Interview with Keyboardist, Pete Lee (Tom Walker)
Share email twitter linkedin facebook google+

Interview with Keyboardist, Pete Lee (Tom Walker)

We got the opportunity to speak to session keyboard player Pete Lee ahead of his gig with Tom Walker at The Roundhouse in Camden, London. Pete has been playing keyboard in Tom Walker's band since 2018. He spoke to us about his early influences, his experiences on tour and how he uses Nord keyboards for live performance.

What inspired you to become a musician?

I've always loved the piano. My older Brother and Sister had lessons and I was very jealous so I would just crash around on the piano when they were not around, trying to find things out for myself. I remember, when I was about four or five, discovering that two notes sounded good when played together and it just went from there.

 

Who were your earliest musical influences?

I grew up in an evangelical church setting. The improvised spiritual music played at church taught me how to improvise, and gave me a little understanding about harmony.

Later I took improvisation a little further, learning jazz piano at uni. I studied at Leeds College of Music, and then a masters at The Royal Academy of Music.

I think the very first band I was into was The Corrs! A little embarrassing but I still think "Runaway" is a banger!

Later I got into Herbie Hancock, especially "Headhunters". Then Bill Evans, Brad Mehldau, Keith Jarrett, Michael Brecker… I could go on!

Image title

You do have to have the right gear, you need to be really up to speed with your practicing and it helps if you have a good ear.


How did you get involved in the project?

I feel very fortunate to be in the position I am in now as a session musician. How it happened, I'm not terribly sure! You do have to have the right gear, you need to be really up to speed with your practicing and it helps if you have a good ear.

But there is always a lot of luck involved in getting a job too. Quite often, the phone just rings and you have to be in the right place at the right time. I'm afraid that's not particularly helpful! For example, the way I got this Tom Walker gig was that they needed a pianist at the last minute. Their drummer called me, so I got on the bus with my Nord, learnt the song on the way and then played it when I got there and the gig has been mine ever since.


What's it like working with Tom? Does the fact he's a multi-instrumentalist affect the band?!

Tom is a star! He’s super honest and down to earth. He can be direct as a leader and has very specific ideas about how he wants things to sound.

He doesn’t really accept any bullshit - if it doesn’t sound right, you won’t get it past him!

He does everything by ear, and yet he manages to find gold every time. He’s involved with all aspects of the ‘outfit’ - writing, band leading, arranging, gear, finance, social media and yet he just takes it in his stride.

Any particular gigs stand out as highlights? (and why?)

The last two years have been non-stop with Tom. Personally I love being on tour. Playing a 25 date run really allows you to hone in on the tiniest details. You start to think about how to spend your day to ensure that you’re in the best mindset to play - not only in terms of accuracy, but also to be in a state of mind where you can be really in the present; enjoying the music, the adrenaline and the feedback from the crowd.

There have been a few ‘pinch yourself’ moments. At the end of this UK tour, Tom & I were asked to play a Kylie Minogue cover live on BBC Radio 2. We spent a bit of time reharmonising and putting our own take on ‘Love at First Sight’. What we didn’t know was that Kylie was gonna be there in the studio with us. There was something about the pressure of that performance which really made it feel dangerous. What if she’d hated our version? Sometimes you’ve gotta take a risk and this time it paid off big time.

How have you integrated the Nord Stage 3 into your rig?

I have a brand new set up for the Tom Walker gigs which I'm really pleased to get up on stage with every night, it's amazing. I've got the Stage 3 which serves as my main keyboard and then I have an old Electro 2 on the top, which is ancient but works really well as a controller keyboard. So that triggers the organ sounds on the Dual Keyboard Mode of the Stage 3 and I also use it to trigger some samples in Ableton which are the original synth sounds lifted from the album. There's also a vintage Wurlitzer too, which plays up now and again but I still love it.

What are your favourite features of the Stage 3

The thing I love about the Nord is that it is ready to go. Everything you need is pretty much already on the Nord so you don't actually have to load in many samples yourself. It has a much larger memory now and there is a much larger variety of samples available, especially piano samples. If you are travelling and have to use hired keyboards, this means that, all you need to do is save the program information rather than any of the samples, into a laptop, fly across the world and then load them into a hired Nord and everything is right back there again and you are good to go. The Sound Manager really helps with this and is super useful for re-ordering your programs so you can really streamline your workflow and that is so helpful when you are on tour.  

Image title

The Sound Manager really helps with this and is super useful for re-ordering your programs so you can really streamline your workflow and that is so helpful when you are on tour.  

There's some really beautiful piano sounds on the Stage 3. My favourite is the Royal Grand 3D. It's super wide and I always love hearing my pianos in the widest possible stereo field. I also love the Mellow Upright. I switch the Piano Filter in the piano section up to Bright so it isn't quite so mellow as it is normally and it just sounds beautiful. It sounds just like your Grandma's piano !

But sometimes, I need something that is more coarse and bright for choruses, especially in pop music, so I use the Bright Grand with the Filter set to Bright and then, in the EQ section, I boost the top end by 5dB as well, so it is super bright and quite 80s ! You wouldn't play a solo piano gig with that but, when you are playing within a band, it really cuts through nicely.

I also use a few different Organ sounds too. I use the Farf[isa] organ and that is quite effected because it is sound-matched, according to the original tracks. I'm quite often sent the keys stems and  I have to match them really particularly to what I hear. I also use control pedals to open up the drawbars and to switch the rotary from slow to fast.

What are your plans for the rest of 2019 and beyond?

Tom has just released a No. 1 album and won a Brit Award - so he’s showing no signs of slowing down! I intend to ride the wave - it’s so much fun and I appreciate the stability it offers me. This year we have 4 gigs at Glasto - 3 duo gigs and 1 full band. Following this, we tour America, Russia, Japan, Australia - all finished off by a 2 month UK/European tour in Autumn 2019. It’s definitely tiring, but it’s not everyday you get such a lucky break.

In the last two years I also released my own album “The Velvet Rage” on the Ubuntu label. When Tom takes some time out, I’ll get back to working on my next album. I’ve learnt so much from working with Tom about how to push your own original music. Mine is instrumental jazz in essence, a somewhat different market.

I’ve used my session gigs to feed straight back into my own art - it’s nice to fund music with music!

Probably the most important thing, as always in life, is that YOU’RE NICE! You end up spending weeks on end in close quarters with your bandmates, so just being friendly and non-confrontational will do you well.

Finally, any advice for people wanting to become session musicians?

Probably the most important thing, as always in life, is that YOU’RE NICE! You end up spending weeks on end in close quarters with your bandmates, so just being friendly and non-confrontational will do you well. With this in mind, Some basic 'life' things like sleep patterns and diet can be a little spangled at times. it’s important that you look after your mental health too.

Be generous! I don't really like to think of the music scene as competitive. I prefer to share knowledge and experience rather than protecting it as my own. I try to make myself as dispensable as possible, which ironically means that you become involved in a wider variety of projects rather than just protecting your one gig. If you hook up other people up with work, they're likely to return the favour.

It’s important that session musicians are musically versatile. Most session musicians I know were either trained at uni on performance based pop courses, or jazz courses. Both have their advantages! The more you can play, the more you can say yes to work when it comes in.

There’s nothing worse than saying yes to a challenging gig, not playing that great and getting fired shortly after. Trust me! That just comes down to a lot of instrumental practice.

Technology is important too - it’s not just about the notes you play - the quality of your tone and sound are super important. For years I had a Nord just for the sake of a good piano sound, but it can do so much more. Definitely read the manual, watch YouTube tutorials and try and learn about all the features you can. It’ll make your life a lot easier.

One final point: remember that it's ONLY music - no one is going to die if you get it wrong. It's pointless unless you're having a good time.

Watch our interview with Pete Lee at The Roundhouse, Camden:

Big thanks to Pete Lee, Tom Walker, Mike Platt (live audio), Toby Yeo (additional footage) and the rest of the Tom Walker crew!

About Tom Walker

Tom Walker is a British Solo artist who has seen a lot of success in the past few years. Notable singles include "Leave a Light On" &  "Just You & I". He was listed in BBC Sound of 2018 and won Best Breakthrough Act at the Brit Awards 2019. 

Visit the Tom Walker website for more information: https://www.iamtomwalker.com/

Subscribe to our mailing list


This new blog is presented by the team at Sound Technology Ltd, a leading distributor of musical instruments and pro audio equipment in the UK and ROI.