You can hear this in his productions. The New York native, real name Fred Peterkin, has been releasing records for nearly a decade—as Fred P as well as Black Jazz Consortium and, most recently, Anomaly—but each new track still has the glow of an artist in love with his craft. His friend Levon Vincent, who considers him "a genius," describes him as a rare example of an artist whose music is heavily visual. It's not hard to see what he means. Peterkin's tracks are like an impressionist painting—hazy, colorful and alive with raw emotion. His best tracks, like his 2009 breakthrough "New Horizons," are far more personal than standard club fare, yet still utterly explosive on a dance floor.
In person, Peterkin exudes the kind of quiet wisdom you might imagine from his music. He speaks slowly and thoughtfully, in a way that makes it impossible to imagine him ever being insincere. In both the things he said and the way he said them, he shed light on his music's emotional source.
So you're originally from Brooklyn?
Yeah, originally from Flatbush, Brooklyn. Grew up there, lived there for 18 years, then moved to Queens, right on the borderline between Queens and Long Island. Moved back and forth between Queens and Brooklyn, eventually moved to Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, because at the time I was working as a security guard. I liked to live close to my job, because I had a problem getting to work on time and it was easy there because I was two stops away, there was no excuse for being late. I was at work every day and it worked out pretty good for a while. Until everything changed.
Why did you have trouble getting to work on time?
Oh, I drank a lot [laughs]. That's why. I was getting really smashed every night. So I was using those sick days and creating excuses. I mean, I think I used them all and then it just got bad. It was like, "OK, I either move closer to work or I stop drinking." And I didn't want to stop drinking so I moved closer to work. And it worked out pretty good. I mean, I'd show up in bad shape, but I'd show up. So it was cool.
No I don't. Stopped drinking, like, six years ago. I mean, I don't miss it. In fact I'm pretty content not drinking. But at the time when I was drinking I did enjoy it [laughs]. It's like, when you're doing it, you can find everything in the world is just fine, but then after… not so much [laughs].
When did you start putting out records?
I think it was 2007. I did my first record, which was a single from what was going to be my last album. Or my first and last album, which was RE:Actions Of Light, and when that happened I met Just-Ed and everything changed. He taught me how to make a record, and that was the one thing I wanted to do before it was all over—make a record. Because I was born in the 1970s and that's how we consumed music—through eight-track tape, which is nonexistent now, and cassette, 45s and 12-inches. That's how we did it. And before the disco 12-inch, it was all albums. So I come from that and that's what I wanted to do. Since meeting Ed I've made many records. And I haven't stopped, I'm still making records and I enjoy that process immensely.
But yeah, the first vinyl release on Soul People Music was God's Promise, and I had remixes from Jus-Ed and Jenifa Mayanja and there were two versions from myself—Black Jazz Consortium and then there was a Fred P version. And that was the first physical, vinyl record. That was an amazing moment, when I actually saw that go out into the stores and stuff like that.
What exactly did Jus-Ed show you?
Oh man, he taught me literally how to make a record. Like: "OK, there is this thing, this wonderful place called a pressing plant, and if you have your music mastered you can take it to the plant and the plant will press your record." And he taught me that process. Before that it was shrouded in mystery. No one would ever tell you that stuff, that was a serious thing that no one ever talked about. It never even occurred to me that you could independently do that. And he shed light on that whole deal.
And since then, I mean, it was on. It was like, "Really? OK, I'm going to make another record. If this record works out, I'm going to make another one." And it worked out, so I made another one. And that one was No Looking Back. And that was a more serious record. Like, "OK, if I don't get another chance to do this, I'm going to try to put it all in this one." And that one worked out, too. So I was like, "OK. I'm making another one!"
Before Jus-Ed showed you the ropes, had you been messing around making tracks?
Yeah, I'd been making tracks since I was 15. Then it was hip-hop and crazy experiments at home. You know, with turntables, cassette decks and stuff like that. I was more or less obsessed with noise. Mainly white noise, because if you listen closely to white noise, there's things in there. I don't know, it's some weird cosmic thing, but there is something in white noise and I was experimenting with that a lot. Because what happens is when you take cassettes and you record and re-record, the generation from recording to recording, stuff comes out of that. And I thought that was fascinating. I didn't really know but at the time that was my introduction to multi-track recording. Because years later I wound up getting a Tascam Portastudio, which is a four-track recorder that uses cassette and this same phenomenon. And if you do overdubs and stuff like that, things come out of it, you know what I mean? I was really interested in that process.
But yeah, when I was 15 a family friend asked me to do this demo. I used to do beatboxing and rap with a friend of mine from school, and he figured I must know how that stuff works. I didn't know anything but I didn't tell him that. He took me to the studio and it was the first time I saw a mixing console and all the outboard gear. Effects processors and so on. To me it was like being in a spaceship. I was like, "OK, I got to do this. More." I mean, the demo came out crazy, it was a mess, but it was my first taste of being creative with gear. But if it wasn't for that experience I would not have gone down that road as far as I did at that point. Because that launched all the experiments and that made my interest deeper from a young age. I'm grateful for that experience, because ever since then I wanted my own studio.
But at the same time, as a kid I would be the guy who'd go into Sears with my mom, and while she's doing whatever she's doing I'm over in the section where they have keyboards and organs and stuff. I'd be the guy playing organ and there's a whole crowd around me and just standing there. So you know, I'm one of those.
How did you meet Ed?
I did a remix for Jenifa Mayanja, it was on Underground Quality, and he liked it. I had contact with Jenifa because she is close friends with my best friend. But in the early days that's how everybody met. Like, there was a whole scene back in 2002, a broken-beat and nu-jazz scene which I was, and still am, very fond of, because it combined the best elements of house music and hip-hop in my opinion. One of my favorite DJs at the time was Aybee; I followed his music. And we got to know each other through MySpace. And then it continued, and then we had a lot of friends in common. Before you know it, years later, he comes to New York, we meet and do a couple of parties together, and we've been good friends ever since. He's a beautiful person, man.
All these people had a huge impact on, not just my sound, but on me continuing to make music. Because there was a point when I was going to quit. Several points, because there was just, you know—I hit really hard times and went to some dark places. But you know, having that support system—and this is back in New York—it kind of kept me going. When I got to the third release, I hit a brick wall. I got a little ego and thought that because No Looking Back did so well, the next record would, too, and I did a two-sider. But it was too early to do that.
Which one was it?
This was "Deep Hypnotic"—what's the name of that EP. Oh, man. Anyway. It's a two-sider with "Deep Hypnotic" and two different mixes on it, "Pluto Mix," "Mars Mix." And it didn't sell. Like, it went to the distributor and sold maybe 100 copies or something, half the stock-batch. I was mortified. I was like, "It's over!" [sobs] And then all of a sudden, Ed gave me the most valuable advice I've ever received. He laughed, actually, because it happens to everybody. But he was like, "Take the records, put them in a corner, wait it out, trust me, they'll sell." And I'm thinking, "No, because I lost all of my money and da da da da." He was like, "Listen—sit on them, they'll sell." And I was like, "Alright."
I was very lucky because I was able to do another record anyway. And that record came to be the most successful record on the label to this day, which was the New Horizons EP. And when that record took off, that's when I sold the rest of those records. But it was like a real lesson, and the lesson was: my ego should have nothing to do with what the music has to say. And from that point forward I never let that get in front of what the music has to say. Also I learned to be patient and to stay honest with whatever the message is that I'm trying to convey. New Horizons was a very different record because it was coming out of that experience.
I guess the name isn't a coincidence.
No, definitely not. Because I was writing it from the perspective of "This might be it, I might never get this again, I might have to go out and get a job at the post office, da da da." I was making all these excuses to quit. Because when it gets hard, you don't see the light at the end of the tunnel. So all that emotion and doubt, all that went into that EP. And after that record, man, it was a wrap. Because I learned the thing you're supposed to learn as an artist. And that is: honestly express yourself, always. Don't get to that point where your ego is doing the talking. That thing that makes you create—let that do the talking. And that's how it's been from that point.
Did you get more creative when you quit drinking?
Not right away. In fact I hated it because usually I would write high or drunk, and I enjoyed it, because you go into a space and stay there. But the thing that proved to me that I could do it without all that was New Horizons. It proved that I could make music without being in that state of mind. And since then I became a workaholic. Really. I don't take no breaks.
When it comes down to being inebriated and creating, you know, you're messing around in a fuzzy area. Because this stuff is coming from out of thin air. So if you're in that mind state, you can convince yourself of a lot of things. You can convince yourself that you need to be in this state in order for things to sound good. Which is ultimately bad because then that means nothing that you do outside of that state is any good—with that rationale, at least. And when I stopped drinking it was like, "Nothing sounds good to me." And I believed that until that record. I was sitting there looking at this huge box of records that no one wants, I'd thought it was the beginning of everything and it looked like the end of everything. And that shocked me into reality and got me past that belief, that nothing sounds good. What came out was the truth and the truth was: "Yo, whatever happens, this is new." And ultimately New Horizons, and then Structure and everything else that transpired after, was based on that.
It was a very humbling experience. Really scary, too. Wow. But I appreciate it, I remember it all the time. I try not to judge every other piece of work after that because nothing quite feels the same as that.
What goes through your mind when you're making a record like that? Was it clear at the time New Horizons was a really special one?
With that one, yes, because when I was doing it I was crying, I was in tears. Because I couldn't do what was natural to me—to drink, and not feel. I had to feel everything. I felt like I was a raw nerve.
Because you were sober?
Yeah. I had to feel everything that was going through me—the fear, the withdrawal of not drinking, that pain and that uncertainty. Doubt. Everything. Because for the first time in a long time I didn't know what was coming next, and I was terrified. Absolutely terrified. And all of that went into that tune, so it was like, "If nothing else is going to happen, better say it all now." It really did feel like the end. That's where all the emotion and tears came from, that's why that tune turned out that way. And each part of that EP has its own thing. There are other personal pieces, but that was the most significant because it was a really heavy time for me.
It was hard then, but it seems like it was a great turning point for you.
Oh yeah. It's never been the same. That record ended up on a lot of year-end lists and stuff like that. Really well received by the public, it was licensed a bunch of times and all that. Apparently it resonated with people. And every time somebody plays it or says they liked it or that it did something for them, it reminds me of that moment when I was sitting there making it. And I feel about this tall, because it's like, it's not about being larger than life or anything like that, it's about what that person just told you or how it made someone feel, how they connected with it. And I remember that every time, all the time. When I think about that time I still get emotional. It was heavy, it was real, but you know, everybody goes through something.
It's interesting to hear that so much raw energy and pain went into that record, because I think that's the one that still grabs people the most. You put all that energy in, and people feel that when they hear it.
Yeah, I would agree. It's kind of cosmic in a way. I think that's the thing that joins us all together. That makes us all connect. I mean, when we go into a party and everybody's dancing on the dance floor, it's like, one nation under a groove kind of thing. Because honestly, people aren't all that different, we're all kind of looking for the same things in life. So you know, we listen to music generally because we want to feel good. We want to feel better about whatever. Ultimately as an artist I think that's part of the job: to have those experiences and convey them to the people. Know what I mean?
I've noticed your tracks and your track titles have a bit of a spiritual tone to them. Do you consider yourself a spiritual guy? Are you religious?
I'm definitively not religious. At all. But I do believe in spirituality. To me, "energy" is a way of understanding what works in songs. I'm obsessed with that, because I get it, you know? All information can be transferred without using a word if you capture the right frequency and relay it the right way. You can literally give someone an experience through sound. I mean, that's a beautiful thing.
So for you, spirituality is locked into sound itself?
Yeah, yeah. OK, let me see if I can explain it this way: there is a certain set of chords that I really like, and that are in almost every track that I do. And it's because these chords make you feel a certain way when you hear them. Now this is information, this sound is telling your emotions to react a certain way. What can be more beautiful than that? It's totally something you could OD on, you can really, in a healthy way, overdose on this. It's like taking a huge amount of B12. So yeah, I like that aspect of it. It's like saying, "I love you" a thousand different times in a bunch of different ways.
Did you always have that relationship with music?
Yes. My mother used to listen to classical music when I was a kid growing up in the house, and she always played these beautiful, tragically sad-sounding things, with these strings, and I would constantly cry. I would stand in the middle of the living room, this stuff is playing really loud and I'm in tears, like, "Why is this making me so emotional?" And I guess that's stayed with me. These tones, these vibrations, these notes are literally touching me and releasing these emotions. And I've always been on that since then, I've listened to music that's had that in it. I was drawn to music that has that in it. And to this day I'm still trying to listen to music that has that in it. It's just that over the years the type of music has evolved for me. Because I listen to more electronic stuff by people that are more or less like myself, trying to transfer and convey these kinds of ideas in different ways.
Also, I enjoy writing my own music a thousand times more than doing remixes and things like that. Because when I write my own music I'm free to express whatever is happening. And that often turns into something that's different than the average thing or the normal thing. When I'm writing for others, it's different. There are certain things you got to take into account. Like if I'm doing a reshape for somebody, you kind of don't want to go far out. I still ultimately do my own thing but there are certain rules and guidelines you kind of got to follow.
How many hours a week do you spend working?
All of it. See that's the thing, man, if you leave me alone, you'll never see me. It's funny because right now I'm in the middle of flat hunting and touring. So I'm forced to go out and take care of things. But if I weren't doing those things I'd be working. Because I hear the soundtrack I want to create. It's like a constant soundtrack. I'm sketching all the time in between each project, I'm sketching something and I'm like, "When this is done, I'll get back to that." Ultimately these things become the Fred P stuff, Black Jazz stuff.
What do you use for these sketches?
Ableton. Ableton is my favourite thing, it's the best invention in the history of music, because it allows you to make sketches so quickly that you can literally do hundreds of them and, you know, it'll all be saved in a nice package just waiting for you. I love it. I'll just start doing sketches or I'll start or finish something, and usually when I'm settled in somewhere and I'm going to be there for a while I just do all my work on a laptop. Then when it comes time to mix, I'll go to the studio. I do that 12 hours a day. I don't mess around. I mean, I didn't get here messing around [laughs]. You know what I'm saying? And now that I'm here, I'm going to dig in and try to make the best work I can make.
I'll give you an example. I just did a 12-inch for Mule: Distant Rain EP. That happened when I went back to New York. I went back for like three months and I was staying with my sister, we were way out in the boondocks, man, like in between Jersey and Philadelphia, and there is nothing around. You got to drive three miles to get to the nearest supermarket. So I'm like, "OK, this is a good place to write." So I did that. I finish a couple of sketches and I'm listening to "Using Machines" and I'm like, "This is good. This is really good." For the next week, that's all I listened to, just that track over and over again. You know, this is like five, six days later and it still sounds fresh to me. So this is good. And then I did the title track, and the same thing—I was like, "Damn this is really good." And these were both sketches.
Now, when I know I have a finished record is when I can't stop listening to it. When I know I don't have a finished record is when I can't listen to it for five minutes. But if I keep playing it over and over again and its like "mmmmm!" Or I have it in my phone and I have my headphones on and it's the only thing I'm listening to. I know I have a finished record then. That's when I release it. Sometimes there's scenarios where you just know, you don't even have to do that. You just know. But when it comes to Fred P stuff or Black Jazz stuff, it's usually the ones that I can't stop listening to.
What's the difference between Fred P and Black Jazz stuff?
Black Jazz is… OK, Fred P is more like, um…. you know, there really is no difference [laughs]. It just gives me an opportunity to release more music. Like, I can do Fred P with reshapes and stuff like that, one–offs for other labels. Black Jazz Consortium is what I do solely on Soul People Music. You won't really find that, except maybe one or two occasions, on different labels. It's very rare to see Black Jazz Consortium on any other label other than Soul People. So maybe that's the difference, but sound-wise, pretty much the same thing. It's just with Black Jazz I'm really just embellishing my own ideas and just going ape with it.
On your Facebook, you post these messages now and then that always give me a certain impression: that you feel very thankful. Or you feel very fortunate to be where you are. Is that a strong feeling in your day-to-day life?
Absolutely, because it could be the opposite. I mean, there are a lot of people that want to be artists and live off their art. There is a whole world of people that would love to do that. And I'm a very fortunate guy because I'm not classically trained in anything. I'm self-taught in everything that I've done musically. And I'm still learning every day. And to be at this place at this point of my life and to be able to have a career, period, is beyond my wildest dreams. So yeah, every now and then when I feel like, "OK buddy, take a life-check, look around you." And then I have a moment of gratitude and realize, "Yo, I'm a very lucky guy."
Yeah, I'm Fred P, but recognize something: I'm not any more or less than anybody. We're all on the same level. We all have something to offer. I'm fortunate enough to be able to have a voice and to be able to share my art with you. I'm very grateful for that, and the moment I forget that is when it's all over. So I never forget it. Every day I wake up and I think, "OK, I'm awake. There is work to be done, there are projects to finish. This is a good place."