Local musician recognized for merging heavy with high-brow

By: Jeremy Selweski | Woodward Talk | Published September 5, 2012

 Ferndale musician Terry Peake received a $25,000 grant after being selected as one of two dozen Kresge Artist Fellows for 2012.

Ferndale musician Terry Peake received a $25,000 grant after being selected as one of two dozen Kresge Artist Fellows for 2012.

Photo by Edward Osinski

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FERNDALE — For non-fans and non-musicians, heavy metal may appear to be a genre that’s all about thrashy noise, deafening volume and head-banging aggression. But those who live and breathe this music understand all the technical skill and rhythmic complexity that goes into it, and that’s what draws them to it as much as anything else.

For Ferndale musician Terry Peake, those more challenging musical elements are a constant source of inspiration, as well as the lifeblood of his own progressive metal band, Bahamut. Inspired by the polyrhythmic intensity of Swedish metal titans Meshuggah, he seeks to create music that is dense, intricate and original.

“The music that I write is definitely very challenging, but that has always been really attractive to me,” said Peake, a 32-year-old guitarist and pianist. “When we were first learning these songs, we had to practice them at half-speed for months and then gradually speed up the tempo just to be able to play them.”

Bahamut’s drummer, Matt Moy, came on board several years ago, intrigued by Peake’s compositions and by the idea of pushing his musical skills to the limit — and then pushing them a little beyond that.

“The music that Terry was writing seemed impossible to play at the time,” said the 26-year-old Rochester resident. “But that just made me want to learn it even more. We’re both the type of people where if we hear something that we don’t understand, then it’s a lot more interesting to us because of the technical challenge of figuring it out.”

While Peake’s highly technical brand of metal might seem like an underground niche genre, plenty of people above the surface have clearly taken notice. Peake was recently selected as a 2012 Kresge Artist Fellow, one of only 24 artists across metro Detroit to receive this distinction out of a pool of almost 450 applicants.

It certainly helps that Peake is no mere metalhead: He earned a degree in music composition from Wayne State University in 2003 and used his classical training to expose popular music audiences to compositional techniques that they would not have heard otherwise. Over the last few years, he has also started scoring music for film that incorporates his knowledge of contemporary classical music.

All of Peake’s musical endeavors are collected under the name Robot Academy Music, which includes Bahamut; his other project, Junecast; his old band, Nipon; and his various film scores. When not playing, performing and recording music, he works as a private guitar and piano instructor at Axis Music Academy in Southfield, where he typically teaches 20 to 30 students per week.

Peake is especially excited about his recent foray into the world of film scores. He noted that the process is completely different than writing original songs for Bahamut. Rather than having total control over every aspect of the music, he must tailor the music to the parameters of each scene and the vision of the director, not to mention meeting strict and demanding deadlines.

“I’d love to get more into film scores and stretch out creatively with that,” Peake said. “I think that’s a really promising career choice, and I feel like it really showcases all my musical skills. It’s a great challenge with lots of room for development.”

Next up, though, Peake will be releasing a Bahamut album that has been two years in the making, and plans are already under way to put out a new EP shortly after that. Because the Kresge fellowship includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant, he feels more secure moving forward and putting his creative ambitions out into the world. He also plans to use some of that money to get a custom seven-string guitar built for himself.

“It will mostly just help me to live more comfortably and not have to worry so much about making ends meet,” Peake explained. “I’m considering putting teaching on hold for a while to free myself up to focus on my art full time.”

This is the fourth year of the Kresge Arts in Detroit program, which provides grants to local literary and performing artists on an annual basis. Since 2008, the program has awarded over $2 million to metro Detroiters working in a wide range of artistic disciplines.

The fellowships represent the Kresge Foundation’s desire to advance the artistic careers of artists living and working in the Detroit area, as well as to elevate the profile of the region’s artistic community. Detroit’s College for Creative Studies administers the fellowships, and the winning artists are also offered customized professional practice opportunities by ArtServe Michigan.

Moy said that when he first learned about Peake’s Kresge fellowship, three words came to mind: “It’s about time.” He believes that the honor was well-deserved because, as he put it, his friend has talent, passion and work ethic for music that are simply second to none.

“Of all the musicians I’ve worked with, I’ve never met anyone who is as original as Terry,” Moy said. “It’s just a higher-level approach to music, with songs that are so well-written and concepts that are fully mapped out. He works harder and puts in more effort than anyone I’ve ever seen — he’ll write for 10 or 12 hours straight if that’s what it takes.”

Peake is also unwilling to compromise his musical vision. “There are millions of talented musicians in the world who go unrecognized,” Moy said. “But as talented as Terry is, he’s never really expected any commercial success. He could definitely write mainstream music if he wanted to, but he doesn’t do that because it’s not creatively fulfilling or challenging to him.”

The ever-ambitious Peake will have plenty of opportunities to challenge himself creatively now. He said that he is looking forward to performing at the second annual Art X Detroit exhibition next year, which will feature a variety of Kresge fellowship winners from 2011 and 2012. He hopes to play shows with both Bahamut and Junecast at the festival.

For Peake, the honor of being recognized as one of metro Detroit’s best musical talents is still a source of amazement. “Having this on my resume, I feel like it’s an even bigger accomplishment than my (college) degree,” he said. “Before this, I had been thinking about leaving the state and starting over because I didn’t think I’d be able to make it here. I had gone so long without a pat on the back that I would sometimes get really depressed and down on myself, but that can really hinder your creative progress and take away your motivation. This was an incredible boost of confidence at exactly the right time.”

For more information about the Kresge Arts in Detroit program, call (313) 664-7940 or visit www.kresgeartsindetroit.org.