“THE MOST EXCITING PART WAS ALSO THE WORST," Trent says, laughing at the not-so-distant memory. “It was the largest performance I’d ever played, anticipated for months. We were playing at the Download Festival across from Muse, and headlining our stage. And on the second song, three chords in, my keyboard just stopped working.”
With his shaggy ginger hair tied back in a bun, stubble, flower-print shirt and two-tone Oxfords that look like they belong in one of the remakes of The Great Gatsby, it isn’t hard to see that Trent Peltz is a musician, inside and out. Today he’s telling PULSE about one of the most terrible moments in his career, one that’s become an often-referenced, legendary moment among the members of his band, The Pink Slips.
“The keyboard lights just go off,” he explains mirthfully. “So I instinctively get down, stop singing and try to turn it back on — but nothing. So our tour manager comes up on stage and whispers in my ear, do something crazy.”
“What was that?” I ask.
He grins mischievously.
“I TOOK THE KEYBOARD AND LITERALLY JUST THREW IT AS HARD AS I COULD OFFSTAGE — THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS, JUST BROKEN.
I start dancing and going crazy, jumping up and down, going up to the guitarist and pretending I had a guitar, dancing with the lead singer… continued the entire performance like that.”
An unforgettable moment — though undeniably traumatizing for the keyboardist of a synth-pop band to lose their instrument. “I’ve never felt so imprisoned onstage. To be stripped of your instrument was the worst thing that could happen,” Trent says. “It was the largest crowd I’d ever played for. When I walked offstage, I was very hard on myself. But then Duff McKagan, the father of our lead singer and the bass player of Guns n’ Roses, walks up to me and says, ‘Trent, I’ve seen that happen so many times, and you handled that excellently.’ I realized that what this business is about, being able to roll with the punches.”
It took a lot of rolling with punches to make it through two weeks of tour in the UK. “The tour was a little rough and a little incredible,” Trent says. Though most of us would imagine going on tour as a glamorous, substance-induced blur of music, glitter, late nights and stylish ’dos, that isn’t quite the picture. “Being stuck on a bus with seven people who don’t always coexist super harmoniously can be exhausting,” Trent admits. But though going on tour meant a lot of that, it also meant many unforgettable moments — like presenting an award to Marylin Manson at a ceremony. It also meant the bandmates got a lot closer. “There’s always been something missing. Sitting around writing songs or practicing together every week has never been a reality for us. On tour, we were together every second, creating memories.”
The Pink Slips began when lead singer Grace McKagan began a folsky, acoustic duet with one of her friends. “That wasn’t Grace’s thing,” Trent says. “She was influenced by David Bowie, the Sex Pistols, Kurt Cobain, Iggy Pop… she wanted to take it into a grunge, punk-type atmosphere.” Grace is one of Trent’s oldest friends, and one day, they wrote a song together.
At the time, Grace was working with Isaac Carpenter, drummer in AWOLNATION. Isaac recorded the song for them. “We sent it to Duff, Grace’s dad, who was on tour with Aerosmith and Alice in Chains. He showed all the band members,” Trent says, laughing. “Supposedly the first thing every one of them said was, who’s playing keys?”
Eventually the band snowballed in the punk-pop direction; where they are now are very far from its cutesy folk début. Trent frequently flies (or drives!) to LA and Seattle for gigs. They are scheduled to play at another festival this weekend, and have their eyes on Coachella 2016.
But despite the band’s potentially glittering future, Trent’s real musical passion is invested elsewhere. His own music is a self-described mix between The Beatles, Ray Charles and Elton John — in other words, quite different from the Bowie-esque punk-pop of The Pink Slips.
Ever since he used to dress up as Elvis Presley (complete with uneven black hairspray), it was apparent music was going to be a huge part of Trent’s life.
“I STARTED PLAYING WHEN I WAS TEN, AND IT GOT ME THROUGH THE MOST DIFFICULT DEPRESSION IN MY LIFE,”
Trent says. “Ever since, I’ve been trying to use music to shed light into people’s lives, and it’s not something I feel like I fully do in The Pink Slips. It’s a very fortunate gift that I can see what music can do.”
Trent found the embodiment of this belief in John Lennon, his favorite artist since a young age (he plans on getting Lennon’s iconic doodled self-portrait tattooed on his shoulderblade, who “took activism through music to a different level.”
Playing with The Pink Slips has certainly given rise to some crazy stories, like getting to hang out with Joan Jett. But Trent's own bluesy tunes were what introduced him to the people who changed his life. One such person is Mike Garson — his (and David Bowie’s!) piano teacher. They met at a benefit concert when Trent was eleven. After Trent shared how music had gotten him through depression, Mike invited him to come over for a music lesson. The two have developed a strong bond over the years.
“He’s probably the reason my sister is still alive right now,” Trent says. “When she left home two months before graduating high school to live on the streets with her heroin-addict boyfriend, he started talking to her and showing her some light in a dark time.”
It seems surprising that someone so single-mindedly musical would end up at Stanford, which is often deplored as not having a serious enough music program. “One Thursday I got into both USC and NYU and it was the best day of my life,” he says, referring to two of the best singer-songwriter programs in the US. “The next day comes around and I get into Stanford.”
On one hand, Stanford: a school more likely to lead him to success in an unclear yet exciting future. On the other hand, two music schools that had been his childhood dreams. But after having attended an arts school for four years, Trent wanted to get out of his comfort zone. “I can either continue with what I love, and what I know I’m going to do in school, or I can learn a bunch of shit I have no earthly idea about,” Trent says.
“EVEN IF I GOT A DEGREE IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS OR PSYCHOLOGY OR WHATEVER, I WOULD COME OUT BEING A BETTER MUSICIAN, MORE UNDERSTANDING OF MY WORLD AND THE PEOPLE I’M TALKING TO. I THINK EVEN IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY, PEOPLE WOULD CONDONE THAT.”
This is not to say that being at a place that thrums with computational intelligence isn’t sometimes difficult for a young musician. But for Trent, this isn’t an excuse to not play. “It’s more challenging to practice when I have to do P-sets,” Trent says. “But if I am able to expand my artistry in a place that is not conducive to that, it will make me more disciplined and ambitious.”
Despite the seeming contradiction between a school in Silicon Valley and a career in music, the decision makes sense. For one, there is LA, a humming epicenter that promotes creativity and breeds tomorrow’s musicians. Besides, one look at Trent betrays his affiliation with the West Coast: as he puts it, “the chill, California attitude.”
Trent’s music overflows into his style: mixing a modern, indie vibe with both rock and bluesy elements. He could best see himself living in the 60ies. “Ideally, I’d be born in 1950. I started writing music at ten, got serious about it at twelve or thirteen, and got professional at sixteen,” he says. “That would fall around 1966. I would love to see myself in the transitional, wreck of a period I was in then during the 60ies, and grow into a young, mature adult who understands music and has the outlets and freedom to do something with it in the later part of the decade.”
The romantic penchant towards the past shines through the vintage touches in Trent’s wardrobe, as well as occasional musical winks toward bluegrass, psychedelic rock and other past genres. “Not to mention I’d love to be nineteen going to Woodstock,” Trent adds. Nineteen at Woodstock? So would we.