Interview: Pete Wilhoit of Fiction Plane

“I always wanted to play in Wrigley Field or Fenway Park; this wasn’t what I was thinking, though.” Pete Wilhoit grew up in Bloomington, Indiana, as a Cubs fan, and he played shortstop and pitcher in high school, but arm injuries turned his focus more towards his music. As the drummer for Fiction Plane, he just concluded over a year of touring, most importantly as the North American opening act for the Police last year, which brought him to plenty of large venues—including Wrigley (where he put on his best Harry Caray in singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”) and Fenway.

Pete was gracious enough to talk for almost an hour about his baseball and music passions, which have more in common than you might think. (We also talked about chess boxing, but that’s a bit different.)

Are drumming and baseball similar in terms of practicing fundamentals?

Absolutely. Drumming is an art form, but it’s also an instrument and very physical. With practicing baseball or drumming, you have to have the discipline to reinforce the basics. The discipline from baseball helped me play the same drum pattern over and over to get it right. Baseball is a thinking man’s game; you want to place the ball and you don’t want to have to think about the physical aspects. You want to get your body on auto-pilot—stream of consciousness—so you can concentrate on the mental aspects. It’s exactly the same with drumming.

Are sabermetrics and music theory similar?

I can see that, although neither aspect drives me much in what I do. When I was in fourth grade, I and a friend would play our songs at recess, and the reaction we got gave that fire, that passion for me to want to keep playing. I loved playing and how it all sounded, but I wasn’t doing it with much theory. I didn’t read music until high school; I just sort of picked it up from having enough lessons and enough playing. When I went to Indiana University, though, we had to take a lot of theory classes. I struggled with them at first, but after enough of them I saw how they could be useful. They’ve helped with my playing and definitely with my teaching ability.

It’s kind of the same thing with sabermetrics for me. Baseball has so many nuances—it’s not just pitcher vs. batter—and there’s so much to look at, which makes it such a great game. But the analytical approach to the game came later for me; I can appreciate the sabermetric side, but it’s not the core of my fandom or anything.

For me, music and baseball are both about inspiration. There was always stuff down the road you could do with it. You could always shoot for making the majors, or (on the other side) hearing the stories of hanging out with famous artists and touring to cool places. I always wanted to do something at a level like that, and that’s what makes both of them fun for me.

Name your top five Cubs.

Ryne Sandberg’s my favorite; everything about him on and off the field was just great. Larry Bowa wasn’t the most amazing player, but he was all heart, tough as nails, and he was always giving 110 percent. Jody Davis was great—not flashy, big catcher, great in the clutch. Of course, there’s the Hawk (Andre Dawson)—he had this Sammy Sosa-like ability to find a way to win it with a home run; just a fantastic player. Last would be a tie between Ernie Banks and Rick Sutcliffe. Banks is so important to the franchise, but I didn’t get to see him play, so it’s harder to identify with him, which is why I have to put Sutcliffe up here.

Top five non-Cubs.

That’s a bit trickier… Definitely Nolan Ryan. I was always intrigued him, particularly since I was a pitcher—how he was able to have and sustain such incredible velocity. Since I was also a shortstop, Robin Yount was also the man for me. Joe Morgan was an incredible ballplayer and also seems to be a nice guy; I always liked him. There’s Wade Boggs, too, and it was such a joy to watch Ozzie Smith as well.

You have quite a large big baseball card collection. Is it still growing?

Not since high school, really, since the friends I traded and collected with were gone by then. Besides that, I grew up in a really special time for card collecting. There was something special about the players then, as I was watching them; that interest waned some as commercialization increased and my active playing decreased. And the eighties were such a big time for card collecting, too. I still have them for my kids if they ever want to play or follow baseball. I loved getting rookie cards—I have a bunch of Nolan Ryan’s and Wade Boggs’s rookie cards. I had a friend growing up who had five Pete Rose rookies, but his dad gave him those, so it didn’t really count. (Laughs)

Do you have a favorite set?

I guess it would be the set with all the guys from the ’84 Olympics. All those guys were great.

The Yorkville Kid Goes West
When city guy Lou Gehrig played a cowpoke.

What’s coming up for Fiction Plane?

Since we just toured for about 15 months, we’re taking a bit of a break. The video for “It’s a Lie” is finishing production and should be out soon. My wife and I are also expecting, so we’re in some downtime now. With all the playing we did, opening for the Police and getting to play in Wrigley and Fenway, it was the best touring of my life. After growing up a Cubs fan and watching Harry Caray, with all his character, I sort of wondered, Does a guy like that really exist? It always made me want to go to Cubs games with all the character and flavor and history that Harry brought to it. To get to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at Wrigley was just amazing and a great experience.

When I listened to the power-pop song “It’s a Lie,” I was reminded of another power-pop trio—The Outfield. Coincidence?

Yeah, it’s a coincidence. (Laughs)

References & Resources
Pete Wilhoit drums for Fiction Plane, which also features two Brits: Sting’s son Joe Sumner (vocals/bass) and Seton Daunt (guitar). Several of their singles are available on their Myspace page. Pete’s personal web site is here.

Special thanks to Pete for being a really easy guy to interview, and to Mark Morton of Shark Attack Media for getting this together.

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