In Residence: Peter CottonTale is Chicago’s latest artist to defy genre rules

Peter CottonTale Photo courtesy of Peter CottonTale.

Peter CottonTale’s debut opus “Catch” channels multiple genres threaded by songs of inspiration and spirituality. CottonTale carries on the tradition of groundbreaking artists from Chicago — home to house music, legendary jazz acts like Herbie Hancock and the artist development organization The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, rappers Common and Kanye West, and legendary blues musician Muddy Waters. Artists who are all so separate yet connected and intertwined by their defying the traditional genre rules of sound and structure. We hear a lot of this on “Catch.”

Although this is his debut album, this is not CottonTale’s first rodeo. The Social Experiment was a celebrated project in 2015, featuring CottonTale alongside Nico Segal, Chance the Rapper, Nate Fox and Greg Landfair Jr. The crew was also responsible for one of Chicago’s most recent celebrated arrivals, with Chance the Rapper’s 2013 hit album “Acid Rap.”

“Catch” has been a five year process, but still delivers with resonant messaging during these uncertain times of social protest and a global pandemic. Every corner tucked into this album finds inspiration and reflection. It’s also a blend of the elders and the next generation of creatives from his community. Rex Orange County, Jamila Woods and gospel legends Kirk Franklin and Fred Hammond make appearances, just to name a few. 

It’s tomorrow blended with yesterday for something special and timeless. Peter CottonTale recorded an exclusive session as part of KCRW’s In Residence series, pulling from the new album and even including a bonus digital exclusive. He also joined us for a conversation, detailing breaking out for his solo debut, Chicago’s tight knit music community, and gospel music.

Sink into this session and read more from Peter CottonTale below.

Tell us about striking out on your own for the new album “CATCH.” Your musical direction and production takes many turns — whether it’s your work with The Social Experiment, Chance the Rapper, Jamila Woods and others… What inspired your solo direction for this particular project? 

Peter CottonTale: When we talk about solo direction, it’s funny because I feel like it’s just an expansion of what has been happening in my music and other people’s music I’ve worked on. And I took a whole album to highlight the expansion of that. 

Peter CottonTale by Katie Levine.

There’s a religiosity that runs through the album and even gospel legend Kirk Franklin is featured — tell us about that energy and collaborating with him.

It was exciting to meet and be inspired by people I look up to. At one point it felt as though I was bridging a few different worlds in musical and generational culture.  

What’s your earliest memory of gospel music? Did it make you feel a certain way? 

My earliest memory of gospel music… one of my earliest memories was singing solos in my old church Cathedral, a Baptist church. It reminds me of choir culture and fellowship. It inspired me to praise the way I was taught how to praise. I was encouraged to praise the way I was taught to praise. 

The Chicago music scene is going off right now and there are so many throughlines and connections between artists (many of whom appear on your album). What makes that possible? Is it a specific style, sense of place, is there a venue or center of it all…? Describe that. Also, you and other artists (Chance, Noname) are very active in your community. Tell us what you’d like the world to know about your environment and Chicago in general.

We’re real people in a real community and we really care about one another, the way the culture is going to influence our city and where we are from, whether it is politically or musically. 

Of course, there are central places through our time where we’ve met up. Right now me and a lot of my friends are working out of my studio, RCM, Inc., which we hope will become a hub of music making and musical culture in Chicago. We also frequent other studios around the city as well. 

Sunday morning — you open your eyes, what’s the first record you play? 

“Feels Like Church!” Because it says it in the title and the lyrics have so much to do with what’s going on during this time. 

— Written by Anthony Valadez and Tyler Hale

Check out more In Residence sessions:
Rufus Wainwright
Rocky Dawuni
Lianne La Havas
Blake Mills
Laura Marling
Aloe Blacc
Devon Gilfillian
Jonathan Wilson
Juana Molina




Peter CottonTale - vocals and organ
Jack Red - vocals
Leah Robinson - vocals 
Isaiah Robinson - vocals
Tramaine Parker - vocals
Rachel Robinson  - vocals

Recorded and mixed by Mason Bonner
Edited for broadcast by Mario Diaz