Canadian artist Codie Prevost is in Australia to play the Gympie Muster and a selection of east coast dates. Prevost is a great entertainer and a really interesting person, dedicated to his music and passionate about it too, as my chat with him revealed. Catch him at the following venues:
31 August – The Basement, Sydney
1 September – Hamilton Station Hotel, Newcastle
2 September – Honky Tonk Bar, Family Hotel, Tamworth
3 September – Johnny Ringo’s, Brisbane
4 September – Powerboat Club, Caloundra
It’s your third time to Australia in 18 months – why do you love us so much?
Oh, it’s incredible. I came there January 2015 for my first time, did 18 concerts and it was just such a great experience coming there, meeting all the country music fans. I got the chance to play in Tamworth – we spent quite a few days there, and what happened there was so shocking to me. I had never been to Australia but already they knew the lyrics to my songs, a lot of them, and they just follow you to the next show, to the next show, to the next show … It was inspiring. It’s just awesome when you spend your life touring one country, you’re not even sure what’s out there until you get on an airplane one day and make your way, and I’m sure glad I did. It was a real treat to get to play there. Now to be able to come back for the third time, it’s really a dream come true.
I saw you play in Tamworth at The Pub and I remember thinking, This guy’s obviously used to a tough crowd, because there were quite a few kids, there were some people who’d had a bit to drink, and you were really good at managing the crowd and getting them involved. I think someone asked you to play some ACDC or something like that. I imagine you’ve come across all sorts of audiences, it looks like nothing will faze you – is that the case?
When I started out it was my guitar and me, and I was playing small-town bars for a hundred dollars a night and nobody could say ‘no’ because they would sell five drinks and they would pay for the band that night. So this is how I got that experience, performing in front of all sorts of different crowds, from performing in the bars to performing at community events and pancake breakfasts at 7 a.m. I’ve seen quite a bit of the different shows that can come along. From doing all that stuff, though, it’s really built me into almost to be able to adapt to any situation. It’s kind of cool, because now you get into situations and you figure them out. At first, back when I started playing shows, that stuff would have freaked me out, lots of it, but now that I’ve been doing it for a while you get used to it. You learn the different types of crowds and how to interact and how to gauge it.
Still, you need to have a big repertoire, because as with that show you’re playing more than one set, and if someone does make a request – it seems like you were pretty game for any requests.
You’ve definitely got to keep some material in your back pocket because you never know when it’s going to come in handy.
And I have a technical question: those 7 a.m. pancake breakfasts, I’ve always wondered for a performer singing that early, do you get up really early to warm up your voice?
Oh yeah, usually if I’m singing at 7 a.m. I’ll have to try to get up at 4.30, just so hopefully by 7 a.m. you’ve already been speaking enough. There’s not really a lot of people to talk to at that time [laughs] so you have to do some warm-ups and prepare for it. Those are always a way bigger challenge than singing at 11 a.m., even.
By the end of the day you’ve naturally warmed up because you’ve been speaking to people … There is a lot to think about, with a voice. It’s an instrument all on its own.
It is, and that’s the cool thing – I’ve been studying a bit of voice and it’s amazing how much there is to it. Just with different techniques and different areas of your voice. It’s more complex than some people would think. And the thing with performing guitar, well, once the guitar warms up it’s going to stay in tune – but a voice, it’s always up to the person. A guitar, you bring it into a guy to get it tuned up here and there and get it rethreaded. With the voice it’s always about keeping yourself in shape and being healthy and eating well, and the healthier you are, the better your instruments can work.
You’re performing at the Gympie Muster while you’re out here – are you scared?
I don’t think so. I’ve been to quite a few country music festivals and I’ve heard a lot of great things about it. And I’ve been touring Canada for the last little while and I’ve met up with quite a few Australian folks in the crowds here – they come here on trips. They can’t believe I’m going to the Gympie Muster because when I see them here it’s halfway across the world. It’s funny how you see people here and then you see them on the other side of the world. So no, I’m not scared, I’m definitely looking forward to it. I’ve looked at pictures and the website, and I have friends from Australia who performed there, and there’s nothing but great comments. I think it’s just like any country music festival – people are there to have a great time and that’s the best part about it, and if you can contribute to that good time, that’s the best thing.
So you’re in Saskatoon – what’s that like for country music?
It’s pretty good. There’s a great scene here and they have a country music association and basically it’s like a family. I’m on the board for the association and lots of times we put on shows around the province. We also do talent searches and I’ve been privileged to help out with those things. The scene is growing, there’s new artists coming in all the time, and a lot of the Saskatchewan artists, quite a few of them have taken a trip to Australia. It’s cool to see.
A province like Saskatchewan, there’s more actual country than there is in Ontario, so the music is closer to the audience, culturally speaking.
Oh yes. There’s a lot farmland here, lots of small-town people, and when you grow up on the tractor and on the farm, that’s all you have – AM radio, and that’s all country music. Either you listen to country music or you listen to news talk. I think that definitely had something to do with how popular country music is here. I really see country music as a growing genre. The new material coming out connects with a lot of different people – the younger generation. Even the Toronto area, they have some huge festivals over there and they’re all country music based.
I’m wondering about the logistics for you, even of getting around Canadian shows, it’s a lot of travel.
I always joke to people, ‘You play a show and then your next show is a six-hour drive, usually.’ I find that a little bit in Australia as well. When I was in Australia I almost felt at home, because the people are similar – besides the accent, and they tell me that I have the accent when I go there [laughs]. The people are friendly and it just really is a great place, and you have to drive so many kilometres for the next show. I know we’re going from Brisbane to Sydney and that’s quite a hike.
And you’re playing The Basement, which is a really great venue in Sydney.
I’ve heard great things. I worked with a guy out of Sydney on some other stuff and they’re all coming down, and he was excited it was at The Basement because they do some great stuff there and he said they have great food. And I’m actually touring with Brigginshaw, and I’m looking forward to that.
Are they going to be your band, or do you have your own band?
We’re going to share a band. We’re both going to do a set each night. It’s always fun when you can collaborate with an artist on a tour. It’s nice to have some buddies on the road. I’ve done a lot of acoustic tours and it can get pretty lonely when you’re out there by yourself.
I’m curious about you sharing a band – what if the band prefers one person’s music over another? Does it get ugly?
The first time I came to Tamworth, Hurricane Fall – who are doing really good right now – they were my back-up band for the first tour. The guy I was working with, he was booking me shows and he just happened to get introduced to Mike Vee, who manages Hurricane Fall. And Mike said, ‘I’ve got the boys here and they’re willing to be the back-up band.’ At the time, though, I think they were called Saving June but they did those shows at Tamworth as Hurricane Fall [for the first time]. Since I’ve been seeing them on Facebook and they’re everywhere playing all these shows, and they’ve just released a single – so I’m excited for those guys. And on my last tour I ended up using – I believe it was Brigginshaw’s band. There was a string of them. So it will be the same band this trip.
One of the things I love about Tamworth – and it’s probably true of the Muster as well – is that artists comes together and they see each other once or twice a year and these connections form, then you go out for the rest of the year and come back. Is there anyone you’re looking forward to seeing again when you go to the Muster?
There’s one person that I’ve seen on the list and I’ve never seen him before, but I’ve listened to some of his music – his name is Rodney Carrington. I used to listen to him growing up and I remember how funny his songs were. And there’s another guy from Canada, Gord Bamford, and he’s going to be down there. You see these guys in Canada then travel halfway across the world and you see them there again. And it will be nice to catch up with the Hurricane Fall guys – I haven’t seen them since Tamworth days and that was over a year ago now. When you play those festivals, before I came to Australia I didn’t know a lot of the Australian artists, and then I got introduced to so many by going to Tamworth. And with the second trip I played at Plantation Music Festival and there was another whole slew of artists there. It’s going to be great to come back because every time you see them they probably think, I can’t believe that Canadian guy’s back here again.
It will interesting for you to see what happens after Gympie – who you’ll meet, who’ll be your next tour companion or who might turn up in Canada.
Viper Creek was just here in Canada and so that was pretty awesome to see. They played a country festival here and then played around Saskatchewan. If I hadn’t come to Australia I wouldn’t have known them.
You obviously have a great work ethic because you’re prepared to tour a lot and you release music regularly – where does that come from?
It comes from growing up on the farm, I believe. My mum and dad were busy people, always on the go. I think when you grow up in that situation with parents who are always working and working hard, it just gets passed down to you. There’s no shortage in the family tree: my grandpa was a farmer, and my grandma, and it worked its way up. When you live on a farm it’s up to you to make a living – you have to plant the crop, you have to feed the cows. I remember going out on the weekends with my dad – it didn’t matter what time I’d come home in the night, he would make sure I was up by 7 a.m. to go feed the cows. He was never soft with me, he just always had me up. At the time it didn’t make much sense why that was happening but now down the road, looking back, that’s why I turned out the way I did and keep going.
Was there ever a point where you had a tussle between doing music or working on the farm, or was music always the path?
I taught myself music when I was 14 and I just taught myself and it was always a dream. But growing in the small town where I did, no one else was doing music, no one else was performing. It was a little bit tricky when I graduated because I told my dad I wanted to pursue music but he said, ‘How are you going to do that?’ and I said, ‘I really don’t know.’ He said, ‘Why don’t you go to college for a year?’ So I picked up this book of all the programs they offered and I picked the thing that took the least amount of time to get but paid the most money, and I became an electronics technician. It was a one-year course. But through that year in college my dad gave me a call and said, ‘Hey, there’s this talent contest in a small town – why don’t you enter?’ I ended up going and after the show a guy came up to me, his name was Al Leblanc, and Al asked me if I’d be interested in going down to this other small town to record with him – he was working with another guy there. And I said, ‘I’d love to – I’ve never done it before but I’d love to give it a shot.’
So a week later Al calls me and I went down to this small town and we started working together every week, and getting together two or three times a month. And one day over a burger I said, ‘Al, I really need somebody to book me some shows – I really feel that this is what I’m supposed to do but I just need someone to help me get some shows.’ He said, ‘Take a month, learn 30 songs and we’ll give it a shot.’ One week later he gives me a call and says, ‘Are you ready to play?’ and I said, ‘What do you mean?’ I’d probably only learned 5 songs by this time. So he says, ‘You’ve got a show this weekend – two songs, actually.’ That was the start of my performing career. I went out and played those two shows and every weekend after that it seemed like I was somewhere playing, because it was just so easy to book shows at that price. For me it was incredible because it gave me that experience in front of that crowd.
After about a year of this I worked my way up to $300 and I felt I wanted to go to Nashville and record a CD. So I put together a business plan and went in to see the bank because I needed some money for this album – about $20 000 – and I wasn’t very old at this time, maybe 19 years old. I said, ‘This is my plan – do you want a part of this?’ And he looked me in the eye and said, ‘No, I can’t do it – the liabilities and the assets just aren’t lining up.’ So I went into a couple more banks and still no luck. That’s when I went to see a group from a different town near where I lived and they gave small business loans. I sat with the ladies there and they were impressed with the business plan I’d put together for how old I was. They invited me back a week later when they had a board meeting where they could make a decision, and I brought in my guitar, played a few songs, went home. A week later I got a call from them and they said they were going to approve me for this small business loan and that’s how I got to Nashville for my first time.
It’s a very sensible thing to do – apply for a loan – and I guess crowdfunding is that now, in a way. It’s surprising how many creative people don’t do that. They might try to fit in creative work around other work, not really having enough energy for either. A loan is a very pragmatic way to go about it.
I don’t think it’s common and that’s the hurdle that some people run into: they don’t look at their music as a business. I even did it. I did not at all look at it as a business until I sat down and put that plan together and starting going in to see these people to get a loan. All of a sudden that changed everything for me. I had this whole list of goals. On it I had things like, Shoot music videos; Be on tour with bigger bands; Be nominated for country music awards. And at the time I was playing for $300 a night in small-town bars. It was such a long shot, remembering, looking at those papers. But as soon as I wrote those things down they just seemed to come true. Things just started to happen. But until that point I was spinning my wheels. I was making $200 extra a night but I really wasn’t focused on what my real goals were.
You must have a new list now because all those other things are ticked off!
The list evolves. That’s the coolest part about it – it does keep changing, and that’s what makes life so great and so interesting, and it keeps you inspired.
In the balance of touring and business, do you assign time to creative work or do you just fit it in whenever you can?
I usually plan a trip to Nashville every few months and I have some great friends over there and I get to sit in a room and work with them. I usually tend to book 10 to 14 writing sessions and I prepare for those trips for probably the same amount of months that I’m not there. So I have all these ideas and all these melodies and I have all of them on my iPhone recorder, and I go down there and write all these songs. And it’s so productive. My strong suit is melodies – I can come up with melodies and guitar parts, but lots of the friends that I work with are stronger at lyrics than melodies. So I love putting those together to make a song possible. And that’s my process.
It’s such an amazing thing that you can combine lyrics and melody with someone else, because it’s almost like you have to channel each other so that the intention of the music that you’re thinking of matches the intention of the lyrics.
For sure – and that’s why I’ve always loved being the melody guy, because I’m the guy singing these and when it’s your melody it’s definitely something that you would have written sitting by yourself but when you put a guy who is world class at writing lyrics, you can definitely get a stronger song.
You’re coming to Australia – some would say you’d have been better coming at the end of the year because you’re going back to a Canadian winter. Is there anywhere else in the world that you’re desperate to go to?
I want to travel to Fiji. I’ve heard some really good things about it. Hawaii would be pretty nice too. Back in 2014 my wife and I took our honeymoon to Thailand and it was one of the best experiences of my life. When you travel around the world it opens your eyes to see how lucky we are in Canada and Australia to have the things we have. You come home from that trip a changed person just knowing that we have running water here, we have power, we have more stuff than we ever need, and to go to those countries where people don’t have any of that stuff but they’re still the happiest people you’ve ever met, to me that’s a life-changing experience and it’s something I want to keep experiencing throughout my life.
My last question is: what music are you listening to now that you love?
I’ve been listening to a lot of different stuff – I’ve actually been working on my latest album. It’s due out in the new year. When I’m going through that process it’s mixing and it’s masters, so you have to listen to it all the time. Then there’s the new Dierks Bentley album, I’ve been listening to that quite a bit. Sometimes I’ll put on Spotify and just go under the discover mode and I’m really digging that.
It sounds you’re naturally curious about music, about other places, about new experiences. That curiosity obviously serves you well.
Some people I know say, ‘I don’t really like country music’, but then they come to the Gympie Muster or whatever it is and they see the different types of music that are happening, and they say, ‘I don’t really like country music but I love this.’
I used to be one of those people until I went to Tamworth for the first time. From my point of view, country music is the genre that connects with people the most. It’s their stories – they feel like the artists really hear them and understand them, so it can be really emotional for audience members.
For sure. That’s the thing about country music: it’s approachable. Lots of time in the rock and pop worlds the artists aren’t as approachable. One of the best parts of country music is that it’s a big family coming together for a big party and everyone’s there for the same reason.
Codie's latest album is All Kinds of Crazy.