Petunia has yodelled his way into a unique and modern vintage sound
The man known only as Petunia has been referred to as the yodelling love child of David Lynch and Nick Cave, and a cross between Tom Waits and Elvis Presley if they met at Woody Guthrie’s hobo junction. Yet, it’s hard to place him in a single box.
“It’s an apt comparison to say there are elements of what I do that can be rightly compared to Tom Waits or Nick Cave,” Petunia says. “It’d be easy to go ‘Wow, this guy has got a show that’s a lot like Blue Velvet. But then there’s lots of other elements in the show.”
Petunia & The Vipers formed in 2007, and have been playing together for more than 10 years. Known for their old-school Americana sound, and signature yodeling, the band also throws in dashes of punk rock, folk, and new rock to the mix. They released Lonesome Heavy and Lonesome, last September and according to Petunia, fans are saying it’s the best and most sophisticated album yet.
Petunia’s musical career stretches back further then the band, however. Before he was known as a musician, he spent almost 10 years hitchhiking his way across Canada, cutting his musical teeth on street corners across the country.
“It’s not like I sat at home and thought ‘Oh, maybe I should start hitchhiking all over Canada and playing on street corners.’ That’s not what happened,” he says. “I was already travelling around and hitchhiking. Once I started playing music, it was just natural for me to pull out a guitar and play music on a park bench or wherever I was.”
Petunia’s vocals are extremely reminiscent of early country and jug band music, channeling Hank Williams, and the Carter Family, but with more of a punk rock flair. Despite having no formal musical training, Petunia manages to yodel like a beast, and can play a variety of instruments ranging from the guitar to the kazoo.
“I can play just about anything you give me,” he says. “It doesn’t mean I can play live for a whole song, accompanying a band, on a song I’ve never played before. [But] I can figure out any instrument you give me, and figure out how to play it.”
When Petunia isn’t touring with his band or as a solo act, he composes and musical directs for theatre companies. One of his favourite performances—which saw him composing, directing, and performing—was the contemporary dance company, MACHiNENOiSY’s Bamboozled, directed by Delia Brett and Daelik Hackenbrook.
Petunia’s latest project is a web series called The Musicianer, which was directed by Beth Harrington. In the show, Petunia plays Vern Lockhart—a man who’s become unstuck in time. In the present day, Lockhart is a musician just trying to make a quick buck on the street, but he also exists in the 1920s as a yodelling musician on his way to stardom—much like Petunia. The story follows Lockhart as he unravels the details of what’s truly going on, while highlighting a wide range of Americana artists. Sounds like the perfect role for Petunia.
Fri., Apr. 13 (9 pm)
Petunia & The Vipers
The Rec Room South
$15 general admission