If music fans still take the time to read album credits, those locally will likely recognize the name Peter Wierenga. As a producer and engineer, as well as the drummer for power pop outfit Siberian Traps, Wierenga’s unique Frisian surname appears in small print on dozens of local records. Two weeks ago, however, his name (at least his first) appeared across the front of an album for the first time. Under the name Pete and the Crying Teeth, Wierenga has just released a new EP. Entitled Capitalist Jesus, the six-song collection of captivating, quirky, and angular pop rock stands as his very first effort as a solo artist.
The project came about mostly due to consistent prodding from singer-songwriter Joseph Wayne Miller, whom Wierenga has worked with extensively in the past. Miller felt Wierenga really needed to write and record his own songs. Once Wierenga warmed to the idea, he saw the potential for the project to give him the space to try out sounds he’s always wanted but never had the opportunity to explore.
“This was sort of like scratching an itch I had for things I’ve always wanted to do,” he said about the album. “In Traps, there were things that weren’t maybe to the taste of the other band members that I wanted to do, or if I wanted to do something that wasn’t like whatever I was working on [as a producer] — if there was an itch I had, I tried to do something in that vein.”
Though largely inexperienced, as a vocalist Wierenga lacks the reservation one might expect from a newer singer. He has surprising confidence, which he attributes to years of experience coaching vocalists in his role as a recording engineer. That confidence allows him to weave his way through the curious and interesting melodies that match the Zappa-esque qualities of much of the record’s music.
“It’s really about comfortability,” he said. “I’ve played drums in the studio a bunch, worked in the studio a bunch, but I’d never really sung. I have a lot of clients that get nervous in the studio, and I thought, ‘Wow, it’d be kind of cool to feel that again.’ ”
As a musician, Wierenga is almost exclusively a drummer, so he said he needed to recruit a lot of help to flesh out the songs. He would write the vocal hooks and lyrics, and various local musicians he’s worked with would fill out the melodic qualities of the tunes. As a result, Capitalist Jesus features an impressive list of contributors such as Ben Hance of The Cush, Clayton Norris and Dylan Rice of Vogue Machine, rapper Tornup, Taylor Tatsch (Shadows of Jets, Cutthroat Finches), Cameron Smith (Sur Duda, War Party), and Denver Williams (Chillamundo) to name a few.
“The best thing about it is that on any given song there’s, like, four or five people that are different for each song,” Wierenga said. “It was just people that I really liked working with in the past. It kind of became sort of, ‘If you put different people in a room for X amount of hours, what happens?’ ”
Musically, the sounds swing wildly yet cohesively from ’80s-era art rock a la Peter Gabriel on the single “LA” to the Ramonesian pop punk of “Loving You Always” and slick, hands-in-the-air hip-hop on the track “Philbin.” The variety comes from not having to be limited by the constraints of being in a “proper” band.
“I don’t know if I’d ever play [this material] live,” he said. “It’s always been sort of like a studio practice. Like, ‘Let’s say we don’t have to perform this. What can we do?’ Not to mention there’s so many people involved. Most of it was recorded and mixed over quarantine, where playing live wasn’t even an option. It’s basically just some weird shit I’ve been working on, and I hope people like it.”
Wierenga said he owes the near undefinable sonic textures to the wide variety of contributors with whom he was fortunate enough to collaborate.
“I’m not that interested in my own ideas,” he said. “If I can imagine it, it’s likely more boring than something someone else could come up with. Other people surprise me in ways that I think is much more interesting.”
Though the music recalls the devil-may-care attitude of Ween, lyrically Wierenga is not holding anything back. As the EP’s title suggests, along with songs like “Fuck You and Your Way of Life,” there’s some heavy topical themes he touches on. From the blight of prosperity gospel to increasingly bold and strident intolerance, he’s used the project to express some frustrations he has with the state of society.
“Some of this EP is about losing faith in people,” he said. “Things I didn’t think I would hear in my lifetime I’ve heard. You can see good things happening around you, too, but you don’t know if it’s sustainable. It can all be so difficult.”
Despite the challenging subject matter, the record remains a fun, kaleidoscopic sonic adventure, one that Wierenga says was the result of “just the way I process things: through humor.”
Though he’s received some gushing initial reactions from friends and followers of his work since the record came out, he remains characteristically demure.
“I’ve been thinking a lot these last couple years about what it means to be in the moment and just letting [that moment] be its thing and not worrying about it,” he said. “The record’s out now. It’s all so new and different, and I don’t really know what that means yet.”