A native of Columbus, Indiana, Peter Oren grew up around the Pence family. As an adult, that upbringing and its proximity to politics now influence the music he’s making and his bigger mission.
“I try to speak the language of Indiana,” Oren says, “but inject new political and economic ideas into the scheme. My music does that to some extent, but I think there’s more to be done outside of music.”
Oren is slated to perform at The Bishop in Bloomington on Sunday, Nov. 18. Beforehand, we chatted about his noble Hoosier mission.
NUVO: Talk to me about your upbringing.
PETER OREN: I grew up in Columbus, Indiana. My parents both went to Purdue, and they met there. They still live in the same house I grew up in. I went to high school there. I went to IU for two years and then dropped out. I worked at a grocery store, and then started taking music seriously.
NUVO: I saw you open up for Jens Lekman at The Bishop earlier this year, and you told a story related to the Pence family. I remember it being rather funny.
OREN: Yeah. [laughs] I grew up down the street from Greg Pence, who just got elected to Congress. My older brother was close friends with their youngest son John Pence, who has recently been working for the Trump re-election campaign. Their oldest daughter was engaged to somebody who ran a bourbon review magazine. I was 20, and I tagged along with my brother to that engagement party. They didn’t let me have any of the nice array of bourbon, even though I’d already been drinking at that age, as is seemingly quite normal. But they said that I could have two Newcastle Brown Ales, which they poured into a frosty mug for me.
The parents went upstairs eventually, and nobody else seemed to care if I had the bourbon. So I sat into some bourbon, and then we smoked a little something out of an apple outside. I blacked out and didn’t really remember much else that night except for waking up on their couch having puked on it and myself. My brother and his friend got me into the garage and eventually walked me home. I think I left the shower on all night. [laughs]
I found people got a kick out of that story when I told it because it’s funny to say you puked on the Pences’ couch. They deserve to be discredited for their politics and not necessarily for that story. To me, it just illustrates how bizarre it is to be so close to a political family. John Pence was my brother’s best man in his wedding two years ago. That was right before the election. Their relationship has deteriorated since that for political reasons. It’s just strange man.
I kind of feel a responsibility to counteract whatever influence they have on the world. It makes me wonder what it is about Indiana that needs to change and how it could be changed.
NUVO: You are managed by the Winspear guys. How did you link up with them?
OREN: In 2016 or 2017, I found the label Western Vinyl. Local Indiana music lawyer Robert Meitus helped me connect with Western Vinyl. Once we got that deal sorted out, I felt like maybe I should find some management to help facilitate some other aspects of things. I knew of Winspear, having lived in Bloomington and gone to plenty of shows there. They were managing Hoops, Kevin Krauter, and a couple other bands. I thought maybe I should give the young, ambitious local dudes a go. So I’ve been working with Jared Jones, and it’s been good.
NUVO: You teamed up with some other musicians on for your latest record Anthropocene. Can you elaborate more on how the album came together?
OREN: I opened for Gill Landry at The Bishop in Bloomington in 2015 or so. I kept in touch with Gill’s drummer Jacob Edwards, who played with The Avett Brothers. I made a record that I sent to Jacob, and Jacob passed it around to a couple of producers in Nashville, including Ken Coomer who used to play drums for Wilco and Uncle Tupelo.
He got in touch with me, and we talked about making a record. It started with five songs. I made it down to Nashville and then shopped those five songs to labels. I found a label, finished the record, and put together five more songs. So it was really sweet. I hadn’t sung into a mic that was worth more than my life before. To hear myself through all of that expensive gear, along with really talented players, was really pretty new and super cool.
NUVO: What is the significance behind the album’s title?
OREN: I’m informed with the sense of urgency that comes with recognizing climate change and our effect on the ecological state of the planet. I figured if I were going to work with someone like Ken down in Nashville that I should try to make it count. I was less interested in marketability and more interested in saying something that I think needs to be said.
Anthropocene is the word that geologists seem to agree could be used to describe the geologic epic that we’re in (“anthropo” meaning human and “cene” meaning new or recent). I’ve also heard “capitalocene,” which ought to be considered because it places the blame more clearly on capitalism. If I were going to go back and do it again, I might call it Capitalocene.
NUVO: As I mentioned, I saw you on that Jens Lekman tour. What has it been like touring all over the world in support of your own music?
OREN: It’s been great. I was in Norway in August for a festival. In May, I was in Europe for about a month. The tour with Jens was sweet. We went from Miami all the way up to Milwaukee and then down to Mexico City. I like the food and seeing different places. I like meeting people and being heard by people. It’s pretty sweet.