PETUNIA PUTS HIS OWN SPIN ON OLD-TIME MUSIC
Check out diverse sound, bring dancing shoes
Spotlight Petunia performs Wednesday at Wine-Ohs with Nathan Godfrey.
It sounds like an episode of Supernatural or a Footloose prequel but certainly the stuff of fiction.
So it comes as something of a surprise to discover that the Dancing Plague of 1518 was actually a real event, where approximately 400 citizens of Strasbourg were afflicted with a mysterious illness that caused them to dance — dozens — until they died of exhaustion.
“Neither did I,” says Vancouverbased artist Petunia when previous ignorance of the incident is admitted.
The reason we’re even talking about it and now have that information in our domes is because it’s the basis of a recent video accompanying Mercy, a song by Petunia and his band, The Vipers.
Made by Calgary filmmakers Laura Combden and Aaron Berankevitch, it’s a suitably creepy and unnerving short film starring Petunia and a group of gyrating townsfolk.
It’s now up for a pair of Alberta Film and Television Awards, including for Best Music Video and Best Costume Design by fellow local Deitra Kalyn.
The video also won a Telus Storyhive competition, which allowed the filmmakers to take Petunia down to Mexico to film another video for his forthcoming album Dead Bird on the Highway and to also begin work on a Petunia documentary, about “my life and how I came to be who I am.”
Who he is, is a remarkably unique singer-songwriter-yodeller, who takes elements of traditional western swing, bluegrass, folk, jazz, ragtime, hillbilly and everything else you can think of in the old timey vein and brings it to the here and now.
“I like to say we springboard from the past and we’re into the future,” he says. “And I guess I’ve been doing it for so long that it’s my own thing by now.”
Due out May 20, Dead Bird on the Highway, is, by his estimations his 12th recording and was laid down last summer at Alberta producer Steve Loree’s studio in Nanton.
The ramblin’ and raucous record is made up of half originals and half covers that run the gamut from a song with Swahili origins to Little Willie John’s I’m Shakin.’
“It comes at you from a lot of different directions,” Petunia admits.
But, again, even when it’s a cover, the artist and his band make it their own, even blurring the definition of which works are originals — with, in the case of the aforementioned African tune Asaw Fofor, the addition of an English verse to give the song his own spin. Petunia acknowledges it’s one of the things that makes The Vipers so unique among acts working under the “very broad umbrella” of roots and Americana.
“People that come and see that kind of music are used to much closer renditions to the original,” he says. “Like if they’re hearing Heartbreak Hotel, the Elvis song, by some band, they expect it to sound like Elvis did it. We’re not really catering to that paradigm, if you will. That’s out the window and we’re just playing them the way we play them.”
Petunia and The Vipers will be hitting the road after the album’s release, but he’ll be making another appearance in this part of the world for a show on Wednesday at WineOhs. It will feature the singer accompanied by Calgary artist Nathan Godfrey, and will display the more acoustic side of his music.
“It doesn’t mean that people aren’t up dancing,” he says.