Last December, Ira Pettle crossed an item off his bucket list when he launched his debut album, A Little Bit. Co-written with Norman Foote, the album features an eclectic mix of genres across its 10 songs and is aimed at audiences young and old.
The record made some waves, and now Pettle finds himself a finalist for Children’s Artist of the Year at the Western Canadian Music Awards.
Pettle, a newcomer to the music industry, doesn’t fully grasp the gravity of such a nomination or what it could mean for him going forward. He does understand that it’s a big deal—and it was enough to move him to tears.
“I got an email that said I’d been nominated, and I just started crying,” Pettle admits. “I just didn’t know how to even process that. I’m kind of in shock.”
An organic process
The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out Pettle’s performance commitments for a time, but gave him something just as valuable—a cleared calendar and the opportunity to hunt down a very old dream. That dream, of course, was to make original music: something he had flirted with since childhood. At 45 years of age, Pettle finally decided to step up to the plate and take a swing at recording his own album.
Foote, a Juno-award-winning musician, played no small role in helping Pettle refine the raw materials in his head into pure melodies and tempered lyrics.
“It was a very organic process,” Pettle remembers. “The answers weren’t known in advance of the songs being created. We didn’t know we were going to end up with 10 songs. A whole bunch of the melodies that ended up happening, we didn’t know those were going to be the melodies until we discovered them.”
Though he’s primarily known as a children’s entertainer, Pettle didn’t craft A Little Bit with any particular demographic in mind. The album is simply a musical expression of a time in his life, its lyrics rich with deep and honest messaging for those willing to look. It’s also laid-back, conversational listening full to the brim with youthful energy: Barenaked Ladies meets Jack Johnson meets Pettle, in a manner of speaking.
Anyone with both the passion and the aptitude to work with children and youth on a regular basis understands one thing: kids are young, not stupid. Of course, they can be immature and may lack in life experience, but they are also far more intelligent and perceptive than a dismissive adult may assume. Pettle keeps this truth front of mind, and he never tries to dumb down any of his content.
“When people ask me, how are you so good with kids, my answer is pretty simple: I listen to them. I respect them. I don’t treat them like children. I treat them like young people, and they respond to that,” Pettle explains.
“That’s the magic secret: just respect them as human beings, not any less.”
‘I felt the magic’
For as long as he can remember, Pettle has been drawn towards young people. He feels that, through interacting with them, he can connect with his inner child and keep himself young at heart. Yet he is just as capable of catering to a more mature audience, for instance with his adults-only comedy show Laugh Out LIVE.
Pettle’s versatility stems in part from his theatre background. The Thornhill, Ont. native trained as a performer at The Second City’s Toronto location and the Randolph College for The Performing Arts. Shortly after graduation, he was poised to begin his career but decided first to drive to the West Coast and dip his toes in the Pacific Ocean with a friend.
That jaunt was 13 years ago. Pettle has called the Sea to Sky home ever since.
It all started when a woman he’d just met asked him to be her date at a wedding in Whistler. Pettle agreed to go. The following morning, he walked to the base of Whistler Gondola, realizing he yearned to explore more of the majestic mountains all around.
Pettle found a job and a six-week sublet in town that same September day. Mere months after the 2010 Olympics put Whistler on the map for good, he made it his home without knowing anyone or anything in the area.
“I felt the magic, if you will,” he says. “I felt something that was like, you know: this could be a place where I could create. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I felt something that made me stay.”
In time, Pettle established himself in the Sea to Sky as a family entertainer, putting on a variety of acts including the DJ Ira Dance Party. He continues to use his theatre training today by developing his debut record into a musical theatre production, A Little Bit, Live!, while he teased a second album to come in the next year or two.
Youngsters and grown-ups may enjoy his stuff in different ways, for different reasons, but Pettle isn’t too concerned about that.
“Our job as creators is to just create and let the people consume it however they will,” he says. “I don’t take for granted the role that I play in the world as a performing artist … to get people feeling and thinking and moving. Maybe this [Western Canadian Music Awards] nomination will open up some doors for me, but for the most part, I’m not doing it for the money.”