Hailing from Chicago, Pete Mittler (aka Sensitive Pete) started playing at the age of 12 and joined his first band (Last Vatican Council) at 16. Since then, he has certainly done the rounds playing with various bands, either as a full fledged member or a fill-in. He is currently playing with The Bollweevils, who are about to release a new album, and is has been doing some reunion shows with the legendary Methadones.
Recently, I got a chance to chat with Pete about his band history, his favorite rigs, his influences, and his approach to bass playing in general.
What first got you interested in playing music? That is, what got you interested in the idea of starting or joining a band?
To answer your first question, I think I inherited my love of music from my grandmother. She loved to play piano and sing, especially during the holidays. My family would gather around the piano or electric organ and sing songs. Although I was typically too shy to join in, I still thought it was cool. I tried to learn piano but I was never good at it. Probably about freshman year of high school a friend left his guitar at my house and I started playing that. Which leads into that next question…
What got you into playing bass? That is, why aren’t you playing guitar or drums or singing instead?
I started my stringed instrument journey as a guitar player. I was never great at it. One day in high school my friends band needed a bass player and asked me to play since I already played guitar so I gave that a shot. Bass immediately felt more natural. I have giant hands so guitar was always a struggle for me. It still is. I played drums for a few years too. I was decent at those but just never stuck with them. I still tell myself that I’d like to get back into those. As far as singing goes, I’m too shy to sing lead but I have no problem doing backing vocals.
Who are some artists that influenced you as both a bass player and a songwriter?
I’m not really a “song writer.” I occasionally write riffs and bring them to whatever band I’m in at the time, and we might build on that. I think I’m influenced by whatever I’m listening to at the time. And life. As far as other musicians that have influenced me… pretty much any bass player that I see that really plays from their heart and with passion. I hate when I see a band and the bass player barely touches the strings; it actually makes me mad. When I play, it’s like I’m at war with the bass. I hit hard as hell.
What sort of gear do you typically use? Do you have any favorite bass rigs?
My favorite kind of question!! I’m a gear nerd. I have over 30 guitars and basses and probably almost as many amps and cabs. Took me ages to get the right combo for me. I’ve tried them all but as far as basses go, I’m a P Bass man. My current bass is a 70s Lawsuit era P Bass knock off with a maple neck and Di Marzio pick ups in it. Some of those were better made than the actual Fenders. It also has a Badass bridge in it. It’s getting pretty beat up though so I might have to retire it soon. I had a great 80s Fender P Bass that I used throughout most of The Methadones but it’s almost destroyed now so I had to retire it. I have a bunch of others but they’re basically novelties to me. My regular amp is a Marshall VBA 400. It’s like an Ampeg SVT on steroids. I run it through a 70s Ampeg SVT 2×15 cabinet. Same size as a 8×10. I have several other amps and cabs but that’s my favorite combo. I’m trying to find a solid state head that I like though because the Marshall is getting too heavy for me to move as I get older.
What sort of practice routine do you follow, if any?
At this point in my life I’m too old and have too many responsibilities to be able to have a practice routine, wish I could though. I mostly just play along to songs on my phone every now and then. Sometimes I like to play along with Iron Maiden’s The Number of the Beast album. That’s fun.
As a bass player, what do you think the role of a bass player is in a given band?
That’s an interesting question. Obviously, it’s to hold down the song with the drummer, but that doesn’t mean you have to just hide in the back. Some of my favorite bass players are guys who step out to the front like Steve Harris and Geddy Lee and bring the bass into your face. And then there are bass players like the guy from the band Tool who clearly lead the band. Obviously, I’m not really one of those guys, but when I play live I’m also not hiding in the back. I think it’s our role to keep it all together but we’re equally responsible for putting on a good live show.
What advice would you give to novice bass players just learning how to play or thinking of getting in the game?
Obviously, I’ve been in a bunch of bands. One of my biggest inspirations for continuing to play bass came from one of the dumbest places ever. There was a movie made by Tom Hanks called That Thing You Do! There is a scene in the movie where the drummer meets his favorite drummer. The old guy gives the young guy some advice and that advice is “bands come and bands go. Just keep playing.” I don’t know why, but that always just stuck with me and I think it’s amazing advice.
You have been in quite a few bands. I’d like to talk about some of those briefly. First, how did you get involved with The Methadones?
That’s kind of an interesting story. The Methadones started as a side band for Dan when he was in Screeching Weasel. Originally, it was meant to be a Ramones/Cheap Trick kind of band. Almost all of the songs that Dan sang on the first Riverdales album were originally Methadones songs. Dan and I had a mutual friend from Canada. He was visiting and I took him to meet up with Dan. We were all hanging out and Dan mentioned that he needed a guitar player for The Methadones and I told him I could play guitar. He asked me what bands I liked, I told him, and he invited me to come over and learn some songs. In the original incarnation of the band I played guitar. Later on, when we reformed the band we found a guitar player who was better and I wanted to switch to bass anyway, so that’s how we did it. Dan and I have always had a really good relationship and he’s still one of my favorite people in the world.
How did your involvement with Naked Raygun come along?
I was in The Bomb with (Jeff) Pezzati from about 2003 or 2004 and we also lived together. While we (The Bomb) were on tour in the UK in 2010 he got a call from Spicer telling him that Pierre had a stroke. Once we got back we found out how bad it really was. They gave it a few months to see if he’d improve, but he didn’t. Later that year they asked if I wanted to come and play some songs with them. We already knew each other, so we hit it off and then I started playing shows with them. I played with them until 2014 (I think?) and then I decided I wanted to move on and do other things.
How did you get started with The Bollweevils?
Oh man… I’ve known and loved those guys since their inception. I can’t actually say when or where I met them but it was a really long time ago. Somewhere in about 1992 or ‘93 they were heading out on their first tour. I was the only person they knew with a van so they asked if I wanted to take them on tour. I was like 21 years old or something and didn’t really have shit else to do so I said yes. We had a blast. Fast forward to… no clue, a few years back. Their bass player was leaving for whatever reason and Ken popped up to a show that I was playing with The Mizzerables and asked if I wanted to come to a band practice. I showed up, we played, had a blast, and I’ve been playing with them ever since. I’ve loved every band I’ve ever been in but have never felt the level of camaraderie with any other that I do with them.
What are some of your favorite albums that you have performed on?
This new Bollweevils album is pretty amazing. I’ll be curious to see how people react to that when it finally comes out. I’m extremely proud of it. With The Methadones I feel like our best album was This Won’t Hurt. I love every song on that album and remember that making it was a really good time. With the Bomb, Speed Is Everything is my favorite. I think we wrote our best songs then and making that album was so much fun and flowed so easily.
What are some of your favorite artists to listen to recently?
It depends on my mood and what I’m “looking for.” I could flog a dead horse and mention a bunch of old bands but I’m a live music person and, aside from shows I play, I don’t get a lot of opportunity to go out and see bands play lately. There are many good bands out there now. it’s just become a little more difficult to find them because everything’s so fragmented right now. We’re also just coming out of a 2 year hiatus on live music, so I think it’ll be interesting to see what bands emerge from that. I’m always looking for something new.
Do you prefer playing live or in the studio and why?
I’m really not crazy about recording; I’m a live music guy. I think that’s what it’s all about. Recording is cool but you’re never going to capture the true essence of any band on a recording. The stage is what it’s all about.
What do you have going on currently in music?
Well, The Bollweevils recently finished approval on the final mixes of some songs we recorded back around the new year. I’m extremely proud of how it all turned out and I think it’s as close to capturing our essence as possible. I can’t wait for that to come out. Also, The Methadones played a few shows this year and are talking about working on new music. If we do that, I think that will be pretty cool. We’ve moved beyond some of the issues of the past and have opened the doors to the future. We’ll see what happens with that.
What sort of things do you enjoy doing outside of music?
I’m a father of three so I love hanging out with my kids. I’m also an avid cyclist so I love doing that when I have time. Being over 50, it’s a challenge to stay in shape, so I try to do that as well. I also enjoy pretty much anything outdoors. Camping, the beach, swimming, whatever. Just get me the fuck outside.
What can we expect from you next?
Good question. That’s kind of my motto. “What can I expect of myself next?” Sometimes I feel like I’ve done everything there is to do and then life throws me a curveball. At the time it might be frustrating, but after the fact I realize that it was there for a reason and I learned something from it. I hope to keep playing music and keep experiencing new things. Thanks for having me!