Schmidt happens

After 10 years of being told he was the Next Big Thing, former Three on a Hill and Funland frontman Peter Schmidt makes the best record of his career. And he did it, for the most part, all by himself.

Lovell declines to talk about the aborted project.
Once again, Schmidt found himself trapped by other people's promises. Stuck without a job, and with no idea when he would be able to record again, he had to find ways to make ends meet.

"Every now and then, I would go pick up a day or two of work up at Tapemasters, which is depressing work," Schmidt says, laughing at the absurdity of spending his days dubbing other peoples' cassettes and CDs while he was trying to make his own.

He finally got back on his feet with the help of Matt Pence. Pence was always supposed to be part of the production team, keeping the album from turning into a Course of Empire project. Now, he was the sole producer. However, he had an even bigger job: keeping Schmidt from giving up.

"Peter has always been struggling to get his ideas out," says Pence, who has since moved to St. Louis. "I can't imagine fighting for as long as he has, and facing so much adversity. I can't imagine how he's kept going, and how he's had so much success. It's easy for me to throw myself into a project for six months to get it done, and fall into that fully. It's a totally different thing to say that I'm going to follow through on something for my lifetime the way that Peter has."

Schmidt credits Pence for seeing the album through, sticking by him and motivating him during even the darkest times. Schmidt says now he was ready to quit the record several times, walk away from it as though it were a car that just won't start. And every time, Pence would goad him to finish, like a track coach pushing a runner to complete the marathon even when his legs are about to give out. The final product, Love or the Decimal Equivalent, proves it was worth the struggle.

"I wish I didn't have to go through all that, because I'm still..." Schmidt stops, then begins again. "My personal life and financial [situation] are all screwed up. It really just threw my whole life off schedule, but I'm glad I ended up doing it with Matt."

It's July 1998 now, only a couple of weeks away from the album's release. Schmidt looks relaxed for the first time in months. The album is finally finished, and he's got a job again, working in the production department of an advertising agency. It has been a while since the recording of the album was completed, and some of the bitterness and frustration have left his voice. The journey that began more than a year ago is almost done, and he looks happy to finally see it come to an end. He isn't worried about how many copies the album sells, whether it's in the thousands or in the dozens. He's just happy it exists.

"My only concern as far as sales is, within the space of a year, I'd like it to pay for itself," Schmidt says. "I'd like to break even on it--not me personally, but for Sam [Paulos], because I asked him to do a lot of things differently this time. I'd like him to see that this all made sense somehow."

Even though recording Love or the Decimal Equivalent drained Schmidt's bank account, it hasn't exhausted his love of music. He's already begun testing out new material, and another record is being planned, whether anyone will release it or not. In a weird way, he seems rejuvenated by the whole experience, cleansed by fire.

"Despite having been through all the musical stuff that I've been through, I don't think I'm really cynical about it," he insists. "I still have a lot of the same goals. I still want the music to exist for the music's sake. A lot of times, you get guys my age that have been in bands for the last 10 or 15 years, and they're at the point where they just want to make money at it. I can't blame them, because, man, those thoughts have crossed my mind, and I don't know how you could do it without making money at it. But I know when that gets involved, that the music doesn't end up how I want it."

It's those kinds of sentiments that convince the listener that Peter Schmidt hasn't just grown older playing rock and roll--he's grown smarter too. He no longer wants, or needs, to be a rock star. He just wants to be a musician.

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