Rhode Island native Pete Silva knows his way around the local music scene. He was a DJ at WHJY for almost three decades, played guitar and sang in cover bands, and is a voiceover artist. He even announced races at Seekonk Speedway for a time.
Silva is also a songwriter and recently became a published author, releasing a new album Simple Love, Simple Life, and a new book of poems and lyrics Late November Walk.
I spoke with him recently ahead of his upcoming concert with acclaimed South County based-singer Paula Clare. “An Evening With Pete Silva and Paula Clare” is coming up on May 21, sponsored by Stone Soup Coffeehouse at the Music Mansion in Providence. Corinne Wahlberg will be opening at 7PM.
“We’ll be playing mostly songs off my new album, and a couple I did with Paula that didn’t make it to the album. We’re doing kind of an unplugged version of the songs,” said Silva. It will be the first time the pair has played together live.
They’ll be backed by a band of homegrown all-stars. “The only member of the band who I’ve worked with before is the mandolin player John Rufo. Everyone is a friend or acquaintance, but no one I’ve ever played with before. Emerson Torey is on guitar, Joe Potenza is on bass, Garo Makaelian on drums. I’m out of my league,” Silva joked.
Although this is his first solo album, Silva is by no means new to the local music scene.
“I’ve been gigging forever in cover bands … trios, duos, never did solo acts. But I’ve always been a writer … the last couple of years some friends have been encouraging me saying I should get that stuff out there, record it. So finally we did and I’m glad they talked me into it,” he explained. “I never really spent a lot of time doing originals. In 2017, I had an original band for about a year, we did some pretty big shows, the Courthouse Center a couple of times, but the band couldn’t stay together.”
“And then things came together with Paula,” continued Silva. “I had seen her online doing a Burt Bachrach song, it’s not easy doing Bachrach, she was brave to do it. I reached out to her and said, ‘you know I have a couple of songs that I have written, that I could never find the right singer for,’ and asked her to give them a try.”
“She is such a positive person, and she did great, so I wrote one specifically for her called ‘I’ll be Waiting for You.’ I also had a Bossa Nova song that had been languishing called ‘Just in Case,’ and she nailed it. That led to other things. We got together at the height of the pandemic and recorded remotely,” said Silva.
The album reflects Silva’s widespread musical inspirations, he can’t point to just one major influence.
“That CD is pretty eclectic, it’s a facet of my deep love for all kinds of music. I’m a Beatles kid, but I love Mellencamp, all of those songs were written with this artist or that song in mind. There was an interview with Lennon and McCartney going back to the 60s, I can’t remember the song they were talking about, but they said that’s just us trying to do Motown, and I thought, what, that sounds nothing like Motown. It’s just one of those things it’s just morphed.”
“I get an idea for a song, it’s usually some sort of theme for a song, and then I kind of look for the music that matches it. If you listen closely to the songs you’ll always hear a little sonic wink to whoever was motivating me at that time. ‘Simple Love, Simple Life,” that’s a wink to the Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris’ live CD. Of course, that song is also about Marilyn Monroe so go figure,” Silva joked.
“I play most of the instruments on all of the songs. On ‘While the Mandolins Played,’ I had to teach myself slide guitar, so that was my wink to George Harrison, it sounds like something from All Things Must Pass,” he added.
His new book Late November Walk is a compilation of Silva’s poetry and lyrics.
“I had a lot of poems and I would pop them up on Facebook here and there, and the same people who were encouraging me to make an album said you know you should publish some of your poems. I looked back and edited all of my stuff down to 51 poems, I had a lot more than I thought I did. I got the idea from Paul McCartney, he’s got that lyric book out, it’s like a companion book that can stand on its own, or it’s a great companion to the album.”
“The book is an homage to a lot of my poetry heroes and it has all the lyrics to the songs on the album with little backstories. Some of those heroes include Dickenson, Frost, Walt Whitman, any of the transcendentalists,” noted Silva, “in the New England tradition.”