Spending the summer on the Warped Tour, Billy Pettinger, aka Billy the Kid, won over the festival with her folk-punk stylings and infectious attitude. Recently, Scene Point Blank had a chance to catch up with the singer-songwriter to talk about music, the relationship between punk and folk, and her relationship to her fans.
Scene Point Blank: Hi, Billy. Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview. You spent the bulk of the summer playing on The Warped Tour. How has that experience been for you?
Billy The Kid: Kind of mind altering. I was only supposed to be on two weeks of the tour but somehow weaselled my way onto the whole thing. It's incredible how hard these people work...and how much fun they have!
Scene Point Blank: What has been your highlight thus far?
Billy The Kid: Probably the rap battle between Outasight and Mac Lethal on our notorious tour bus, Bus 22.
"When you grow up a bit, you realize that folk and country songs were written by the same kind of outcasts who wrote your favourite punk records, and you can relate to them just as much."
Scene Point Blank: While over the years Warped Tour has seen an eclectic range of bands, it's still primarily known as a punk rock tour. You play primarily folk songs nowadays, how has the crowd reaction been?
Billy The Kid: It is great to know that most kids out there still have an open mind. I got into punk rock because the honesty and straight forwardness appealed to me. The same is true of country and folk music. A lot of these kids have never heard a Neil Young or The Band song. Pretty crazy to think I could be their gateway drug in to checking out some different genres. [Laughs.]
Scene Point Blank: Do you feel like you need to change your performance at all for the crowd?
Billy The Kid: In the beginning I definitely "up-ed the punks." Then I realized it was “play to be myself” (I know, stupid realization for a 31 year-old). Once I settled into some of the newer, quieter material, I realized it didn't matter if I played only fast songs or only slow songs...they're all just songs.
Scene Point Blank: You've played on the Revival Tour before. Coming from a punk rock background yourself (Billy and the Lost Boys/Blue Collar Bullets) why do you think so many punks end up playing in folk music?
Billy The Kid: Because it's awesome! [Laughs.] We all start out somewhere, everyone has a cool older cousin or some neighbour kid that gets you into the first music you start listening to. Or maybe you see something on television or hear something on the radio. You either listen to that same music your whole life or you discover that there is a lot of great music out there in all sorts of genres. We are all just songwriters trying to tell a story and I really believe the platform of punk, folk, country and whatever shouldn't hold you back.
Scene Point Blank: What do you think are the connection, if there is one, between the genres?
Billy The Kid: I think a lot of kids growing up in punk rock are searching for something. I mean, aren't we all? You're looking for something real and truthful in a world that at times doesn't have much of that to offer. I stay away from television but every time I get near one I am reminded of this. Punk rock generally appeals to the kids living on the outskirts of most societal constraints. When you grow up a bit you realize that folk and country songs were written by the same kind of outcasts who wrote your favourite punk records and you can relate to them just as much, if not more so. Then you hopefully realize the punkest thing you could possibly do is play an acoustic guitar and sing songs about your feelings at a hardcore show.
Scene Point Blank: Do you mind telling us how you ended up playing the type of music you do now, given the type of music your first bands played?
Billy The Kid: Most of my material starts out in an apartment somewhere. You have to be kind of quiet or you get evicted. I've been writing rock songs on pianos and acoustic guitars for something like 18 years now. That's where it starts. Then you go to some rehearsal space you're renting and try it out through your SG and Soldano amp with a couple friends. So I guess, for me, it was never much of a change or transition because it was something I had always done. If the band couldn't show up, I'd play by myself. That turned into touring a lot by myself as people got older and started caring about holding down a job.
Scene Point Blank: Your fans contributed fiscally to the recording of some of your albums. This has become pretty common practice among a lot of musicians nowadays, do you think this strengthens the relationship between the fans and the artist?
Billy The Kid: Absolutely. It may strike people as odd but I am always hesitant to do another fan funding campaign. I feel like people must be sick of it by now and there is no way I could possibly pull it off again. Then I think about the artists that I am a huge fan of. Ryan Adams, for one. If Ryan Adams was selling a page from his notebook, hell yeah I would pay top dollar for that! I started thinking about these pre-order runs from a fan perspective and it really helped me to continue on with the second and then the third run (I just put out a kids book that was financed through pre-orders). The bottom line is, if you're a fan, you not only want to help but you also want awesome stuff. You wouldn't believe the amount of Ryan Adams merch I have purchased over the years...I have a Cardinals watch and I don't even wear a watch! This is the power of a true fan...when you realize you're all in it together it can really start to take off.