By: Brian Kendall
While local musician Peter More roamed far from his colorful childhood home to gather the friendships and cultural influences that would lead to his new album, Beautiful Disrepair, the folk artist’s music remains Fort Worthian at its heart. Previously the frontman for the band Oh Whitney, Peter has hit refresh on his musical career with an updated cast of instrumentalists and a new producer — Steely Dan’s legendary lead singer and keyboardist, Donald Fagen.
More recorded Beautiful Disrepair in seven different locations, ranging from Woodstock, New York, to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. And, while the album’s sound is just as diverse as the bandmates’ origins and travels, it all started in Fort Worth.
More grew up in one of the most eccentric, art-infused homes in the city — and perhaps the world. A cavalcade of heady colors and endless imagination, every inch of More’s childhood home is covered with something beautiful to look at — carved wooden ornaments, whimsical oil paintings, technicolor rugs. Every room feels like another layer of a lucid dream.
“Growing up in this house was always very inspirational,” More says. “There’s something about the environment in the house that lends itself to feeling creative and experimenting with different things, even just the colors alone. It feels sort of Mexican, very vibrant. It’s been a really fun house to grow up in, always sort of changing and evolving.”
More’s parents, Whitney Hyder and Doug More, encouraged his self-expression explicitly and by the very nature of their being. Creativity was a priority for Whitney, who was constantly designing and re-designing the house. She would sometimes stay up until 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning hanging pictures and decorating, and this exuberant artistry rubbed off on Peter at a young age. His early years were spent drawing and painting, and he began learning to play the guitar around age 8 or 9.
“My mom has always been an amazing force, and my dad too – just very supportive and behind all of us,” More says. “They’ve always pushed me to pursue something creative and have always just been there. I’m very close to them.”
More’s family has long been a cultural presence in Fort Worth. His late grandmother, Martha Hyder, was a vital champion for the arts who helped establish the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition as a global tour de force. She and her late husband, Elton, were enthusiastic collectors of antiques and art from around the world, from folk textiles to French painters like Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec. Many of the eclectic treasures the couple collected are still at Casa Hyder, the family home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
More made frequent visits to the colonial-style hacienda, another source of aesthetic inspiration. The city of San Miguel itself stoked his desire to wander and travel. “It’s a fun place to visit growing up, an amazing little town that’s very well preserved,” More says. “It’s become more discovered, for better or for worse.”
Situated 170 miles northwest of Mexico City, the hill town is an enchanting expat haven of cobblestone streets and baroque architecture. There’s a romantic quality of light that would make Monet swoon. It feels cosmopolitan yet folksy, with a thriving artistic community and sophisticated vibe.
Tucked away near the historic town square is Casa Hyder, which Martha and Elton Hyder built in 1959. The 10-bedroom home is a bougainvillea-covered labyrinth of hidden gardens, rooftop terraces and secret stairwells. A living museum, it’s filled with carefully curated designs from Mexico and far beyond. Seventeenth-century Italian furniture fraternizes with Moroccan lanterns and Afghan embroidery. Casa Hyder hosts fairy-tale weddings that are featured in publications like Vogue and The Knot. It’s undeniably the most magnificent home in San Miguel, and it’s where Peter has spent chunks of time ever since he was a little boy.
He found himself there once again after two years of living in Brooklyn. Oh Whitney had taken a hiatus after the release of its eponymous album; the band’s bassist moved to Hawaii with his girlfriend and started a family. More was ready to start something new, too. It was perfect timing, as an old friend from Spain was just arriving in San Miguel.
Five years earlier, More had become fast friends with Jose Juan Poyatos while learning to play flamenco guitar from him in Madrid. They met back up in Mexico and jammed together in San Miguel and then Puerto Rico. Soon, a new band lineup was in the works with bassist Diego Noyola (from Mexico) and Adrien Faunce (from France), the original drummer from Oh Whitney. Sean Giddings, an Austin keyboardist who plays with Pat Green, joined the band two years ago.
Hailing from disparate corners of the globe and musical backgrounds, each member of the band contributes unique influences.
“What’s fun about having a band is the collaborative side of it,” More says. “What each person brings to the sound and the dynamic with different band members.”
While Oh Whitney’s sound was firmly rooted in blues and rock, the band’s new iteration has shifted toward a more global feel with elements of flamenco guitar, Brazilian rhythms and Latin warmth. “The four of us have all become very close, best friends,” More says. “We’ve played together long enough now that there’s a creative trust between everyone. The band really feels like a unit anytime we’re working on ideas or writing new stuff. There’s always a collaborative aspect of it.”
The band’s travels together have also inspired its sound. After a trip to play in California shortly after forming, the new group headed down to Bahia, Brazil. The four stayed in the South American country for several months, performing at numerous shows and soaking up the sounds of the culture.
“Being surrounded by Brazilian music like bossa nova and Tropicália subconsciously had an effect on what we were writing and playing. We were playing a bunch of different parties down there, four or five nights a week. There was one show where we played for seven hours straight … people there really love to dance! I thought we were going to have to start repeating songs,” More laughs. “There’s just something so warm about the people and the whole vibe in Brazil, and in Mexico too.”
San Miguel also has an undeniable presence on the album, as most of the songs were composed there at Casa Hyder. It’s also where the band first met its producer Donald Fagen, the co-founder of renowned ’70s rock band Steely Dan.
Their chance encounter was a surreal moment of serendipity: Fagen and his wife (also a musician) wandered into an art gallery owned by the band’s bassist, Diego Noyola. “It was so weird,” More admits. “Diego called me and told me that Donald Fagan and his wife, Libby Titus, came into the gallery. They were talking with my mom, and my mom told them we were in a band.”
The band sent Fagen a live recording of the track “Beautiful Disrepair,” and he invited them to play together on the upcoming New Year’s Eve. After everyone hung out a few more times, More received an email. “[Fagen] said he was very interested in what we were doing and to let him know if we needed help. We told him that would be amazing. From the beginning, because he was just offering to help out, there was no formal feeling about it.”
With Fagen’s guidance, that single demo track would become a full-fledged album.
Steely Dan’s conceptual sophistication and perfectionistic studio production have garnered Fagen a reputation as a meticulous sound craftsman. And there’s also the infamous incident when Fagen tried out seven different session guitarists to find the right match for the solo on Steely Dan’s song “Peg.” Fagen’s mastery of audio engineering is undeniable, but More reveals a different side to the famously precise musician. “Donald’s sense of humor is amazing. He’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. And he has such a positive vibe in the studio, which just makes everything a lot of fun. He felt just like another guy in the room; we were all just hanging out.”
Fagen brought his sharp, polished production style to the album, along with his expert finesse with layered harmonies, instrumentation and innovative arrangement. “Donald had a big influence on the record,” More admits. “It was pretty amazing to watch him work because he’s a super intelligent person with a very musical brain. It was like a crash course in recording. He has an ear for things that not everyone can hear at first. While he’s a very careful producer, he also was very big on first or second takes and about the groove being right. There was a certain wrongness or imperfection he also dug about recording. He tried to get the most out of being in the studio from each player and each part, and he had a lot of ideas on bringing different elements in.” Several session musicians were brought in to add horns, strings, fiddle, and lap steel sounds to the album. Fagen himself plays keys.
“Donald was a real pleasure to work with and such a supportive producer. As the project went on, we ended up feeling almost like he and Libby were family. Libby really believed in the project and was a big force throughout from the very beginning. They’re an amazing couple — two artists that are very much alike — and both really funny and bright. They’re awesome.”
Recording sessions took place in-between Steely Dan tours — and in seven different studios spread across North America. The band recorded in San Miguel, Fort Worth, New Jersey, and at several studios in New York (three in New York City and one upstate in Woodstock). Each location’s distinct personality contributed something different to the vibe of the album.
“We were recording in Woodstock in the winter, and it was just covered in snow. It felt like you were in that movie ‘The Deer Hunter,’ with all the old mills and trains going by. When you go from that to downtown Times Square, where you walk out on the studio’s balcony and it’s just a sea of people and chaos … all those things helped shape the sound of the album.”
Beautiful Disrepair shines through its gritty soulfulness, 11 dynamic tracks that swerve between Latin-tinged folk-rock to jazz-dosed blues to straight-up Texas country. Gnawing jams like “In the Basement” mingle with slow-burning ballads like “Yet to Be.” All are imbued with the acoustic delicacy of More’s raw tenor and pensive poetry. Songs often twist deliciously into a deeper nuance, cracking open with vulnerability.
Round-bodied and waxing, “Caddis Moon” flips from lush layers into an Afro-Cuban tumbao rhythm. “Country Love Song” curls up on the edges with a certain charm, and “Cuando” crawls through the darkness with horns and Spanish vocals. Dreamy “Not in the Cards” shakes with longing. From bleary-eyed misery and melancholia to shimmering hope, Beautiful Disrepair touches on the ever-changing electricity of emotion.
“It’s an album that takes time to sit with and listen because there’s a lot of different stuff on there,” More explains. “It’s not just one sound, but it is a cohesive record. It was recorded in a lot of different places, but I think it came together in the end.”
Beautiful Disrepair by Peter More is now available digitally worldwide. You can catch his band performing live in Fort Worth Sept. 14 at Friday on the Green and Nov. 10 at the Lone Star Film Festival. The band will also perform at the Trans-Pecos Festival in Marfa this month.
While More now calls Austin home, the roots of this globe-trotting wanderer are firmly planted in Fort Worth. His hometown has an enduring influence on his music.
“There’s a lot of soul to Fort Worth. I think when people are doing something creative here, be it music or anything else, it’s a really inspiring place.”
By: Brian Kendall