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“A decade and a half since music industry titans like the rock group Metallica launched legal action to shut down the largest (unauthorized) distributor of recorded content, the ways that fans and audiophiles are able to access music and other cultural resources appear, once again, to be in flux. 2015 has already seen the headline-grabbing launches of two new music streaming services backed by major players with deep pockets: Tidal, spearheaded by recording artist and serial entrepreneur Jay Z; and Apple Music, the revamped music service offered by the world’s most valuable company. These services are set to compete with the streaming music sector’s dominant player, Spotify, and a host of others and, in doing so, may serve as an indication of where the broader digital economy is heading as it continues to evolve.”
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.
The Cord Weekly
31 May 2006
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
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
“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.
I came across this blog today and just had to post it. Not sure about all of the comparisons (Em and Tiger? Really?) or some omissions (not comparing Jay-Z to Michael Jordan?) but it’s a fun read, especially if you’re a fan of hip-hop and/or sports– as you should be.
My favourites though are: Common and J.R.; Big Daddy Kane and Ali; and, Ice Cube and Shaq, for its hilarious write-up.
And then there’s the Chuck D and Troy Aikman comparison; two underappreciated superstars that did more for their respective games than people give them credit for.
When the good folks at the Polaris Music Prize released their long list on 15 June all I could muster was a shrug and barely bat an eye. I’m just not a fan of the whole “long list” idea. Sure, it allows some unknown acts some much needed exposure but unfortunately, and inevitably, those bands get drowned out when the short list gets revealed. Oh, and, hey, any list that would include the new K-Os album has to be looking to fill space.
But now the short list is here and I’m quite excited. The Polaris Prize is the premier music award in Canada. Unlike the Junos it doesn’t celebrate commercial success. Instead, it looks to give praise to those demonstrating “artistic merit”. But that’s where the fun, and controversy, begins.
Of the the past three winners I’ve only found one winner mildly entertaining– repeat nominee Patrick Watson’s (pictured above) beautiful and brilliant Close to Paradise– while the other two (Final Fantasy’s He Poos Clouds and Caribou’s Andorra) didn’t seem worthy of the Prize. What the three do share in common though is what appears to be the key to Polaris success.
It seems that the judging for the Prize suffers from a narrow definition of “artistic”. The Polaris forumla seems to be based on the assumption that “artistic” bands are experimental in the sense that the artist(s) try a lot of different sounds and meld them together for melodies and harmonies into some sort of large, sonic assault.
Of course there’s some merit behind this, the music is good, but it also means that other types/genres of music get lost in the shuffle. Namely hip-hop.
Although I still have a few of the bands to check out, I’m pretty dead-set on K’NAAN’s Troubadour for this year’s award. It is one of (if not the) best Canadian hip-hop album of all time. The production is the best that I’ve ever heard from CanCon hip-hop and his lyrics are smart, witty, honest, gripping…
With Troubadour on the short list it’s time for the Polaris judges to step out of their voting habits and embrace an art form that is still clamouring for the respect it desrves.