Puzzlin’ Pete Produces ‘More Time’

By Steven Libowitz   |   May 28, 2024
Pete Muller returns to SOhO on Thursday, May 30, for his first official CD release concert (photo by Alysse Gafkjen)

Pete Muller didn’t set out to make a record in Memphis with an entirely new band when he visited producer/engineer Matt Ross-Spang (Jason Isbell) on the advice of his manager. But the two hit it off, and when his previous producer Rob Mathes proved too busy with his Sting projects to get away, Muller committed to trying out a whole new sound for his carefully-crafted folk-pop songs. That included leaving behind his core recording and concert band the Kindred Souls for all-star session stalwarts and working without the safety net of a click-track for the just released album, More Time

But adapting on the run and problem solving is nothing new for Muller, the Montecito-based billionaire hedge fund founder whose Process Driven Trading helped revolutionize the business – he also plays at the top level in creating crosswords (including for the Montecito Journal) and outlasting opponents by reaching final tables at the World Series of Poker. 

“It was a very different recording than I was used to,” said Muller, who had played piano and sang all his life, but had abandoned music for financial formulas before a sabbatical from Wall Street in the early 2000s. “Instead of every single arrangement of chords being pre-thought, every lyric scrutinized and studied, I just showed them the songs and we played them. As a result, the record has a rawness to it – some imperfection, but a lot of beauty and liveliness. It really breathes in this wonderful way. That’s where the real magic of music comes from.”

As with previous albums, the songs on More Time feature funkier sounds (including Memphis horns) seamlessly integrated with playful grooves. This juxtaposition evinces the delicate balance Muller strikes between what might otherwise seem mutually exclusive dichotomies: the analytical thinker/creative artist expressing his soul; certainty vs. insecurity, desire vs. responsibility; and even Muller’s splitting time between his work on thrumming Wall Street in New York, and his home life on a bucolic Montecito estate.

Many of the songs surf that metaphorical wave – “And (Hold On),” pairing fate and free will; “Turn Away,” evaluating what we can accept and what we need to have changed; “Enjoy It While We Can,” forsaking analytic scrutiny for the unbridled joy of the moment. 

But giving the songs a somewhat grittier sound didn’t eschew the essence of his songwriting approach: drawing on his own emotions and experience to craft candid, vulnerable songs that are both a method to process life’s issues, and a means to express them with universal appeal. 

“When I write about something where I was triggered and had a strong emotion, or things that I’m struggling with in my life, I want to turn it into something that’s inspiring, because I’m really driven and motivated by love,” Muller said. “The underlying ethos of all my songwriting is compassion and understanding even when you’re frustrated or things are not going well. That is my North Star. So when my songs are about longing, there’s this aching, but there’s also resolution or at least hope, because I not only want to move people, I want to inspire them.”

That concept of uplifting proves out because, as has been noted, Muller always seems to have a huge smile on his face even when he’s singing about sad or challenging experiences. It’s not a contradiction; it’s an expression of the joy of performing. 

“I just love that feeling of opening my heart, connecting and singing about it,” he said. “I really enjoy playing music, and I love singing and harmonizing or hearing voices harmonize with me.” 

Local audiences will get the chance to witness his wide grin and hear the new songs when Muller returns to SOhO on Thursday, May 30, fronting a newly stripped-down trio version of the Kindred Souls for the first official CD release concert. As always when he performs in town, it’s a benefit for a nonprofit, with proceeds earmarked for Mission Scholars, a program of the Santa Barbara Education Foundation that promotes educational equality among underserved populations.


You might also be interested in...