The pros and cons of indie vs. major label could be argued over for hours upon hours. We live in a world now where YouTube sensations are a thing of the past and instead, six-second videos on Vine are creating online megastars. Consumers and viewers are impatient and not only do they want it now, they want to be part of it. Perhaps that alone is the best argument of all for the indie movement.
Billy Pettinger, aka Billy the Kid, embodies the term independent and goes to lengths that most wouldn’t even consider to create a bond with her fans.I recently got the chance to talk to this unique artist from our neighbor to the north. Here’s how it went.
Billy Pettinger: Life is good! Life is actually really good. I’m on the road right now. I think I’m in Cleveland today on the Van’s Warped Tour.
BE: Nice! We love Warped artists here at Lemonade. Now, I know about your career because I live near the [Canadian-US] border and have been following it for the past few years, but for those who don’t know about you tell us a little bit about yourself.
BP: Well, I started a punk rock band when I was about 16 years-old. I was touring and playing wherever people would let me. During the last few years I started doing kind of a folk singer-songwriter, Frank Turner sort of thing. I just made a record with a guy who made two of Ryan Adams’ records. I’m a huge Ryan Adams fan, so that’s kind of what’s been going on briefly. *laughs*
BE: It’s funny you mention Ryan Adams because I remember seeing a little while back on your Facebook you did a bunch of Ryan Adams covers and you say you’re a fan, but it seems to go deeper than that even. What sort of impact has he had on your career?
BP: You know, I can’t even really completely understand it myself. It’s kind of like Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Long story short I heard “Heartbreaker” first and I was immediately blown away, then I heard a track they put up online from Easy Tiger And I remember thinking, “Who the hell recorded these drums?” They were the most perfect sounding drums in the world.
I became so obsessed with this song, that one of the interns I had at the record label that I started up finally looked at me and said, “Billy…I mean the song is good but it’s not THAT good.” That is actually the start of me being a huge fan. I actually even flew all the way Ireland just to see him play a couple times. I’ve seen him play in Boston; in Baltimore. I’ve got vinyls that nobody’s ever heard before that were really, really expensive.
So fast forward a few years down the road and this guy that did a couple of [Ryan Adams] records – Jamie Candiloro – started to follow me on Twitter and we started nerding out about gear actually. I had just produced my second record in Virgina and was getting into the recording aspect of things. One thing lead to the next and a friend of mine said, “You’ve been talking to this guy online about gear, why are you not jumping at the chance to work with him?” So I said, “Well, maybe one day I can afford it” and my friend was like “I think you’re an idiot, you need to find a way.”
That night I started a PledgeMusic campaign and for the second time, did a preorder and a bunch of incentives, so that I could get into the studio to work with this guy and after that all worked out, Ryan actually showed up and surprised us all.
BE: Wow! How did you react to that?
BP: Yeah, basically Jamie and I were sitting down, tracking some live guitars and all of a sudden he stands up and says, “Billy…Ryan is downstairs, I’m gonna go let him in. It’s gonna be okay.”
BP: *laughs* He came in and he wrote like three different songs on three different guitars. It was actually really funny. He was really funny.
BP: Yeah, I was willing to do anything you could think of. I went whitewater rafting with fans, rock climbing, I played wedding anniversaries, I went camping with a whole family including the grandkids, I played a fundraiser for an independent film and that was just one portion of the program on top of all the smaller things like music bundles. I did this special prize bundle where nobody knew what was inside including me. *both laugh* Basically though, I put a bunch of stuff that I liked in it: some of my favorite books, stuff from my room, stuff I found at thrift stores. It was literally a surprise bundle.
BE: Wow! I’ve seen a lot of these campaigns and never have I seen incentives quite like that.
BP: Well, as an ex-punk rocker turned singer-songwriter I have to be mildly inventive. I am completely independent. There’s no management; there’s no label, so it’s like whatever I can do, I will do it.
BE: Sometimes Canadian artists have a tougher time getting their stuff out there to the world. What has the reception been like for you personally?
BP: It’s funny you should mention that, because for years of my life I was kind of stuck in Canada. That sounds worse than it actually was, but it wasn’t until I was able to get outside and play for people that I realized Canada is actually a really small market. It’s unfortunate that without paperwork and work visas that you really have no choice, but to tour this country that has a population that’s the size of all of California…all of California spread out over my entire country. You can do the math, it’s a little bit different when you step out of your backyard.
BE: You mention being completely independent. Stars Exploding sounds great to me as a listener, but with all the pros that come along with being independent, is there a point where it becomes really stressful and that you start to second guess yourself?
BP: Oh totally, but my independence means that I can do whatever, whenever. I had the luxury of self-producing my second record. I got to pick who I work with. I am able to go where I want, when I want. That’s something that I’m not sure is worth trading for possibility of catapulting into super success. I have actually walked away from certain situations, because I personally value the ability to make my own decisions for myself.
BE: You’ve had your music featured on everything from 16 and Pregnant to My 600-lbs Life. Is it weird seeing your music on such different types of programming?
BP: I’ll tell you what it weird…I wrote this song called “Won’t Be The Same” and it became a montage on Gene Simmons: Family Jewels where he’s actually throwing money in slow motion at the camera. I saw that scene and when I heard my song playing, I was like, “You know that is exactly what I was thinking when I wrote that song”…I’m just kidding! *laughs*
BE: So you’re on Warped Tour right now. What’s the plan after Warped?
BP: Get a job? I don’t know! *laughs* The independent music world at every moment there’s this looming possibility that I’m going to have to go back to reality and get a job. That’s entirely feasible. That said, I have some European tours in the background and the possibility of a new record. I have a lot of songs in the song book, so you know how it goes? Rinse, repeat.
You can pick up Stars, Exploding by Billy the Kid on iTunes now.
Editor in Chief of Lemonade Magazine