(Yeah, it’s not Friday. Yes, I’m several days late … but hey, I warned you. But this is a treat. Some really great tunes can be found on Petunia’s website, and you can check him out over the next few weeks in these parts. Cheers – Eric.)
Sometimes based in the Fredericton area, Petunia has made a name for himself traveling around the globe spreading sounds of old that sound just as fresh today as they ever did.
The Peterborough Examiner said about Petunia,”…hillbilly-flavoured-swing inflected-ragtime-goodtime-thunderously rolling-one-of-a-kind-you-don’t-want-to-miss-this-sort-of-a-show.”
I don’t know how else to put it. An interesting guy performing timeless tunes, Petunia has a lot on the go – whether it’s recording an album or developing a music festival in California, or it’s performing dates here in the Atlantic Provinces (dates can be found below).
Read on …
1. I believe you’re originally from Quebec, but based out of Fredericton now and you’ve taken your music around the globe over the last decade. How would you describe the journey thus far?
Circuitous. I was raised in the backwoods of Laval in a small town called Ste.-Dorothee, a very French Quebecker kind of place right down to the tight, red Speedos. After that it was travel most of the time, mostly out of a bag.
… And music only much later. In other words, travel led me to music, not the other way around.
I traveled way more and at much greater ease before I started to formally play music and begin to “tour” and play scheduled venue bookings.
Now that this music thing has been going on, my traveling has been cut short and I’ve been forced to actually “settle down” in places. You know, pay rent. It took some getting used to. I’ve lived all over in places since then. Montreal, Toronto, Peterborough, St. Andrews, Fredericton, Saskatoon, southern cowboy country south of Calgary where they still rope and ride, Vancouver, some of the islands out there for bits and pieces of time, a few places in London (UK), Peru (South America)…other spots I’m forgetting should be included in the list.
2. I understand you keep your real name a secret … why is that important to you?
That’s a funny assumption that I keep it a secret. Or that it’s a big deal. It’s more like a trifling and a little boring to explain. A little mystery wins out over those things.
3. How does it impact what you’re doing musically?
I can’t say that it does. Call me Mike, Dan, Peter, Ray, Jay, Sam, John or Tunia or whatever you like and I don’t think it would change the songs or the music I write. I will never know though I suppose.
4. Your music clearly is rooted in older styles and sounds, but it’s a sound that never really seems outdated. Why do you think that is?
Pick your favorite musician. They learned from somewhere how to do what they do and that is the thing that turns you on. What is that “thing” though? When one is inspired to action, “things” happen. Musicians are born, revolutions begin, something new is born. In the book of Ecclesiastes it says that there is nothing “new” under the sun. There is a Muslim proverb that goes something like this – Everything that happens once will never happen again, but whatever happens twice will surely happen a third time.
I think, and I’ve been told before, that every action we make is new in the sense that we are here in a new moment every second and the circumstances are constantly changing in which the new action is born. Always a new equation. If you want to survive as an artist, remember that there is boldness and genius in your actions. Embrace them, for they’re your own. They are new under the sun.
They are like a signature that only one person can make.
On the other hand, it has also been said that the hardest thing to do is to do well what the ancients have done before you.
My sound is my sound inspired from the greats of the past like the greats of the past who were inspired by older greats who were inspired by older greats … etc. down to the beginning of things. I think what makes them great is their identity. No one sounds like John Coltrane although many try. No one makes movies like Herzog although many try. No one writes like the Minimalist Jugband but many will try.
5. Who would you say are your biggest influences musically?
Crazy question. You know, I’ve been spending a lot of time lately around young children. So much goes in to your soul at that age and I reckon it gets to go in without any security or border checks. Actually I think that’s part of the reason that so much can get in there so quickly.
William Burroughs says something like, “No one sees more clearly than the child who sees things uncensored and unfiltered.” Same can be said for all five senses I bet, hearing included.
My biggest musical influences? Sheila Gostick, whom most people will never really get to hear, see or know. Same can be said for Reg Hartt, almost the polar opposite of Sheila Gostick. Even though Reg is known for being a movie guy. These two people are living icons in Toronto. Reg’s place is within a few houses of Bathurst and College, look for the lapis lazuli blue and gold paint job. People from all over the world go there while so many people in Toronto are afraid to. Ray Condo is a Vancouver legend and recently passed away leaving behind his band whom I now play with. Lots of punk rock bands like S.C.U.M., the Subhumans, The Asexuals, My Dog Popper, mostly Montreal bands I guess cause that’s where I was or saw them. Classical giants like Wagner and Sibelius. The beebopper jazzer cats that blew crazy to all who could hear them at the time and say, “Crazy! Not music even.” Earlier David Bowie 1969 – 1980. Led Zepplin, Queen, K-Tel, Bony-M, early Genesis pre-Phil Collins flaky-ness that ruined the band. He should have stuck to drums only. Anyone who has ever made me a cool tape or music compilation has influenced me.
You know, if you want to run down the country-blues-rock-a-hillybilly-ragtime-street guys-jazz band-swing-to-jive to swing stuff, there’s just so many sources that you have to go there on your own. Start with Jimmy Rodgers (the 1920s one not the ‘50s one), The Carter Family and Louis Armstrong and keep running.
6. Tell me about the new album you’re working on. You worked at Sunset Studios in L.A.? How did that happen and what was the experience like?
Another “lucky” occurrence that happened to me.
I had a regular gig in Vancouver up until a few months ago. During that time a fellow named Phil came to see a few shows. He was a very enthusiastic fellow and bought all my albums that I had, he wanted the Petunia collection. He was such a nice, gentlemanly guy that he made an impression. After a few shows, he asked me a question that sort of ticked me off. I’m a musician operating independently, of my own wits and means. I have high standards that are getting higher. He asked, “When is your next CD coming out?” Boy, did I wish I had the money to do the recording I wanted to give this guy or anyone that was a fan. I knew it would take a few years and I told him so in not so many words and maybe a little abruptly. He ended up being the producer for the vinyl recording that we recently did in Los Angeles at the world famous Sunset Studios where Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and Tom Waits have made records at.
If I were a grant applier for-er or signed to a record label, it could not have happened like it did, I would not have been in the right frame of mind.
Life IS ruled by coincidence, try it out, what you’ll discover is worth way more than what you’d get from a grant application.
The album is being mixed in Vancouver and due out this fall. From what I’ve been hearing in the rough mixes, I won’t ever have to re-record alot of the songs that are on there, that is, they are definitive versions of the songs in question.
7. Did the studio or LA in general influence the new recording, and if so, how?
Great gear. Vintage mics. Genuine plate reverb.
8. Who did you work with on the new album?
Petunia and the Vipers (out of Vancouver) are my current incarnation. Top notch veterans who are familiar with my roots.
9. You also mentioned putting together a festival in California. Can you share the details of the event?
Wow, you’re asking for another long-winded oddball tale.
Recently, our band toured through the Redwood forest in northern California on our way to L.A. We drove straight from Vancouver to Phillipsville, CA. We left at 8 a.m. and we arrived at 1 a.m., 17 hours later.
When we arrived at this out of the way bar – it’s a roadhouse in the middle of the Redwood forest, it’s freakin’ awesome! – there were three people waiting up for us. The bartender said, “What would you like to drink?”
The guy having a drink at the bar said, “I’d like to pay you guys $300 to play a few songs cause I won’t be here tomorrow night to see you.” The second guy at the bar handed out some special Redwood medicinal home grown vegetables and herbs.
We had arrived in the Redwood forest.
After the show the next night, I got to know the owner, a lovely individual. Built over 60 years ago, her bar was made for our sound, and we have never sounded better. She has hosted many now famous touring acts who deign her place no longer necessary to play at, and instead they play in nearby Arcata or Eureka. This broke my heart. If you knew this lady you’d understand. She salts the polished wood dance floor in between sets for heaven sakes! Her bar is way cool.
How could I somehow make up for some of this? What could I do?
There is another gal in this story.
She’s a risk taker and she likes to live in the fast lane. At the same time she’s a down to earth country fun lovin’ gal, she works hard and helps us. She makes great musical compilations and is a musical influence.
Foremost in her life – music and art. She exists and I know her.
I talked to her and put her in touch with the bar owner, wonderful individual. As it turns out it has been her dream for years to have a music festival. Now we’re going to have a festival, partly in the bar, partly in the towns about, part indoors, part outdoors, very redweird Californian style … planning on 10+ bands for the first year plus all the fringe benefits of a redweird festival in the woods. Going to be high flying fun. Hope for the end of July 2011 or early August 2011.
This is a call out for a coast to coast hook up, a hobo party by the tracks maybe included. You’re all invited.
Check out Petunia at the following gigs:
July 29 – Woodstock – Farmer’s Market
Aug. 5 – Fredericton – Officer’s Square
Aug. 7 – Grand Manan – TBA
Aug. 15 – Alma – Bay of Loons Park
Aug. 17 – Portland, ME, USA – Venue Music Bar
Aug. 20 – Bellingham, WA – Green Frog Acoustic Tavern
Aug. 24 – The Grapevine – St. John’s, N.L.
Aug. 25 – The Ship Inn – St. John’s, N.L.
Aug. 27 – The Rose & Thistle – St. John’s, N.L.
Aug. 28 – CBTG’s – St. John’s, N.L.
Aug. 29 – CBTG’s – St. John’s, N.L.
Sept. 5 – Harvey Hall, Harvey. N.B.
Sept. 16-19 – Harvest Jazz & Blues Festival – Fredericton, N.B.
Come back tomorrow for some news and an interview with The Stanfields!