Emma-Lee and Peter Katz perform at The Hideout in Gasoline Alley on Sunday.

From the zoo to The Hideout

When it comes to the singing partnership of Emma-Lee and Peter Katz, the otters at the Toronto Zoo just might be onto something. In a music video that was surreptitiously filmed in front of the otter tank, the frolicking mammals are seemingly grooving underwater to Katz and Emma-Lee’s cover of Tina Turner’s What’s Love Got to Do With It.

When it comes to the singing partnership of Emma-Lee and Peter Katz, the otters at the Toronto Zoo just might be onto something.

In a music video that was surreptitiously filmed in front of the otter tank, the frolicking mammals are seemingly grooving underwater to Katz and Emma-Lee’s cover of Tina Turner’s What’s Love Got to Do With It.

The two acclaimed singers — who will perform together on Sunday at The Hideout, in Gasoline Alley south of Red Deer — recalled behaving almost like guerilla filmmakers, sneaking a videographer and musical instruments past the zoo’s staff.

“If we had asked for permission, we were pretty sure they would have said, ‘No,’ so we decided to ask for forgiveness afterwards, instead,” Emma-Lee said, with a laugh.

Sure enough, zoo security guards showed up and asked the two to move along just as they wrapped their “funky,” easy-going take on Turner’s 1980s hit, which Katz and Emma-Lee reinterpreted with an acoustic guitar and a banjitar (a cross between a guitar and banjo).

“They said some animals might not like the music,” said Emma-Lee — but she believes the otters were fans.

“People who’ve seen the video have been telling us, ‘It looks like the otters were swimming in time with you.’ ”

Katz and Emma-Lee’s joint tour of Western Canada evolved from a growing collaboration between the two artists. Emma-Lee first became enamoured with Katz’s music after hearing it online. She asked him to sing on a track from her 2010 debut album, Never Just a Dream, and Katz called in the favour by asking her to lend her voice to a tune on his 2012 album, Still Mind Still.

In the interim, the two Toronto-based singers also hit it off as songwriting partners. Their new original single, What’s On Your Mind?, which is available on iTunes, has been compared to the sunny Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers collaboration Islands in the Stream, or John Prine and Iris Dement’s In Spite of Ourselves.

It’s actually both funny and naughty, said a chuckling Emma-Lee, who noted the single is about recognizing the gleam of sexual attraction in your partner’s eye: “It’s actually about getting busy.”

The initially explicit lyrics were toned down for the recording, said Emma-Lee, who noted Red Deer fans might hear more than the PG version at The Hideout.

Katz admitted something spontaneous and improvisational happens each night between himself, Emma-Lee and the audience that makes things exciting. “Ninety-nine per cent of the time, I’ve toured by myself,” said Katz, “so this is new for me. … It’s kind of nice to have the camaraderie. And the lows of touring are not as low as when you are on your own.”

So far, the only down side has been the throat infection that Katz has been battling with meds. But he added, “I’m getting better.”

Besides singing duets, both artists will also performs some solo material in Red Deer.

Emma-Lee, whose songs have been played on CBC Radio 2, Much More Music and CMT, will sing soul-tinged country tunes from her latest album, Backseat Heroine.

This music is generally upbeat, she said, because “when you get on stage in front of an audience every night at 10 p.m., the last thing you want to do is perform lullabies. You want to get the crowd’s energy charged up!”

Juno-Award-nominated Katz will play some folk-rock from his albums First of the Last to Know (2010) and Still Mind Still (2012), which was recorded in a cabin in the woods.

“I’m always in some state of reflection. I tend to be a hyper-sensitive kind of guy,” admitted Katz.

But he believes his songwriting partnership with Emma-Lee has brought out a more lighthearted side he didn’t know he had.

“I hope people in Red Deer take a chance and come out and be in the room with us,” he added. “Because that’s the magic of this tour.”

Tickets for the 7 p.m. show (doors open at 6 p.m.) are $10 in advance from 53rd Street Music or The Hideout or $15 at the door.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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