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Peter CottonTale Breaks Down ‘Catch,’ Previews New Music on Vocalo

Written by on November 9, 2022

Peter CottonTale stopped by the Vocalo Studios to catch up with mornings host Bekoe after his recent travels to Ghana, ahead of his first Chicago performance since Lollapalooza — and previewed some new music…

Chicago-based Grammy Award winning gospel singer and multi-instrumentalist Peter CottonTale has made a name for himself as an artist, producer and business owner. Coming to prominence alongside names such as SZA and J. Cole and as a part of Chance the Rapper’s Social Experiment with Nico Segal (formerly Donnie Trumpet) and Nate Fox, CottonTale is at the forefront of the Chicago music scene.

After years of producing and collaborating with other artists, CottonTale released his debut solo LP Catch in 2020, using his signature vocal production techniques to give the album undertones of gospel and choir married with hip-hop and rap. In addition to showcasing his musical prowess, Catch boasts features from artists like Chance the Rapper, Yebba, Jamila Woods, Jeremih, PJ Morton, Jon Batiste, Cory Henry, Erin Allen Kane, gospel legend Kirk Franklin and many others. For Peter, the album serves as a bridge between popular music and gospel music.

“I don’t think… that faith music should be in a shell,” he said. “Our belief doesn’t happen in a vacuum, so why should our music happen in a vacuum?”

Peter CottonTale stopped by the Vocalo studios to catch up with mornings host Bekoe on Monday, Nov. 7.
Photo by Morgan Ciocca, Vocalo Radio / Chicago Public Media.

In addition to his various collaborations and projects, CottonTale also owns RCM Studios Inc., a recording studio in Logan Square offering affordable studio rates for all artists of all kinds. It is here where CottonTale has been found producing music for other musicians over the past two years.

After a recent trip to Accra, Ghana alongside Chance the Rapper, CottonTale and RCM partnered with Surf Ghana, a nonprofit organization and skate park. Over the past six months RCM and Surf Ghana have been working together to create a free recording studio space for the Accra community to come together, create and connect. He also announced his intention to transition RCM Studios into a free studio space, modeled after Surf Ghana.

Next year Vic Mensa, Chance the Rapper and CottonTale are set to host The Black Star Festival in Accra, which CottonTale notes he hopes will help connect Black artists around the globe to their roots.

“We want to connect Black people, man, throughout Chicago, throughout the US, back to home and… make our community stronger,” CottonTale explained.

Peter CottonTale stopped by earlier this week to break down his travels to Ghana, songs from Catch, breaking out of genre boxes and his upcoming releases. Stream their conversation now on Spotify.

Emma Harmon (middle) of Merit School of Music also accompanied Peter to the studios to break down his upcoming performance for Merit’s annual benefit concert, Play On.
Photo by Morgan Ciocca, Vocalo Radio / Chicago Public Media.

Before Peter CottonTale was a Grammy Award winning musician, he was a student at Chicago’s Merit School of Music.

Merit School of Music is a nationally accredited music school in The West Loop, serving the Chicago community of young musicians for more than 40 years. As an equity-based non-profit, Merit stands by their mission to serve their students and the diverse socioeconomic diversity of their community, which is why more than half of Merit’s budget goes towards student support. It’s important to them to break down any financial barriers preventing access to music education.

An alumnus of the school, Peter CottonTale performed this week for Merit’s fourth annual benefit concert, Play On, in support of providing access to music education for all kids. The individual giving manager for Merit and another of the school’s former students, Emma Harmon, also stopped by the Vocalo studios with Peter CottonTale to chat about the school and the benefit concert. She emphasized the importance of music education for young people, describing it as “extremely powerful.”

“Musicians are 24% more likely to graduate high school, they’ve got more confidence,” Harmon explained. “They’re better in math and English… These are big things.”

On Nov. 8, Merit hosted their fourth annual “Play On” fundraiser show at West Loop’s City Winery to benefit equal access for music education. The lineup included CottonTale as a headliner, and composer Julius Tucker paying tribute to the late jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis. 

Hear Emma Harmon and Peter CottonTale on Mornings with Bekoe as they break down all things Merit School of Music, music education accessibility, and their “Play On” benefit show.

Bekoe: That was Peter CottonTale, “Forever Always,” right here Vocalo Radio 91.1 FM, your favorite Chicago urban alternative in Chicago. You know, I gave you all a hint. I said this brother put out an album in 2020, it was his debut album, at that. Grammy Award winning producer, all… man, this brother’s super talented. I gave you a hint. I played his song. If you didn’t know, Peter CottonTale is in the building! 

Peter CottonTale: Bekoe, my guy! What’s going on, bro? It’s good to be here, man. For real.

Bekoe: It’s good to have you here. Man, I remember a while back ago watching you over to live on [Vocalo’s] Facebook with Ayana Contreras, for your album Catch

PC: Shout out Ayana, man, she really held me down.

B: Man, that was a great conversation and great performance, by the way. I’m happy to be able to finally share that with you!

PC: Yeah, true. I got to look back on that, but I always have great talks with you guys here at Vocalo. So nice to be here, man, for real.

B: Except for another one. Lollapalooza hit, what was that, August?

PC: August, end of July. 

B: Yeah, there we go. And you hit the stage at Lollapalooza.

PC: I did, man. It was such a blessing, I’m gonna be honest with you. There’s so many things I still haven’t been able to talk about from Lolla, but… 

B: Let’s talk about it! 

PC: Let’s talk about it. Alright, let’s see. I had eight amazing singers. I had a band, I had Julian Reed on keys, Wes on drums. Had my homie Nico [Segal] on horns, Irv[in Pierce] on horns, Royce [Harrington-Turner] on horns, had Vern [Dwayne Verner Jr.] on bass, Brian on guitar. And we was at the BMI Stage. And honestly, from what I heard, it was the most bumping that the BMI Stage has been in a few years, especially since COVID, everything else. So it was a real blessing to bring gospel to Chicago stage because Chicago is the birthplace of gospel, for real. Yeah, it was tight, man. For real.

B: The pictures, the recap you put up, I mean, I felt like… this was my first Lollapalooza, and it was an experience. And, think about it, this was your first time being on the front line… Not behind, but in the frontline giving people the music. How was that for you? 

PC: You know what’s so funny, man? Because, as many years as I played Lolla, I even had a chance to play it digitally for DCASE, in 2020. But in the many years that I’ve played, I didn’t really feel anything different. I go on stage with a lot of my friends. I was able to be joined by Vic [Mensa], I was able to be joined by Joey [Purp], able to be joined by Chance [the Rapper]. It felt like we were just doing everything we do every year, just representing the city, honestly.

B: Yeah. That’s great to hear, to see that the support from you all just is so… it’s brotherhood. It’s so strong, man, it’s strong. And it shows a huge case of unity, as well… but after Lolla we were supposed to catch up with you. You went on tour! 

PC: Yeah, my bad. [Laughs]

B: This is perfect timing, it is okay! You went on tour. Tell us about going on tour over in… your European tour.

PC: Well, I wasn’t exactly moving through Europe doing music or what was going on, over the past year. And shout out my brother, Chance the Rapper, man, Vic Mensa, they’re really doing a lot of work to connect Black people back to the crib, honestly, back home. We’re starting in a place called Accra, Ghana. And I went there in January, and we were able to scope out the community and the scene and really just picked up the mantle of doing a lot of work there, honestly. Because we want to connect Black people, man, throughout Chicago, throughout the US, back to home and… make our community stronger. 

So all this year, we’ve been going back and forth to Ghana and doing work and taking meetings. He dropped it, but Black Star Fest is happening in Ghana, January 6, if you haven’t got your plane tickets, yo, come take your vacation. I know everybody got the first week off in January, ’til the ninth. So come through, oh my God, it’s gonna be great. All the artists that he has planned. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard anybody talk about Magnificent Coloring World. It was a thing he did at Sox Stadium.

B: Man, I was hoping he’d bring it back. 

PC: Well, I mean, I imagine that, but in Ghana, but way more catered to what’s going on and connecting the Black diaspora.

B: Was that your first time making your appearance out in Ghana?

PC: That was my first time in Ghana, yes, for sure. In January. And I’ve been back maybe once or twice since then. And I leave again on Wednesday.

B: So how did that impact you, mentally and spiritually?

PC: First off, for everybody that goes anywhere, when have you been a place and you’re able to party with all Black people, bro? That’s so tight! I’m not able to do that in a lot of spaces! So I’m like, “Wow, this is amazing. I’m just in there partying with my people.” It feels great! We’re having a great time, it’s fun. I really get too overly excited, especially with the emergence of Afrobeats taking over a lot of the music scene. I’ve loved Afrobeats for a long time. But just the music, the creativity and music that’s being made over there reminds me of like 2012 Chicago, how we were a budding community and had hella artists everywhere. It was just so exciting. 

It affected me so much that, me personally, I partnered with a nonprofit called Surf Ghana, it’s a skate park over there. A lot of celebrities go over there and a lot of celebrities support Surf Ghana. Sandy [Alibo], she’s an amazing nonprofit director that’s been doing work for so long. She opened up this skate park in Ghana called Surf Ghana. And she wanted to build a studio, a free studio for artists in Ghana. And basically, for the past six months, me and my studio here, RCM Studios, we partnered with her to kind of make that come to life. And then we got some more partners and more contributors. And it opened, I believe… October 14.

B: Oh, that’s recent! 

PC: Right! Yeah, all year, we’ve been kind of working on that. It’s a completely free studio for people in Accra or people who travel to Accra to record. It’s really helping the community out. People are doing podcasts to yoga sessions to anything. It really inspired me, and this is the first time I’m going to say it, to model my studio the same. So I believe that next year, RCM Studios Inc. is going to move into a completely free phase of recording here in Chicago, where I want to talk to the people that want to do projects. And I want to be in their faces and help curate this round of Chicago music.

Peter CottonTale announced his music recording studio, RCM Studios Inc., will become a completely free space next year — modeled after the nonprofit Surf Ghana in Accra.
Photo by Morgan Ciocca, Vocalo Radio / Chicago Public Media.

B: Now, I mean, for those that don’t know… this may be the first time they ever heard of RCM Studios. So let them know when things came about, when things was funded and when you all opened and what’s the mission behind RCM?

PC: I’m sorry, I’m so casual with everything. I’m a local here, so I talk like everybody already knows, because I hang out with people all day that we just be talking about stuff. But alright, so I’m a studio owner, Black business owner in Chicago. And I opened a studio, probably I want to say four years ago. It wasn’t in Logan, it was in Lacuna Lofts, and we had some changes and we moved to Logan Square. I was blessed by this guy who owned a studio previous, and we took over the space and we just been revamping it and remodeling. So for the past two years in Logan Square we have RCM Studios Inc. Come check it out. We have rates that, right now, we have rates that are affordable by everybody. And I’ve been making music out of there for the past two years, and I honestly love it. And so I have a lot of other people.

B: That’s a blessing, my brother. It sounds like a fun task. It also, it sounds like something that I know many creatives would enjoy. It sounds like it’s good for development, as well. And then, to hear you say you partner with Surf Ghana, and knowing how far Ghana is to where you are now. I gotta know, how do you all infuse that together? The communication between the two, is it any difficult or challenges that you all face?

PC: Alright so, of course, in the present time. I mean, they’re what, six hours ahead? So imagine us taking meetings at Friday morning at like 5 a.m. on Zoom.

B: Or WhatsApp! 

PC: Right, or WhatsApp! But honestly, due to this digital age. Everybody is way closer than we think. 

B: That’s facts. 

PC: Yeah, big facts. So if you can make the time for it, it’s not that hard, honestly.

B: That’s a blessing to hear. I’m gonna be at — my goal is to be at the festival that’s taking place in January, it’ll be my first time out in Ghana, so I’m excited. I’m excited, super excited and I can’t wait to see what you all are cooking up for the festival. But most importantly, we gotta jump into some music off your album Catch. I got “When I Get There” loaded up. You got to break down “When I Get There” for everybody before I get into it.

PC: “When I Get There.” Yo, I was really blessed to work with a lot of people on this project, from Madison Ryann Ward, Yebba, Elliott Skinner, Ben Lusher, Rich Saunders, all the guys, everybody. They’re amazing singers that I’ve either met through life, and I was able to run across PJ Morton through life and he was able to bless his track. Jon Batiste, he’s been such a great inspiration and influence in my life. as far as just being an awesome Black musician and creative that holds down his culture. So he was able to participate in the track, as well. And, of course, you got the awesome Jamila Woods. Man, she has helped me with my writing process, and other people’s writing process in the studio, so much. I want to give her all of the flowers, because she goes crazy. I know everybody says that when they come on Vocalo, but she really is the truth for real, for real, for real. And that’s really pretty much what it was. I was in a phase of writing soul and gospel music. I was in New York one day, and just got on the drums. And that’s how we got “When I Get There.”

B: You know what, I’m happy you paused right there because we’re gonna to come back from this music break and talk about just your instrumental ways, my brother. You’re so talented! And all the people you’ve been working with, so y’all keep it locked, Chicago. Here’s “When I Get There.” Vocalo Radio.

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