Peter Bibby: ‘You can’t let a sad story get in the way of a good laugh’

Reflecting on his songwriting process, Peter Bibby reveals to us how quitting drinking influenced Drama King. The album delves into personal and global turmoil, blending humour with heartfelt storytelling.

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Peter Bibby has never tried to complicate things. “The more stuff you’ve got going on, the more can go wrong,” he explains. “So I try to keep it as simple as possible.”

2020’s Marge was a “balls-out, punk rock record” that channeled the same chaotic energy of his live shows but fourth album Drama King couldn’t be further away from that mindset says Bibby. “I didn’t care about being able to replicate it live, I just wanted to make it sound as good as we could in the studio.”

“I just got tired of doing it the same way every time,” he admits. “I wanted to shake things up and take a different approach. And it was great. I’d take a different approach again,” Bibby adds with a smirk. And the results speak for themselves. Drama King keeps the warm, rugged, relatable storytelling that’s been the throughline of Bibby’s career to date, but there’s more belief and intention behind everything. “It does feel like a step up,” he admits. “It’s probably the most ambitious record I’ve ever made”.

READ MORE: Peter Bibby reflects on bricklaying and booze in new track ‘Terracotta Brick’

“This album might be grander, shinier and it’s a bit more polished, but it’s still just me laying it all out there, being honest and writing songs about whatever,” adds Bibby, which is where its power really comes from.

Following the release of Marge, Bibby found himself writing plenty of new music, but nothing really stuck together. “I was just churning out tunes, keeping the good ones and throwing the shit ones in the bin,” he explains. He started to notice a running theme between some of the songs, though, with a “self-deprecating, dramatic album” slowly coming together.

Peter Bibby

From there, he teamed up with producer Dans Luscombe, who had previously worked with The Drones and Amyl And The Sniffers.  “I just wanted the tender moments to be so pretty, and I wanted the big, heavy moments to be ugly and nasty. I wanted to explore a broader spectrum rather than just doing what I usually do on stage, in the studio.”

Despite opening with the frantic, country rock of ‘The Arsehole’ (“I’m the arsehole, by the way”), Drama King is a surprisingly tender, heartfelt record. “I’m very comfortable with showing off a softer side,” says Bibby, describing the studio as a safe place. “I’m very happy to bare my soul to the world.”

Drama King sees Bibby taking listeners on what he describes as a bit of a personal journey set against the backdrop of global tragedy and major social shifts. “While the whole world has been going through all this awful shit like Covid, everyone’s been forced to go through stuff on a personal level. We’ve all had to figure stuff out and make sense of it all,” with the record following a narrative of “change and self-reflection”.

“I’m just venting I suppose,” says Bibby. “I’m doing homemade therapy on myself and getting it all out there. I guess the record as a whole is mostly about recognising the shit and trying to make it better. Taking responsibility for the reasons why things aren’t working out that well.”

There is a whole lot of sincerity to Drama King. At times, it’s miserable, but there’s plenty of humour as well. “You can’t let a sad story get in the way of a good laugh,” says Bibby. “You can’t just be moping around and bitching about everything. You need to be able to poke fun at yourself or the situations you find yourself in. If you’re not having a laugh, you’re not laughing,” he adds with a smirk.

That blend of humour and heart is perhaps best reflected in the recent single ‘Terracotta Brick’. Taking inspiration from working on building sites, the track quotes one bricklayer who would get drunk while working. “He’d committed himself to this career, and didn’t see any alternatives. He’d get angry about it, bitch about it all day, but refused to change,” says Bibby. “I was looking at the mentality of older men in the construction industry. On one hand, they’re completely miserable, but they’re also completely dedicated to their way of life.

“There’s this whole generation of men who can’t admit they’re struggling. They’d rather pretend to be tough,” he says. “That song is about the harshness of the construction industry, I guess,” but it also speaks of fear of failure, fear of change, mental health and addiction. “Everyone can see someone they know in that song.”

A lot of Drama King came about after Bibby stopped drinking, with the album picking apart the drama and fallout of booze-ridden nights out. “I had been fantasising about not drinking anymore for a while,” explains Bibby, who made the leap eight months ago. “Every time I went out, getting a drink became this automatic thing and the thought of not having a drink in social situations would give me anxiety. I realised I’d become dependent on it and I’d rather not be.”

“It’s quite a relief not giving a shit about drinking anymore. It makes everything a whole lot easier,” he adds. Playing shows sober has been a “learning curve” for Bibby, but he’s found his feet with that now, even if he still gets people come up to him after shows and offer to buy him a “real drink”.

The twisting, riotous album ends with ‘Companion Pony’. At first, it was chosen to end Drama King because the big build-up and eventual crash sounded like the perfect sonic conclusion to the album but it turns out the lyrics also offered a kind of resolution to the record’s narrative as well. “Across the album, I talk about how fucked up everything is and reflect on how I got there. Then we get to ‘Companion Pony’, which is about this big horse that has been cast out by the masses. But he finds his companion pony, and they gallop off into the bloody sunset together,” Bibby explains. “It’s some form of a happy ending, I guess.”

Peter Bibby Drama King

It’s the closest Peter Bibby has ever got to a deliberate message with his music. “I’m a pretty selfish musician. I’m not really thinking about other people when I make these albums, beyond wanting them to enjoy it. That’s always the main goal,” he says. “Hopefully it’s a good listen with a few laughs. And if it inspires anyone to pick up a guitar or do something good, that’d be a bloody win.”

Peter Bibby and the renewed Big Horse Band have been warming up for the release of Drama King with a weekly residency at the Fremantle Buffalo Club, but have their sights set on taking the album around the world. “The show is pretty raucous and rowdy at the moment. We’re loud when we want to be, but we’re also able to be gentle as well,” he offers.

Bibby goes on to say that making Drama King and playing the songs live has been a cathartic process. “It felt like a big weight off the shoulders, and it helped me understand a lot of the things I was singing about,” he offers. “This album has given me closure on a few issues.”

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