Dan Cugnet, playing guitar in a preview of his upcoming show at Forget’s Happy Nun. Screenshot

WEYBURN – How does an oilman and farmer become a country singer? With the help of a pandemic.

Some people bought a Peloton. Dan Cugnet recorded two records.

Cugnet, a Weyburn man involved in several oil ventures when he’s not farming, is picking up his guitar and playing at The Happy Nun in Forget this Friday and Saturday, April 8 and 9. It’s a release party for not one, but two albums he’s released digitally in the last four months. And a third is on the way.

The first was “Rodeo Cabaret,” and the new one is called “45.”

“I’m playing a couple sets, playing some songs from both of those albums,” he said by phone on April 6.

Asked how he came around to singing, Cugnet said it goes back to his days as a landman.

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“It’s kind of bizarre, because I played piano as a kid, you know. I played in band and music,” he said. “When I was a land agent, when I went from Saskatoon to Calgary, I was sitting in hotel rooms, large pipeline projects, I’d read or watch TV and whatever. I was like, awe, man, I got a lot of time to kill.”

He said after pipeline company acquired the land, he had to stick around in case they needed temporary workspace agreements or something done. “The inspectors just wanted me out on site, so I was on hand to deal with something if they had a landowner thing to deal with. So that’s when I started to just pick up the guitar and kind of taught myself how to play a bit and mess around and play some garage band stuff. It was a lot more kind of rock and singing a bit, because I’d never sang earlier.”

Picked up a guitar, and country came out

Cugnet did some electronica stuff and messed around, occasionally jamming with buddies. “I’d pick away at the guitar every now and then. It was when I was doing my MBA, finishing that up and right near the end of COVID. I was just playing more to just clear my head when I went back to school. And for whatever reason, I just started trying to write stuff because I found that it actually kind of cleared my brain better than just playing cover tunes. And for whatever reason, country songs were kind of just what was sort of coming out.”

He found an acoustic guitar lends itself more to the country genre than rock.

“Once I’d written a few I was like, I want to record these just have them for myself,” he said. Cugnet wanted good recordings, as opposed to what he could do with his phone. “I got hooked up with a guy that’s a producer and sent him some and he said, ‘Hey, man, these are really good. If you want to do it with a band and if you want to do more with them, we can turn this into something.’”

At first, he just wanted good versions of four or five songs. “And then it just kind of went from there, and all of a sudden it turned into COVID. It was right at the same time. So I couldn’t travel. I couldn’t do a lot of the things I normally do. So, I just did more of that. It was a good hobby.”

“The jury’s out on how good it all is. I think there’s some pretty good songs in there. Other ones are, oh, they’re okay. But it just turned into a good hobby and a way to pass time.”

After he did one album, he found he had enough material to do a second, which was released this past March, just four months after the first. And a third is planned to be released, all within a 12-month period. “It’s kind of got a bit of a life of its own. So I have no idea where it’s going or what it turns into, but it’s kind of just been nice to get back to music,” he said.

 

Release party

The Happy Nun venue is “the best kept secret,” Cugnet noted. Originally he thought of having a barn party instead. “I’d rather do it at The Happy Nun. I just love that place, and I love the vibe there.”

The gig at The Happy Nun is the first time he’ll be in front of a crowd in this manner, as a country singer. In the past he’s jammed with friends and played rock covers. Occasionally he’d sing a song or two at a cabaret.

“But to get up and play original stuff, and you know, and a whole show of it, I’ve never done it,” he said.

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The show is nearly sold out, the last he heard. To find out if you can snag some tickets, go here to The Happy Nun Facebook page. You can find tickets here. As of April 6, the Friday event looks sold out, but there were tickets available for Saturday. There’s a four-course feature menu meal included with the event.

Cugnet said, “It’ll be a neat thing to get up and see if I enjoy playing for people, because I don’t know that part of it yet.”

You can check out clips of his music here:

https://dancugnet.hearnow.com/45?fbclid=IwAR2U0XHl8a2au2z6X8JgtAigNtpR77aIpT5ePRN0vrbfqkrTP2zz3v-2-4A

So what about the music?

He said, “It’s funny, but most of the songs were written when I was either in a combine or in a tractor, or in a grain truck. That seems to be where it’s kind of been most prolific. I’ll hear a word, or have a thought, or somebody might say a line, you know, and it just kind of catches me and that might be the basis of it.

“I think any song that’s resonated are the ones that people make an emotional connection with, right? Those are the ones that eventually rise to the top.”

The songs he said that get the attention are the sadder, slower, old cowboy songs. “So Long, Cowboy, on this new one has really gotten a strong response,” he said.

“Some of them are fun, like Mayor of Saskatchewan and Barn Cat are quirky. Auctioneer resonates because an auction on a farm means a lot of things to people,” he said. In that case, a friend, Jason LeBlanc, a well-known auctioneer from Estevan, suggested he do a song about auctioneers.

“Auctioneer came about on a Saturday morning. I can’t remember if I phoned him, or he phoned me, but LeBlanc reached out, and somehow in that conversation he said I should write a song about an auction or auctioneer. And I’ve been thinking a bit about that whole thing, because it wasn’t just a transactional thing. Part of a good song is when you’re writing about something that you know, where you’re familiar. I went and it just kind of came out. Some of the good ones just sort of write themselves. And most of what’s there, I probably had in 30 or 40 minutes. I just went out to my shop, where I play, and threw some chords onto it and went through it once or twice and recorded it on my phone. I sent it to him and he fired back, ‘You (deleted), you had that already.’

“I said ‘No, the good ones write themselves.’”

Jeff Tosczak, a Weyburn auctioneer, was another inspiration for that song.

Auctions are a send off or a goodbye or a celebration he said. They can be from a death, or a divorce, or a retirement. “It’s so much more than a transactional thing. It’s a community event.”

It’s not hard to figure out where Outlaw Buckers and Oil Kings came from. Summer on the Souris is clearly a reflection of the river which he grew up spitting distance from. And it takes a Saskatchewan boy to include the PFRA in song lyrics.

What the hell is that on the 45 album cover?

The first album, Rodeo Cabaret, has cover art that is meant to replicate a cartoon from the 1950s. It’s actually an edited photo of his own cattle. But the second album, 45, well, it’s just out there.

There’s some sort of critter on it, crying out. Take a look for yourself.

Whatever it is, it’s eye-catching. And that was the point.

Cugnet explained a friend he grew up with is an art professor in Kelowna named Myron Campbell. “I just said, ‘Hey man, just run wild with it.’”

And Campbell did.

But what is it?

“He took a buffalo, basically, and stuck kind of like a raven or crow’s head on it. And then the canola fields in the background and the Saskatchewan flowers are in the bottom quarter. The barn that’s in the background is my barn, from my yard. So he just took a bunch of stuff and kind of superimposed and blended together and it’s just some sort of mythical prairie Griffin, I guess,” Cugnet said.

He explained, “To me, a piece of art should be something that you look and then you got to keep looking.”

 

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