The Apartments have disappeared and been silent for long periods of time. Do you think it has shrouded the band in mystery and has made it even more special?

PMWI can’t look at The Apartments from the outside. I can only tell you what it’s like from the inside and I’ve always found it dangerous to think about the image people have of you. You know that Arctic Monkeys album—Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not—the title they got from Alan Sillitoe? That’s the situation. I learned very early on that it’s impossible to control or understand how people see you. A woman who was one of the publicists at Rough Trade had said to me how surprised she was when she met me, that I had a certain swagger that she said she could recognise from a mile away. That wasn’t the right word for it but I knew what she meant—that I had a kind of ease and confidence she didn’t get from other indie bands. That she wasn’t expecting. At the time, innocence was pretty much the one thing every indie band in England had in common with the other. I’d been around enough to have a different take on the world. I was older, with more experience—I’d been in and out of all kinds of cities, all kinds of lives. I’d had to survive. I think I understood the landscape of loss, probably mile by mile and hill by hill even by then, in fact.

the songs are simple stories about being alive.

  With songs and bands, there are all kinds of ups and downs, there’s a cycle to these things, to being in and out of favour. So I am just lucky that people still take my songs into their lives. Because I turned my back on it, I naturally felt the music world was passing me by and I knew it and didn’t care… I felt shut out from that world where life went on. I am always surprised that people turn up when I play and I’m very grateful that they do. It is good too that the songs mean so much to them that some are standing there in tears. As Natasha said, The Apartments can be just hell for mascara. I like to think that people sense life there, beating inside the songs. That they can feel that either they’ve lived like that or that they haven’t—but that the songs are simple stories about being alive.
And if those songs were heard only in the underground, passed between people like a secret without the kind of public attention others got, well, they still found the listeners who needed them. They became songs that someone loved. When people get them, they really get them. When they fall for them, they fall hard. That’s more than enough for me, far more than I could have expected. I wasn’t in the race even when I was in the race and I think about that kind of thing even less now. I can’t take people down Memory Lane. The Apartments slipped through the cracks there and that’s just our fate. Can’t beat the past. Can’t start a new. Can’t rewrite or regret it.

What does Peter Milton Walsh does when he does not write songs, play or record music?

PMWWell that’s quite a lot of time taken up right there. I’m always reading, usually many books at once, watching and going to movies, listening to music. I listen to certain things at certain times, sometimes even certain days. Ravel on a Sunday morning. People say you can vacuum to Future Islands or XX—but I think everyone knows if you want to vacuum the entire house, you’ve got to have Chic playing. Maybe James Brown.
I sometimes cook. There’s no music on earth better to cook to than soundtracks. Showtunes, Great American Songbook. Musicals. I don’t bake cakes, on principle. And for the record, I think Gâteau d’Amour should only ever be baked by Catherine Deneuve.
Some soundtracks—Jerry Goldsmith’s Chinatown for instance—are very dangerous. Something about them that makes you look a little too longingly at the liquor cabinet—in which I note, rather sadly, that most of the bottles—Cointreau, Courvoisier, Bombay Sapphire—are pretty full.
Overall though, I try to keep things very simple. Simplicity and sensuality—that’s about all you need I think. I am easily overwhelmed, a bit chaotic and I’d have to say very easily distracted. The room in which I write has a piano, a wooden table with a typewriter, some bookshelves, a record player and a stack of LPs and singles. No internet. Despite that, I have days when I seem to do nothing productive at all.

You seem to and listen to new music and young artists. How do you keep yourself informed of new releases?

PMWIt happens without trying. I think you can’t help but encounter new music. Things float into the streams that are constantly running through our lives. Plus, I have a family that listens to music. A wife and teenagers, a son and daughter living at home. There’s radio in the car. Streaming, Spotify. YouTube, all the usual suspects. Sometimes I’ll overhear something that gets to me. The first time I heard King Krule blaring from my son’s room, I thought wow, Fat City! (an Alan Vega/Alex Chilton track)​. I was wrong—I still like the King, though. When my son was about 12 or 13 he went through a dubstep stage, Skrillex etc at which point I did what any loving father would do—I asked him to leave home.
And of course the defining experience of being online—which is why I try to cut back on it—is that once you’re there, you’re constantly being shot like a pinball, rapidly from one thing to another. You’d have to go out of your way to avoid new songs. And I still find now that I am completely obsessive, just as I was as a child. When I find a song I love, I will play the track over & over & over. It’s the same for new music as it was when The Apartments first started. If you wanted to know what the consensus was, where the crowd was about to head, you’d read NME or maybe, Melody Maker. If I want to know now what the hive is going to be listening to soon, I’d take a look at Pitchfork, Stereogum.

How do you relate to your own records? Are you especially proud of certain songs, of certain records?

PMWI’ve learned—only in the past 10 years actually, and only after I’d slammed a door on the public, stopped playing and touring so long ago—that there’s something of you in every song you’ve written and that often you can recognise the person who wrote them, but only as a distant stranger. Often you recognise them with regret. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve felt about my own work—Someone wrote these songs, someone who resembled me. Where is he now? He has gone away. Songs use you up. Use your life up. It vanishes into them.

I do like No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal for various reasons. Because it’s the most recent. Because it was a struggle, but I got through it. Because I thought I’d never make another record again. Because I see it as less of as a record than as a memorial. I like it because I tried new and different things. No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal; Swap Places—they’re just 2 chord songs. I like that I played the piano on it. I like it because I didn’t strum the guitar the way I usually do, but played it like Peter Green on Albatross, one stroke for each chord. I like it because of Twenty One, which by the way has only 3 chords too. It was all a bit of a breakthrough for me. And I like it because the title track was the one I wrote last, just before I went into the studio. In the Tourneur movie, Out of the Past, the main guy Jeff says at one point,“My feelings? About ten years ago, I hid them somewhere and haven’t been able to find them.” I did not want to be that guy anymore, the one who went inside himself and never emerged again. I didn’t want to that guy driving through the rain wondering where the good luck went.
I was surprised the record went down so well. Because it’s not the most upbeat collection of songs. But—you have what you’ve been dealt. When someone asks “What was it like?”, the story you bring back is the answer. You tell it how you can, you can’t dress it up to be more acceptably hopeful.
As for my older records, well I’ve gotten used to the fact that with each new record, the artist runs the risk of leaving people behind. Some people thought I never made a right move after the first EP. Some that we lost it after “the evening visits…”. Some think we will never equal drift. Some that A Life Full of Farewells says it all, the others you can forget. Some think apart was the high point we’d been heading towards. So, you just learn to live with this and if people drop away, people drop away. Luckily, every Apartments album has its loyalists. Not everyone likes the same ones with the same passion, but each of them has found a place in someone’s lives. But the other good thing is that The Apartments seem to be always generating new fans too.

You seem very fond of performing live. Is it frustrating not to tour more often ? Do you miss playing for your fans more often?

PMWI’m lucky that people who were new to The Apartments and new to the songs, new to me came along and felt that the live shows meant something to them as well. That they’re somehow memorable. I was pretty terrified about how the shows would go. I mean we were playing a full set of new songs, the new album. The band had never played them before and all of it was definitely making me anxious in the months beforehand. But, I have a friend who’s a skier, and when she was telling me about some of the runs she’d done, that I said she must be fearless. She said no, we’re full of fear. We just don’t let the fear stop us. Great advice. And I was very lucky with this band—I met up with Natasha and Antoine first, they played the whole No Song, No Spell perfectly, so I felt right then that it was going to work. And I knew that Fab, and Eliot and Nick were just brilliant. We were very very lucky. The one weak link in this whole thing was always going to be me! And when you play live, songs—anyone’s songs—can draw people together into a kind of intimacy which can happen only then and there in the room. For some, it is unforgettable.

I like the fact that you lose yourself playing live.

  But I like the fact that you lose yourself playing live. I have a very different take on this to say, Joanna Newsom or Sufjan, in that ‘live’ for me is always about being completely in the moment. Those beautiful note-perfect arrangements that JN and Sufjan do are the same in every room, on every night, for every audience. I have a different way of playing live. When you play live, one of ‘you’ disappears, another ‘you’ emerges. The ‘I’ who writes the song, the ‘I’ who sings it, is another. You disappear into the time you are singing, you are fully present in it and you are purely you—but then you emerge on the other side when the show is over as if it were a dream, but there is some evidence that it happened. It’s as if you wake from the dream and there you are, suddenly back in that other practical world of cares and concerns. The other has vanished. “I feel myself inhabited by a force or being—very little known to me. It gives the orders; I follow” Cocteau said. But it’s that beautiful lapse of thinking, forgetting about yourself, that is promised by both the creative and the sensual life. That’s the rainbow’s end we’re always after. Always.

Why did you choose Microcultures to release No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal? To be close to your fans? To stay independent ? Because you distrust traditional labels? Because it’s French ?

PMWI made this record long before I knew if anyone would release it or if anyone would get to hear it. I made it because I had to. I thought of it not as the next record but the last. But once I made it, I began to think about all the people I’d met on the Autumn 2012 tour who said to me they were looking forward to a new album. I felt I owed it to these people, the ones who cared for the songs, should at least be offered them and MC was the best way to reach them I think. I think my mind is just set in that one last roll of the dice way of thinking. And since I was, for good reason, out of the game for the longest time, I thought the fact that people were even interested was a miracle. Who would have thought, this far down the road, such a thing was possible? And while I think people realise what it took to get here, with this album, what it took personally, I have believed my entire life that songs are never just one person’s story, that people can see themselves reflected in the songs.

Pierre Lemarchand

Equilibre fragile, DIY Magazine and Label
November 2015