Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Conversation with Peter Shaw

Many may know Peter Shaw from his featured acting roles in motion pictures such as Hannibal and Practical Magic, but eventually Peter turned his attention to singing and his dreams of performing for thousands of fans. A chance encounter led to his stint as a featured vocalist with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra for four years, just as they were hitting their peak and playing arenas. After performing in front of arena-sized audiences across the U.S. with TSO, Peter started working earnestly on his craft, creating his own music. This year, Peter became the first vocalist from TSO's ranks to hit the radio on his own, as his song "Eyes Open Wide" has hit the airwaves in the USA and has been charting worldwide. With his ever-present sidekick Leo (Peter's very friendly female pit bull terrier), Peter and I discuss the ups and downs of touring with TSO, the realities of the music business today, and his exciting new solo EP More Alive.

Dan Roth:  Your first tour as a featured vocalist for Trans-Siberian Orchestra was in 2005. How did you connect with them?
Peter Shaw:  At the time, I was doing sales for Hilton...doing real well, making six figures. I was working out at the Reebok Gym here in New York one day and I met [TSO Talent Scout] Dina Fanai. Dina asked me to sing something for her and to sing as if I was signing at Madison Square Garden. So I jumped on a bench press and began [sings Queen's "Somebody to Love"]. I did the entire song standing on this bench press. Dina looked at me and said, "You're going to sing with TSO this year."

DR:  Did you know who TSO were?

PS:  I knew who they were; I had seen them on the Today Show and Regis And Kelly
. I knew the one song that was really popular - that year Miller Lite Beer had used Wizards in Winter for their commercial. I remember thinking that they didn't have any singers and wondering what they needed a vocalist for.

So they got this great corporate tie-in and now they had to write a hit song to follow this up. And - write a hit song that was rock, not Christmassy. Not "old rock" either, I am not sure how much listeners follow "old rock" anymore. Generations are changing, tastes are changing - you have got to keep up with the generations. TSO are trying to bring younger singers in, but the younger singers aren't going to do it - it's the song and the sound of the music that makes all the difference.

DR:  Did you still go through an audition process?

PS:  Yes. I met Paul O'Neill at SIR three times. I sang both of the Angel songs (An Angel Came Down, An Angel Returned), Prince of Peace, and Christmas Nights in Blue. 

I also sang Led Zeppelin's Rock and Roll, because he was looking for somebody to sing that during their shows. I didn't understand why they would be doing that anyway, when they had their own songs to sing. I sat down with Paul once and we talked about it - he said they like to throw in a classic cover song each year, so I suggested that they do a Tina Turner hit song and he added her Proud Mary one year.
Peter Shaw with TSO
Chicago, December 2005
Photo Courtesy of Brian Reichow

DR:  Andrew Ross has mentioned that when he was hired to sing the Angel songs for the West Coast touring group of TSO, he was given soundboard tapes of you singing for him to learn the songs. Did you listen to any of the previous vocalists that did these songs for inspiration?

PS:  They gave me tracks with Paul singing on them. They also gave me a video, which I didn't watch. I don't like watching other singer's performances because then my performance inevitably becomes theirs. I wanted to try to do something a little bit different, but it's hard with his songs. But I did open my voice up a bit and I became Elvis. I listened to Elvis Presley a lot in the beginning of those tours and then I came out on stage and struck the pose by putting my left foot forward and doing that Elvis hand gesture. I literally became Elvis for those couple of songs. That was it. I would reach out, like Elvis would do. Not too much - they wanted it done much more elaborate. 

Those two songs didn't use my real vocal range. I have a huge range - I can sing soft and beautiful but also scream like Freddie Mercury and Roger Daltrey. The songs were low in my register, and when you sing your voice gets accustomed to singing in that range. I would have to take a whole month off after the tours to let my voice pop back up.

DR:  Did you get a lot of direction from Paul in how he wanted the songs presented?

PS:  Not a lot, because with my Elvis stances I was already doing something that he and Dina liked. The only real direction I would get was not to touch the microphone. That meant just stand there and sing it without really moving. But it was powerful that way I suppose. In my first rehearsals 
I was new and a little scared that I wasn't doing what Paul wanted. They would give me these frivolous notes that was really just Paul trying to micro-manage every moment and movement on stage. Jon Oliva would always come up and tell me how impressed he was with me - Oliva and I got along great.

DR:  How was your take on those two Angel songs different from others who have sung it?

PS:  Rob Evan sings it big, almost like an Ethel Merman kind of thing, very theatrical. I knew I did not want to sing it like that. If Elvis were to sing a lullaby with a pointed voice, that's how I did mine. It was so low though that it hurt my larynx. I sang it as Elvis as I could, totally different from how Rob Evan sang it. I think that's why they gave tapes of my performances to Andrew Ross when he was hired to do the songs on the West Coast tour - the way I sang it fit the song better.

DR:  In a live setting, TSO performs their songs much slower than they were originally recorded for their albums.

PS:  Yes they are! It killed all of us. I remember Chris Caffery once remarking to me how he was getting gray hair from doing the songs at that tempo. Paul slowed those songs down to almost nothing. The click track was like [snaps fingers very slowly] - all just to drag the show out for three hours. These guys all had to play solos through that and extend it; it's tough for the band. If the band could do the show, they would do it in an hour, hour and half and be off the stage. The songs wouldn't have to be five or six minutes long. Why O'Neil doesn't let them play it the way they should be played and let the show be over by 10:00 so the fans can get home at a decent hour is beyond me. I would just let the band run with it.
Peter Shaw with TSO
Photo Courtesy of James Marvin Phelps

DR:  Paul has mentioned that he slows them down so fans can really hear the lyrics and follow the story.

PS:  I hear the lyrics and understand them when I hear Steve Perry or Steven Tyler sing, and their songs are flying. Please, don't give me that shit. The band doesn't want to play that slow. We had Roger Daltrey guest with us, and when he came in for the rehearsals, he immediately told the band, "It's got to be faster. You're playing it too slow!". Paul started telling Roger Daltrey how his song needed to be slower. Roger was pissed. Roger is a rock star - you have him on stage, you play it the way he wants it.

Paul wants to be a rock star, but he can't be. Paul can write hit musicals, but he can't sing and he can't write a successful pop song. Nice guy and generous to a fault, but everyone needs to know their limitations. He is a successful multi-millionaire that had a lot of success with hiring talent and building this show. It will probably go into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame someday as a specialty act. That's an accolade that I am sure Paul would love to attain. Paul always would say, "We've got 32 buses and 36 trucks and we're bigger than Pink Floyd right now by 2 and half trucks." He would say this stuff on the bus. He would tell us, "Great show! I want you to know that we are as big as a Pink Floyd show." He would always compare himself to the legends. 

I do that too though; the only way to grow and become a legend like that is to dream that. Won't that be funny - my name will be on a plaque someday in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for fronting this band for three years.

DR:  I understand that you were the singer on The Who songs that Roger was planning on singing as you and the TSO band rehearsed them in the weeks leading up to his guest appearance.

PS:  Yes! Because I was the only singer in the band that could sing like that. I did "See Me Feel Me", "Behind Blue Eyes" and "Pinball Wizard" and I ran the band through the tracks for a few weeks. Roger came up to me and paid me the ultimate compliment - he told me "Keep on singing, man. Your voice is incredible. You do these songs better than me!". That was great to hear, but I told him, "I don't sing them better than you, but I want your songs to live on and on. You and Pete and The Who really did something special with those songs and changed lives with them."

DR:  In your three tours with them, did you ever have the opportunity to fill in and sing one of the other songs in the show?

PS:  No, everybody was always ready and I never had to step in. I could have done any of the songs though, as I learned them all.  I did however once have Jay Pierce step in for me, though I didn't know it at the time, as I missed my cue. We were playing at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Detroit, and that arena is buried in the earth - the sound does not travel outside of the stage. When the doors shut, you hear nothing.  I was in the dressing room getting ready, and normally you can hear the band from down the hall. I kept sticking my head out the door and didn't hear anything. I finally walked down the hall and Jay was halfway through "An Angel Came Down"!  I was like, "My God, I missed my cue!".  Bob Kinkel and Mee Eun Kim missed their cues for the start of the second half of the show also in that same arena.  Right after I missed that cue, they started putting a speaker in the hallway so we all could hear what was on stage.

DR:  Did you ever sing on the radio or TV promo performances that TSO did?

PS:  No, never was invited for those. I didn't understand that. My song was the song that would open the show and you would think that they would want to use that for those appearances. But they always did the song with the female dancers. "Wizards of Winter" was a hit because of that beer commercial, so you have to do that, but why not have one of your vocalists sing a song? It would have been Jen Cella, Jay Pierce, James Lewis or
 me. Stevie Broderick's song was a specialty song with the acoustic guitar and way too long for TV. You need a quick song - my song or Jen's song into something else.  They should have done a little medley of their songs and singers for TV - why not use your singers?

            Peter Shaw singing "An Angel Returned" 12/09/07

DR:  You toured with the East Coast touring company - did you have the opportunity or desire to perform with the West?

PS:  The first time I went to TSO rehearsals down in Lakeland, Florida, I noticed a big difference in the West show. They walked out with a certain panache and chemistry that really rolled. 

Michael Lanning, who was touring with them then, is a rock and roll God - he is one of the truest and most real people I have ever met. The first time I heard him sing was when we were at these rehearsals. Michael got on stage and rocked! I looked at Jen Cella and said, "I want to perform with them!". And that was because of him! And also with Tony Gaynor and his delivery and Guy LeMonnier and his nonchalant way of walking on stage and grabbing the mic and just singing it. 

I remember watching the West group perform and telling my band, "Wow! They put on a great show!". They all looked at me funny. The performers on the West all had this great feel about them and they seemed like they were a family. I looked at our band and thought that everybody feels cold and not close. The West had a family. We on the East had a dysfunctional group;  a lot of them had huge personalities and it was not always easy getting along with everyone. The West would often congregate off stage and hang out; our band didn't do that. 

The West band even grooved the songs differently - Al Pitrelli would put the songs in a whole different frame of mind. Ours would always sound exactly like the record, but slower and bigger. 

My memories of my tours were not like the West Coast group, not jovial, happy, great experience, lets get drunk on the bus and hang out. The East Coast was a whole different ball of wax - they are very clique-ish and I wasn't included in the clique. There were a few. James Lewis and I were close. James is a great personality, talented as fuck and I loved working with him. If anybody should have been a rock star, it should've been him. Nobody else on those tours sang with a realness to their voice.

DR:  Sounds like you didn't always feel a part of it.

PS:  I didn't always feel part of it, except for time I spent with [Electric Violinist] Mark Wood, [vocalists] James Lewis and Stevie Broderick - I felt alone in it. If I were on the West Coast tour, I would have felt like I could have gotten on anyone's bus, hang out and talk with anybody. On the East Coast tours that I was on, it wasn't like that. Keep in mind that TSO isn't a real band - it is a bunch of performers trying to upstage each other, and I couldn't upstage anyone with the two songs that I sang. But I can by having a hit song on the radio!

I respect all of the players for their talent, but you have to have that "it factor". Michael Lanning comes out on stage and has the "it factor". Tony Gaynor, Guy LeMonnier have the "it factor". You saw that more on the West coast tour than the East.  Alex Skolnick has the "it factor". Chris Caffery has the "it factor" but I think he tries too hard to get the audience going. But that's Chris and you got to love him for doing his own thing.
Peter Shaw with TSO
Chicago, December 2005
Photo Courtesy of Brian Reichow

Mark Wood and I got along better than anyone else on the tour - it was an immediate friendship. He is all about the music. Such a difference from the string players they have now - Mark Wood didn't need all the bouncing around like they have now. He could just stand there and actually play like he is a musical rock God, like Dio! Ronnie James Dio didn't have to dance - he would walk up to the mic, put his hand on his hip, and start singing. You could hear right then that he was not a fake.

DR:  You toured with the TSO show for three years, and then you were gone from the stage. What happened?

PS:  It was a combination of things. There was a personality conflict there that involved some egos and politics. Paul O'Neil was gracious enough to give me my full salary - not backup-band salary - to be in their backup band in 2008.  I accepted that because I was still trying to get money to do my own thing - I wanted to do my own record. So I did that for one tour and then I didn't hear from them anymore - I didn't even get a phone call, but I was fine with that though - that tour can wear on you. You can only do that tour for so long before you get bored. I didn't want to grow old and die on that tour. Once you are locked into a role there, there is no change. I have my own thing that I want to do. My life turns faster than anyone else's on that tour - I don't want to be one of those people who grow old on a tour that I didn't want to be on.

But the back-up band was fun for what it was. In there, I sang not just the Angel songs, but also "Christmas Nights in Blue" and a couple others, so I was the backup for them.

Right about this time, Peter's fun and very friendly pit bull came over and showed me her toy and how strong her teeth are. 
After our little tug-of-war, Peter and I got back to our interview...

DR: Are there any moments or times with TSO that stand out or are very memorable to you?

PS:  I was a hired gun, like the rest of the singers, so it wasn't like I was singing anything that I helped create. But, I will always remember walking on their stage with Mark Wood looking at me with his reassuring smile. 

The memory that is stuck with me now is the first time I sang "Eyes Open Wide" to a live audience - their reaction was just incredible and that was my song! I created that moment so I will always remember that.

One moment I do think back on was when we were in Detroit on my first tour in 2005. We did three shows, and no one was applauding for the narrator, Bryan Hicks. At the end of the first act as we all came out to take our bows, we were all in a row: there was me, James Lewis, Jay Pierce, Stevie Broderick, then the girls. I was the one on the outside and Bryan always took his bow next to me. Bryan would take his bow and hardly anyone would be applauding for him. So at one of these shows in Detroit, I went behind him and started waving my hands in the air with my energy as he was introduced - I was jumping behind him and pointing to the audience and the audience started roaring with applause - so finally Bryan could hear and feel the applause. Paul O'Neill came running from the soundbooth, shook my hand and thanked me for doing that.

I did that to make Bryan feel good, and he gained some confidence from hearing those applause. He started performing with more confidence and the applause started coming naturally as the tour continued. Some others in the band looked at me funny that I did this, but I felt bad for him - he had a part in the show that was a lot of work. I never got a thank you from him, which was kind of sad, but I was still glad I did it for him and his ego - it's important when doing a show that your ego is up like the others or else you don't feel a part of it.

Peter Shaw and TSO
November, 2007

DR:  What did you enjoy the most during your years touring with TSO?

The most would be singing in front of the sizes of the audiences.

Every morning for a year, I would watch the video of this Roger Waters show that he did at Portland's Rose Garden Arena. I would watch this every morning before I left for work and I told my girlfriend that my dream is to sing on a stage to that size of an audience.  With TSO, getting up in front of the crowd when my cue was up and walking up to that microphone for the first time every night and looking out at that vast arena of people and thinking, "I dreamed this one year ago and one year later it came to fruition." That is what I enjoyed the most. I used to think, "How lucky am I ?"

You know what the best part of singing with TSO was? The one thing I am thankful to Paul and TSO for is giving me that feeling of fear of singing in front of 20,000 people. Once you are over that, you can do anything - the world's yours. Once that fear is gone, I could play in front of anyone. I could play in front of 50,000 people or play in front of you and do it flawlessly. That experience was invaluable. Ultimately, I didn't even care about the money from TSO. Sure it helped me out, but I was making more doing sales for the Hilton.

DR:  After your time with TSO, you started collaborating with guitarist Angus Clark for your solo project?

PS:  Yeah, right away Angus and I wrote some songs together and we put them up on Myspace. If you go to my Myspace page, we still have nine of those songs up there. We never did any of them live though - didn't have an investor at the time to help pay the band and do the shows the right way. I wanted a song with a Bruce Springsteen feel and Angus wrote "Everything is Gone" for me, which really came out well. Some of these I may take to another level. My current band wants to do "I'm Coming for You", which is one of the harder rocking songs on there.

DR:  Did you work with anyone else from the TSO casts?

David Z is incredible - he and I are like brothers. I love Dave and his brother Paulie. I love their band [ZO2] but it's not happening for them now because rock is just not in right now. David and I did this cool little Christmas song together called "Christmas in New York City" but we never released it.

DR:  In the spring of 2013, you performed with Mark Wood and his band. What was it like working with him again?
Mark Wood and Peter Shaw
Brooklyn, April 2013
Photo Courtesy of Tom Couture

PS:  Mark put on this big show in Brooklyn to help launch his non-profit Foundation for music education. It was a great show, with a huge orchestra of students from New York City. Dee Snider of Twisted Sister and I were the special guest vocalists. I had just gotten back from weeks of recording in Nashville, so I was a little exhausted vocally. But, Mark told me to just get up there with my energy and exuberance and have fun. Mark, of course, had his band and orchestra very ready - if you know Mark, he is very prepared and professional. I hadn't performed on stage in a while at that point, but I was with Mark so I was very comfortable and we had a blast!

DR:  Who are some singers that have influenced you?

PS:  To me, you can't get better than that Daryl Hall vocal. Listen to him when he opens his mouth and sings - now that's a singer! Musical Theater singers are okay, but I find that style incredibly boring. When you put your soul into it - [sings Hall & Oates' Sara Smile] - that feel of a song makes me go, "Wow!". If you're busy singing TSO stuff with big guitars, that stuff doesn't play like that. 

I also love all of those soul singers from the '80s: Al Jarreau, Jeffrey Osborne, and James Ingram. I grew up on [sings James Ingram's "How do you keep the music playing"]. Those were some of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard, they last an eternity.

I love Freddie Mercury. What he did with Queen and solo will never be duplicated. He did a lot of exploring with beats before he died - even Queen's Hot Space album was experimenting with techno beats. And his solo stuff  - [sings Lets Turn it On] - was groundbreaking. You can still hear his vocals on McDonald's commercials, commercials for tires, still getting on because it has a feel of commercial sound without having that old sound to it. This is because he was always exploring. Mercury was exploring sound - if you don't explore sound, you got shit. You have got to explore it, dive into it. 

DR: You mentioned coming back from Nashville, is that where your new EP More Alive was recorded?

PS:  I did part of it in Nashville and part of it in Los Angeles. I did most of my writing in Nashville and got to work with some great producers.
Peter and his female Pit, Leo
recording in a Nashville studio

DR:  Is the band that play on the EP the same that you perform with live?

PS:  No, they were mostly hired guns that were brought in while I was in Nashville. These are pros that come in and play my songs exactly the way I was envisioning.

DR:  Did you write all the songs on there?

PS:  I wrote all songs except "My Love" and More Alive". Everything was written on my acoustic guitar while in Nashville. I actually wrote some of them with a homeless man I picked up while there. I met this guy at a bar and he helped put words down on a few of the songs.

"All I'm Giving You" is one I did with Angus Clark. He and I wrote that together a long time ago and I always wanted to do more with it. It's a good feeling song, with a bit of a country feel.

Leo came with me to Nashville and was at my feet as I recorded this EP. She has been a very integral part of my life.

DR:  A lot of your songs on More Alive have a soulful, heartland feel to me. I hear Daryl Hall's voice in there with songs that also have a Bob Seger feel. How would you describe your music?

PS:  It's all me and my musical idols. When you stand up to a mic and you are vulnerable, alone and naked and just let loose and make it as real as can be. I hear people sing, but I rarely hear them get real. I never hear what I call the "ernst" in their voice. There's got to be ernst. Bruce Springsteen sings with ernst. It's all about singing without a put-on. Pete Townshend sings with the guts and balls. Same with Steven Tyler. Tina Turner too. 

I'm an emotional performer. I'm not a performer who just goes out and fakes his feelings. You have got to really feel it or else you are not a real performer. It's all about being real, bringing in love and passion and ernst - without those adjectives, you've got shit. When you've got that ernst in your voice and the songs are real, they live on. There is not much out there that is original any more, I hate to say it. All you're doing is taking whats been done and bringing it to whatever new level you can and making people feel you in it. You mentioned that you heard a bit of Daryl Hall in my EP - he is one of my musical influences and I take his style that inspired me and now it becomes familiar.

People respond and dance to what is familiar. Mick Jagger told me this. Everything you hear has to have a familiarity to it. If it doesn't it won't be a hit record. It has to have a commercial viability to it or else it will fail - it might be good for a moment, but it won't last. That's the key - writing your own original songs, but keeping them familiar. There are a bunch of riffs and beats that I plan on using in some of my songs which you may recognize, but they will be my own songs that will relate.

I plan on doing some more songs with dance beats underneath of them. These songs with produced sounds are where the hit songs are at now. From what I can tell, rock is on its way out.  Look at the music that is happening right now - Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Jay Z, Beyonce. Great modern rock groups like Kings of Leon are struggling now.

DR:  Your song "Eyes Open Wide" is really catching on with radio listeners around the world. Tell me about that song.

PS:  "Eyes Open Wide" is the first song and first lyrics I wrote while in Nashville. Sings "Look at you lying there soft brown eyes". It was all from a friend of mine named Melissa Bollea. I wrote that while sitting with her at her apartment.

Eyes Open Wide as heard on WDHA FM

DR:  You mentioned that the title track of your EP was one that was not written by you. Can you tell me a little about "More Alive"?

PS:  The lyric in there is "Hard to be More Alive than when I'm with you". For my opening record, I didn't want something that was too heavy. The title of that song was perfect for the EP title because I want to bring people to life with my music. I don't want to bury anyone in sad songs. I want to bring youth, vitality, joy and passion to people with my music. 

DR:  Any interest of shooting a music video?

PS:  Yes!  I want to hire Anthony Mandler, who directed Rihanna's brilliant "Diamonds" video. Watch his videos and look at his vision. His vision is incredible, but he costs a half-million dollars for a weekend. But hiring Anthony will get me an MTV Music Video Award. If you don't work with award-winning people, you will not win awards. Awards beget awards. Money begets hits.

DR:  What have you found to be the most challenging part of the process of launching your solo career?

PS:  One of the hardest things to do is find an investor who believes in you and your music to help you follow your dream. Paul was able to do TSO with a $10 million dollar loan from his wife. You need that money to hire the best for recording and performing live. I have had investors that invested financially in me which helped with studio time in Nashville and hiring top producers and musicians. If you hire award-winning people, what do you think you are going to get? Awards! You will reach success. I'm not afraid to ask for money, because I believe in myself and in my music. Not everyone has a hit song. I do - I have several. I say this not to toot my own horn or be arrogant - I am very humble - but I am just letting the world know. The reviews from fans and radio listeners have been incredible.  I heard from Michael when my record came out. He told me "You're the real deal. I'm impressed. I didn't know you could sing like this.". It's hard to impress Michael Lanning. He has been around and worked with some of the biggest artists in the history of music.

I will eventually sign with a record company, but for now, I am making it happen with my talent and the help of investors along the way. I got investors on board to get this going, and from one meeting with one woman from WDHA FM, they jumped on it immediately. That has led to other stations picking up on it and now it's getting play in England, Thailand and Japan. It has also been a Top 10 smash on the nationally syndicated radio show "Radio Cafe", which has helped get it airplay across the country!

I want to be lifted up in my life. I don't want to be pushed down. I surround myself with people that lift me up. This whole new record has lifted me. It's lifted my spirits from being pissed off at the politics and personalities in TSO and the way things ended there.

I want to be a hit songwriter - I want to leave a mark on this Earth, but not as a guy who once sang for TSO, but as a great vocalist and songwriter. I want to change the world with my songs - that's why I do music - to change the world. I am not a prima donna about music - but I know who I am and what I bring to the table when I sing. 

To give me a hint of what is still to come from Peter musically, at this point he brought out his guitar and sang "So Far Gone", a simply stunning song that he wrote and recorded for the EP, but didn't make the cut, and another lyrically-deep soulful song called "Bound Slave" that he co-wrote with legendary music producer Godfrey Diamond.

For more information and to hear and connect with Peter Shaw:







Peter Shaw's Acting Reel:  http://vimeo.com/39312432