CL Feature: Orlando alt-soul artist Peter Baldwin, who performs at New World Brewery on Friday (with video)

Baldwin says he didn’t really want to go to college despite being accepted to the only higher education institution that mattered to him, Loyola University in Chicago. His guidance counselor suggested Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida. The private well-regarded school specialized in entertainment and media-related fields, and appealed to Baldwin for a few reasons. “I think it was really, really attractive to be really far away. I didn’t want to be an engineer at any point (that’s what I went to school for), but I kind of wanted to do something musical, and I didn’t feel technically knowledgeable enough to go to a music school. So I came here.”

Baldwin took classes in audio engineering, learned his way around the studio, and made long-lasting friendships and connections along the way. He also picked up guitar and taught himself to play, though he’s now taking lessons to build upon his composition skills and break some bad habits. “I can’t play with a pick, at all. I can’t do it and I don’t really like how it sounds. My posture is kind of off. I do weird things with my left hand to get to notes — I don’t finger things correctly, so it makes me slower. And slow is not good.”

He performed in public for the first time ever in 2007 at Natura Coffee and Tea’s open mic. “I was not relaxed, not at all. Natura gets really crowded, and especially back then, I had a really timid personality, and there were all these kids I definitely thought were a lot cooler than I was. It was nervewracking, it made me feel crazy, but I still perform there pretty often, just because that’s where I learned to do it and I like to be in that atmosphere, still.”

He graduated from Full Sail’s audio program in 2008 and says he definitely took some real-world experience with him. “It really helps when I go into the studio to know, technically, what’s going on. It helps the process a lot, as far as communicating with whoever’s running the board. It helps me creatively, too, to know how to get the sound that I want.”

Baldwin tends to write songs about women, love, sex, heartache. Much of his earlier lyricism explores a crumbling relationship, like “Suicide Girl,” which he recorded when he fronted R&B-funk-jazz fusion fourpiece Bop Gun from 2008 to ‘09. It’s not an ode to the tattooed beauties of, but a song directed at a lover who’d changed so much as to become unrecognizable: “You look like a suicide girl / You’ve got the potential to hurt yourself / I know you could conquer the world / And I wish that I could help with that / But baby, your problems got a whole lot bigger / You’ve got the potential to weigh me down / I wish I could help you out / but our door is closing and I gotta get out.”

His 2008 live acoustic recording, I Was Here, still carries a sense of lyrical despondency. “And it’s hard to make it through to tomorrow, when you’re thinking ‘bout yesterday …” he sings on the refrain of “Green Light Special,” a post break-up number. But he also pens straightforward sorrow-free love songs and even waxes witty and poetic about what would happen “If Music Was a Woman.”

He admits he’s raising the happy factor in his newer music so his songs reflect his present positive outlook about his life, his music, his future. As far time in the studio goes, “We’re working on a three-song EP and trying to get it out as soon as possible.”

He’s also been practicing with a full band that’ll join him for his set at New World this Friday. The band includes longtime friend and bass-playing musical cohort, Geo, also a former member of Bop Gun; John Paul Ramos on keys and aux (trombone, guitar, backing vocals); guitarist Willie Colon, a studio musician for Universal; and drummer Ranson Vorpahl, also the beat keeper for Orlando’s Mirror Pal. The setlist will encompass soul-fused folk, rock, funk and jazz-flavored originals spanning Baldwin’s three-year musical career as well as his popular rendition of “Electric Feel” and a newer cover, The Penguins’ “Earth Angel.” Baldwin’s trademark solo performances on vox and electric guitar will be studded throughout.

The day after our meeting, Baldwin is scheduled to be flown up to NYC for his second meeting with SRC/Universal Motown, the label run by former Loud Records CEO Steve Rifkind that’s responsible for breaking artists like Senegalese singer Akon and most recently, Canadian R&B singer-songwriter Melanie Fiona. Whether or not he lands a major label record deal with Universal remains to be seen, but I can guarantee that if it doesn’t happen there, it’s gonna happen somewhere else. It’s only a matter of time.

Peter Baldwin / Florida Night Heat / November Foxtrot Whiskey, Fri., Jan. 29, 8 p.m., New World Brewery, Ybor City, $6.

Peter Baldwin-"Electric Feel" by MGMT from Julie Schatz on Vimeo.

The first time I saw Peter Baldwin perform, I was mesmerized. The Orlando alt-soul artist played a short tweener set at Broken Mold’s Christmas Party in December and held me (and most of those around me) rapt with merely an electric guitar and his sexy, silky smooth falsetto, hitting notes so high I could almost see them soaring up through the rafters into the starry sky above. After two original numbers, a raw but gripping rendition of MGMT’s popular disco funk number, “Electric Feel,” and some adept scat singing and vocal acrobatics, I was hooked.

I finally got the chance to chat with Baldwin over coffee and cheese toast at Tre Amici last week. On this particular sunny afternoon, he wears dark sunglasses in place of his usual black spectacles. He is a gracious young artist, earnest but sweet-tempered, armed with an endearing smile and easy laugh that balances his more quiet moments.

We discuss his upbringing. He was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska, the youngest in a family, with three older sisters (though he only grew up with two), a father who was both a banker and the founder and pastor of a small area church, and a retired Air Force mother who served as the church’s worship leader and choir director. “That’s how I kind of got started, singing in the choir,” he explains. He also learned to play drums and sax.

Unfortunately, his parents didn’t have varied taste in music. “In my house, all I really heard was gospel music the whole the time ... and that’s pretty much all I knew until high school.” That’s when he discovered Miles Davis and Jackson 5, and found inspiration in the drumming of Steve Jordan on John Mayer Trio’s 2005 live album, Try!. “He changed my perspective on how to play that instrument. It affected my playing a lot.”

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