On a High Note

As the drummer for popular indie band Beirut, Nick Petree sets the pace for success

December 2015—“Don’t know the first thing about who you are,” Beirut frontman Zach Condon croons amid a sea of palm plants on a quirky, brightly colored set. Behind him, Nick Petree (’05) keeps the beat on a drum set, a wide smile spreading across his face. It’s the video for the band’s single “No No No” off their first new album in four years—and the warm, dreamy song is the perfect set up.

The return to the spotlight is a welcome one for Petree, who has been playing drums since he was a child. “I’ve always been really fidgety and enjoyed banging onthings,” he laughs. “I love making people want to dance, and that’s what percussion does.” Music has long been a part of his life: After jamming in high school garage bands, Petree enrolled at what was then the College of Santa Fe, where he pursued a Bachelor of Arts in Contemporary Music with a specialization in Performance and Composition.

There, Petree expanded his skillset, influenced by faculty such as the late composer and musician Steven M. Miller, who introduced him to wide variety of musical genres. Around the same time, he and classmate Paul Collins (’08) performed in bands together and soaked up the Santa Fe music scene. When they watched Condon perform at local venue Warehouse 21, they knew they were watching the start of something special. Not long afterward, Condon landed a record deal and needed a backing band—and Petree and Collins eagerly joined. Beirut debuted in 2006 at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas.

Yes Yes Yes

The band’s unique sound has struck a chord with listeners. Their first album, Gulag Orkestar, is heavily influenced by Balkan folk music, while later works draw from French chansons, Mexican styles, and piano melodies. Each album is a labor of love: Petree, Collins, and the rest of the band typically jam in the studio while Condon simultaneously writes the music and lyrics.

Their efforts have paid off. Beirut has gained a devoted following, toured the world, and appeared on popular television programs like The Tonight Show. This success came as somewhat of a surprise, says Petree. “We knew what we created had potential,” he explains. “But we had no idea Beirut would become as big as it has.”

Some members of the band have taken on various side projects during breaks from recording and touring. During the band’s hiatus, Petree kept busy by composing music and playing with other musicians who are friends, something he still enjoys in his downtime. Yet Beirut remains his main focus. It’s a commitment he believes is a natural part of being a musician. “Most artists understand that there’s never a time when you’ve completely mastered your craft,” he says. “You’ve always got to keep working.”

That downtime is about to disappear. Beirut kicks off the release of No No No—which is already being praised by reviewers for its melodic pop sound—with a concert in the heart of Santa Fe before hitting the road for a yearlong international tour.

Impressive? Sure. But Petree assures current students that such goals are well within reach for anyone. “You don’t have to be perfect to succeed,” he says. “You just have to be someone other people want to engage with. Working hard and being affable really do go a long way.” —Jessica Cerretani