Climbing the Musical Mountain

Originally published by 225 Magazine on April 30, 2013. 

By Amanda Wicks

Local singer-songwriter Peter Simón is perhaps best known for his talents on the guitar. Yet, for all his proficiency on that instrument, he actually grew up playing something else. “I’ve played the piano since I was a little baby,” Simón explains. “There are pictures of me reaching up to grab the keys.” That same musical curiosity impelled Simón to pick up his father’s guitar at age 17 and begin experimenting.

While Simón initially taught himself, he later refined his ability at Southeastern, where he studied classical guitar and theory. He eventually changed his major, because he was concerned that he couldn’t make a proper living playing music. Despite his initial misgivings, all roads have led back to the guitar.

Simón’s specialty is songwriting, and his songs exude a poetic quality that borders on the surreal. In “This Side Alone,” Simón sings about “a graveyard of clocks.” Another song details “half-painted walls in my head,” and both songs evoke subliminal images.

Simón credits his overactive imagination for creating some of his most poetic imagery, and this overactivity resonates with fellow musicians. “Peter is a brilliant songwriter. His music consistently achieves all of the most desirable dynamics of composing great and memorable music,” says friend and singer-songwriter Jacob Zachary.

Good songwriting, Zachary maintains, isn’t about producing more songs, but about producing songs that top what you’ve already written. He compares the task to climbing Mt. Everest. “Peter is an Everest songwriter. He won’t give up the ghost until he’s reached the summit,” Zachary says.

More than lyrics, Simón’s music stands strong with a rhythmic sensibility he credits Nina Simone with helping him develop. “She offers me a lesson in arrangement and writing,” he says. The arrangements and progressions Simón generates contain an understated sophistication that lends itself well to his experimental folk. They are at once appealing and unique, engaging listeners with their variety.

Baton Rouge especially provides Simón with the space to fully develop his sound. “There’s such a community of talent here,” he says. “It’s an unspoiled scene that hasn’t been defined yet.”

Drawing on local musicians helps Simón bring his songs to fruition. Although he began performing as a solo artist, Simón soon incorporated Baton Rouge musician Ben Herrington’s prodigious instrumental talent on his first album, This Side Alone, as well as in his live performances. Herrington brought keyboards and trombone to the table, fleshing out Simón’s exuberant melodies by augmenting the overall sound with harmony and rhythm.

Simón later expanded the twosome to include Joel Wilson on violin and Micah Blouin on percussion. The four musicians now work together as a “cohesive group project.” “Something good always comes out of it,” Simón laughs.

Herrington believes the collaboration produces fresh insight and improvisation, but he credits the live shows as the place where the fun really happens. “There’s an unexpectedness,” Herrington says. “You don’t know what exactly is going to happen. It’s exciting.”

The four musicians performed as this loose collective until April, when they started doing shows under the name Minos the Saint.

Simón now finds himself back in the studio with the new band and a new direction—an exciting one considering the collaborative element Herrington, Wilson and Blouin add. The band is hard at work crafting and refining the next set of songs. Given Simón’s creativity and patience in allowing the songs to flourish and grow, Minos the Saint’s music promises to bring Simón and his collaborators ever closer to reaching the summit.

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