Pete Muller’s latest album, Two Truths and A Lie, reflects his unusual journey. While he was achieving the highest level of Wall Street success as a pioneer in “quant” investing, he was also singing his songs to tough-hearted New York City subway audiences. In all areas of his life, Muller is driven by two overarching themes: connection and mastery.
Muller began traditional piano lessons at 10 years old. “By 15 I was competent, but bored to tears. By chance, a friend told me about a jazz teacher he had been taking lessons from and how it was a lot more fun than learning classical. I decided to give it a try. It changed my life,” says Muller.
“My improvising skills helped me form a jazz quartet in college and started me down the path of composing,” he says. “After school I moved to California and briefly tried to make a living composing music for rhythmic gymnasts. At $50 a piece, it was going to be pretty tough living, so I decided to rely on my math and computer skills to make a living and kept music a serious hobby.”
Seven years later, he took an offer to move to New York to start a mathematical trading group. In the next seven years, Muller hardly played music. And even though he achieved business success beyond his dreams, he was not happy.
He found happiness again when he joined a song circle and began to play music and write songs. “My writing developed a lot during the five years I ran the circle; music was again a serious hobby,” says Muller, who eventually put out two albums: Just One Lifetime and More Than This.
“In my work life, I’m proud of creating a group with my own rules—hiring smart, kind people with no prior finance experience, and helping them to reach their potential.” Muller says. “The best thing about working on Wall Street was that it challenged me to be the best I could be. When I perform I am looking for a similar challenge.”
To rebuild his performance chops Muller headed for the subway station near his home. “Subway audiences aren’t there to hear you, and they’re usually in a hurry. If you can connect with people there, you can connect anywhere,” he explains. “I didn’t do it for very long, but it was a great learning experience.”
“There are times in your life when you’re in flow,” Muller says, “when there is nothing but joy and love in your heart, and everything feels like it is meant to be. You’re completely relaxed, but energized and aware at the same time. To me, success in life is about being in that state as often as possible. If I can touch people with my music, that makes me feel great. I love the passion and joy I feel when I am playing and I want to touch as many people with that joy as I can.”
Produced by Rick DePofi, Two Truths and a Lie is filled with intimate songs that capture audiences on first listen. Muller is joined on the recording by his long-standing trio members Skip Ward on bass and Kyle Rowland on drums. A number of other well-known players, including trombonist Walter Hawkes, make cameo appearances.
Muller loves creating lyrics that evoke emotions with honesty and simplicity. The album opens with the song “Kindred Soul.” Written before Muller found his wife (he is now happily married with two kids), the song contains the line “I don’t know why I cannot find someone to ride with me through this crazy life.” The music video, which features a girl in a hot dog costume roaming the streets of New York and California, highlights both the uniqueness and universality of the search for love.
Muller lives life to the fullest. His interests include yoga, surfing, and he’s had success on the championship poker circuit. He has also published numerous crossword puzzles in the NY Times.
One hundred percent Muller’s of album and ticket sales go to charities like The Robin Hood Foundation, A Leg to Stand On, Berklee College of Music’s “City Music,” and “Amp Up NYC” programs. You can see him performing everywhere from Boston to Santa Barbara. Go to PeteMuller.com to find out where he is performing next.
Who are your main influences?
Keith Jarrett, Shawn Colvin, Elvis Costello, Patty Griffin, Bruce Hornsby, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, John Coltrane—musicians that throw everything into what they are doing and continue to evolve.
Why do you continue to make music?
I love the feeling I get when playing. I love it when I touch people with my music
How do you continue to learn?
In general I try to work with people that inspire and push me. These days, I take voice lessons regularly. My piano chops are pretty solid, but I should probably also take an occasional piano lesson to continue to grow.
What benefits have you found to making music?
I feel happy, less stressed, more energized, and generally at peace when I play regularly
How do you make time for music in your life?
That’s one of my biggest challenges, given that I have many things I am passionate about. I book at least one show per month and commit to always learning a new song for the gig. That helps with the motivation.
What advice do you have for someone getting back into music later in life?
If you’re afraid of not sounding good because you’re rusty, recognize that thought for what it is, a fear, and tell it to go away. Keep practicing and pretty soon you’ll sound at least as good as you ever did. No one ever regrets having played music, or dies wishing they had played less.
What is the best memory you have of making music?
Here’s a recent one. I was at the Montreux Jazz Festival hanging with a friend. We began writing a song during a hike earlier that day. During a break between performers, I started figuring out the chords on a grand piano that was outside one of the bathrooms, she started singing, and pretty soon we were performing our song in front of an appreciative crowd.
I’m mostly an acoustic piano player. I have several grand pianos—an Estonia, a Yamaha C7, a Steinway B, and a Steingraber. My favorite changes all the time. I use a Neumann KMS 105 vocal mike when performing.