Features Interviews Interview: Peter Katz Finds His Zen In Touring

Interview: Peter Katz Finds His Zen In Touring

Peter Katz

Last month, before my hectic NxNE schedule was about to take flight, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to interview one of my favourite local artists, Peter Katz.

I first saw him play earlier this year in London, Ontario. We chatted after the show and promised to meet up again after his Canadian/European tour, promoting his debut solo album, First Of The Last To Know. I wanted to discover what’s behind the eyes of one of the most sincere songwriters in our country. When you talk to him, he's not talking for the sake of it. He holds a conversation as if you're the only one in the room. He speaks because he has stories to tell. When we met up for cold beverages on a hot day in June, he spoiled me with heart-warming stories about himself and the inspirational people around him. It's comforting to know when walking into a landfill of egomaniacs, Peter Katz rises above with his humility and passion for music-making.

Sticky: I’ve been listening to The First Of The Last To Know, since I last saw you in London. You’ve got Glen Hansard from The Swell Season to sing the title track. What about him specifically did you feel so drawn to?

Katz: I first met him when he opened for Damien Rice, with his band The Frames. It was their first time playing in Canada and I was just totally blown away by him. That was right around the time I was really starting to think about music. I’ve been writing and putting out my demo but didn’t really think I was going to be a musician. I was so overwhelmed after the show, I couldn’t leave, so I was just standing outside. Glen walked by and said “come with me” and took me on stage and introduced me to Damien and then took me out for drinks. Ever since then, I’ve always gone to his shows.

Sticky: So you’ve always kept in touch?

Katz: He’s always been so nice. He’s so personable with his audience after the show. When Once premiered in Toronto, Glen was doing a talkback session and noticed I was in the audience and invited me up to do a song with him. I ended up playing “’Til You Come Home” the very first time I played it and he sang along.

Sticky: The Queen Elizabeth Theatre (where Katz opened for The Swell Season in mid July) is a massive venue. Over a thousand seats. Do you prefer the bigger crowds or the smaller, more intimate ones?

Katz: I like going from a tiny place to a big place to a bar where I’d have to struggle a little bit. I like the challenge of that. I like being terrified and in the end feeling like I did my thing.

Sticky: Well, going back to Once, that movie probably inspired you musically, are there any other films that do that for you?

Katz: I’m always that guy in my group of friends that hasn’t seen all the movies that you are supposed to have seen like Terminator and Back To The Future. It happens more with radio when I listen to CBC. I’ve written a lot of songs inspired by interviews.

Sticky: Like “Oliver’s Tune”, right?

Katz: Yeah, and I’ve got “The Fence” and “Forgiveness”, too. They’re all inspired by interviews I’ve heard. I do tend to be inspired by the news more.

Sticky: The first track on the album, “Son”, is a great song that sets the tone for your album. Lyrically, that it’s really powerful. I just want to know the back story of that song. When you sing it, I feel like you’re singing it to someone specific.

Katz: I wrote it for my dad. I am my dad’s voice in that song. My dad is singing it to me. It’s based on a conversation I wish I had with my dad.

Sticky: It’s pretty personal to you then. I guess the whole album is. And now that you’re married, has that changed your song writing at all?

Katz: My wife’s been with me throughout my whole writing career. I guess it is what it is. I still write about whatever I want to write about.

Sticky: Are you more fearless to write about love now?

Katz: I’m not afraid to say what comes to my mind. I guess what I’m actually singing about is what I’m not typically thinking about. The conversations I have with friends, those tend to inspire songs. I also don’t see relationships as a static thing. You still have to work at it every day. You still have to fall in love all the time. People change and grow so much, you got to keep it as a priority.

Sticky: Another thing that has changed is your back up band. You once went by Peter Katz and The Curious. Now you’re all on your own. Does touring get lonely?

Katz: I love it [on my own]. I prefer it that way. I think I’m a natural loner. I like having time to be in my own frame and have my own creative space. I love the guys I played with. They were groomsmen at my wedding. I was touring all the time and it wasn’t financially realistic to tour with me. They started playing with other people and I realized I was meant to be a solo artist. My Zen is just being in the car for eight hours. I love it.

Sticky: What do you listen to when you’re driving from show to show?

Katz: On this tour, I listened to more music than ever before, but the number one thing I listen to is CBC podcasts. I drive in silence – a lot! I really love silence.

Sticky: Any new artists that you’ve discovered?

Katz: When Dan Mangan’s album came out, I listened to that ten thousand times. I love M. Ward’s new record and I listen to Glen’s stuff all the time.

Sticky: Your European tour wrapped up in May. Can you summarize the ups and downs of that tour?

Katz: It was four months. I started in the Netherlands and Germany. I had 33 shows in 28 days over there. I played Canadian Music Week and did SXSW, eventually went over to the UK. It was literally non-stop. I didn’t know how I was going to make it to the end.

Sticky: So, how did you find that motivation?

Katz: I have no problems getting on stage. For me, that’s the reward. It’s the driving and the sleeping on floor that can be trying. When someone’s taken their night to come see me play a show, I really value that and owe it to them to give my best.

Sticky: Any stand out shows?

Katz: The Canadian tour was gangbusters. There was one show that was not well attended and everywhere else was awesome. The Toronto show at the Music Gallery – my dream place to play – was sold out. This place in Calgary called The Iron Wood is one of my favourite places to play.

Sticky: Why do you think so many people always come to your shows?

Katz: I think it’s a matter of repetition. Keep going back and keep trying. In an ideal world, someone sees the show and when you come back they bring their friends and it grows from there. It’s a matter of going back and offering something better than last time.

Sticky: You use Twitter a lot when on tour. I remember once you tweeted about another great Canadian artist, Royal Wood, and I thought “wow that would make for an awesome tour”. Are there any collaborations in the future?

Katz: I’d love to do shows with Royal Wood. I’m a huge fan. There are so many artists that I’m a huge fan of. It’s hard to get them or their team to say yes. It’s important to be a part of the community and genuinely support each other.

Sticky: So, where to from here?

Katz: I’m playing a bunch of random shows this summer. There’s been an influx of people inviting me to play songs at their weddings.

Sticky: I’ve noticed that. Have people started calling you The Wedding Singer yet? It seems to be a forte of yours.

Katz: Part of the reason I make music is I’m a junkie for the emotion, people connecting with each other and not just talking about the weather. I love weddings; they’re such amazing moments in people’s lives. It’s just a natural thing that people are asking that.

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