The longtime local musician is remembered by friends and collaborators as humble and genuine, a champion of the city's music scene
Toronto’s music community is mourning the loss of beloved local musician Pete Carmichael. Earlier this week, Facebook posts circulated that Carmichael was missing. On January 21, friends confirmed his death on social media.
Carmichael was a long-time veteran of the city’s music scene as the frontman of the Diableros and in other bands, most recently Pete Carmichael and the Volts.
In 2005, the Diableros released their critically acclaimed jangle rock debut, You Can’t Break The Strings In Our Olympic Hearts, a standout album in the local indie rock music scene in the mid-aughts. The band formed in 2004 after promoter Dan Burke asked Carmichael to play a Jesus and Mary Chain tribute show at the Silver Dollar. Carmichael recruited drummer Phoebe Lee, with whom he had played before, and rounded up a few other friends to do the show.
“We had so much fun jamming that I said we should form a band, and he agreed,” says Lee. “We decided to make it official.”
Diableros gained positive buzz and critical acclaim with the release of Olympic Hearts with the heart-tugging, leave-it-all-out-there rock songs earning them comparisons to fellow indie rock breakouts of the time like Arcade Fire and the Walkmen. Carmichael was on the cover of NOW Magazine in 2005, and in the cover story he was surprised and slightly bashful at all the attention the band was getting.
That lack of pretension endeared Carmichael and the band to so many people, says Evan Newman, the band’s manager, friend and an early supporter of Carmichael’s music.
“They didn’t run with the hip indie crowd. They remained truly authentic, nice people,” says Newman, who’s now a partner in Outside Music, their former label. “They were underdogs that had a shining moment and gave hope to those other underdog bands. You didn’t have to sound polished to make a great record.”
The Diableros released their second album, Aren’t Ready For The Country, in 2007, followed up by the EP Old Story, Fresh Road in 2009. They disbanded in 2010. Most recently, Carmichael released four new songs on Bandcamp, with proceeds going to CAMH.
Over the course of Diableros’ half-decade career, the lineup changed frequently. But Carmichael’s yearning voice and songwriting were always at the centre.
“Pete was the Diableros,” says Newman. “That jangly guitar was all him.”
After the Diableros, Carmichael continued to make music, most recently with his new band, Pete Carmichael & The Volts. They had their debut show this past November at the Monarch Tavern. Burke, another long-time supporter of Carmichael, organized the show.
“[When] I saw the missing notice, I immediately messaged him: ‘Pete, where are you? People are worried.’ I wish he could have replied,” Burke says. I wish he could see the 10,000 posts of sadness today on Facebook.”
Carmichael’s death is being widely mourned on social media by local musicians, journalists, friends and community members.
“He played an integral part in setting up the Toronto indie music scene in the early and mid-2000s,” says Lee. “He brought so many people together. It felt like a really close community, back when there was no social media and you had to create your own. It became this really supportive environment for music that felt super magical.”
Michael K. Newton, the organ player on Olympic Hearts and Carmichael’s later collaborator with The Volts, remembers him as an “omnipresent force in Toronto’s music community.”
“He was one of the first [people] to introduce me to the community when I was friendless and new to Toronto,” says Newton. “It’s really tough to imagine not bumping into him walking down Dundas West or being at a really great show and finding yourself next to Pete.”
Friends remember Carmichael as humble and genuine, a champion of Toronto’s music scene.
“He had such a warm spirit and enthusiasm that was really contagious. He saw so many bands and went to so many shows,” says Lee. “I’m not sure how he was able to. I couldn’t keep up.”
She adds: “He was really genuine. He could be goofy or intense. He was always so straight up about everything. There was never any bullshit with him. You could always say anything to him and even if you hadn’t spoken for a while, it was always easy to get back into it.”
After The Diableros broke up, Newman recalls how Carmichael kept sending him new music. He always loved what he created.
“He couldn’t have cared less about being cool or trendy. Pete loved making music for the simple sake of it,” says Newman. “It was when he was happiest.”