THEAUSSIEWORD.COM special interview with singer/songwriter Peter Katz.
How and where did it all begin for you? What drew your interest to the music industry?
I’ve always loved music, I started playing violin at age 4 and piano soon after that, but it was always something that I just did but never really thought of it as a career path. It wasn’t until I started writing songs as a teenager that something shifted. It all of a sudden REALLY mattered, and I felt the power of being able to express myself through these little 3-4 minute creations. As much as I love music, the part that makes me committed for life and willing to make all the sacrifices in order to do it, is that I get to sing and play my own songs. That’s such a special feeling.
What motivates or influences you in your quest to make great music?
My goal has always been to create something that will get me in a room playing it live for people. Some of my artist friends are just all about the studio and don’t care if they ever play it live, but I’m the opposite. The studio is great and all, and of course I love the creation process, but I love being in the room, bringing it to life in real time. I want to be able to play the kind of shows that stick with people for a lifetime (like some of the favourite shows that I’ve been to as an audience member). In order to do that, I always need to be getting better as an artist, writing better songs, singing better, playing better, connecting better. There’s a lifetime of great work and motivation with that goal in mind.
What are some of your biggest goals you hope to accomplish?
My gut reaction is that I first and foremost want to be a kind person. I want people to be better off for having intersected with me. That’s not specific to only music, but I think that is what underlies how I am as an artist. I have dreams of course of playing the most beautiful venues in the world (Sydney Opera House is on that list), but I want to get to those goals on my own terms. If I’m playing for 50,000, 5000, 500, or 50 people, I want it to be because I’ve been shining a light that people find meaningful to walk towards, and that’s what has brough us all together.
What can we expect from you in the coming months? Any plans to tour?
Touring would obviously be a dream, but all the venues are closed (here in Canada at least) so for now I’ve been working really hard to innovate with my virtual offerings. I’ve been able to create a great multi-camera virtual setup with incredible audio which people have been really enjoying. I keep trying to innovate, coming up with different ways to build engagement, we did a surprise dance party on my last livestream, I have video overlays, all kinds of things, just to make it a high value and impactful experience for the audience. As soon as it’s allowed though, guaranteed that I’ll be playing these songs live. This album was meant to be performed as a BIG show, so hopefully it will get that chance eventually.
Tell us a bit about your latest release and how would you best describe your music?
Well I would describe this album as a pop or adult alternative record, which is a pretty big shift from my earlier acoustic stuff. It was a major undertaking, went through many incarnations, but I insisted that I make something that made every hair on my body stand up. Thematically, the album is really processing what happens when we face our biggest challenges. What do we discover in ourselves on the other side of those “crying on the kitchen floor” moments. We all have those lows, how do we feel them, move through them, grow from them, and eventually get ourselves up and dancing on the same floor we were once crying on.
Give us an insight into your creative process. What gets you writing songs?
I feel like there’s 2 modes of songwriting for me. There’s the songs that just beam into my head and I have to stop everything I’m doing and channel them. Those are gifts. If I only relied on those songs though, then I wouldn’t have a career. I really believe in the “make an appointment to write and inspiration will follow” philosophy. So I tend to schedule writing sessions, and trust that it will come in the moment. It almost always does, and I would say with this album in particular, there was never a moment where I struggled with trying to come up with something to write about. I couldn’t get it out fast enough. Of course I went in and crafted it like crazy after the fact, but the impulse was really strong.
I would also say that whenever something hits me in my chest, I naturally have an impulse (or compulsion!) to want to process that into a piece of music. It’s almost annoying because sometimes I just want to experience life without having to turn it into something, but of course I’m grateful for it, it makes me me, so I would never want to lose it.
Is there a hidden meaning in any of your music?
While I try to find poetry in my writing, and create images to latch on to, I think it’s pretty apparent what it’s about when you listen or read the lyrics. It’s pretty much all “heart on sleeve”.
Success, what is the secret to it?
That’s a big word isn’t it…. For me it’s doing great work and being a kind person. If I’m making art that I’m incredibly proud of, that’s always getting better, and if I’m being a kind person along the way and elevating others, then that’s success. There’s so much that I can’t control, I like to focus on doing great work, and being a good human along the way.
What has been your biggest career highlight so far?
Not too long before the lockdown, I got to play a song of mine (Brother) at Roy Thomson Hall (beautiful 3000-person venue here in Toronto) with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra backing me up, and my co-writer Royal Wood (another amazing Canadian songwriter) sharing the stage, to a packed-out audience. It was a totally (totally) magical experience that I’ll never forget. Other highlights would be playing with Glen Hansard on several occasions (he was part of the reason I committed a life as a songwriter). Mostly though just every night of music that I’ve got to have, playing for rooms full of people that were engaged, connected, singing, dancing… that’s a highlight every time and I sure miss it.
Which stars of the music industry do you find inspiring?
As I wrote in the last question, Glen Hansard has been a huge inspiration to me. The way that he has shown up with such integrity both as an artist, and in the way that he connects with his fans, has been a major influence on me. There’s SO many artists out there that inspire me though from Leon Bridges to Alicia Keys to Taylor Swift to Jason Isbell to Anderson Paak to Beyonce and to a long list of artists who aren’t household names but who I get to intersect with and who are out there doing great work. And if we’re talking music industry, there’s also great venue owners and sound technicians and lighting designers and managers. There’s a lot of great people in this industry that inspire me in a variety of ways.
Are there any new projects in the pipeline?
All focus is on the new album right now. We’re secretly plotting the next musical release as well, along with a video series. I also do a lot of work using my music to connect with people across industries through keynote addresses (kind of a long story, but I use my music and stories from my career to support companies, government agencies, not for profits, students with their resiliency, change management and connection to purpose. I love doing that work as well, it all works together with the more typical aspects of a music career, and allows me to access a lot more people and connect with them in really intentional ways).
The music industry is constantly changing, where do you see yourself a few years?
Biggest thing I would hope for would be that I would be back playing live shows. That said, we had been working to reduce the amount of shows that I played (I was doing 150-200 per year) and instead increasing the impact of each show. We were nicely on that trajectory when COVID hit, working with larger venues and promoters, so I hope that the tour routing is a bit more gentle on my constitution than it has been in the past. I’m in this for life though, so no matter what, I’ll be making music and finding ways to play it live for people. That’s a constant.
What is your favourite and least favourite part about this line of work and why?
Favourite part is definitely being in the room with people, singing along, dancing along, being together. Creating a sense of community every night, the togetherness, the excitement, the dynamics of the show… love all of that.
I think my least favourite part is the game you have to play in order to catch the wave of attention. I wish the art was all you needed to focus on, but there’s so many other pieces that go into building a successful career, and I find those parts draining and discouraging sometimes. But, you know, it’s part of the job, every job has a part that sucks a bit. The good parts make it all worthwhile.
Name a few of your favourite Australian artists.
Australia has an impressive list, I’m particularly fond of SIA, Tame Impala, AC/DC (of course) and Mia Dyson.
The shape of the music industry has changed significantly over the years, including the use of social media, how do you feel about the industry as a whole and what does it mean to you in getting your records out into the public eye?
My honest answer is that I don’t know that social media has been the best thing for mine (or anyone’s) mental health, but it’s something that you just have to contend with if you’re going to succeed as a musician in 2020. I try to still be myself on those platforms, and see it as another creative outlet, another way to connect. And, it has resulted in some great interactions with fans, really touching letters, etc. Ultimately though, I think you want “social media” to be talking about you, so the better of a ‘thing’ that you can make, the better of a chance it has of being spread out there. In that sense, I love it, because it means that the cream has a chance of rising to the top, whether the gatekeepers like it or not (but make no mistake, there are still gatekeepers in every system).
How will you continue appealing to the international market?
I’ve always been an artist who toured internationally a lot (even more so than in my own country some years) so until I’m able to do that in person, I’m doing it virtually. We also target different playlists in various markets, try to stagger some of our content so that, for example, the European fans can catch it live, etc. Most of the major platforms don’t have geographical boundaries though, so the music is available all around the world and we’ll fan the flames wherever they pop up.
Do you collaborate with others? Who is on your wish-list?
All the time! I had a wonderful list of collaborators on this album (Rich Jacques, Derek Hoffman, Kyler England, Robyn Dell’Unto, Erik Alcock) and the list goes on. So many wonderful people were a part of this album coming together. And generally I love co-writing with others, you learn so much from each person. Very top of my wish-list is to write a song with Julia Michaels. Would also love to write with Taylor Swift. They’re just 2 badass writers who manage to make great pop music that has a heart and soul to it.
What advice do you give for other artists wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Focus on the music. No matter what happens on the business side, always carve out the time to have an instrument in your hand, making new music, focusing on the core task. Every other aspect of the business can drain you, but you’ll never regret dialling in to the love of music, the beautiful challenge of writing, and turning on the tap of your heart.
A message for your fans. How do you best interact and respond with your followers and fans?
I always try to give back what I get. If someone has taken the time to really share something with me, then I find the time to write them back and let them know that I’ve seen their heart and that I’m grateful for it. Good old-fashioned email, DM’s on Instagram, facebook messages, I try to make sure I catch it and respond. I will say, that sometimes I fall (very) behind, and sometimes I don’t write back for weeks/months, but I always get to it. It’s important and it’s meaningful so I’m always trying my very best on that front.
Any last words?
All that I want is for people to hear the music. I’ve put so much in there for people to find, I hope you’ll give it a listen.