It may be winter outside but whenever this song is playing, it sure feels like summer. A nostalgic ode to the innocence of pre-teen backyard parties, “Patio Lanterns” rocketed former Max Webster guitarist-turned-solo-artist Kim Mitchell from a staple of rock radio to the top of Top 40, and helped earn a Juno for Album of the Year for his Shakin’ Like a Human Being. Mitchell, now a popular radio host for Toronto’s Q1O7, whose most recent album is 2007’s Ain’t Life Amazing, sheds some light on this Canadian classic.
I’ve heard that you literally pulled over on the side of the road when the idea for this song hit you. True?
I was at our manager’s office and I ran into Pye [Dubois, his songwriting partner]. As we were leaving, we were sitting in my van talking and he takes out this lyric. He says it’s quite a bit different from what we usually do. The word he used is “corny.” But at the same time, he says, there might be something there. So he hands me this piece of paper and off we went, our separate ways. At the stoplight I grabbed it and read, “our house had the biggest patio…” I literally pulled over and grabbed my guitar – I had my guitar in the back because I pretty much lived in that van. I didn’t finish writing the tune but I had a melody right away and heard the chords right away. I sort of roughed it in right there, right around Queen and Sherbourne streets.
You were known then as a real rock ‘n’ roll guitarist. Why did you decide this song needed a different, softer approach?
I always just write to the song. I would never think, “I have to be flashy.” You have to just go with what the song is asking, what it wants to be, and not make it something else.
And in this case, that was sweet.
It was. But it wasn’t the first sweet thing I’d written. I’d done “All We Are” and other ballad-type songs. Truth be told, I’m a rather sensitive guy!
Did you relate to the emotion of Pye’s lyrics?
That’s what grabbed me. All of a sudden I pictured myself in my backyard at my parents’ house growing up. We did have a patio. And I remember having girls over, and the innocent flirting at those parties. Bang – it pulled me right back to that time period.
When did you realize it was hitting a whole lot of other people, too?
I actually asked to have that song taken off the record! It took me three days to sing it, and honestly, I’m still not happy with the vocal on it. I remember saying to the label, because we had too many songs, if you want to take off “Patio Lanterns” that’s O.K. My manager thought the song was great, he said I think it will hit people. So then it started to get action on MuchMusic and on the radio, within a week to two weeks. It was a beautiful spiral of events.
When you look back at your career so far, where do you think “Patio Lanterns” fits in?
It was the odd one, one of my poppiest songs. I find I live more comfortably in the “I am a Wild Party” rock zone. But I never edit myself during the songwriting process. I don’t think anyone should. If you’re a metal guy and you sit down and a country song comes out, just let it happen. Don’t shut it down. It’s a creative moment. You’re alone, nobody is really hearing it at that point, so just have fun with it.