Have you ever listened to an artist who is so captivating, so utterly authentic, that they send shivers down your spine and make you dizzy with wonder? Well, meet Petunia, who, along with his band The Vipers, is single-handedly reintroducing the world to a long-lost, old-time style of music incorporating flavours of roots, rockabilly, swing, and train car ramblin’ hillbilly folk. He even plays a homemade kazoozaphone (he makes it by ramming a kazoo into the bell shaped end of a bicycle horn) and yodels, too.
I first met Petunia many years ago while I was stumbling around Toronto during the holidays wielding a bottle of whiskey and a sense of adventure. Petunia was hanging up little handmade posters for a series of shows he was doing in the new year. I thought his name was funny, I gave him my business card, and miraculously he called me when he moved to Vancouver about a year or so later.
What first struck me about Petunia’s sound was his complete authenticity. His sound pays homage to a time of purity, sincerity and innocence, but in a modern context, which makes it relevant and accessible to today’s audiences. His songs transport the listener to a much simpler time, back to an era where news traveled slowly, and ponies still delivered our mail. Only a master of the genre and a truly talented songwriter can make such historically authentic music in an age where the airwaves are flooded by reams of useless, distracting swill.
Watching Petunia perform is like time travel. I always feel like I am peering through a dusty old window, getting an intimate look into the secretive life of a constantly evolving classic character. If you close your eyes and listen with the right kind of ears, you can actually enter his stories as he sings. You’re riding the rails with him, or watching the stars next to a crackling fire, and he is pleased with your presence and curiosity.
The debut album from Petunia and the Vipers took over two years to complete. It was recorded at The Sound Factory in Hollywood, California, by Grammy award-winning engineer Ryan Freeland.
The Vipers themselves are a formidable force in the roots/rockabilly world, and their decades of adventurous playing is given free reign to dance and swing through the distinct L.A. sound achieved by the recording process. Most of The Vipers were part of the legendary rockabilly group, Ray Condo & The Ricochets, but after the tragic death of front man Ray Condo, they connected with Petunia and threw their massive wealth of skill and energy behind a new persona with his own completely unique voice and songwriting style.
Together, Petunia and The Vipers are not to be taken lightly. At times, swooning and crooning and others gnashing and smashing, the talent and precision with which they exhibit their musicianship is quickly becoming legendary in its own right.
When asked where he draws his inspiration from, Petunia admitted that he doesn’t really seek out new music, although he did dig the new Tom Waits release.
“There are the obvious ones; Hank Williams, Jimmy Rodgers and the Carter Family. I’ve played host to many inspirations both musical and otherwise. I like what Louis Armstrong says, ‘There is good music and bad music,’ so one could extrapolate and say, ‘There are good things and bad things’ and that would apply to each and every persons’ inspirations.”
In terms of what modern recording has done for the roots genre, he said that he enjoys all the options technology has allowed, but is adamant that there is a fine line between too busy and not busy enough.
“I like a lot of the new ways of packaging a song when it comes to production. Too much production is usually way too much, and too little is just the standard nowadays. It’s like the difference between too much or too little ketchup on your fries. It can be a drastic difference to the taste buds.”
And in keeping with the food metaphor, there is something for every palate on this album. Petunia and the Vipers can woo you with slow, soulful, swoons one minute, and then jolt you out of your seat with sharp, swinging, snarls the next. www.petuniaandthevipers.com.