The Vault chats with Peter Katz about what it means to be a Canadian folk musician and what it means to be a Canadian citizen. Disclaimer: His answers will leave you feeling inspired, optimistic and proud.
The Vault: How did you create and develop your sound?
Peter Katz: By playing live- I started solo and then ended up in a ten-piece band at one point then I started playing solo again; Sort of a reflection of falling in love with singer-song-writers and spending a lot of time, playing guitar by myself. I would label the sound as intimate and personal.
Who are some of the singer-songwriters you have fallen in love with that have had an influence on you and your sound?
I’m a junkie for singer-songwriters, especially all of the old school, pioneers, not to call them old school, but people like Leonard Cohen, Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell. They really set the bar so I study a lot of those guys and then some contemporary music like Ryan Adams, Damien Rice, and Glen Hansard. Those are all people I like as well.
We love seeing an independent artist getting recognition at an award show, especially one like the JUNOS. What was being nominated like for you?
It was wild. Being nominated was the furthest thing from possible in my mind. One thing about it is that it’s helpful for me to get my foot in the door and be taken seriously. To me, its not really about the award but about being able to do this forever and if a nomination will be helpful with that than that is awesome.
So, it’s true what they say then? “It’s an honour just to be nominated.”
It is, honestly, it really is. I was just in la-la land being there.
What did it feel like when you first found out about the nomination?
It came as a complete surprise to me. I was on tour in the U.K when I find out and it was the furthest thing from my mind. I was just at a friend’s house having lunch and my phone was over on the counter and it just started going crazy. I didn’t want to be rude, my friends were like dude get your phone, I said no it’s okay were having lunch, but it kept jumping up and down and was “dinging” a hundred times so I thought, maybe I should check this. I had something like eighty-five notifications. I just found out from friend’s texting me and twitter updates.
How did you find breaking out into the Canadian music scene as a new artist?
I still feel like I am [breaking out]. There is still a long road a head and I’m just taking one thing and one day at a time. The other day I played at The Black Sheep, which is one of my favourite places, and I had a moment where I realized that I had been there opening for Jeremy Fisher 6 or 7 years ago. At that time I thought that if I could play a show like this all my dreams would come true and the other day while there I realized that that is what was happening. Even artists that seem really successful are still giving it a tough go. As far as the community, people are awesome. They are so friendly and warm and it’s been really great being apart of that. If you worry too much about the business than you can depressed but if you focus on the other artists and see the songs they are writing and the shows they are playing you think, this is why I love this.
It sounds like there is a large amount of mutual appreciation amongst artists instead of a lot of jealousy.
Yeah definitely. It’s like you inspire each other and push each other. It’s great.
I know you use a lot of grassroots efforts in selling and creating your music, but, can you elaborate on what those grassroots efforts are?
Most of what I do is sort of one on one with people. Most of the CDs I have sold are by me shaking someone’s hand and then selling them the CD. There is not a lot a disconnect between me and the audience and that’s the way like it and the way I want it to be.
The way you approach the business side of things seems to really reflect your style of music; very personal and intimate. This is sort of a broad question but is there anything that you hear in Canadian music that gives it a definitive sound?
I think there is a “Canadiana”. An artist like Joel Plaskett is someone that feels to me just so Canadian and I love it. I think a lot of Canadians write songs about long road trips, probably informed by the Canadian landscape, songs about the weather and things that are present in the Canadian mind.
Do you think that it is hard for Canadian musicians to gain popularity on a global scale?
You know that’s interesting, it feels like something has happened, with in the last five years or so, where everywhere I go people are asking “what’s going on in Canada?” There are all these artists coming out of Canada and they seem to be doing really well. Bands like Arcade Fire and Metric among a long list of Canadian bands doing well internationally have people thinking there’s a lot of great music going on in Canada. There are a lot of artists that are representing Canada well to the point that if you say you are from Canada people abroad give you a lot of recognition.
Folk music as a style and genre is known to have roots in the national culture. Many folk artists write songs about where they are from, focusing on historical or even personal events. Is that something that you do as well?
Well, I spend a lot of time in my car so a lot of time listening to CBC Radio. I kind of see CBC as a free source material generation; they do the research for me. I have a lot of songs inspired by stories I’ve heard on CBC and those are the songs that people seem to like the best. I think part of the vibe of what I do is a product of its cold outside and your sitting inside just playing. It kind of has a cozy feel to it which is part of living in Canada.
Many folk artists, including the aforementioned Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchel, use their music as a way to speak out for or against political issues and events. Do you think that it is a musician’s responsibility to use their influence as vehicle to inspire or change or is that to you something extra?
I think that if there are issues you really believe in then they will work their way into your music and that’s really the most effective thing. If you try to force it would do a disservice to whatever it is you are trying to support. If you’re going to say something you have to stand by it so it’s best to say something you believe in. I think too that there is activism in what you do. A friend of mine who is a political activist told me once that the most activist thing you can do is do what you are meant to be doing and do it well and with integrity. Hardcore activists are working towards a utopia, my friend said that when we get to that place of utopia we are still going to need musicians and we’re still going to need plumbers. Doing that is activism, people need to be living the life that we are trying to create instead of just being angry about not having it yet.
What do you hope your listeners take away from hearing your music or watching you live?
I respect the fact that people have done whatever it has they had to do in order to be at my show and I want them to feel like I am giving them the most of myself so that there’s the potential for us to have an experience together. I don’t want it to be just a thing that is happening, it’s a real chance for human beings to interact and bounce off of each other and end up somewhere that they weren’t at the beginning of the night.