Poise and Peaer Are in the Purchase Mafia

Lucie Murphy and Peter Katz talk their DIY beginnings and Poise’s new record.

Peter Katz is a member of the Brooklyn band Peaer; Lucie Murphy is a New York native singer-songwriter who records as Poise. To celebrate the release of Poise’s debut album Vestiges — out tomorrow — the friends and frequent collaborators sat down to catch up.  
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse

Peter Katz: So, let’s talk about your record? First thing that comes to mind is the title. 

Lucie Murphy: Yeah. 

Peter: I looked it up — “vestiges” means traces of something disappearing. What does the title mean in relation to the record? And at what point did the title emerge?

Lucie: It took a while for me to come to it. I had the song “Vestiges” before I had the title of the record Vestiges. Really what I’m referring to is — you know, obviously a big theme of this record is my dad passing away. And my dad was a photographer, and his photographs and his music tastes, and so many things about him, really influenced the art that I make now. I wrote this record right after I was like going through all his stuff and his photographs, and just reflecting on what it means to have someone be there and then they’re gone, but the essence of them is still there. 

Peter: They left so much behind — not even just their things, but their impressions of thing. 

Lucie: Yeah. I mean, this is kind of weird, but even my dad’s smell is still around on certain things. So I think that was the main essence of what I was getting to. And also that 2019 was one of the hardest years of my life — for that reason and others. There were a lot of things that I was trying to achieve that sort of would dissipate, like I had this music opportunity that kind of fell through, and my tour was supposed to be right when the pandemic was happening. So there were a lot of things that just had dissipated or disappeared, and I was left with the remnants of it. And that’s really where the title came from.

Peter: Were all the songs written between then and now?

Lucie: I had like, two and a half songs before the pandemic, but the bulk of it was from the pandemic. 

Peter: I have a specific question about “I’m Not.” Is that a Bruise song?

Lucie: Yes! Yes, it was.

Peter: I was like, This one I remember. So what was Bruise?

Lucie: Well, Bruise was me and my friends Max Kupperberg and Aiden Engle-Bradley. It was kind of my first real band that really did anything, that we started our freshman year of college — we all went to SUNY purchase. It was a really grungy, fun band.

Peter: So sick. I remember that’s how I basically first met you — Max used to play in Peaer — seeing guys play at Silent Barn and just being like, Yes, this shit is so cool. And you guys would switch guitar and bass and everything.

Lucie: Yeah, because it was a multi-songwriter project technically. I wrote most of the songs, but it was collaborative.

Peter: Right, yeah. That was really cool. Aiden actually built the bookshelf that’s in my room right now. [Laughs.] 

Lucie: It’s beautiful!

Peter: It’s a custom piece.

Lucie: Oh, I need to get him to make me some shit too. That looks great.

Peter: Yeah. My relationship with Max Kupperberg aside, but I just remember that being such a cool time. That experience being your first band, did that inform how you wrote this record? How does that relate to now?

Lucie: Well, I think that Bruise made me really become a serious songwriter, and really consider myself to be a songwriter and kind of recognize my strength in that. I think it was really good for me to start with a collaborative project and get my sea legs in the music world, because I think I was a very nervous person at that time. I was a teenager, I was scared to kind of do things on my own. So it was really nice to have those boys at my side. And Max had experience playing with Peaer and Palehound, so Max knew people in the in the music scene more than I did. That was really helpful to have that person to guide me.

Peter: Yeah, it always happens that way. SUNY Purchase was such an awesome network that I feel really lucky we’ve been able to continually gain from and connect to and grow. It’s just a huge network of people that are all extremely talented and driven in their own way. Purchase is this really strange amalgam of things where it’s like, I don’t know why it’s still so relevant to my life, but every single day I think about it.

Lucie: Yeah. The Purchase Mafia. That’s the reason I wanted to go to Purchase — when I was growing up in the city, I heard of Frankie Cosmos, and I had mutual friends with her so I started going to shows. I heard of Whatever Dad and all these bands. And LVL UP even. 

Peter: Spook Houses.

Lucie: Yeah! So I was a little teenager seeing these college bands come to the city and play Silent Barn, and I was like, Oh, they all went to Purchase. Also, my dad and my sister both went to Purchase. 

Peter: That is so cool. 

Lucie: We were all in different conservatories.

Peter: My parents had never even heard about Purchase until I told them. [Laughs.] They had no idea what it was.

Lucie: How did they feel about you going to music school? Because they don’t do music, do they?

Peter: Well, my mom’s a painter, and my dad played trombone in college. I think they were kind of just happy I was going to college. I was a good student and everything, but I didn’t really know what I wanted do in college. I knew I wanted to go for music, and they were as supportive as they possibly could have been. I kind of wish that I knew what I was doing more, but I’m glad that they were there to help me through it, you know?

Lucie: I mean, I imagine you’re still happy you studied music. You don’t have any regrets.

Peter: Yeah, I’m really happy I studied music. I more so have regrets that I didn’t do more while I was there. Like, I had so much time, I could have done a minor in music business. I really wish I went to arts management — I think that’s the biggest knock about Purchase is that you can go and kind of do whatever you want, but they don’t really prepare you for the real world all that much, unless you try. So that was sort of a thing that I’ve grown to understand.

Lucie: I totally get that. I think it’s so hard when you’re that age to think about that stuff.

Peter: I talk with 18 year old kids all the time now at work, and I’m just like, I would never trust you to make any decisions.

Lucie: [Laughs.] Especially if you have to study something that you’re supposed to do for the rest of your life or whatever — no way.

Peter: I talk to kids who are looking at schools now and they’re like, “I want to go here, I want to do this. I want to study painting or whatever.” And I’m like, “That’s so sick,” but in my head it’s like, Also make sure you study a business, or get some other thing to fortify your painting career. Like, I missed out on a lot of valuable knowledge. But I’ve been doing my best to gain it in the real world. 

You were saying Bruise was really helpful for you because it gave you sea legs — I had a really similar experience pre-college, I was in this band called Fugue, this six-piece instrumental band. I was the youngest member, and it was a big hodgepodge of awesome stuff. I still think about them every day, it was huge for me. 

Lucie: Did you play at Purchase?

Peter: Twice at least? 

Lucie: And you were like, 16, 17?

Peter: Yeah, at least 15, 16, something like that. We had a friend that was there and was booking shows, and we got to play with some of my favorite bands. So I was like, I want to go here.

Lucie: Rachel Gordon [of Nine of Swords] was someone that I also met before I actually went to Purchase, at Willie Mae Rock Camp where I used to volunteer. She was wearing the coolest outfits and I was like, Oh, my gosh, she’s so cool. And she was like, “Yeah, I go to SUNY Purchase — check it out, but know that when you see the tour, you’re not going to see the music scene and all the really cool shit that actually goes on.” And Rachel’s obviously still my dear friend, and she’s going to make shirts for Poise too.

Peter: That’s so cool. 

One of the biggest things I’ve been talking with some of my songwriting students about has been arrangement. So much can be done with just arrangement, and I really think that when it comes to your record, there is really, really great care to the arrangement. I think that is one of the hardest things to do when you’re writing by yourself, to get into the idea of writing for an ensemble, for a group of people.

Being in Fugue for me was really helpful — we had six people and we had to really be careful about, when everybody was playing, what dynamic level were at. It’s hard to get six people to play quietly. So stuff like that really influenced me. How did that come about when you were writing Vestiges? Did a lot of that arrangement stuff happen beforehand, or was it in the studio?

Lucie: I write pretty much just guitar and melody, and I’ll have ideas for arrangements but I don’t arrange by myself. I’ve always arranged with a band — other than making tiny demos when I was in high school. So what I did was I just had all the bones of the songs, like the chords and the melodies, and I brought them to the boys. We went up to Vermont for a couple of months and we just arranged them right before we recorded them. It was kind of like, I’m going to rent this space for us to be there together and kind of isolated from the world. It is really hard to just do it by yourself — I can’t imagine it, honestly.

Peter: It’s a trap I fall into all the time, where I’m like, like three minutes into this song I’ve been writing, but when I think about it I’m just like, This is the same thing over and over and over. How do I like get out of that? It’s funny, once you bring it to the band and you hear the drumbeat for the first time, you’re like, “Oh, wait, hold on. No, no, no, no.” So many things happen so immediately.

Lucie: So is that how you write with Peaer? You bring the bones of the song to Thom [Lombardi] and Jeremy [Kinney], and then you go from there?

Peter: Every once in a while I will be like, “Alright, I had this idea where the drums cut out, and then this happens and then we all come back in,” or “I have this idea where we all slow down, or we all get quiet.” I’ll have some dynamic ideas along those lines. But most time it’s like, “Yo, guys, I have this part and I have no idea what to do with it. Let’s just jam on it and see what happens, or if you guys have any ideas, let’s try it.”

I was talking to you about how demoing is really valuable, especially when it comes to the stuff that you can’t really do in live performance — Sam [Skinner] obviously can’t play keys and guitar at the same time or whatever. So where did that stuff come in?

Lucie: We did pretty much everything in Vermont. There were two songs that we had maybe played full band, but other than that, it was all new stuff. It really all just happened in Vermont, and really quickly.

Peter: So you recorded it in Vermont?

Lucie: We did, Sam has this mobile rig. I mean, I’ve only recorded in houses. I’ve never recorded in a studio. So for this next one—

Peter: You want to go to a studio, you think?

Lucie: I think it’s be a nice way to change things. You’ve recorded in studios, yeah?

Peter: Yeah. I always have had a tenuous relationship with recording in a studio. I love performing, I love playing so much that being in a studio — at least at first — was just not what I wanted to do at all. I just remember hating the whole process of like, “Try this here. Oh, what if we added a little bit more reverb? Let’s try this guitar part, let’s try this other thing and this other thing,” and it got so far away from what the song actually sounded like. It became its own weird thing. I was like, This isn’t how I feel music should be written. I just really didn’t like it at first. 

So when Peaer’s first album was happening, I recorded another record by myself, because I really wanted to try that out. The first record happened with Jeremy, and that was the first time I did drums in a studio, and then we came back to do the guitars later at another random place. And that was really fun because it kind of showed me that you don’t have to be locked in a studio or whatever — you can make it work as you go. But then the other end of that is that it can end up taking a whole ton of time. You know, it’s kind of nice to be like, “We have this one week just to do it. Let’s make sure we get it all done.” Also, there are times where things can kind of slip by — like, “Oh, it’s too late now, but I kind of wish we redid that guitar part,” or “I kind of wish I hit that vocal note a bit better.”

Now Jeremy actually has established a studio upstate, so we’ve done some work up there. Having it doesn’t feel like you’re borrowing somebody else’s time, and being able to really enjoy it and kind of settle into that situation makes it a lot better.

Lucie: Do you think that’s where you’ll track the next one?

Peter: Definitely. So that’ll be cool. But for a while, I was really against studio writing because of that early experience. I don’t know — like, sure, the recordings sounded good, but I was like, I don’t play any of these parts. I play the part that’s like, way in the middle over there. We’re never going to recreate this.

Lucie: Right. It’s like, unless you have tracks playing with you and a metronome with the drummer, are you really going to do be able to do that?

Peter: Exactly. With Peaer’s first record, except for a couple little things that here, we were like, “Let’s just keep it like super straight up.” And so now I’m kind of on the other end of things, where next record, I want to spend more time in the studio doing more studio stuff.

Lucie: Yes. Really cool.

Peter: What do you feel like the scale of the album is? Is it personal? Or is it global? Or is it in between? Like, the song “Show Me Your Love” has this really personal sort of slant to it, but it also feels like you’re sort of trying to teach, or express a lesson that you’ve learned. There’s a really good balance between the deeply personal material and this looking-outward sort of stuff.

Lucie: Yeah, I appreciate that. I’m definitely conscious of not wanting to be too solipsistic, and really wanting to say something that is personal but also has larger connotations. Every song comes from really personal experience, but I’m so hyper aware that there’s an audience.

Peter: I think this is an important thing that songwriters need to consider. I remember this being a lesson in middle school on essay writing, where you can make this statement, but you have to push it further. The song can be about this thing that you went through, but it only really goes the distance when you can say, I learned this from this experience and this is what we all should kind of be thinking about now, or whatever. I think there’s a really good blend of that. 

Your record is so bold, too. It’s so confident and so assured. It’s just so you. The whole thing is so fucking good.

Lucie: Thank you. You know, it’s funny, talking about micro experiences versus macro experiences, and toeing that line with this record. I think I really got that from going to art school. Because that was something we talked about a lot — why did you make this decision? It can’t be arbitrary. Every decision has importance. I think about that with my lyrics and with other parts of the record.

Peter: That thinking traps me sometimes, where I’m just sort of like, I’m not saying enough with this. This isn’t good enough. Then I’ve had really liberating experiences where I’m just like, You know what? F that. I’m just going to write some random thing just to get it out and stop that blockage.

Lucie: But I think you’re so thoughtful — I feel like anything that you think might seem not important, it probably is. On A Healthy Earth, you guys are touching on climate change. That’s something that I don’t know how to touch on, and I think you did it really gracefully. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Peter: It’s funny, that ends up coming up so much. There’s definitely a lot of lyrics about climate change, but I think — well, the title does definitely point to that, and going into the writing of the record,I really wanted to sort of straddle that micro-macro line. I feel like climate change is a really succinct example of that — it is something that we hear about in this vague, global way, and it does affect us every single day and in every single part of our lives, we’re kind of touching up against it. I think it’s such a terrifying experience—

Lucie: And universal. 

Peter: Yeah. I never really meant to write about climate change specifically, but if you’re writing about the world, it has to happen. 

Lucie: I really appreciate that you did. I’m surprised it’s not something that comes up more often.

Peter: That new Japanese breakfast song, “Savage Good Boy” — unbelievable song. Just completely mind blowingly good song. And the lyrics are an excellent take on it, where it’s this futuristic scene, a man and a woman in a bunker post-apocalyptic sort of thing. “When the city is under water, I will wine and dine you in the hollows.” That’s a really clever and terrifying sort of way to go about it. It’s hard to talk about because it can really trite, you know? You don’t want to sound like “We Are the World,” you don’t want to sound like Kumbaya. I think about Thom Yorke and Kid A, those lyrics — he is so menacing, but it’s so cryptic and beautiful, but it ends up being relevant. 

So, “Show Me Your Love” — you mentioned it was inspired by bell hooks?

Lucie: Yeah. The basic tenets of her book All About Love — like that love is an action and not a thought or even words. It’s really what you do for people that is showing your love. 

Peter: I think it’s a really good song about loving. You know, I try to do that in “In My Belly” — the whole song is just questions of like, what does it mean to be in love? What happens? Is it something you decide to do, is something that you have no choice about?

Lucie: I think you are so supportive and positive to your friends and I’ve always just appreciated that so much. 

Peter: I appreciate that.

Lucie: I feel like every time we see each other, it’s just like, “Yay!” It’s just so nice. When I think of you, that’s what I would think of, just support.

Peter: One of my favorite things in the world is to see my friends happy.

Lucie: That’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about — you know, we’re in a community of musicians, people get jealous of each other. And of course, we all do. I think that’s inevitable, that’s human.

Peter: There’s competition involved, for sure.

Lucie: There’s competition. But it’s also like, your friends being successful is not your downfall. It’s the opposite. So you might as well just feel happy for them.

Peter: There’s a karmic result to it as well. If you’re supportive and just genuinely happy, like… Yeah, it’s a zero sum game — if you get the gig, that means I can’t get the gig. But I don’t care. I’m still going to the gig.

Lucie: And there’ll be another gig, and then we’ll both play the gig together!

Peter: We sort of cut our teeth amongst a very vibrant, active community, and there was a lot of gatekeeping there, too. That was a huge barrier for a lot of people, and that’s something that is tricky. But the only way to combat that is just genuine support.

Lucie: Early on, when I was playing in Bruise, your support and Will Rutledge [of Horror Movie Marathon]’s support — I don’t know, I didn’t know you guys very well at first, and I was like, These older cool boys think I’m in a good band, that’s cool! It really made me think, Oh, maybe I can actually do this, people seem to be into it. And I was obviously so excited about Peaer, especially at that time when you’re young and everything is new, just being so excited about what everyone’s making around you is such a good feeling. And I really felt that at Purchase a lot.

Peter: I remember growing up in Connecticut, and when I was in Fugue and everything, I was young and bitter. I’d be like, My band is so good, why the fuck didn’t we get on that show? And it’s not about that. It took me a long time to realize that, like, we’ll get the gig. It’ll be fine. 

Lucie: Yeah. I feel like at Purchase, that was kind of my awakening out of that. I think getting a little bit older and not being the teen anymore, I felt way less like, That’s shitty music and this is cool music. Or like, Pop music sucks — now I’m like, so obsessed with pop music.

I think I was at that time too, but I was repressing it. I was like, I can’t have people know that I love Rihanna.

Peter: And right now it’s just like, “You don’t like Rihanna? 

Lucie: “Are you crazy?” [Laughs.] 

Peter: Slightly controversial question: When it comes to honesty and support, I’m always curious where to draw the line. Say I have constructive criticism — is it more supportive to be honest with somebody and say, “I think you can do better”? Or is it more supportive to say, “That’s great,” regardless of how you actually feel?

Lucie: This is something I think about a lot. Having been trained in art school, that’s the whole thing — you critique. And in music, at least in our scene, it’s not really a thing.

Peter: I think in general, the conversation around criticism has really has changed in the past couple of years. I kind of go back and forth on it a lot. Is it something I genuinely don’t like, or is everyone too afraid to say what they really feel about it? Sometimes it’s hard to get out of that mindset.

Lucie: There’s so many layers. It’s really hard to know, because you don’t listen to anything in a vacuum, obviously. I think there are more consumers of music, so therefore there’s more space for there to be a lot more musicians. As opposed to the fine art world, where there are only so many consumers of fine art, so many opportunities. I think just being more competitive makes it more critical than in music.

Peter: I recently watched that show Hacks on HBO. There’s this amazing monologue where Jean Smart’s character — [someone says to her,] “You just got lucky.” And she’s like, “Yeah, I did get lucky, but I’m also good.” The idea is like, even if you’re good and lucky, it’s still going to be hard. It’s never going to get easier. I think that is something that I want to be reminded of more in the world sometimes. I feel like sometimes true support is like, “Yo, you are amazing and you can do better.” Or, “This artist is great, but this song lacks for me.” A real genuine collaboration, community support is building a community that can handle that kind of that kind of conversation. 

Lucie: It’s pretty taboo. I go back and forth, because part of the reason I didn’t want to be a fine art photographer anymore was kind of because of the criticism. It sort of felt like just making something beautiful was not enough. And that was kind of like, But why not? You studied classical — it’s a little bit like that, no?

Peter: It’s so much more like that. I was also really done with the development aspect of it all — I was like, This is never going to go anywhere, because the cool stuff that you guys want to do doesn’t make any money, and the only thing people want to see are the old white dead guys. I mean, obviously there’s some awesome, rad shit happening in the classical music world, but it’s just not for me anymore.

Lucie: Why did you decide to study classical?

Peter: I just thought it was cooler. I didn’t really want to learn about chord changes and everything. I felt like I had a good handle on that. I wanted to go off that deep end. I’m really happy I did that, because it exposed me to a ton of stuff. But yeah, it was really funny — everybody else in my program was like, “I’ve been listening to classical since I was 10, I’ve been playing all this stuff.” And I was like, “Cool. Which Beethoven is this?”

Lucie: [Laughs.] “Cool, I love math rock.”

Peter: “Have you heard of The Mars Volta?” When it comes to support, I think a healthy amount of pushing each other is really valuable. Especially because, like Jean Smart says in Hacks, being good is the bare minimum. I assume you’re good, you’re here. But what else?

Lucie: I feel like that happens the most within my band. I feel like that’s when we actually do that.

Peter: And that’s a really good place to be, when your band is like, “Yeah, we can we can spice this up, we can really push each other to do this.”

Lucie: Yeah. I mean, I’m sure you feel the same way, but when the band loves the song, that’s when you did the right thing.

Peter: You did the right thing. When you guys are like, “Let’s do that again!”

Lucie: I’m really just trying to please them all the time. I’m like, Are they gonna like it? 

Peter: It’s less criticism, more encouragement. 

(Photo Credit: left, Tonje Thilesen; right, Marcus Maddox)

Lucie Murphy has been getting to know herself again. As Poise, the New York City native is known for crafting dexterous melodies and emotionally-charged lyrics alongside propulsive rhythms and playful vocal arrangements. On debut album Vestiges, Murphy channels a devastating period of her life into a source of cathartic reprieve, transforming grief, bewilderment and uncertainty into a soundtrack for introspection and growth. It’s an essential reminder that we have the power to trust ourselves and to come out stronger, even during our darkest, most difficult moments.

(Photo Credit: Tonje Thilesen)