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His Climes They Are A-Changin’

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Pete Droge grew up listening to records by Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and the Beatles, classic-rock influences that have infiltrated the neo-psychedelic, rootsy music by the lanky singer, songwriter and guitarist. During a recent phone interview from his Seattle home, such vintage phraseology as “dig,” “cool” and “mind-blowing” effortlessly worked their way into the conversation.

Yet while his 1996 album “Find a Door” was as jangly and folksy as you’d expect from a guy with a ‘60s fixation, his new one, “Spacey and Shakin’,” is predominantly fueled by loud, hard-charging electric guitars.

According to Droge, the shift to a leaner sound emerged during the “Find a Door” concert tour.

“Most of the songs on that record were rootsy, kind of mellower folk-rock stuff,” he explained, “but when we got out on the road, it just seemed natural to turn up the guitars and play a little faster. I wanted to give the songs more of an immediate punch, and that just carried over to my next record.

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“I just inherently rocked more on ‘Spacey and Shakin’.’ It had more drive to it and definitely felt forward-moving. . . . Plus, I wanted to record some songs that were exciting, that would be more fun to play live every night.”

Droge is on a 25-date tour opening for South Carolina-based singer-songwriter Edwin McCain. His stop Friday at the Galaxy Concert Theatre in Santa Ana, however, is a rare headlining gig for Droge and his four-piece band, the Sinners.

Although his new album rocks harder than its predecessor, Droge found room for catchy pop-rock (“Motorkid”) and melancholy slide-guitar (on the disc-closing “Blindly”) amid the neo-psychedelic sound-scapes.

The material roams thematically from a straightforward love song (“Walking by My Side”) to a troubling account of compulsive, quasi-neurotic behavior (“I Want to Go Away”) to impressionistic, darker laments (“Mile of Fence,” “Blindly”) of longing and loneliness.

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“My main focus is to let the words flow and not try to work toward anything real concrete,” Droge said. “I want ideas and thoughts to occur as naturally as possible. A big barometer nowadays is how genuine it is. . . . If a song starts to feel forced or labored, then I’ll abandon it.”

Even though Droge, 29, sought a new sonic tapestry for his “Spacey and Shakin’,” he wanted Brendan O’Brien--the producer of his first two albums for the now-defunct American Recordings--to again produce. So when O’Brien recently formed his own label--the Epic-distributed 57 Records--Droge not only kept an old producer but also signed to the label.

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O’Brien, whose production credits include albums by Young, Dylan, Rage Against the Machine, Pearl Jam and Matthew Sweet, has a reputation for making good work stronger. You’ll get no argument from Droge.

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“I thought about producing my own record, but Brendan just has this remarkable knack for treating a song in the way it needs to be treated,” said Droge, whose only significant radio airplay came several years ago with his 1994 single “If You Don’t Love Me (I’ll Kill Myself).”

“He’s got these fresh ears that lead to some really cool suggestions,” Droge continued. “He had this idea to record an unrehearsed version of ‘Walkin’ by My Side.’ It included Brendan on Hammond B-3 [organ], me on acoustic guitar, my band--plus a hired piano player--all playing at the same time. He just pushed ‘record’ to see where it would go, and I think it turned out to be one of the album’s best tracks.”

Going from American Recordings to 57 Records, Droge is optimistic about his prospects. Still, he understands that his longevity is dependent upon the durability of his craft.

“The people I admire, those who’ve remained vital and vibrant, are heavy cats like Bob Dylan and Neil Young,” Droge said. “What impresses me the most is seeing them doing what they want--and not pandering to anyone. That ability to stay true to oneself . . . that’s what I hope to do.

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“They’ve both grown so much over the years, and that’s what keeps it interesting . . . not just for them, but for their fans too. The ability to adapt is so important. Change may not be the key to commercial success, but that’s not where it’s at anyway. Their artistry goes beyond economic value.”

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At Young’s 1994 Bridge School benefit concert in Northern California--an annual fund-raiser for children with severe speech and other physical challenges--Droge shared the stage with the host.

“It was a totally mind-blowing experience,” Droge said. “Neil went on first, played ‘Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)’ . . . and the place just went nuts. My set was right after his. . . . Man, talk about a tough act to follow.

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“I was standing right next to him onstage before the concert started. We’re holding our acoustic guitars, and, dig this--we’re both wearing denim shirts, silly hats and sunglasses. So I’m thinking to myself, ‘He’s going on first, so it’s gonna look like I changed my outfit to look just like him.’ ”

* Pete Droge, the Nomads and Rocco DeLuca perform Friday at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana. 8 p.m. $10-$12. (714) 957-0600.


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