Peter Katz is a Canadian singer-songwriter who has steadily built an international audience with a traditional grassroots approach of relentless touring. This strong work ethic has lead to him producing three studio albums in just five years. He was kind enough to take some time out amidst a European summer tour to answer a few questions about his approach to music and experiences to date…
Hi Peter. How is 2012 treating you and what have been some of the highlights for you so far?
2012 has been pretty much non-stop, but really great. I left on tour January 10th, was all over Europe for a couple of months, then Canada, the US, Singapore and more Canada. All in all, I was essentially on tour from January to June.
There were so many great shows along the way, especially in Europe. Things have been building well in the Netherlands and I had several shows that sold out which was amazing. They were also in really gorgeous venues including this old, old church in Rotterdam. It was a dream venue and an amazing night. I kept thinking ‘How the hell did I get here?!’. Definitely a highlight.
My German and Swiss dates were a great surprise too. Great rooms, great audiences, it was fantastic. The highlight for me is always getting to be up there doing my thing. I don’t really glamourize the ‘touring’ part of things, because that’s just a lot of planes, trains, automobiles, getting from A to B and it can be pretty stressful and exhausting.
The reward is the show, that’s the fun part. And the conversations that you get to have with people afterwards, finding out all the ways that your songs have survived out in the world, that’s what keeps me going. There’s of course lots of incidental sightseeing that happens that I try to soak in, but usually it’s pretty much getting to the venue, figuring out where I’m staying, then getting to the next place.
Your most recent album Still Mind Still has been very well received. I’m curious how it was working with Rob Szabo again and how do you think it compares to your previous records?
Rob and I have a really special relationship and one that we’ve worked hard to develop over the years. We started by touring the country together several times. There’s no better way to get to know someone than sharing a tiny space for hours on end. Not to mention that touring can be really challenging. There’s always some rough nights and in those moments you have each other and you really bond through those experiences (I suppose they could pull you apart, but for us, they made us much closer friends).
That relationship evolved into Rob producing a track of mine (“The Fence”), which turned into us doing a whole album together (well, two now). I realized after doing that one song that Rob had this whole skill set which was pretty unique and that he, more than anyone else, knew what kind of record I needed to make and how to get it out of me.
The latest record is an evolution of that process. We started much further in advance with Rob involved from the beginning. He challenged me to write a song a week for a long stretch of time and guided me from beginning to end. We’re already talking about the next one now and he’s set a whole new list of challenges for me to take on (writing exercises, study of other artist’s work etc). It’s daunting but exciting; it’s the kind of hard work I want to be doing, the stuff that will help me grow and evolve.
What does your normal songwriting process tend to be?
I can’t really say that I have a ‘normal’ one. I’m always thinking about songs, always. I don’t think a day goes by where I’m not thinking about it. With my most recent record, the process was very regimented. Every wednesday night I had to send a new song to Rob, so that meant having to write almost every single day. And not the ‘oh there’s a little idea, I’ll come back to it’ kind of thing. It was lock yourself in a room, not allowed to come out until it’s done kind of thing.
Some songs were a pulling together of ideas I had slowly been collecting over the past year, and others were acts of sheer will and determination. I think writing should feel like work 99% of the time, and then every now and then, if you keep showing up to work, you’ll get a little gift where you get one that just comes out easily. Those are 1 in 100 though, you’ve got to work hard, like manual labour for the rest of them. “Win Your Heart” was one that came out in a couple of hours. Others like “Dear” and “Thunder In Your Chest” involved much banging my head against the wall.
What are your favourite and least favourite aspects of being on the road? And what essentials do you usually take with you?
I guess I sort of answered that in the first question but for me it’s all about the shows. That’s what I love to do, that’s why I’m out here. That and meeting people. I feel like I get to meet the nicest people in every town because of what I do. Really, you wouldn’t believe the list of incredibly kind things that people have done for me over the years and the amount of beautiful conversations I’ve had with people. It makes you fall in love with human beings doing what I do.
As for the least favourite part, that would be being away from my wife, my friends and my family. I hate missing out on things and not being there when everyone is getting together. I spend a lot of time skyping in to family gatherings, birthdays, etc and that breaks my heart. I want to be there so badly. That being said, it makes me treasure the times I am there. The intense joy that I get from having friends over for dinner, or being home for the holidays, or sharing a meal out with my wife is overwhelming. I do not take those moments for granted, not for a second, and that in many ways is a gift. Those moments are very precious, and because I miss so many of them, I really make the most of them when I do get to have them.
As for essentials, beyond the usual items, I think a key item for me is a pillow case. I’ve slept in some pretty horrendous places, but as long as I have that pillow case to put over whatever I might be sleeping on, I feel a little sense of comfort and home. Just slept on a couch last night in fact and that pillow case went a long way…
You’ve posted video tutorials showing how to plays songs from your first two records on your Youtube channel. This seems like a great way to share and deconstruct your music with budding musicians. What originally inspired you to do this and do you have any plans to do the same for the tracks on ‘Still Mind Still’ at some point in the future?
Definitely will be doing that for ‘Still Mind Still’. Just a matter of finding the time. As for the inspiration, I had someone once ask me how to play “The Fence” and I was trying to tab the whole thing out for him and was getting nowhere. So, instead I had the idea to just make a little video and post it for him. Soon after that I started getting emails from friends of his who said they had seen the video and would I make one for them for another song.
That evolved into me just making them public and now it has become part of my routine when I put new music out into the world : show people how to play it! I love it because then people post covers and it’s amazing to hear other people’s versions of the songs. To think that someone would take the time to learn my music and lyrics like that blows my mind every time.
And finally could you recommend one book, one film, and one music album you’ve enjoyed recently?
I’m reading a book now called The Tools. Truth be told, it’s really a self-help book but it has kind of been blowing my mind. Really simple concepts, incredibly helpful. As for fiction, I recently read The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis which was a simple, fun read. Great Canadian story, really funny, enjoyed that one.
The favourite movie I’ve seen recently is probably Moonrise Kingdom. I really saw myself in that 12 year-old boy, just loved it.
Music, Emmylou Harris Wrecking Ball is a staple in my musical diet. I’ve been really into Bahamas’ latest record, I think he’s an awesome writer. Kathleen Edwards’ new record, especially “House Full Of Empty Rooms”, that song is so simple and so gorgeous. Says so much with so few words.