Before she returns to the UK for shows with Against Me! and Northcote I had a bit of electric mail chatter with Billy the Kid
You know how you get some people who say "I like all kinds of music, except country". I hate those people. Country Music, outside of the stadium antics of the likes of Garth Brooks , is the honest sound of the North American working class. Its relationship with punk rock has been there since the early days, and if you look at a band like Social Distortion (arguably the American punk rock band) you will find equal parts Joe Strummer and Hank Williams.
Vancouver's Billy The Kid (real name Billy Pettinger) lies somewhere between the street tough song writing of Loretta Lynn and the raw Grrl power of Kathleen Hanna, and her latest effort, Horseshoes & Hand grenades, is the perfect synthesis of American roots and punk scene spirit.
Following on from several crowd sourced self-releases (both solo and with her band the Lost boys), "Horseshoes..." is Billy's first album for the acclaimed indie label Xtra Mile. Championed by the likes of Frank Turner (who produced the album) and Against Me's Laura Jane Grace Billy is set to become the face of contemporary punk country (a genre I've just made up).
We caught up over e-mail just before the start of her current tour of the UK with Against Me!
"Hi Billy, How are you enjoying being on tour at the moment? You seem to have been playing non-stop for months?"
I think I had four days off in about two months but I wouldn't have it any other way. Tour doesn't feel like work to me. I do miss painting sometimes though. When I have any time off I'll paint for about eight hours a day.
"Last time I saw you live you were just about to go out supporting Billy Bragg in the US, how was that? I understand he was a big influence?"
Huge. For roughly five years when I was first starting out playing "solo" I refused to play an acoustic guitar and would only play an electric guitar. The reason? Billy Bragg. We covered a Tom Waits song together (I think there's a video online somewhere) and it was more than a dream come true...I never even could have dreamt that one!
"Did that come about through your friendship with Frank Turner?"
It was one of those "Same city, same day" kind of a thing that happens on the road sometimes. I had a day off in a city where he had a show and we ended up hanging out.
"How did he end up becoming the producer for you latest album 'Horseshoes & Hand grenades'?"
I guess Charlie Caplowe from Frank's label Xtra Mile was also at the show so he saw Frank and I sing Neil Young's "Only Love Can Break Your Heart". A few weeks later I got an email asking if I might want to work with them. Originally, they wanted to re-release my last album "Stars, Exploding", to which I replied "Wouldn't it be great if the re-release had some new songs??" At that point "Stars, Exploding" was about a year old (to me) so I had a ton of new material. I sent them 36 demos as candidates and that opened the can of worms that is talking about making a new album. They then sent the demos to Frank and he expressed interest in being involved.
"How would you say the new record differs from your earlier work? Were there any new influences in there?"
Sure. I try to be someone who is always trying to change or at least hopefully evolve a little bit. If anything, it was more of a "throwback" than anything...Frank suggested combining what I've been doing for the past couple years (more of a singer/songwriter acoustic guitar vibe) with where I come from, which was all ages punk rock shows. In that sense I suppose it is "new" in that it is a combination of a couple worlds I have been known to live in.
"What where your lyrical influences? I'd be interested to hear the story behind 'Lord let me' for example?"
That one is the imaginary love story of my Irish, Catholic Grandmother and my Protestant, English Grandfather falling in love. I was visiting Belfast and Ireland and only then understood what it might have meant for the two of them to get together when they did. It may even be a part of why I am from Canada! Overall I'm influenced a lot by travel and my experiences and relationships while meandering about trying to do this thing.
"How did you first get into songwriting? Were you in bands before you were a solo performer?"
I played electric guitar in a lot of pretty awful punk rock bands before starting my own pretty awful punk rock band. I only really starting "singing" (if you could call it that) or writing because no one else was at the time. We just wanted to play, so we'd play Dropkick Murphys and Swingin' Utters covers amidst some Social Distortion and maybe even Screeching Weasel. One at a time I started sneaking my little songs in there and eventually, we had a band
"Prior to this album I understand you crowd funded some of your previous records, how was that experience compared to signing to an independent label?"
I would do it again in a heartbeat because I love the connection with people, and the opportunity to make something unique like a mixed tape or lyric sheet that might mean something to someone. It is nice to have some help, though.
"Does it feel like there's something of a support network within the artists on Xtra Mile?"
For sure. It's more of a collective than a company, I guess? I'm glad to be part of something that feels like a "thing" and isn't just a business. These are the things that are important to me.
"What's the next big project?"
About to go on the road with Against Me! then playing XFM's Winter Wonderland event. Two of my favourite English dudes, Billy Bragg and Frank Turner will even be there! Not sure about what is to come beyond that...hopefully much more of the same. Maybe a couple paintings if I have time? I'd consider just getting to keep doing this a pretty big project haha!
you can find out more about Billy at www.billythekidonline.com