Local Artist Spotlight: Clyde Petersen

Interviews, Local Artist Spotlight, Local Music
Martin Douglas
Photo by Joseph P. Traina

Leading up to Upstream Music Fest + Summit, the regionally focused festival happening in Pioneer Square June 1-3 with over 200 acts, KEXP will highlight a series of local artists every week with a short feature on the artist and a few tracks to start with if you're unfamiliar with their work.

There's a chance you've heard of Clyde Petersen even if you don't think you have. His indie-pop/twee-punk band Your Heart Breaks has been around for well over a decade. He hosts a series, filmed on a boat he built himself. He's directed over two dozen music videos, including the visuals for Laura Veirs' "Secret Someones" and Thao with the Get Down Stay Down's "Bag of Hammers." His feature film Torrey Pines has racked up press and awards (including the Special Jury Prize from TWIST: Seattle Queer Film Festival) and has been screened all across the world.

"How do I tell the story of my mother gone crazy?" are the words that open the Your Heart Breaks song "Torrey Pines," the song which serves as the genesis of the film. Set in 1993, when Peterson was twelve years old, the movie is a hallucinatory fever dream of a transgender coming-of-age story, rife with mental illness, frightening body dysmorphia, and a truly weird road trip which includes a stop at a Whitney Houston concert. Petersen, along with Lori Goldston, Jacob Jaffe, and a number of guests, will be bringing their live score of Torrey Pines to Upstream Music Fest in a special screening. To mark the occasion, we reached out to Petersen about scoring the film live, his background in art, and what he was listening to in 1993.

KEXP: You are an artist across several different mediums. What was the first thing you created that satisfied you artistically?

Clyde Petersen: I enjoy working in between mediums, and the creation of pieces that utilize live music, visuals and installations.

When I started booking concerts for bands in high school in the mid 1990’s, it was a very exciting time for me. The Seattle Parks Department had funding at one point for a group of teens to book shows in community centers across town and I was lucky enough to be a part of that. We booked shows and hired artists to create visuals for the events as well. That was a big influencer on me in general. When the Teen Dance Ordinance lifted and Seattle exploded with All-Ages shows, I was at every show I could get to, and booking shows was and still is a huge part of the joy of my life.  Putting together a solid, inspiring bill and selling the show out is a superpower of mine and I find it very satisfying. 

What was the impetus for turning Torrey Pines into a film? Was there a part of you that was reluctant to revisit this time in your life, which you already documented in song?

The song "Torrey Pines," which I wrote with Kimya Dawson, was received well by many people. They spoke of similar experiences and told me about their youths. When it came to making a feature film, I wanted to tell a tale I knew well. So this was an obvious choice. 

What music were you listening to in 1993? Were you absolutely stoked to attend that Whitney Houston concert?

All Garth Brooks, all the time. The Les Misérables Soundtrack. My mom was stoked on Whitney, and I had enjoyed her, but I was all about Garth Brooks. That man can tell a story! 

How was the music for the film's score written? Was the process mapped out and executed or was it more intuitive and improvisational?

Most of the score are instrumental versions of old Your Heart Breaks songs. Chris Walla produced the soundtrack and we worked as a band to make the music fit and arrange it according to the film edit. In addition, I asked Earth to write a song for the teenage rock band section and Kimya Dawson plays the role of a certain pop star. One reason I wanted to work with Chris Walla was that he makes these very elegant tape loops and I wanted that to be a part of the film. 

What were some musical influences for the score?

Your Heart Breaks, Lori Goldston, Kimya Dawson, Iji, Younger Shoulder, Chris Walla, Earth. 

Along with Your Heart Breaks, you've scored Torrey Pines live extensively at this point. Are there things you all do musically to switch up the score and keep it fresh for yourselves? Is it a different experience much of the time? Is the emotion from the audience detectable during the course of the film?

We recently played a run of shows in Boston and on one of the nights, the first two rows were full of middle school kids and that was the funnest show we have ever played. Their anxiety and giggling was so tangible, it made the shows fro adults pale in comparison. The score has a certain framework that we perform in, but within that framework, the musicians are free to improvise. It’s different every night, and that's the joy of live music.

We have been touring the show for a year and a half with the live score and different formations of the band take it on the road each trip. In Japan, we were just a two piece, but we’ve have anywhere from 2 to 24 people in the band on any given night.