Joseph F. Turcotte, PhD

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From the Archives: “Roberts Rules”

Having had listened to the Sam Roberts Band’s new album, Collider, for the past few days on a loop, it brought me back to this interview. The usual caveats apply. PDF available by clicking article title.

“Roberts Rules”
The Cord Weekly
31 May 2006
Joe Turcotte
A&E Editor

Reluctant rock star Sam Roberts caps the year off at the Turret

Sam Roberts’ strained voice speaks for itself, cementing the fact that staging the “Mother of All Tours” is no easy task. In between setting-up in order to rock WLUSU’s Year-End Party, Roberts sat down and spoke with the Cord about the rigors of touring and the rock ‘n roll lifestyle.

“I’m in preservation mode right now, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” a tired and raspy-voiced Roberts said. “It’s just about trying to keep going, man. There’s no recovery time, we get one or two days off. Touring is deadly, man; touring is hard as hell. Touring is the hardest thing.”

But while the schedule may be grueling, the Canadian singer-song writer has no regrets, as he realizes that touring is essential.
“Anytime you put out a new record there’s only a few ways to promote it. There are interviews There are interviews and the press, but you’re not really in control of that. Then you have the marketing strategies that your labels devise, and then you have shows, which to me [are] the best way to get your point across and the only way where you’re ever fully in control.”

While he remains in control over performing, Roberts acknowledges that he loosened-up on the reins when recording his newest album, Chemical City. Instead of personally performing all the instruments and later assembling the tracks in the studio,
as he did for 2003’s We Were Born in a Flame, Roberts and his band assembled in Australia and recorded together.

“It was good not to be alone in the studio, that’s a pretty lonely existence. [This way] you have five people propping up the energy
of the record, instead of one person trying to carry it all on his shoulders. I don’t know if great rock and roll has ever come from
that,” the increasingly excited Roberts said.

When speaking about his music, Roberts speaks like a father talking about his children. That being said, Roberts doesn’t want to take anything away from his major label debut by comparing it to Chemical City.

“I’m really happy with the first record. It meant that I was starting off down the road. I don’t ever want to take away from it by comparing it to what I’m doing now. But your musical instinct is to pursue different musical avenues. Different approaches to
your song writing and the lyrical content, anything. You should never try to consciously direct what you’re doing.”

And while he was writing for the new album, Roberts admits that sometimes his musical inspiration seemed to come from unconscious sources.

“Sometimes you feel like a medium, that you’re channeling something from beyond. And then sometimes it’s very much something that you have to work at. You have to sculpt a raw idea. You take that and hope that you can make something, but that
takes a lot of work,” the ever-humble Roberts revealed with a smile.

For someone that has had so much success and has had so many lofty comparisons made about his music, Roberts’ humility
is refreshing.

While Chemical City is bound to be a smash success, Roberts is reluctant to acknowledge the comparisons to legends like Bob Dylan and John Lennon that the media often makes.

“I don’t think it necessarily reflects reality. They’re two of my idols for sure, people that I look up to as songwriters. Their music
inspires me, but it inspires a whole lot of other people too. I think every musician would love to be compared to Dylan and Lennon, but that doesn’t mean they measure up at all. It doesn’t make it a fact.”

But like Dylan and Lennon, Roberts’ music is more than just catchy hooks and inviting melodies. Chemical City has been described as a response to the urban decay that the band has witnessed first hand while touring.

“We don’t just play the 10 to 12 major cities in Canada, we go everywhere. When you put it all together [the album] has this feeling to it in a way. The songs we write are a reflection of the life we live and the places that we see. For me I’m very much rooted in an urban landscape every day. But I’m not obsessed with it or anything. ‘Mind Flood’ is very much set in Algonquin Park or some place like that. That’s where I see that song.”

While Roberts admits that some of his songs may look as though they have a social agenda, he is quick to dismiss the idea the
he explicitly tries to be political or push an agenda.

“I never want to tailor what I do to a certain crowd,” Roberts admits, “if I’m political or socially conscious it’s because that’s how
I feel. I don’t want it to be like I’m getting on my soap-box or anything.”

As a Canadian who has had the fortune to travel from coast to coast, Roberts’ music is an expression of the diversity of the
Canadian landscape. Nuanced and complex, Roberts’ music does not take well to being defined in simple terms. With Canada seemingly conquered, Roberts sees the next logical step as taking his music to the United States.

“I want to push my music as far and wide as possible,” an excited Roberts beamed.

He does seek some sort of validation from the scene in the States, “I do feel that, for sure. Not because it’s a matter of pride or anything like that. But at some point you have to expand your boundaries and push your horizons. That just leads to a longer
and healthier career. It’s not a personal thing like ‘I have to conquer the States.’ It’s just the next place to go, it’s right there and there are 300 million people who just love rock and roll music.”

Although Roberts is looking to take the next step to the United States, he still feels proud to be part of the burgeoning Canadian
music scene.

“I think there’s a lot of great bands who are all gifted in their own right working right now,” Roberts acknowledged while deflecting away any talk of being responsible for the success of the Canadian music industry. “No, no, I don’t think we were in any way at all responsible for it. I think they’re all tremendous bands who are doing their own thing.”

While Roberts may be reluctant to be seen as more than just another artist doing what he loves to do, he is viewed by many as a
premier member of the Canadian rock music community. And if the Canadian success of Chemical City is reciprocated in the United States, maybe this rock and roller from Montreal will become an international sensation.

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