Peter CottonTale talks running a Black owned business, his new album and his Milwaukee ties

Peter CottonTale talks running a Black owned business, his new album and his Milwaukee ties

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Peter CottonTale began cutting his teeth with Chance the Rapper on his mixtape “10 Day” back when they were just kids. Peter became part of The Social Experiment, Chance’s production group full time, while collaborating and producing for other Chicago and national musicians. When Peter was making those first couple albums he dreamed of having access to instruments and studios that were not available to him, so now he owns Record Chicago’s Music where he provides the things he didn’t have to kids like him, as well as doing much more. This year, he used that lifetime of connections and goodwill to make his album “Catch,” which is a chorus of Chicago’s greatest.

Chicago isn’t the only place Peter has friends. In this interview he shows much love for Milwaukee’s Grace Weber, WebsterX and plenty of others.

Katie Levine

So I wanted to jump right into it. “Catch” is a great album. And it’s got a lot of gospel themes. I would not say it as a gospel album. But you got Kirk Franklin on it, you know, you’re in the territory. 

And Fred Hammond too, don’t forget! Don’t forget Uncle Fred, he’s there man. 

Yes! And I just feel like it dropped like right before this time where I feel like the message of the album and kind of like the feelings in gospel music are really intersecting with the moment. And so how do you think that the themes in the album intersect with the Black Lives Matter movement?

It’s interesting that you say that you brought up the Black Lives Matter movement right off the bat, because you know, a lot of things are going on today. Very important that we stay informed as far as what’s going on. And that’s kind of like what I thought after I released the album, I was like, “Man, I just released the album” on April 17 and a lot of people going along with promo or campaign runs. And I had some things in the bag, but really what started to flood my timeline more and more and more, was the movement to defeat systematic racism. So I just kinda like, it didn’t seem abnormal for me to plug my music because I’m Black and I’m a Black business, but the way it tied in to me is that I just started physically moving towards those things. Towards organizers, towards protesters, towards my friends that are fighting the fight.

So weirdly enough it happened and just like everything else in the world, time kinda kept moving and it started to apply itself to the time, I think mainly because I never really thought about that. When I was dropping at it before everything that happened. Cause you know, we never knew what was gonna happen, but I definitely was like, man, I think because I was active in what was going on that I started to see my music from that perspective. You know what I’m saying? I started to be at a food bank or some place where they’re giving out supplies for neighborhoods that have been affected by a lot of shutdowns that happen as far as our grocery stores and Chicago public schools shutting down lunches at one point. Some workers came up to me and were like, “Hey man, I listened to your album today.” That was awesome because I’m like, you’re listening to my album today and now you’re out here, you carry what you’re listening to all day and it affects your vibe and your mood. 

Well, I have always felt like the music that you make and like that scene is like this little community that has something that is larger than itself. And when you’ve got a movement that is talking about some of the largest things, I think that those two really go together. 

Yeah. You know what, I think you start thinking about yourself differently too, once you start taking more actions and getting out into certain things, you start seeing your creative perspective from a whole new light sometimes as well, you know? 

Yeah. So I know that you have always been super active, as it is, before everything was going on. How has your personal engagement in your community changed in the past couple of weeks? Or are you just diving down and getting more people involved? 

I think a lot of people’s personal engagement has changed over the past three, four months due to COVID. So it’s actually a pretty much a eggshell topic on how to move, but you know, some people have been fighting and using their voice and their lives for way longer than I was even born. So it made me get out there and do more things physically, as well as direct a lot of my platform towards information that can inform others who are trying to help right now. Because I think the music and my talent I’ve been blessed with has created a platform as well as a number of opportunities. And I just want to make sure I was using that platform to its fullest extent because I think that’s one of the most important things to uplift and amplify the Black voices that are fighting today. 

And you are a business owner, so tell me about the business. How you started and what you are accomplishing with it?

Okay. So I’ll tell you two from two personal sides to tie into kind of my blackness and who I am and what I’m representing for myself and my community. I really wanted to give, I was 16. I was 18. I was 22, and those are benchmarks in my life where I was like, “Man, if I just had a studio right now, I would go crazy.” 

I remember times in my life that I was offered a space for free or times in my life that I saved a lot of money and was able to rent a studio or times in my life where I worked in my path to getting studio space, whatever the situation might’ve been, I remember just having that need and really having the ambition to fulfill that need. So I started this business to create a space for people like me to have an opportunity to be around creativeness, active creativeness. Because a lot of us are very active in today’s music and creative world, as far as audio goes, and learn from it, be a part of the movements of it. If you get what I’m saying, kind of like how things business flow moves and things like that and allow people to just have access to, I don’t know, gear that I never had access to when I was 20, 22. Gear that I was walking up in $6,000, $10,000, one million dollar studios, that I only had access to then, which allowed me to create some great records over the past 10 years. But really for my community, I want that to be accessible at all times. On the other side, being a Black business owner is super important to me. A lot of people don’t get that opportunity where I’m from. So I always wanted to just have a hub or a place that influenced creativity and learning. 

What’s a thing that you wanted when you were 16, 18, 22 that you have now that you’re like, “Hey, this is a thing that I can like give to a kid.”

Man, it’s not something that I can give to a kid. But when I was 16, 17 I saved up for a Moog synthesizer a Voyager, man. I saved up some bread for that joint. And I learned a lot about synths and syntheses from that, which tickled my fancy into kind of like tinkering with audio. So really the simplest thing I can give somebody that’s in the studio or a kid like me is knobs and buttons, man. 

Why did you want the Moog and what did you have to do to save up for it?

Personally? Why did I want to move it? Because Herbie Hancock had a Moog. He was using that joint on everything and I don’t know how much I studied the phases of his life throughout college and throughout high school, when I was younger and being very imprinted on it. You know what I’m saying? Those things, seeing him, performing those things and the things that he could do with those things. I was like, “Yo, who else is using this?” Quincy uses it for Michael Jackson stuff. A lot of people use a lot of Moog stuff for a lot of different things, but I was like, yo, I feel like I could create a sound off of this. 

What jobs did you have to save up money? What were you doing? 

So when I was younger, I was teaching music at a music school, like out South. I was really young. I was getting paid nothing, but I was just kind of like stacking bread, to try to get that going for myself. My mom was also pretty smart. So we had some money that we started, like learning about stock information and started learning about banking information and how to use interest and how to really use your bank to help you make money. So I did stuff like that too. 

How important is it being in Chicago? We’re not far away, but what is the Chicago scene? Do you feel like you can make an impact in Chicago? 

That’s a great question, man. What is the scene here in Chicago? It is ever changing to be 100 with you. There’s so many different levels of what’s going on now. I’m getting away from music, I’m going to film. They’re shooting major films here and having been for the past five, 10 years, you know what I’m saying? Not only that but voice overs and commercials they have been here for major companies and then moving down or up the ladder, whichever way you perceive it, music happens here on a crazy level from young creatives that can dance to older creatives that have made it an imprint on merchandising and made an imprint on, I mean I can say rapping, but there’s also experienced choir members, choirs and singers here too, that have such a rich history of being some of the, I don’t want to say original but being some of the people who have carried music throughout the Midwest and tour with some other greater people or have been there when music has needed them. So it’s been super important just to realize that and to be here, to build upon that because you know, a lot of musicians, they get some money and they go to where recording is popular, which makes sense. Los Angeles, New York. Now, Atlanta, you know what I’m saying? Chicago has always been a hub. We created people and maybe it would be nice if we had everything for ourselves and could grow up here, get educated here, get a job here and build a job here, you know? 

I know that there’s a Milwaukee-Chicago connection and our mutual friend, Grace Weber. Can you tell me how you got connected with Grace? 

I’ve had some roots in Milwaukee, as far as like some friends there for a minute, shout out to my homie, Ryan, shout out to WebsterX. He’s doing a lot in the field right now. Please, if anybody has a chance to hear this, go check out WebsterX, online, follow him. He has some great information for what’s going on in Milwaukee as far as how you can help and do what you can do. Grace Weber too. She connected me with a lot of people in Milwaukee. We started working on her project like a long, long, long time ago with Nico and Nate Fox from Social Experiment and produces here. Nate’s in LA, and we just kind of became friends. We’ve toured together. We made music together. I’ve played for or with her. And I don’t know, it just, my musical homie really, just grew from there to be honest with you. She’s helped me out on many occasions where I was like song writing as long as she’s all over the album. A lot of production stuff that I’ve done with Nate and Nico are all over her project as well. So I think music kind of just brought us together. 

Yeah. And you came up for a Grace Weber’s Music Lab and we are super thankful for that. And that was just like such a moment for us. Just, so sincerely, thank you. We still talk about it.

I thank the kids, man, I thank everybody for listening, dude. Because come on, they can walk out of there and be like, Hey, I can do that. Or they can look at and be like, wow, let me try that. So shout out to everybody, that was a part of that.

We’ve been playing this song “Pray for Real.” Can you tell me how that song came together? Musically and with the people involved and like the process of making that. 

Hey, shout out to you guys. Thank you for playing “Pray for Real.” It’s been awesome hearing the response from that joint. It was something that was created in Atlanta really, with me Nate Fox and Dexter Coleman. He’s an engineer here in Chicago. He’s worked on so many different things. We were down there for Chances sessions for pretty much Big Day, but really Chance goes back and forth to Atlanta to make music because they have such a rich Black recording scene and it’s pretty well put together too. So there’s a lot of creativity going on there. So we were just there kind of like making tunes and that joint happened and it sat in the holster for a long time, it was on the track list for a Big Day for a while. And then Big Day got filled up with some very songs. So that one was sitting there and I played it along with my project and it kind of fit what was going on. So it was good to have a Sox boys tune on that.

I always want to end on a song that you have been listening to and that could be anything. So, what’s one song recently that you like can’t stop listening to or the last song that you really fell in love with?

Let me go to my recently played and see what’s really been played. 

I know that I always ask people this and then sometimes when someone asks me, I’m like, “Oh my God, what, what is music? What have I been listening to?” 

Right? You’re right. All right. Let me say too. I have this answer in two ways. I’ve been really, I’ve been taking vocal lessons for the majority of this year now, I guess. And I’ve been kind of listened to my album on repeat just so I can perform it to above and beyond how I recorded it. So I’m going to say like, “Catch” has definitely been on repeat, not on some vain stuff, but I’ve been studying a lot of this stuff musically, because I’ve had some really great singers on there and they’ve done some really great stuff. Other things that I’ve been listening to, as far as that goes, you remember back in the really COVID stay-at-home days where people were doing Verzuz TV?

Yeah. 

Man. Erykah Badu and Jill Scott’s between them, Fred Hammond and Kirk Franklin. Those are my two Verzuz that were crazy. And I’ve kinda been on the Erykah Badu kick for like since then, damn near, you know what I’m saying? 

Yeah. What do you love about Badu? Have you seen her live? 

Yes, definitely seen Badu live. I’ve had the honor of being on a track with Badu called “Rememory.” I was singing in the hook and she did her verse. It was awesome. What I love about Badu? What’s not to love about Erykah Badu, to be honest with you. She envisioned a lot of the things that we listened to today, a lot of hybrid images of soul music and things like that. I don’t want to get scientific because a lot of people have a lot of descriptions and perspectives of her, but she’s amazing to be one hundred percent. 

Do you have a favorite Badu song? 

I do have a favorite Baidu song. I’ll have to say “On & On,” no, “Think Twice.” “Think Twice” is probably one of my favorite Erykah Badu songs. Yeah because it shout out. Roy Hargrove, a legend, legendary trumpet player. So I would say “Think Twice” would have to be one of my favorite joints because it always gets me no matter what the mood is. 

I do want to hear you get scientific on Badu, if you have a theory. 

Alright. Let me see. Scientific about Erykah Badu. Let me see how far I can stretch back. I’ll talk about her mixtape. Like “Hello.” If you notice, kind of how she like molds herself into music very easily when it comes to soul, R&B and not only mold herself into that completely, but advanced at that. And what I mean by that is that, listen to the BPMs of her records and how some of them stay the same, but have a different groove. Or some of them are still in the same genre, but still reflect the same feel that it felt 10 years ago. You know what I’m saying? Oh, this is what I was looking for. She has a very unique way of making timeless music. Music that can reach through a lot of different ages. 

I don’t know if that’s through, how easy it is to listen to her sometimes. I don’t know if it’s through how many different ways you can interpret her lyrics. I don’t know if that’s through the texture she uses as far as instruments go. Those instruments I feel like are used in a lot of songs. Like, I don’t know,  a Rhodes for example, definitely used in a ton of songs, but they definitely bring the textures of a Rhodes out more. And then in her music, you know what I’m saying? So I just think she’s like, she really has it when it comes to making records, bro. I don’t think Erykah Badu will ever get old, no matter what she does. As far as her music aging. A lot of it’s just so timeless bro. Shout out to her and the Black women that really hold it down on making timeless music. 

Thank you for doing this. Thank you for making the album. Thank you for repping Milwaukee and the musicians within it. And for always being there for the kids and doing the work. 

There’s a couple things before we get off, I want to say, make sure you guys check out Leaders Igniting Transformation. It’s a youth-of-color led organization. It engages by the values based issues, electoral organizing, direct action, public policy, stuff like that. And you guys can also check out BLOC MKE. Their work is ensuring a high quality of life and access to opportunities for members of the Black community in Milwaukee and throughout Wisconsin. And The New State, The New State is a historical redevelopment project. WebsterX told me about it. Check it out.

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