By Nate "Igor" Smith
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In addition to being reductive, he says, the press coverage of his religion tends to treat him as a kind of poster boy for a fixed set of beliefs. "But you can't look at my situation as being static. Faith is never comfortable. It's never that you've found it. It's like a marriage: Just because you took the vow to be married, it doesn't mean that everything's going to be wonderful. If it's a real thing, it ebbs and flows, and sometimes it's out of your grasp."
In this sense Himmelman's faith is like his talent. "On this record I have noticed some changes," he explains. "For one, I can see my voice getting darker. As it gets older, it sounds more worldwise and huskier. Maybe there's a little more authority behind it. On the negative side, it lacks some of the grace it once had."
The vocal ripening has conspired with an ongoing musical evolution. "When I was about eighteen or nineteen years old I used to be into stranger chord progressions, more experimental things. I used to sit at the piano for nine hours at a stretch and work them all out. As a result when it came time for my first record, and I had to learn to understand the traditional harmonies that comprise country songs, it was really exciting for me. Now I've gotten to the point where I'm taking those standard things and combining them with weird departures." As an example of this new method, Himmelman points to Love's "Time Just Flew," which he says, "represents a new kind of song for me. I've heard it done as a jazz ballad, and I thought, Wow, this is one of my tunes, and I like it. Having done a lot of film scoring, I've learned about branching out to hit on these emotions that aren't germane to my particular feelings at the time."
As Himmelman gets older (he's 39 years old now), he says he feels less connected to the pop scene. "I don't really consider myself an authority," he laughs. "I don't think I'm even a good participant." As a result he doesn't believe he's qualified to weigh in on the state of modern music. Still he's not entirely ignorant. Pressed to list his favorite recent albums, he names Beck's Mutations ("I'm really moved by the second single ["Nobody's Fault but My Own"], by the way he moves through the melody"), Grant Lee Buffalo's Jubilee, and Lucinda Williams's Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, a record that took even longer to see the light of day than Himmelman's.
Fans who braved the long delay between Skin and the new record won't have to wait nearly as long for the next one. In fact they won't have to wait at all. Himmelman has already completed an album of outtakes and live tracks, titled From the HimmelVaults, Vol. 1. The record is only on sale on the Six Degrees Website (www.sixdegreesrecords.com); it will be released later this spring.
And there are more wired projects forthcoming. "In the case of this vault album," he says, "I brought it to the label and they liked the idea. I have the capability, really, to put these out two or three times a year forever. In my shows there are always improvised moments, places where songs develop. The Internet seems like a good place to get some of that to fans. There's even been some discussion of another project. It would be a monthly musical magazine featuring some of my artwork, that might include two or three new songs with each issue. Right now, it seems too ambitious, but it appeals to me because I do a lot of different things, and making a record every two years -- well, that doesn't quite do it."
Peter Himmelman performs at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, February 6, at the Jewish Community Center's Gruber Hall, 3151 N Military Tr, West Palm Beach; 561-689-7700. Tickets cost $12 for members, $18 for nonmembers.