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Portrait of an Artist: Peter Katz

This month I had the pleasure of interviewing JUNO nominated singer-songwriter Peter Katz, who recently premiered his “Lay It On Me” music video. With influences ranging from Joni Mitchell to Freddie Mercury, his voice is both emotive and soothing, and his instrumentation is lush and often hypnotic. Listen to his song Lay It On Me to get a sense of his sound.

MM: Where do you get your inspiration for your lyrics? Your music?

PK: I find inspiration to be all around me. I think if you just see yourself as a radio antenna walking through the world, you open yourself up to all the stories and emotional frequencies around you. Basically anything that gives me a strong reaction, whether it be from my life or anyone else’s story, my instinct is always to try to process it and turn it into something. It’s almost a burden sometimes that I have this relentless impulse to turn everything into a song, but I’ve learned to just follow it. I love having this collection of moments in time.

MM: What’s your primary instrument?

PK: I would say guitar for sure, but I’ve been playing piano a lot more and writing on it as well more recently (I started on violin and piano as a kid but gave both up for a while when I found the guitar). Also, by legitimate ‘piano player’ standards I’m pretty mediocre, but for songwriting purposes and playing those songs live, it definitely gets the job done. I also like writing on different instruments because it pulls you out of your regular habits.

MM: You have a beautiful voice. What’s your vocal background?

PK: I have my degree in Theatre Performance from Ryerson University so there was a fair amount of vocal training as part of that. I actually had to work hard in the early years to break out of the ‘theatre voice’ thing, I can barely listen to those old recordings… That being said, the fundamentals of how to use your voice are the same. Before making ‘We Are The Reckoning’ though I really wanted to step up my game so I took private lessons with an AMAZING woman named Amanda Mabro who really taught me to sit back and not over-sing. I feel like I made a big jump from my last record thanks to her.

MM: Who are your musical influences?

PK: At the end of the day I’m a junkie for the ‘singer-songwriter,’ the classics like the Joni Mitchell/Leonard Cohen/Paul Simon/Bob Dylan etc’s of the world and contemporaries like Glen Hansard/ Jason Isbell / Gregory Alan Isakov /Kathleen Edwards. They’re always going to be my foundation. But I love all kinds of music, I love pop, hip-hop, adult alternative, rock, electronic, so much to sink your teeth into these days, you don’t really have to be only into one ‘scene’ anymore. Anyone who, when I listen to them sing, I believe them, is an influence.

MM: What kind of music did you listen to and sing growing up?

PK: My first ‘favourite band’ that I remember having as a kid was Queen. Freddie Mercury was the greatest front man of all time. When I was a teenager I got really into the Smashing Pumpkins and Radiohead, I spent a summer learning their records in my bedroom. I was really into Billy Joel too, I had his greatest hits double album that I wore out. Kind of a mix of stuff, but I only really tuned into the great singer-songwriters when I was in my late teens.

MM: When did you start writing music? How did that process happen for you?

PK: The first song I officially wrote was when I was 14 and it was called ‘My Best Friend.’ I wrote it for…. my best friend. She was going through a hard time and I just had the impulse to want to give her something to cheer her up so I thought I’d write her a song. All these years later, I’m realizing that I still write a lot of songs with that exact same motivation.   As for process, in the early days it just kind of happened. I think when you have a guitar in hand and you’re learning chords and covers, there’s a natural tendency to noodle around and try to come up with something ‘original.’ At some point I really tuned in to songwriting though by deconstructing what others were doing and by writing with other people. I also studied writing as part of my university degree which gave me a lot of useful tools to work from.

MM: What advice do you have for young people trying to “make it” in the music industry?

PK: Put ALL of your energy into trying to make great music that you love. Don’t worry about ‘making it,’ don’t worry about agents and labels and twitter followers. Make something great, really really really great. Get comfortable with your instrument in hand on a stage in front of people. Do everything in your power to be ready when the opportunity comes. Everything is way easier when you’ve got something great on your hands and you’ve got to be able to deliver when you finally get your chance. That’s where you should put your focus, don’t worry about anything else for a long long time.

MM: What are your future plans?

PK: We’ve just recorded a live album that I’m super excited about. I’m so proud of the band show that we put together and toured nationally/internationally throughout 2015, I’m so glad that we were able to capture that.   There will be extensive touring in the fall of 2016 around the release of that. I also have over 20+ songs for my next record, but I’d like to have another 20+ before I even think about recording the next one. But… it’s there in the back of my brain, I’ve got lots of songs coming out, curious as to what the next thing will be. It’s not the time for me to worry about that, best to just write what’s coming out.

MM: Anything else you want to share?

PK: I always say that if you really want to know what I do, then come to a live show. That’s always the goal for me, to be in a room playing for you.

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