True friendship, with zero competition, jealousy, or exploitation just solely love and admiration is a tough thing for anyone to find, let alone in the sometimes-harsh industry of music. But somehow, in this crazy mixed-up world, musicians Trevor Spencer and Sam Peterson have found it. Together, they’ve channeled their love, admiration, and heaps of talent into an exciting new musical endeavor called Tré Michael.
You may not recognize either of their names right away, but there’s a strong chance you’re quite familiar with at least one artist they’ve been involved with. Peterson could be seen (when live shows were a thing) slaying the guitar on stage with locals Whitney Ballen and Hibou, as well as behind the scenes as a session musician for artists like the Cave Singers’ Peter Quirk and Father John Misty and releasing softly-strung solo work under the name Don Piano. Spencer is a respected producer/mixer/engineer who’s worked with an impressive list of names including Father John Misty, Kyle Craft, Fleet Foxes, Chastity Belt, and Spirit Award. For him, Tré Michael is his debut launch from behind the board to the front of the (metaphorical at the moment) stage.
Today, they’re unveiling the first two songs under the project, “Impossible Trip” and “Okay, Goodnight.” While the two told KEXP they were initially inspired by Twin Peaks years ago when the project first started, Tré Michael feels less like Julee Cruise and more like Elton John. Built upon jaunty, “Bennie and the Jets”-esque piano lines, the songs take the most sunshiney aspects of the power pop of Billy Joel and Ben Folds and synthesize it into the IV drip of happiness our veins are screaming for right now.
Spencer had this to say about the release:
KEXP spoke to Spencer and Peterson about Tré Michael, their fascinating history in the music industry, and how they’re coping with creativity during the quarantine. Read the interview and listen to "Impossible Trip" and "Okay, Goodnight" below.
KEXP: Can you tell me a little bit about the genesis of and the idea behind Tré Michael?
Trevor Spencer: Well, you know, what's funny about that is I think that Tre Michael was originally sort of like the alter ego for me as a producer that I think was made during a session I was doing Sam like ten years ago or something to sort of be this, I don't know, just funny guy. The hotshot producer that would like walk into the room and say a color and everybody would know what they were talking about. But a few years ago, when Sam and started playing music together we failed at creating a better band name and a friend of ours suggested just using that name. And it just kind of stuck. It's sort of funny because it sounds like it could just be me but it's really not me. It's definitely Sam and I.
You guys are longtime friends and I think you said roommates right?
Trevor: Yeah, we used to be roommates. We had an apartment together up until April and that was definitely a catalyst for taking playing music together more seriously. Being able to have a place to hang out and make music together.
You've been behind the scenes for a long time, Trevor, mixing, producing, and engineering for a ton of incredible artists. This must be a big deal for you to be on the other side of things now.
Trevor: Yeah, it does kind of feel like a big deal. It's a little bit scary. I mean, I've been making music my whole life and playing on a lot of records and writing songs in the shadows, but it really took collaborating with Sam to feel really comfortable to create a voice for my songs. Which are not really my songs, but our songs. And I don't know, make something that felt genuine. I think it kind of took a while for me to get there. Because the priority in my life has been making records with other people. And I think it's still definitely that but being able to make music with Sam has definitely been a really positive outlet for me personally and creatively.
What are the roles that you each play within the band?
Trevor: Well, we both, at least with these two songs, were both pretty equal as far as the musical components go. I write most or almost all of the lyrics and play drums but we share all the other musical duties.
Got it. And Sam, you've been a guitarist in a bunch of different bands. What's your story of how you got started in the music scene? And how you two met.
Sam: I was playing in bands years ago that Trevor...I can't even remember how we got hooked up with Trevor. I think we went to record at the studio, The Unknown in Anacortes and Trevor was working out of there and we just got lucky. He produced our first single and then the album after that and me and him have stayed friends the whole time. So that's kind of how I met him and how we got started. The first time that Tré Michael tried to record an album was at The Unknown when Trevor was still working there. We recorded parts of songs that, you know, maybe it'll end up on like...
Trevor: A retrospective [laughs]
Sam: [laughs] Yeah, exactly. A bunch of B-sides for when we get famous.
Trevor: Yeah, I remember when we were working together at The Unknown, we just were friends really quickly. But I sort of remember wanting to, and this is definitely not how things ended up, but we both were really into Twin Peaks and to the soundtrack and I just remembered the other day how we wanted to make a band that sounded like Twin Peaks. Definitely didn't happen. [laughs] I don't know what that meant exactly like we we're just going to make one really long Julee Cruise song or something?
But I think kind of shortly after that I recognized really quickly how talented Sam was, as well as being a wonderful person to be around. I brought him in on a lot of sessions with other artists to play mostly guitar and some other instruments on. And we've been doing that since. It's been a really awesome thing to be able to make records with Sam for such a long time just because he's such a positive and confident player in the studio and I think that that sort of led us to being really comfortable making music together since we had been so involved in other people's records together.
It sounds like you guys really love and respect each other. It's beautiful.
Sam: It's true.
Trevor: There's a lot of love here for sure. I was just telling somebody the other day, I always felt like if I moved somewhere else to produce and make records I would never have Sam around and that thought has been a pretty big component of me staying in Seattle.
Wow. That is very sweet!
Trevor: It's true. Very sweet. Ooey Gooey.
Trevor, you run Way Out Studios and have worked with some incredible artists like Father John Misty, Kyle Craft, and Chastity Belt. What's your story? How did you get into mixing and producing and engineering?
Trevor: I guess I just got really interested in recording music really early on. I was a drummer in school and eventually, you know, started recording with bands that I was in and just became really interested in that side of things and eventually went to school for recording and ended up working in a studio right out college. I think a really big part of my life was right after college, right after I had been working at a studio for a while. I had worked on a Fleet Foxes record and ended up going on tour with them to do sound for them on tour, kind of at a point in my life where I was sort of unsure of how much recording and music I would really be able to do as a career.
I think I left my initial studio experience just kind of wondering what was going to happen next. I learned a lot, but it was also really hard and I was sort of recognizing how complicated the music industry was. I got super lucky to be taken on tour with this band, especially never having done any sort of live sound or anything like that, only really focusing on making records, and I absolutely had no intention of going on tour. I didn't even know that band took sound people on tour with them. I was so not used to that whole idea. But that really fostered the connections that I’ve made.
And, you know, at a similar time I was living in Bellingham and going to Anacortes a lot for music, the Department of Safety and to What the Heck Fest and met my friend Nick Wilbur, who runs the Unknown these days, and started making records by myself out of there, which was a really huge deal for me to be able to have a space that I can work of and especially a space that's affordable for people to work out of. Like DIY musicians or people with small budgets. I just didn't even really know how things worked and that really provided a space to be able to do that.
And then later, after having been on tour for a long time, I kind of transitioned from touring with Fleet Foxes to touring with Tennis. And touring with Father John Misty for a really long time. I spent about half of my 20s on tour and then come make records when I was home and saved up all my money from doing that and decided to move to Seattle and build my own studio. That's kind of where I'm at now.
That's amazing. Sounds like you've been on quite a journey.
Trevor: [laughs] It really was. I just feel so lucky and privileged to have had things work out that way. It really feels like a lot of luck to me. It's been really great.
So as far as Tré Michael goes, this is just a two-song release that we're releasing this week. But is there more coming? Is there an EP, a full length?
Trevor: Well, that's a great question. We do have another song that we recorded last summer with a live band version of Tre Michael that's not just us that I think we're both really excited about. But, you know, things just kinda get put on hold especially if you're making records with other people and going through a pandemic, not being able to hang out with each other. And also currently our energy has definitely been elsewhere outside of making music, with the civil rights movement that's happening right now. But, yeah, I've kind of just started writing some more songs and we definitely had some other songs kicking around before quarantine that we're excited about. So as soon as it seems like a safe time for us to do that, and I think that's definitely a priority for us because we just like, you know, so much joy out of playing music together and hanging out. We haven't seen each other in a long time. Except for at protests.
Have you guys felt creative at all during this time in quarantine?
Sam: I wrote and recorded a little 3-song thing of my own in like the first few weeks and then I was like, "Oh wow, I have all the free time. This is great." I was lucky enough to get on unemployment pretty early so I could have money to live and yeah it was good for the first few weeks and then it just dropped off pretty hard. It's hard to put anything out when you've got like less coming in and you're not out in the world hearing things, experiencing things like what do I write about? My back yard? Or my allergies? [laughs]
Trevor: Yeah, I feel like I've definitely felt pretty similarly. It's been hard to...you know, like Sam, I was also really lucky to be able to get on unemployment and have this weird amount of copious free time. But I was also really...you know, I've used this time as a period of reflection, which it felt really necessary. I was definitely really busy making records leading up to the quarantine and kind of needed a break. It's weird to find a positive in that time, but it definitely felt like a good time to have this sort of forced time of reflection and being able to slow down for a little bit. But I have just started writing songs again. I think I've felt a lot of things lately from, you know, the pandemic and sort of the distance between everybody and also protests and everything else in the world that is related to that.
Absolutely. Yeah, I mean, I don't think it's wrong to focus on the positives of the situation. Some quietness is good.
"Impossible Trip" / "Okay, Goodnight" is out now. Find out more about Way Out Studios here.
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