Post-divorce and moving forward from the breakup of Minibar, Simon Petty plays weekly local gigs while readying a new solo album
By Bliss Bowen
“In recent times I must confess/ It’s getting hard to put one foot before the next/ I swing to opposite extremes/ And everything I feel I don’t know what it really means…/ I’m on a high wire/ My feet don’t ever touch the ground…”
So goes the rollicking “High Wire,” from Simon Petty’s forthcoming “breakup record” “The Sad Carousel.” He may as well have been referring to the past weekend, during which he raced between four gigs in 36 hours.
“It’s been crazy,” he says, apologizing for mumbling during an interview Sunday evening. “But I’m never going to complain about being busy; to be a working musician is the best there is. And a singer-songwriter. It’s a miracle.”
Petty made his name as front man for Minibar, a British foursome who moved to Los Angeles from England to make 2001’s “Road Movies” for Universal with producer T-Bone Burnett (“a very cool experience”). Despite a fair amount of hype surrounding their Wallflowers-esque sound, commercial success did not materialize. The band soldiered on, independently releasing two more albums and performing regularly at local Irish pubs for diehard fans.
That pub circuit has been reliable for Petty too, as he’s moved forward in the wake of Minibar’s eventual dissolution. His focus is understandably on his own music, but he pragmatically keeps busy playing guitar with fiddle bands and other, casual gigs. On the weekends, he plays his own well-crafted songs: Sundays with Stephen Patt at the Craftsman in Santa Monica, and Fridays with “fellow countryman” Alex Troup at Ristorante Al Mare on the Santa Monica Pier.
“Those are my two standing gigs,” he says. “It’s really fun, I’m happy.”
With special guests adding musical spice, they’ve offered a place for Petty to woodshed material from “Sad Carousel.” The music bridges Minibar’s sunny pop and the more contemplative, rainy-day folk of Petty’s 2009 album under the name Solomon’s Seal, “The Sea, the Sea.” Petty recorded the album in Joshua Tree with producer Darrin Tehrani and a host of musician friends, including Minibar bandmates Malcolm Cross, Sid Jordan and Tim Walker.
“I’m using American music styles a lot more than just English folk; I’ve been here 15 years now, so I think I’m allowed,” Petty says. “People would come up for one or two nights, we’d have barbecue and beer by the fire — it was a lovely way to make a record. Very communal.”
That convivial spirit is most obvious on “High Wire Blues” and the New Orleans-y “Freeway Blues,” and the slow, slide-lubed grooves of “Lazy Eye.” Other tracks are more intimate a la Solomon’s Seal, like “So, Thank You,” “Nothing Like Me” (“Do you lie in bed comparing scars/ Like we used to/ I heard that he is nothing like me/ But I know you are”) and the poignant “Wedding Shoes” (“The groom is crying, the bride is calm/ It’s pretty much the way it always goes/ I’m quietly dying but outside I’m fine/ It’s the only life I know”).
“I was booked to play the place I got married in what turned out to be the week I finally left home,” Petty explains. “[‘Wedding Shoes’] is what happened.”
He plans to release “Sad Carousel” by Christmas, but he’s impatient.
“I’ve got two more albums already written,” Petty says. “I’ve had a very, very productive year. … If you go into a state of emotional flux as I have for the last 18 months, everything is very suggestive. I’m lucky because I’ve got a means of expressing myself.
“Do you know John Prine? I saw him at the Troubadour when I first moved to LA. He said [mimics Prine’s rasp], ‘I didn’t much enjoy my second divorce, but somebody parked the songwriting truck outside my house.’” Petty laughs. “That’s how I felt: somebody parked the songwriting truck in Joshua Tree.”
Simon Petty plays with Stephen Patt from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Sundays at the Craftsman, 119 Broadway, Santa Monica; (310) 395-6037. Petty and Alex Troup play from 5 to 9 p.m. Fridays at Ristorante Al Mare on the Santa Monica Pier; (310) 458-4448. solomonssealmusic.com