Lisa Interviews Juno Nominee Peter Katz

As I mentioned last week, I have known Peter Katz since 2008, but I never had the chance to really talk to him in depth about his experiences as a musician. I thought that I would do it in an interview format so I could share his wisdom and experience with all my subscribers. I was curious as to what led him to where he is today and what advice he has for young people interested in arts careers. His responses were thoughtful and inspirational. Here is what Peter had to say…

Lisa: When did you know you wanted to be a musician?

Peter: I always played music, but never thought of it as a career choice.  It seems funny to say now, but when I was growing up I remember thinking that if you were an artist you were going to end up unemployed and living in utter poverty. I think it was somehow instilled in me through the years that ‘smart kids’ go into math and science, and that ‘dumb kids’ go into the arts and humanities. My heart was never really in math and science, even though they came really easily to me. Because I was good at it, I was told to keep doing it if I wanted to succeed. I think there’s a bias in grade school towards math and science that diminishes how equally valuable the arts really are. I don’t think it needs to be arts vs. math, not at all. They are both equally important.

Lisa: Very true! So what was the turning point for you?

Peter: As I got a bit older, I realized that all the people I admired and wanted to be friends with were artists, and that they were not ‘dumb’ at all, they were incredibly smart and creative and it was absurd for me to maintain those old preconceptions. I took a leap of faith, switched into the creative arts and have been in love with learning ever since.

My first foray into the arts was through theatre in college. When I did ‘The Laramie Project’ in my final year of theatre school, the director asked me to write a song for the show, as she knew I was getting into songwriting.  I wrote a song called ‘The Fence’ that seemed to really connect with people, and after the show closed, she pulled me aside and said that I should consider pursuing the songwriter path more seriously.

Around the same time, I went to see Glen Hansard perform for the first time and was totally blown away. As I sat there in the audience that night, it became clear to me, what he was doing was exactly what I was meant to be doing. I’ve been following that path ever since.

Lisa: What have been some of the most difficult challenges you have overcome in your career?

Peter: I think letting go of ‘certainty’ has been the hardest thing. I’ve always been someone who could get tangible results from hard work. If I studied hard for a test, I could get an A. With the arts, it’s not so straightforward.

You’re trying to create something out of nothing, something that doesn’t exist, and that’s a very difficult thing to do.  You can’t just logically make it work, you have to try and fail, a lot. You have to learn to follow impulses, trust your instincts, be willing to explore unknowns, try something you’ve never tried before.

Also, you never have it totally figured out. Just because you wrote 1 great song, doesn’t mean the next one is going to be great too. Sometimes you need to write another 100 bad songs before you get that next breakthrough. You always have to be digging, working, falling on your face and getting up again.

The other thing about the arts is that you’re putting yourself out there, personally. When you put a song, or a poem, or a piece of art out into the world, something that you really care about, that has taken all of your heart and soul and strength to share, that’s a vulnerable place to be in.

The truth of the matter is, no matter how hard you worked and how much you care, some people are still not going to like it, some people are even going to hate it and won’t be shy to broadcast their opinion to the world. Worst of all, most people aren’t even going to notice that you did it.

But… for all of that vulnerability and fear and hard work, every now and then, something you make connects, even if only with you, and it’s the greatest feeling on earth.  It’s all worth it, when you get to have those moments of sharing and connecting, of creating something that didn’t exist before, that no one could have made happen for you, other than yourself.