Peasants Rise: The Peasants Return with New Outlook and a New CD, Big Sunny Day!

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – The Peasants are a garage rock band originally formed by singer/song writer/guitarist Pete Cassani and saxophone player Bob Starker in the late 1980’s, a band that has seen as many ups and downs over the years as a rock-and-roll roller coaster, yet somehow continues to do what it loves and has come out the other side with a new outlook and album titled Big Sunny Day.


Article by Joe Milliken * Photos courtesy of Pete Cassani 1. The Peasants in 2014 2. The first Peasants tour in the late 80's 3. Live in Holland, 2003 4. Pete rockin' onstage 5. Live onstage

An impressionable Pete Cassani engaged in rock-and-roll at an early age, with a range of rock music influencing his formative years. “The Beatles were a huge freak out when I was around 12 years old,” Cassani said in an exclusive, Standing Room Only interview. “Then I became obsessed with the electric guitar and got into a lot of cool bands; Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kiss, Deep Purple, early Aerosmith and of course, Jimi Hendrix. As for my influences on guitar, I’d have to say its Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Carlos Santana, Ritchie Blackmore and a bit of Eddie Van Halen that influenced me the most.”

After graduating from SUNY Binghamton in New York, Cassani travelled to Boston in 1987 with idea to make music... how you may ask? Well, by playing guitar in the subway, of course! “I came to Boston after graduating from college in New York because a friend of mine was living here and I wanted to check it out,” Pete says.

“I didn't want to stay in New York... it was too close to my family and New York City was too big, plus, I just liked the vibe in Boston. I thought the music scene was maybe easier, a little friendlier and you had street performance. I was playing the subways and streets constantly... through rain and snow, stumbling street people and roaring trains. I got pretty good at it, but it sure was a hard way to make a living.”

Pete started writing his own songs and going to various open mic nights, where one night he met “a chain-smoking sax player” named Bob Starker at a blues jam in the Boston suburb of Allston. “We got booted from the ‘jam’ after performing a decidedly punk-version of ‘Tush’... so, we adjourned to my apartment with a case of beer, compared notes and decided to form a band.”

“Yeah, we met at a Sunday night blues jam at Harper’s Ferry... this would be in late 1987 or early ’88,” Bob Ray Starker said in a recent SRO interview. “I had moved out to Massachusetts from Ohio with a friend, hoping to meet some people and get into a band. Pete and I wound up onstage together one night and we did ‘Tush,’ which was was harder and faster than that room was ready for.

“He was just 'don't-give-a-fuck-loud' and probably annoyed a lot of blues people that night, but he cracked me up so we hung out. We started hanging out, going to open mic nights and working on songs with my friend Trent on bass in our kitchen up in Salem. We were from pretty different places musically, but we kind of bonded over Dylan and the Replacements and just took it from there.”

Upon forming The Peasants, it turned out there was already another band going by the same name, so Cassani and Starker added “Velcro” to their moniker, although Pete is “still not sure why.” The original Velcro Peasants also included Wayne Johnson on bass and Cliff Goodman on drums.

The inaugural Velcro Peasants show was in August of 1988 at TT The Bears in Boston. “There were nearly 100 people there and I was wearing orange sweatpants,” Pete states. “I have no fashion sense.” Many shows followed, including all the heavy-hitter clubs in Boston including The Rat, The Middle East, Bunratty’s, The Channel, The Cave, Necco Place, Club Three, O’Brien’s, Johnny D’s and many other clubs that no longer exist.

“We played our first show at TT the Bear's and some guys came up to us and said they were already The Peasants and asked us to change our name,” Starker said. “Pete's solution was to tack another word onto the front of the name and we became The Velcro Peasants. I didn’t like the name and wanted to do more roots-like music, so I bolted and they became a three-piece.

“However, Pete and I stayed in touch while I was in and out of a few other bands and I eventually wound up coming back. That second time was my favorite version of the band with Pete on guitar and me on sax, with Pete Downing on bass and Bob Hill on drums... the 'Pete, Pete, Bob and Bob lineup'.”

“We played in the Balcony of The Rat one Sunday afternoon... it was wild and I was a little crazy!” Pete recalled. “I just remember really liking the weirdness of playing the Balcony. We did a few sets and everyone was getting drunk on a Sunday afternoon... it was a great vibe.

“Eventually, Wayne sort of left music I think...” Cassani added. “And Cliff still plays drums in a bunch of bands up on the North Shore. Bobby moved back to Ohio and has been in Columbus since around 1994. He plays in everyone's band in Columbus and is the city's resident rock-saxophone guy!”

Indeed, Starker would go back home to Ohio and entrench himself in that music scene to this day, having played and recorded with many bands including The Sovines (5 albums), his own WHO NELLIE band (2 albums), The Cheater Slicks, Fort Shame w/Sue Harshe, Birds of Hair w/Marcy Mays, Two Cow Garage and The Sin Shouters to name a few. “I’m having a great time and don’t imagine I’ll ever get tired of playing,” Starker concluded.

“After all the bands I’ve played in and after all this time, I can honestly say I've never worked with a better guitar player than Pete... he's just a monster. I think, perhaps the biggest thing that actually drove me away was how prolific Pete can be. There just wasn't enough room for two songwriters in that band and I wanted to get my own stuff out there.

“Playing with Pete definitely didn't hurt my chops any, as we both got really good at chasing each other through solo breaks, throwing licks back and forth. I haven't played with too many other people who kept me on my toes like that. I have no idea how or when it will happen, but I've always assumed that Pete and I would record together again someday. The older we get, the better we both get and it would be nice to put it together again sometime. It'll happen... and it will tear people's heads clean off!”

By 1989, they were selling hundreds of cassettes on the street from the guitar case and upon realizing that the CD medium was upon them, The Peasants self-released All The Rage in 1990. The momentum started growing, with over 250 college radio stations adding it to rotation, however, Pete states; “We're great at making music but we suck at selling it. We think making music is hard enough and that should be enough, but it isn't. So, we got lost in the shuffle as do most bands. It's nothing to take personal... I'm just a shitty salesman of my own songs.”

By the early 90’s, Cassani was suffering severe pain in his arms which turned out to be tendonitis. “All those years of physical jobs like laying carpet and moving furniture had destroyed my body. I didn't know if I'd ever be able to play guitar again and it took two years, two shoulder operations and lots of physical therapy but I came back. Yes, I was to get a second chance.”

In the mid-90’s, Pete met a drummer named Steve Hart and the music started all over again. “One summer night on Lansdowne Street I found myself in an auto parts truck with a very happily drunk Steve Hart, who was cranking Alice In Chains and telling me how much he loved the Velcro Peasant songs. He wanted in, so we started playing around a bit.”

In 1997, Cassani and Hart brought in bassist Bill Close (of The Freeze), dropped “Velcro” from their name and recorded Out On The Streets. The Peasants then hit the road (“in a corroded, 1986 Ford Econoline van”) and for the next three years, toured all over the South and into the Midwestern United States... reaching as far as Nebraska. “I booked a lot of the gigs around the country and then a girlfriend did it for a while and she was really good at it, but it was really hard to keep a band on the road. It was too much work for no money and nobody wanted to continue doing that.”

In 2000, the band connected with a Dutch booking agent who set up a about a dozen small tours for The Peasants which include rocking through France, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Poland and Austria. The band also released an album there in 2002 titled Welcome to My Country on the Netherland’s label Suburban Records.

“I found a friend of a friend who knew a guy in Holland that booked bands real DIY in that country. So, we went over a few times by sheer force of will, played dumps, made no money and didn't care. I was doing real estate at the time so I had money to burn. We just kept going over there to play and started to catch on and build a reputation as a good rock band.”

However, after the 9/11 tragedy, Cassani began exclusively touring throughout America as a solo artist including two, long tours across the country and back. “One time, I drove 900 miles in a single day to get to a coffeehouse gig. It was brutal, yet it culminated with the release of Love Your Enemy in 2005.

Love Your Enemy was the result of me being really pissed off about everything going on in the United States at the time, from the stolen election by George W. Bush in 2000 to the illegal invasion of Iraq for doing nothing, to the torture prisons set up all over the world for the CIA and these alleged terrorists - many of which were just farmers who were picked up and tortured for years for absolutely nothing - to finally, just the general police state of this country and the assassination program of African Americans.”

After a couple more tours through Europe, all the travelling and hard-rocking finally caught up to Pete and between 2006 and 2012 he endured replacement surgery on both hips and a broken leg, forcing him away from performing music for the next three years. However, you just can’t keep a hard-working, musician-at-heart down as Pete has once again, bounced back. He re-united with Steve Hart and with the assistance of Paul Kochanski - bassist for the Boston roots-rockers The Swinging Steaks - released a new, 12-track Peasants album titled Big Sunny Day!

“Bill Close had moved to Los Angeles and he wasn't about to fly back to Boston to play bass for a day. We knew Paul from way back and had played shows with The Swinging Steaks a number of times over the years. We have always been mutual fans and Paul played on the first Peasant album in 1997 when we reunited. He played the finer stuff, the ballads and the walking 6/8 time lines while Billy Close was still learning how to play the bass. Billy was really a guitar player before he joined up with us in 1996.”

Released in April, Big Sunny Day is the first Peasants album in a decade and runs the gamut, combining elements of garage, pop, punk, stoner-rock and even country and spaghetti western influences as well. The album was mixed by Paul Q. Kolderie, who has worked with such artists as Radiohead, Warren Zevon, Pixies, Dinosaur Jr. and Morphine.

“This is the best rock release I’ve heard in quite a while,” Boston rocker David Hull said in a recent SRO interview. Hull is an original member of FARRENHEIT and has recorded and toured with The Joe Perry Project and Aerosmith, among others. “These songs feature great playing, singing and great songwriting! Pete is one of my favorite songwriters and one hell of a guitarist.”

“It's been 10 years since Love Your Enemy and a lot has happened. Steve and I fought about Love Your Enemy, then, my health got really bad for a few years. But in 2012, I quit my job because I was just doing real estate and wasn't working on music. I felt like it was killing me and I wasn't doing what I was supposed to do, which was write songs, play guitar and put out new music... so I quit.

“Then I broke my leg during a Who Tribute thing I was doing and it was just one thing after another. I got really depressed and honestly, it was just a brutal eight years or so... but I came out of all that and finally started writing some songs. After putting out so many albums that were all about being an ‘angry man,’ I wanted to put out something that was honest, that told the hard truth but didn't take itself too seriously... I wanted it to be positive. I guess this record is me trying to be positive."

When the record was complete, the guys wanted someone with real experience to mix the songs because they knew they had something good and frankly, didn’t want to blow it on the mix with someone perhaps not qualified. “A friend told me to send it to Kolderie, who I didn’t know at all. I didn’t think we could afford him or that he’d be interested in ‘another unknown Boston band,’ but I sent him the songs and he really liked them and said he’d love to mix the album!

"I was connected to Pete and the group through a mutual friend," Paul Q. Kolderie said in an exclusive, SRO interview. "At the last minute, the guy who was going to mix the record couldn't do it and I believe Pete was asking around to find someone to get it done. We had never met, oddly enough, but hit it off right away... and the music is really good!

"Not enough people are working in what I would call the "rock" genre right now...not metal, not thrash, not pop music...just cool, guitar-driven, hooky and energetic rock music! When I listen to alternative rock radio these days, I can't believe how dull the songs are... where is the excitement? Well, these guys are trying to shake it up so I was happy to help with the mix."

“We are very excited about this record and to have Paul Kolderie becoming interested in mixing the album after 'hearing the songs' is a thrill,” Pete continued. “We figured out the money and it wasn't crazy. Paul was very cool with us because he knew we were a small band, but I think he mostly did it simply because he really liked the songs!”

The Peasants (and Cassani as a solo artist) will be touring throughout New England and hope to also be back in Europe doing shows in February of 2016. Big Sunny Day is available everywhere online and it will be worth your while to investigate this band and enjoy!

“You can't take everything in life that personal because soon you won't be here... sooner than you think and you better leave the world better than you found it,” Pete concluded. “So, you gotta try to leave something positive and I think it's the best record we've ever done and we hope everyone will enjoy Big Sunny Day!”

Other musicians who have partaken in the history of The Peasants through the years include the aforementioned David Hull, Chris Hull, Pete Downing, Dave Lieb, Billy O’Malley (Stripmind/Thirsty), Ted Condo (6L6), Phil Derboghosian (BeefyDC), Todd Spahr(The Cavedogs), Ray Neades (BeefyDC), Dave Stefanelli (RTZ/Peter Wolf) and Nils Bloch. To learn more about The Peasants and the new CD, visit the band at www.thepeasants.net or www.facebook.com/THEPEASANTS.BOSTON