The accidental interview. Through a mix up I contacted Petunia at a time when he really wasn’t available for my questions. But, being the generous fellow he is, we forged ahead anyway even though he was in the middle of a gig singing on a hayride, and then later heading down to the school to pick up his daughter. Our discussion took an enjoyable meander which ended up with the revelation that Petunia become a performing musician quite by accident. Not only that, it is an accident that he would just as soon walk away from tomorrow (although we sincerely hope that he does not).
Your latest album ‘Free As The Wind’ you did without your band the Vipers. Is it a different style?
“The new album is a duo with Nathan M. Godfrey. There are some formal styles – you could say there is country, blues, jazz, rockabilly, western swing. It has lots of elements of my past records and it has some new elements. Some songs are a throwback to the early days of country, but “Free As The Wind” is modern and “Bloom, Bloom, Bloom” is ahead of its time. There are other songs that can’t be defined on the album.”
What is the difference between you performing solo and you performing with the Vipers?
“The Vipers maybe play more upbeat music, but we play lots of different formats with them too. Some slow songs, in fact. Some not so danceable, although I would say we play more danceable music than I do solo. That being said, there are people dancing at my solo shows too. I know close to 1,000 songs, so the band can’t know all the songs that I play.”
There’s a fair bit of yodelling on ‘Free As The Wind’. Is that something you have to practice?
“I don’t practice, to be honest. I hear the song – I might hear it 2 or 3 times, and then I’m off.”
What’s the source of inspiration for your music?
“There’s a lot of different music that inspires me but it’s not always music that inspires me to write a song.”
How long have you been making music?
“I’ve been playing music for about 20 years, I guess. I’ve been influenced by a lot of different music. Punk rock, jazz, bebop, classical music. But I’ve never played those kinds of music.”
Where are you from?
“Sainte-Dorothée, Quebec, but I’ve lived in lots of different places. Vancouver is my home-base now.”
Does where you live influence your music?
“Oh, loads. If I lived in Los Angeles the music would be different. If I lived purely in the country the music I played there would be different. The benefit of my lifestyle is that I live in all those places. I live in all sorts of places, for short amounts of time. Even though I live in Vancouver, I’m very busy. If you came to my house you’d think I lived in a small town, but I am out in the city playing every now and then. So, yes, where you live really affects you.”
Is there a difference between how cities and small town receive your music?
“The way I’m received in Ireland, England, United States, Canada, Sweden, it depends. The country matters. But whether it’s a small town or a city? Yes, it’s different. In some small towns you only want to play country music, but in some rare small towns you can get away with anything. In the cities you can get away with most stuff, and actually straight up country doesn’t always fly.”
“They love straight country. They are less tolerant of more complicated music. It’s not that they won’t accept it but you have to couch the music with more staid covers if you will.”
What do you have in mind when you create music? Are you just trying to please yourself? Are you conscious of how your target audience will react?
“Depends. When I write music for theatre and the movies I follow direction. The score has to fit in with whatever it is they are asking me to do. When I’m writing my own music I’m not bound by anything. Whether people like it or not. I’m not bound by any monetary constraints. There’s no set pattern to go about it — I just write a song when I feel like I need to write a song. I’m not one of those people who just wake up in the morning and start writing songs. That’s not me. Some days I feel like I really need to write a song because I feel a certain way – I don’t necessarily know what that feeling is that’s causing me to want to write a song, I just write it and eventually discover why I needed to write it. It’s almost accidental. Sometimes you can go for months without writing a song. If you are not confident that you’re gonna write songs ever again you might decide that you need to sit down and write the song. If that’s your craft. If that’s your job. But I don’t feel that way. If I never write a song again that’s OK.”
Really? That surprises me.
If I thought I could never write again I’d be pretty sad.
“What if you never felt like writing again? What if you felt like painting? Or what if you felt like delving into the stock market? Or if you wanted to sail around the world in a boat and never write again? Why should you be attached to the thing you are doing? I’m not attached to songs or music. I was a filmmaker before. I was a poet, a writer. I’ve done a lot of travelling, hitchhiking. I’ve done a lot of things. I just happened upon music accidentally. I didn’t choose to be a musician. I’ve always liked music. You know, I’ve always hummed songs in the shower. But I never made the conscious decision to be a musician. I grew up in a situation and environment where people were telling me I shouldn’t be involved in the arts. Not practical.”
So you didn’t have positive encouragement to go into it?
“I had negative encouragement. Definitely. People were telling me not to do that as a child. I remember when I was young and saying that I liked music and singers and my family saying it was not such a good idea. It’s normal. If you have kids you can understand.”