It would have been understandable for musician Christopher Peifer to take a break during these last two years.
Yet, Peifer ran in the opposite direction; launching a solo career and releasing two albums with pandemic-related titles that go well beyond this moment in time in terms of their sound and storytelling.
“With the pandemic, being in performing arts, 100% of my livelihood just dried up instantly,” Peifer said. “But I didn’t want to be stagnant.”
Peifer is a former Albany resident and a SUNY Albany graduate who played with several Capital Region-based bands over the years, including 500 Hats.
He’s also shared the bill with The Figgs and later formed a band with Guy Lyons (a former Figgs member) called Blockhouses.
“We were a New York City-based band but played regionally, including Saratoga and Albany. I’ve got a pretty strong connection to Albany because I spent all year round there. I wasn’t a transitory student,” Peifer said.
He’s lived in New York City for the last two decades and has toured internationally with bands like The Kowalskis, Sir and Frances Farmer My Hero. He also works in sound design for theater productions.
“I’ve always been a collaborator. One of my great joys working in both music and theater is collaboration, especially in music,” Peifer said.
Chances to collaborate largely dried up during the pandemic. Toward the start of it, he traveled back home to Indiana to be with and help out his parents. His father, who had multiple sclerosis, died last summer from COVID-19.
In the midst of it all, Peifer turned to music, releasing an album called “Suicide Mission” last summer and writing what eventually became “The Social Distance,” his latest album.
“I wanted to keep some kind of creative energy and ideas flowing and so I just started writing songs spontaneously,” Peifer said.
He traveled back and forth between Indiana and Cold Spring, New York to record the songs with Todd Giudice of Roots Cellar Recording.
“It was such a big space we were able to socially distance and it was just him playing drums, me playing everything else,” Peifer said. “But it just gave me an opportunity to travel and still be creative.”
It was a different approach to the recording process.
“Typically, with a band, you’re going to write the songs. . . you’re going to rehearse the songs live. The songs are going to change and take on a different dynamic as you go before you arrange to record them. When you go into the studio, you’re so well-rehearsed the songs you can just bang them out and be in the studio for a few days and bang out a whole record if you’re really prepared,” Peifer said.
With both solo records, he came to the studio one or two days at a time, chipping away at recording each of the songs.
“It was just a different way of doing things. That seems to be a common thing through the pandemic. . . I just felt like this was what was necessary to really survive,” Peifer said.
Many of the power-pop songs on “The Social Distance” are pandemic-related, but they’re not so tightly tied to that theme that the album risks becoming irrelevant. Peifer often writes based on his own experiences and the first song on the album, called “In the Social Distance,” speaks more to him missing his wife, Rachel, than about COVID-19 regulations, as Peifer sings:
Never forget your way
I’m longing for a new day rising
waiting there on the horizon
I can see you in the social distance now
“Meet Me at the Bar,” a rousing track that appears later on the record, speaks to a similar feeling; looking forward to getting back together with friends. Perhaps surprisingly, there are notes of optimism on these songs, and throughout the record. Peifer doesn’t seem to focus on the melancholy of the moment but the anticipation of a better future.
That can certainly be heard on “Something to Believe In,” a raucous and rallying song, written during the acceptance speeches of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
While there haven’t been too many chances to perform songs from the new record live and in-person, that might change in the coming weeks, as Peifer works to put together a core band, along with several regional musicians who can sub in and perform when core members can’t.
This weekend, he’ll team up with Pete Hayes, drummer of The Figgs for a Bike MS campaign in New York City, raising money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. It’s a tradition that Peifer started taking part in seven years ago and he rides to support Hayes, who has MS, and in memory of his father.
“We’re not only a team, we’re a band and of course, the band only plays once a year, to raise funds for the Multiple Sclerosis Society,” Peifer said. The band, called The Maybe Sump’MS, will perform Sunday, Dec. 19, at The Players Theatre in New York City.
The race kicks off on Sunday in New York City and Peifer hopes to raise at least $2,000. For more on the campaign, visit mssociety.donordrive.com. To listen to “The Social Distance,” visit chrispei.bandcamp.com.