by Nancy Sartor
Full disclosure, or how I know Pete Hofmann.
S: “Hey, what’s up?”
N: “Blah, blah, blah … Izzy’s band’s playing Friday.”
S: “Really? Blah, blah, blah … I’ll call Sal.”
N: “Okay. I’ll call Cheryl.”
And so it goes. Gig after gig, year after year, the chick posse drags our well-beyond-twenty-something asses off to the bar to hear our friend Izzy—the masterful, music-loving bachelor drummer—play the skins in a pop band fronted by guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Pete Hofmann.
time, Pete gives us a nod and a smile as we sit fawning over Izzy between sets.
So even though I know Pete from all these many gigs, I didn’t really know
him until this interview, which recently took place at the South Minneapolis
elementary school where Hofmann teaches music. Sipping cups of tea from the
stash of loose-leaf Oolong he keeps tucked in his desk drawer, I finally had
a proper chat with Pete Hofmann, that guy from “Izzy’s band.”
The thing is, it was and never has been “Izzy’s band” to anybody
but our resolute quartet of dyed and die-hard groupies. It’s Pete Hofmann:
He is the leader and self-proclaimed “benevolent dictator” of this
musical endeavor. The players who back him, the Measured Doses, are a growing
and ever-changing A-list of local musicians, with the exception of drummer Steve
“Izzy” Isadore, who has been the backbone of the rhythm section
since Hofmann organized the project
The two go way back, to the late ‘80s, when they played together in a
band called the Pigeonholes. Along with Paul Novak (Beatifics, Betty Drake),
that trio enjoyed moderate success, but disbanded in 1992, having never released
“When I was in the Pigeonholes, I would’ve done anything and gone
anywhere, and it probably would’ve killed me,” said Hofmann. “That
was a band—a democratic situation, whereas this [Pete Hofmann and the
Measured Doses] is not. If they don’t like what I ask, or if the mix doesn’t
work out, they don’t have to stay. There’s never been hard feelings
between me and the guys I’ve played with, and I’ve played with a
lot of people.”
After the Pigeonholes broke up, Hofmann stayed out of bands for a few years,
independently honing his own musical chops. “For three or four years I
didn’t play in a band, but I spent a lot of time writing and recording
on a four track, going to shows, just living,” he said.
In 1998, when he decided it was time to record, Hofmann turned to Rank Stranger
and local producer Mike Wisti. “Mike had just started his studio,”
he recalled, “so I went to him with a few songs—one-shot demos—and
that’s what a lot of Action Overtime was. There were only two
songs that were recorded with Mike, the rest were recorded earlier.”
Although Action Overtime was largely a solo project for Hofmann—he
wrote, arranged and performed all the songs himself—it afforded him an
opportunity to collaborate with a few new players. Tom Herbers (Low, The Honeydogs)
co-produced the CD, and guest musicians included Brien Lilja (The Draghounds,
Slim Dunlap, Rank Strangers) and Jacque Wait (Rank Strangers).
With his first CD in the can and a growing cache of material for more down the
road, Hofmann established himself as master of his pop domain. Crawling
Tall was released in 2001, and Mermaid on the Rocks followed in
2003—each with its own mélange of studio musicians and live performers:
Mike Leonard (The Magnolias, Bleeding Hearts), Heath Henjum (The Hopefuls),
Andy Schultz (Beatifics, Ol’ Yeller), John Eller (John Eller & the
DTs) and on and on.
Today, Hofmann consciously maintains his musical autonomy, reigning dictatorially,
albeit benevolently, over all facets of his songwriting, recording and performing.
His love of music is steadfast, but there are other top priorities in his life:
a wife, a toddler and a baby on the way. He’s also pursuing a masters
of education at the U of M.
Oddly, not having a regular cast of band mates has worked well for him, even
when gigs are booked and nobody’s yet agreed to play. Whether he’s
operating on blind faith or simply trusting the universe to provide, things
always seem to come together for Hofmann, as they did for his latest, and boldest,
“I’ve got these songs and time’s a wastin’,” he
said. “I kind of feel like it’s now or never. It’s time for
a big show.”
The “big show” is an 89.3/ Current-sponsored special event at the
Varsity Theater this Friday, at which Hofmann will record a live CD entitled
In Measured Doses. “This is the boldest thing I’ve ever
done,” he claimed.
For the live recording Hofmann selected a dozen new tunes. Most he culled from
his archives—songs written before the jazzy Mermaid on the Rocks interrupted
his usual pop stylings. The new songs, like “Anatomy Lesson” and
“Kiss Me You Liar” reflect the theme of this project, which he described
as “the flawed nature of the human body and our attempts to remedy [those
“We all possess imperfections,” he writes in the liner notes of
his clever promo package, an oversized prescription bottle. “We are flawed
in a physical sense, but we also suffer mentally and emotionally. We suffer
the effects of our irrational moments, our neuroses. We are not immune.”
lyrics of “Anatomy Lesson” sum it up nicely: “I think we all
have some little flaws in our anatomy / So I have this song to fight those that
battle me. / I’m gonna use my head and I’ll follow my heart. / But
if I lose my head, don’t fall apart.”
Oh, and then there’s this snappy little guitar-riffed number called “Nancy,
Sally, Cheryl and Sheryl”—an homage to the ever-present peanut gallery—our
3.35 minutes of fame.
For this latest gig, Hofmann has again assembled an impressive cast of characters.
Steve “Izzy” Isadore on drums, natch; John Eller on bass; Mike Leonard
and Chris (Little Man) Perricelli on guitar; and Leah Drury and Sally Cassellius
on backup vocals. Tom Herbers will be on hand to produce and engineer.
Hofmann gets excited when he talks about this group and the chemistry they’ve
created in just a few weeks of rehearsals. Many of these guys didn’t even
know each other, and few had played together. “There’s a benefit
and a problem [with not having a regular band], which is that you’re constantly
teaching and re-teaching the music,” said Hofmann. “It’s hard,
but it’s great, too, because each person that comes in brings a whole
new chemistry. I take a lot of pleasure in that.”
He also relishes the challenge of pushing musicians in new artistic directions.
“Like Chris Pericelli, he has a certain way that he plays, a sound that
is his sound, so his presence is known. Same with Mike Leonard, who’s
this muscle rocker. He plays in rock bands, is a huge Stones fan and loves Kiss,
but that is nowhere near his complete art. I don’t think he would normally
do the kind of stuff that I do, but he’s perfectly able to. He’s
got a good pop ear and I feel like he’s revealing some of his pop sensibilities.
John Eller’s not normally a bass player, but he is now. He’s a fantastic
guitar player and so it’s fun to have him stretch a bit. For me, that’s
really where a lot of the art comes from.” ||
Pete Hofmann and the Measured Doses will record a live CD on Fri.,
Mar. 17 at the Varsity Theater with short films provided by Geibink and Sobaski.
8 p.m. 21+. $10. 1308 4th St. SE, Mpls. 612-604-0222.
For more information visit PeteHofmann.com.