But last time I heard it, I thought it still held up really well."
At present, Searcy is hitting the road alone as an acoustic performer. This is a relatively new wrinkle.
"I've not really done too many shows like this [acoustic] before. It's really rewarding and really challenging."
Searcy says that he still considers himself a rock performer, even though the finish is perhaps glossier these days. "You know, I feel like a rocker. The singer/songwriter thing comes with attachments on it that I'm not comfortable with. I don't think of myself as a balladeer. I still like guitars.
"Believe it or not, there's still an allure for me going out on the road and playing in smoky clubs," Searcy enthuses. "I could do without the van. I mean, you get some mid-30s guys who've been traveling in van for 15 years and it just gets old. But I still love to travel and I still love to play. I love going in places where I've played before and seeing my old friends. I have a lot of fond memories and I still get excited."
August 2, 2001 * Vol. 11, No. 31
© 2001 Metro Pulse