"The music I really love gives you a fresh feeling about the world and life and opens your eyes," said Peter Case, sipping a beer and looking out the window of a coffee shop on the Sunset Strip.
Case, 32, has tried to make good on that philosophy in his newly released debut album on Geffen Records. With its strong folk and blues influences, "Peter Case" covers the ground from full-band lineup to stark acoustic guitar accompaniment.
Said Case: "Originally, I just wanted to make a completely acoustic album because a lot of my favorite things are just really simple. Like the best Richard Pryor movies are the ones where he's just on stage--you come out of there and feel like you've seen the whole sweep and scope of a huge movie, but you've only seen a man standing on a stage talking. The movie's in your imagination. It's the same with music. . . .
"It's like a process of discovery and it's what brings you to music in the first place, that opening up. It's something that moves your soul, your spirit. The problem I had with rock music was that it wasn't doing that. It's so Pavlovian."
Peter Case's "problem" with rock music involved more than just its predictability. It revolved around his role as lead singer and songwriter for the Plimsouls, one of the most promising acts to surface on the L.A. rock scene during the early '80s.
Despite acclaim around town, a major-label deal, an appearance in the teen pic "Valley Girl" and a single that seemed to have all the ingredients for a Top 10 hit ("A Million Miles Away"), the band broke up in 1984 after six years.
"My heart just wasn't in it anymore," said the singer-songwriter-guitarist. "(It was) the situation of being in a band, in this little gang (with) this us-against-the-world type thing. I began to feel it really was prejudicing my view of the world.
"It got to be sort of debilitating to my musical development. I began to wonder what I was doing. It didn't really jibe with what I was seeing about the world, the people we were playing to and rock 'n' roll's part in all that."
When Case walked away from the Plimsouls in 1984, much of his dissatisfaction resulted from a weariness with the everyday excesses of rock 'n' roll.
"There's this huge energy, these big amps," he observed. "There's the idea you should have a big spectacle: At the peak of the song, the bomb goes off and the flag rolls down and everyone's on their feet with their lighters out.
"I was always a writer and wanted to communicate things, but so little was being communicated through the band. Nobody was hearing the lyrics. It was really frustrating. People would come night after night and hear a song and never know what was going on with it. Basically, it was just a big party and that's all anyone was concerned with."
While Case left the party, he didn't leave music. After the Plimsouls broke up, he took time off to write songs and revisit his home town of Hamburg, N.Y. (population 6,000). When he returned to Los Angeles, he began gigging around town as a solo acoustic act and eventually teamed up with another singer-songwriter, Victoria Williams.
The chemistry was obviously right, because Case and Williams got married last year. And even though both have parallel solo careers, there's no sense of competition--with each other or with the past. Together, says Case, they've discovered a totally new audience, one that never heard of the Plimsouls.
"I'm working my way up again," he notes. "The audiences I play for now know more of the songs Victoria and I do than the Plimsouls songs. It's a new bunch of people."
He's just hit the road for seven weeks as the opening act on Jackson Browne's current U.S. tour. No band--just acoustic guitar and harmonica and haunting songs of small-town violence and on-the-road incidents. Still, he doesn't see himself as part of any back-to-the-basics movement.
"Acoustic, electric--none of that makes any difference," he insisted. "It's just serving the music correctly--that's all we try to do. I don't see the point of a big acoustic movement. That's not the point at all."
At this stage Case has given up on trying to second-guess fate and make the right career moves. After all, it's never worked in the past.
"I've always been able to play my songs, but I've never been able to figure out anything about anything," he said. "I've never made one right career move--I probably never will. So I just save the time and forget about it."