By Scott Roos
Pics by Deanna Roos of Contingent Colours Photography
“Once COVID hit, I had to rethink everything that I do. It totally shifted everything.”
It’s been a long haul of a pandemic and much beloved fiddler and country music artist Donny Parenteau is in a reflective mood as he joins me on the phone from his home in Prince Albert. Back in September of 2021 he released his latest single entitled “These Days”. A collaboration with longtime friend and Prince Albert expat Rod Janzen, the track is steeped in sentimentality but after two years of slogging through life as a working musician that essentially hasn’t been able to play many live shows, the tone seems appropriate with a heaping tablespoon of poignance.
“When it's all said and done and you're taking your last few breaths, guess what people? You're not going to be asking for your car keys, you're not going to be asking for your house keys, you're gonna be asking for the hands of the ones that love you. That's what it comes down to: family. That's how much family means. So anybody out there that's what I tell them. If you have a family that you're close to don't forget to tell them you love them,” explains Parenteau of the track.
Janzen was able to help Parentau complete the track during the Christmas 2020 season. Janzen, who now resides in Nashville, still comes home during the holidays and always makes a point of spending some of his time writing with Parenteau.
“The song started with Rod and myself. He would always come home at Christmas time to visit his mom. We always get together at least one day no matter if he was here for three or five days. It didn't matter, he'd take one evening for me and we get together and just write,” Parenteau continues.
With its subject material and the strong hook in the chorus, it’s no surprise that “These Days” reached number one on the MBC Radio Top Five Indigenous Music CountDown. It also underscores Parenteau’s adaptability as a musician and, most importantly, a song writer. Throughout his long career in the business, Parenteau has been able to collaborate on a number of much beloved songs. He’s learned the tricks of the trade and was able to employ them early and often as he negotiated his way through a fabled solo career after leaving Neil McCoy’s band in 2003.
"When I first started writing songs, another fellow writer had told me 'Never be afraid to bring up anything in a song. Don't ever feel that it's silly or that a line isn't going to work. Always throw those lines because sometimes it'll trigger something in the co-writer who may say 'hey nope that's good but try this',” says Parenteau.
Parenteau clearly sees songwriting as an art form. He takes pride in what he does to be sure but, at the end of the day, it’s his approach that breeds the authenticity that permeates through much of his work. He has been able to create something special with co-writers but, at the same time, also write memorable songs on his own like "Deep In the Heart of Saskatchewan".
“When you're writing a song, you start with a blank canvas. Now a song basically is colours. That's the melody. But when you start putting the colours together those are lyrics and at the end of the day when you're done you'll have a piece of work that sometimes is a piece of art and the odd time you can end up with a masterpiece. But it's all colours. It's your imagination that brings the scene to life," remarks Parenteau.
In the meantime, Parenteau is gearing up for a follow-up to these days. It’s a track entitled “Time Off For Bad Behaviour” which will drop on Monday, February 7th. He’s also still teaching music lessons online from his home in Prince Albert and has a concert entitled “Colours of the Sash” booked at the EA Rawlinson Centre for the Arts on May 5th. But, ultimately, Parenteau’s current dream is to release a new full length on vinyl.
"Will I release another album? You bet I will. I just don't know if it's going to be 2022 or 2023 I'm not sure. But I know there's another one coming, but it will be vinyl. In the meantime, I just want to keep my online school going and I'm really focussed on that right now. The odd time there may be a live show that we end up booking. And I'm continuing to write songs. I'll continue to do my music as long as people love hearing it. I'll continue to do what I do," Parenteau concludes.